Welcome back everyone!
Today I’m excited to share an interview with Bob Wong, the acupuncturist and photographer behind Art of Acupuncture.
You guys know that I love discovering acupuncturists with unique passion projects that help showcase acupuncture. (Like this acupuncture children’s book, for example!) I especially enjoy projects that help the general public learn to see acupuncture from a new perspective.
Every time people witness acupuncture in a new and positive light, the public awareness of acupuncture widens and the general perception of acupuncture improves. That’s a win for acupuncturists everywhere.
Bob’s gorgeous photos are no exception. I often stumble across a photo online and immediately know it’s one of his Art of Acupuncture collection photos.
They’re beautiful and powerful, and I’ve always had so many questions about his process.
How does he take such profound photos? What kind of photography background or education does he have? What kind of camera is he using? I’m excited to share those answers with you today!
And of course, I couldn’t help picking his brain for marketing advice. His photos are everywhere on the internet and he’s created an instantly recognizable brand; he’s clearly very good at marketing!
Today Bob shares:
- Fun behind-the-scenes photos
- How his passion for martial arts led him to acupuncture
- How he got started as a photographer
- His best tips for marketing your acupuncture practice (hint – video!)
Where did you go to acupuncture school?
I grew up in a family of Chinese Medicine practitioners and was exposed to herbs as at a very young age. Whenever my brother and I got sick, herbs were always the first go-to option from dad. I never had an interest in Chinese Medicine until I finished from my undergraduate studies in Chicago and decided to give TCM a try. My real passion back then was martial arts and I always wanted to train in China. Since my dad always wanted to steer me in that direction I decided to give TCM a try at the same time while in China.
After following a few of my dad’s teachers in Guangzhou, China for several months, I was absolutely amazed at what incredible things Chinese medicine had to offer. People hobbling into the hospital with different types of pain were sometimes fixed within a matter of several hours. No painkillers, drugs or surgery. It was awesome!
Eventually, my martial arts dream turned into a Chinese Medicine dream and I decided to enroll in the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine as a full time student. I learned Chinese language for two years and then tested into the TCM University afterward. (I don’t suggest anyone that, its like testing into medical school on a third grade reading level and I spent many sleepless nights translating.)
Where do you practice?
I have a practice in Brisbane, Australia. It’s a great small town that has everything but big enough to enjoy things as well. I work in a multimodality clinic behind a health food store. I work alongside other naturopaths and remedial massage therapists.
How long have you been in practice? What kind of set up do you have? (Private clinic, hospital rotations, associates, front desk staff, number of rooms, etc.)
I have been in practicing in Brisbane for about 3 years now and its been an amazing journey of twists and turns. I usually work from one to two rooms depending on how busy I am. The front store staff double as reception and take payment and bookings (which save my life).
Do you have a specialty?
In China, I worked in the acupuncture and tui na departments which mostly centered around musculoskeletal conditions: neck pain, back pain, slipped discs, frozen shoulder and bell’s palsy.
Lately, I’ve been focusing on the Zhu scalp acupuncture system mostly working with scalp points. Pretty amazing results so far.
Thank you so much for sharing so many photos here today in this article. Where can we see all of your photos?
No problem! It is my passion to spread acupuncture because I really do believe it is an art. I wanted to make something that would catch peoples attention and bring more awareness to our medicine. Photos can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/artofacupuncture/
How long have you been a photographer? What sparked that interest?
My first photography class summer of 2005. It was a complete disaster. We did old school film and I would spend countless hours in the dark room never getting any good photos done. I would always get the “pity clap” during critique time and I remember there was this one hipster guy who took the best photos. I was so jealous I couldn’t stand it! He made it look so effortless which drove me even more crazy! I swore on my life I’d get this photography thing down.
Fast forward three years later in 2008. I was living in China and I met my friend Mike Postnov who happened to be a fashion photographer and he let me sit in and help out with photo shoots. I learned so much about lighting set-up, equipment and settings for cameras. My photography basically improved from there.
In a nutshell, all the credit goes to Mike Postnov and that hipster guy.
What inspired you start the Art of Acupuncture project?
The Art of Acupuncture project was originally meant to only be a personal project. I wanted some images for my website before graduation to prepare for building up my practice but kept running into the same generic images over and over: Blonde chic with pearly white teeth smiling with pins in her back (you know the one). To me, that didn’t represent acupuncture and what we do.
