Michelle is an acupuncturist who built several successful businesses before deciding to share her expertise mentoring health and wellness experts to do the same.
And, just as exciting, Michelle is giving everyone a copy of her amazing book, “Unstoppable: Strategies to Launch and Grow Your Holistic Practice.”
Let’s get started!
Hi Michelle! Thanks so much for being here. I’m a huge fan of your podcast, book, Facebook community… everything! I’m so excited to chat with you today.
Let’s talk about your background first. You’re an acupuncturist and you built a large, successful wellness clinic from scratch, which you ran for three years. Can you tell us a little about that?
When I left my corporate career of 15 years, I was clear and confident that I wanted to start my own business. Second to that, I wanted to do that within an industry I believed in and something that I was passionate about.
So immediately after I completed my Master’s program in for acupuncture, I began writing a business plan and seeing patients out of my home. I did that for 6 months while I found space for the clinic and completed the build out.
I moved in to the clinic and added another practitioner within one month and another five months later there were five of us and I was signing paperwork to acquire a community acupuncture clinic and began operating two locations.
At the apex of the business there were nine of us and the clinic offered everything from infrared sauna to massage, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, homeopathy and natural skin care services.
So you have quite a bit of experience in creating and maintaining successful businesses. How did you transition from that role into a business strategist and mentor for wellness entrepreneurs? What motivated that transition?
From my first year in business I was mentoring other practitioners. They would find me and want to “pick my brain” about what I was doing and how. I was a business mentor through SCORE.org and was providing guidance and advice for business owners in various industries.
It’s almost like the job picked me instead of the other way around. Through my experience building the clinic, I learned I absolutely love starting and building businesses, and that I am a serial entrepreneur.
I also learned that having a brick and mortar business was not the correct business model for me because it lacked the flexibility and agility I desired. It is true you can hire people to run your business while you are away, and I did just that, but your team still requires your leadership.
I also really love inspiring and mentoring others to find success on their own terms. So as soon as I built up the courage to let go, I moved away from a local business and into an online model providing business strategy and mentorship 100% of the time.
What are the common difficulties that people come to you with regarding building their practices? Do you see a lot of common themes?
Practitioners are struggling primarily to get clients and make the money they desire. They are overwhelmed by all the hats they need to wear as a business owner, they are frustrated with the rate of growth in their business, they feel alone thinking their struggles are unique to them and they are exhausted trying to figure out if what they are doing is working or what to do at all.
I can really relate to some of those, especially the surprise of having to wear so many hats. And I think it’s good for people to hear that their struggles aren’t unique to them; if one acupuncturist is having difficulty, it’s likely that others are as well. It’s nice to hear this reinforced, that we’re not in this alone.
I love that you’re always promoting the power of community – on your
podcast, your Facebook page, everywhere. Why do you think community is so essential to building a practice?
I believe community is essential for any business. Actively participating in community will ensure your success and accelerate the growth of your business. The right type of community will provide you unwavering support for the ups and downs of business ownership, guidance and advice on business matters, the opportunity to network and partner to grow your business, focus and accountability to keep you on track and give you access to tons of tactical business knowledge and experience. I wrote on this very topic recently for the Huffington Post.
Do you include an acupuncturist’s patients when you’re talking about community, because of their ability to generate referrals?
Community is everywhere. For a local business, it may be the community where you work and live, your clinic community of practitioners and patients, a specific community you pay to belong to like the Rotary or local Chamber of Commerce. Community may also be a paid mastermind or even a free Facebook Group. The concepts I previously discussed apply to all of these.
Current patients can be a powerful, free resource to generate new patients. But even though we all understand that, many of us are still reluctant to ask for referrals. Why do you think that is? In your experience, what are the common barriers to asking?
The barriers to making the ask have little to nothing to do with the patient and everything to do with the practitioner. It is lack of confidence in self. It is fear of rejection or sometimes a deeper fear of success. It is lack of self-worth.
I often hear excuses like, “It’s hard for me because I am shy or introverted.”
I also have a lot of practitioners tell me they are not sure how to ask.
How can we overcome these barriers? What do you usually recommend?
Develop your wording and practice. Practice with the patients who love you and you are most comfortable with first. Set a clear goal for yourself for the week; look at your schedule and identify the two people you will ask this week, for example.
This is typically not something we are naturally good at and it takes practice. It’s like developing a muscle; you need to keep exercising it over time and it gets stronger and stronger.
I couldn’t agree more! So many people think they either born with marketing skills or not. It takes practice, but we can all get better and feel more confident about marketing.
Is there a specific way of phrasing the request that tends to work best or make it more comfortable for people to ask?
There is no right or wrong way. The best way is to be yourself and practice so you can find what works best for you.
Here’s what I would do with my patients:
Patient: How’s business going?
Me: Great, I’ve been booked solid this week! But we’re still growing and looking to help more people so if you know of anyone I would appreciate your referral. The people I love working with and can help most are (fill in the blank).
Make sure to empower them with a business card!
By the end I had all my patients trained and they would come in telling me they needed more business cards to hand out. I did not even need to ask them anymore.
Never did I give the impression I was exhausted or that we had too many patients. And I always thanked them for every referral.
Is there a specific type of patient in our practices that we should ask for referrals?
Everyone is a potential source for referrals, but your raving fans are your best sources. Start with the individuals who love you, know you and trust you.
Do you have to tell patients specifically what kinds of patients you want them to send? The ones that are a good fit for your practice? How do we tell them that?
Yes. Empower your patients and take away the guesswork. Keep it simple so they are not put in the position to try to explain what you do and so they can easily identify who is a good referral for you.
Share with them the top one or two things you treat in your clinic. Be consistent. This provides your patients the opportunity to easily identify who to refer.
How do you feel about a referral system where patients who send a certain number of referrals get a free treatment or other “reward” as motivation to refer? Do you find that this works?
I have never personally used this approach. Different approaches work for different people. This approach may work for some and not others.
Find a way to ASK FOR REFERRALS that feels authentic to you. The key is you still need to ask.
Sometimes I see people put on the back of their business cards, “The highest compliment you can give me is to refer a friend” or something similar. Do you think this is effective? Is it enough?
I’ve seen this and have also seen signs similar to this in clinic reception areas. It’s definitely not enough.
You need to remember people are mostly focused on themselves. Even the patients who love you are not going through their day thinking of who they can refer to you.
But people do want to help people.
So if you ask, you are more likely to make a lasting impression.
Do you have a follow-up system for someone who sends a referral in your direction, like a phone call or thank you note to the referrer? Is this important?
The most important step in any sales process for existing or potential business is follow up.
I always sent a hand written note and also verbally thanked my patients for their support and choosing the clinic every time they came in.
Anything else you would recommend?
Just do it. 🙂
Thank you Michelle! And thank you again for offering the free download of your eBook to our readers! I’m so excited about that.
Everyone can grab their copy here.
Additional Resources from Michelle McGlade:
Facebook Community: Making the Maven with Michelle McGlade
Huffington Post: 5 Reasons You Need Community to Grow Your Business