I also wanted to make photos of actual points that we use, not just what looks good on camera. The models used are all regular-looking people and are by not professional models. I want to send that message out there that you don’t have to be only beautiful and blonde to get acupuncture. You can be black, white, Asian, purple, and acupuncture will still work for you!
The popularity grew online and I was getting overwhelmingly great feedback from acupuncturists all over the world. It inspired me to keep pumping them out and eventually grew from there.
What do you hope that people will experience through your photos?
I wanted to do something that would stop someone for a moment when swiping on their phone on Facebook or Instagram and think, “Wow, that’s an interesting image. What’s that all about?” Maybe it will inspire a person to book in with their local acupuncturist or have an impact on a practitioner or student if they are feeling stuck in their practice or studies and remind them what an amazing medicine we have in our hands.
The photos look effortless but I’m sure a ton of work goes into the photo shoots. Can you walk us through the process, from brainstorming ideas, to set up, photography, etc.? Do you have help?
I basically look around my library of books or images or whatever acupuncture system I am currently obsessing over and ask myself, “How can I make it in an artful way?” I started out with TCM points and then fell in love with Master Tung points for about two years.
I usually sketch out the idea of the image I want done and then start planning. I usually try to find a model but most of the time I end up using my wife. Often times, we don’t have an idea of what to shoot and it ends up entirely different. (In a good way.)
The set up is a very simple set up:
- Back drop (white or black)
- For lighting I use a strobe: Godox DE-400
- Camera equipment :
How do you choose your models?
To be honest I just grab whoever I can that is interested. I started out using classmates and friends. One time I went to the bank and ended up using the bank teller to model because I thought she was photogenic. I try to find people from different backgrounds and try to mix it up as possible.
I think a part of the reason these photos have been successful is because they are honest. They are real points that an acupuncturist would actually use and the models are people you would see in your everyday clinic.
Where do your photos generally get used? Have you seen them anywhere that’s surprised you?
They’ve been used for different blogs, websites, and social media mostly. Dr. Robert Chu used one of them for his Master Tung acupuncture book. They’ve been used as prints for health expos and art shows as well. I’m more surprised about the amount of emails from the different places where I have a big following: Sweden, Norway, Lithuania, Israel, other Eastern European countries.
How can we purchase your photos?
Digital downloads are available for purchase from Sellfy: https://sellfy.com/artofacupuncuture
Do you offer any photos for free?
Free photos from the mailing list can be found here: http://eepurl.com/bzpx4b
You’ve also been releasing videos recently – what inspired you to start those?
I think video is the next step up for me in terms of creativity. I’ve been taking photos for almost 9 years. At some point it was getting stagnant and I wanted to challenge myself more. I also think video gets better engagement and is the direction in which social media is heading toward. It’s fun and so simple nowadays where anyone can just whip out their phone hit record and talk to their audience or potential customers. It really brings a more human element to your message and what you are trying to achieve.
Any recommendations for those who want to take acupuncture photos at home, for fun or maybe for their Instagram accounts?
Yes! Try, try and keep trying! I started out as a broke student in my dorm room. My first “backdrop” were my Ikea bedsheets and my “lighting” was a busted table lamp. It doesn’t really matter what gear you have because nowadays mobile phones take amazing quality photos. Use those generic acupuncture shots as inspiration to produce something better! Just keep taking photos and see what you get!
While I have you here, let’s chat a little bit about marketing. I love learning what works and what doesn’t for different acupuncturists. What kind(s) of marketing have worked especially well for you?
I hate to sound cliche, but ultimately in the end its just about doing good work and getting the results patients are looking for. The rest of it kind of takes care of itself because they will in turn recommend friends and family to you.
I also found video work pretty well also for me. Just a short video introducing yourself and who you are and what you do allows potential patients feel like they already know you. Because they’ve read up about you and bit and know what you’re about and kind of already know you by the time they come in. Again, it brings are more human element to what you do patients knows your not some weirdo hiding behind a computer screen.
Video is a fantastic idea! Marketing is really based on building trust with potential patients, and video is a great way to establish that. Like you said, it makes you human.
Do you have a least favorite marketing method / Any marketing efforts that you felt were a waste of time?
I’ve tried so many different things. Leaflets, Facebook ads, business coaching, masterminds, but they just weren’t for me.
I find the sales scripts really awkward and canned. If they say this, then you say that. To me that’s very mechanical and feels manipulative.
I made the mistake of hiring a “business coach” outside of our industry. Lots of money and time wasted there. The guy was probably winging it the whole time. Most of the stuff you need to learn can be learned online or even on YouTube and through reading books. Gary Vaynerchuk’s YoutTbe channel is a great place to start.
I am a big fan of Brad Whisnant’s practice management course. He lays it out like it is and suggests making decisions based on the clients’ best interests: “This is what we can do, it’ll take this amount of treatments.” He asks them, “What would you like to do?” It’s very straight forward.
It’s all about the patient. Not you. When you don’t have the patients best interest at heart they can smell the BS a mile away.
Yes, I’ve heard really good things about Brad’s course! I also appreciate his no-nonsense style of talking about growing your practice.
What’s the best advice about running a business that anyone has ever given you?
“You will be paid in direct proportion to the value you deliver according to the marketplace.” – The Law of Income.
If you could give us one piece of advice to bring in more patients this week, what would it be?
1) Check out ModernAcu.com 🙂
2) Pick ONE topic or condition you love, research it, blog/vlog make as much content you can possibly think of around it. Provide links to other resources, that way when Google indexes your page it pushes you up higher on the rankings. Establish yourself as the authority on that topic. Smash it. (Neil Patel has great tutorials,)
It won’t get you results right away but over time it will bring people in.
Thank you! And yes! This is spectacular advice. Writing content on your website about your specialty (especially in blog format) is an awesome way to get Google to notice you. This is huge!
Do you feel like your Art of Acupuncture project has helped boost your private practice? From online exposure or otherwise?
Yes and no. It has definitely gained much attention from practitioners in the acu community, but I do not use them for my practice website. There’s that general rule of not having needles on your website because potential patients may have a fear of needles. However, it has opened the door for other income opportunities and allowed me to connect with practitioners from all over the world.
Another thing is, once patients have experienced the wonderful results with acupuncture its a different story. Some patients really do begin to appreciate the art of acupuncture and become interested what we do. They will ask what point is what and I generally use the images in a newsletter or patient education afterwards.
Are there any marketing efforts you tried that just didn’t work for you? Why do you think that was?
I recently did my first health expo. It was a fun learning experience but didn’t go the way I expected. At the end I was still able to recover a little over half the costs and book in a few new patients.
I definitely do not have the gift of gab and I’m gun-shy when it comes to the hard sell. My passion is in the visual mediums, storytelling, and helping people through acupuncture. At these type of events the whole point of it is to sell: Now or never.
Most of my referrals come from word of mouth or the website but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and give it a try. On a website, people get to read a bit about you stalk you down a bit and then make an educated decision about whether you are or are not the right fit for them. However, at an event, you need to have a script, your body language, tone of voice, everything needs to be on point. (Which I was not.)
I found also that at the health event I was constantly pitching and competing with all the other noise: Chakra healing, palm reading, energy clearing, aura cleansing, foot massage, etc. There were so many things that I felt people that actually didn’t know what was legit medicine and what was not.
They were being pulled in so many directions that they probably assumed it was all fake. I know I would have been confused. But that’s just me. In the end, it was a great learning experience and exposed my weaknesses I know I need to work on now.
What advice would you give to acupuncture students about getting into practice?
I would say it’s never too early to start learning marketing. There is nothing wrong or icky or sleazy about sales and marketing. Instead of thinking you are a “know it all” become a “learn it all.” You can’t help anyone if they don’t know you exist.
You have a Masters degree or even a PhD in TCM but if have no idea on how to market yourself you are destined to struggle in this field. Let’s be real for a minute: There are no jobs out there. Take matters into your own hands. The minute you signed up for acupuncture school you signed up to be a solo entrepreneur. You are the director, the marketing department, the accountant, the janitor and reception. If you put in the work you will get the results.
Most important of all have fun and enjoy this amazing, sometimes frustrating, and rewarding journey.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just wanted to say thanks to Michelle for having me here today. 🙂
My pleasure! Thanks so much for being here!
Thank you again, Bob, for sharing not only the fantastic before-and-after photos, but your insights.
I loved this sneak peek into your creative process! And I hope others are inspired to pursue their interests after reading how you followed your passion until you became an expert.