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Today we’re chatting with Lorne Brown, Dr. TCM, author of the new acupuncture practice management book, Missing the Point: Why Acupuncturists Fail and What They Need to Know to Succeed. Lorne has been in practice for 16 years and runs the Acubalance Fertility Center in Vancouver, British Columbia (West Coast Canada, for everyone who is getting out their maps) where he has six associate acupuncturists. (Yes you read that right: six.) He’s also the founder of Pro D Seminars and Medigogy.com, two huge continuing education websites for acupuncturists worldwide.
So let me do some over-sharing with you. I read this book during a heat spell earlier this summer, in my 100-degree apartment, in my underwear. You guys, is this too much information? I’ve been reading a lot lately that bloggers should let their audience get to know them, share their real life with them. Well, in my real life, my upstairs apartment was 1000 degrees and sticky, and my cat insisted on sitting on my lap (why?! 😹). Yet despite the heat-wave discomfort of my home, I sat in one place and read this book cover-to-cover. I could. not. stop. reading!
Plus I don’t usually like to write in my books; I like to keep them crisp and unmarked. But I couldn’t help myself with this one. I ended up underlining and taking notes on every other page. In hot pink ink, no less.
I’m excited to interview Lorne this week because I enjoyed reading Missing the Point THAT much. It combines practical, actionable advice for consistently boosting patient numbers with a supportive (and a tiny bit tough-love) manifesto for long-term success.
I feel like Lorne’s approach to marketing and overall practice success is reasonable and completely do-able. I appreciate that he’s honest and doesn’t sugar coat the truth. Lorne offers good advice, not “marketing secrets” or “quick fixes.” I like that he emphasizes that running a practice is hard work. Moving towards success is the result of consistently effort over time. I couldn’t agree more.
Before we get started, can buy your copy of Lorne’s book here on Amazon:
So for all of these reasons, I’m happy to share this discussion with Lorne with you. Let’s get to it!
Hi Lorne! Welcome. You had a previous career as an accountant. What spurred your transition from accounting to acupuncture?
Like many who now practice acupuncture I had health issues and it was Chinese herbs and acupuncture that restored my health. Nothing else had worked so TCM peaked my interest and I started to study it for personal interest only. I felt inspired and left my career as a controller for the Ocean Spray Cranberry Growers and went back to school to complete my Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine at ICTCM in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
You have a thriving practice with six associate acupuncturists. That’s pretty amazing. Was your original plan to build a practice this large, or was its growth organic?
It was organic growth. I had a relatively busy practice from the start in 2000 and by 2004 when I needed associates to service my wait list as working more hours was not an option. I added my first two associates in 2004 and have an amazing team of six associates and three admin staff. I am looking to add two more associates to our team to help with the patient demand and to staff our clinic expansion plus the new satellite clinic we want to open by the end of 2017. If you are a registered acupuncturist in Canada please look me up 🙂
To what do you attribute your success at Acubalance?
I think the key is I am aware I am running a business. Most successful practitioners I have met pay attention to both their clinical skills and business skills. Here are the top 5 reasons I think I have been successful:
- I am aware I am running a business (people pay us to help them heal)
- I have a niche, a specialty, treating infertility and women during pregnancy.
- We create value for our patients AND we communicate that value well to our patients.
- Hiring the right culture fit for Acubalance. My team is made up of amazing people.
- All Acubalance staff and practitioners continually invest in themselves. I share with them to make more money they need to become more valuable to our patients and Acubalance. We do regular continuing education since we have easy access to Pro D Seminars and Medigogy and the Integrative Fertility Symposium. Now we are all enrolled in Sharon Weizenmbaum’s Two Year Graduate Mentorship Program on top of what we are already doing. So we easily do 10 times the minimum 25 hours a year required in continuing education.
What made you decide to write your book, Missing the Point?
The world needs more prosperous acupuncturists. Most of the people I have met practicing TCM have big hearts and good intentions and we share similar values. Unfortunately, many of them are struggling financially and as a result take on part time jobs or leave the profession all together to pursue a different career. I wanted to share my knowledge and experience as a chartered professional accountant (CPA) and as successful TCM practitioner how others can succeed as well in their practices and do it with integrity.
The impetus really came when a practitioner told me they could not afford a $75 course on Pro D on how to attract new patients because they spent $200 on a Yellow Pages ad. It was not so much him saying he cannot afford the $75 but really my perception of his underlying attitude and beliefs preventing him to make good decisions to lead to succeed. The chapter on “Focus on Return on Investment (ROI)” is for him and all those whoever have whispered the words “it is too expensive” or “I cannot afford it” when it comes to investing in themselves to grow personally and professionally.
I love that one of the first things you emphasized earlier and in Missing the Point is that as acupuncturists, we need to embrace the fact that we are business owners. Otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for failure. I think this is a tiny bit of tough love for some people, but I couldn’t agree more. Why is this so important?
Like it or not, acupuncturists are small business owners and many small businesses fail. Add to the mix that medical professionals in general are in denial about being in business only adds to their risk of failing. Acupuncturists fail because they neglect the business aspect of their practice.
The reward of healing our patients comes as a result of building a successful practice. This same interdependency exists in the foundation of our medicine: Yin and Yang. We need both clinical skills and business skills to bring forth success. When you choose to be a practitioner of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture you are choosing to run a business. Yin and Yang are interdependent; one cannot exist without the other and when they separate there is death. Focusing only on clinical skills and not tending also to the running of your business will lead to demise of your practice.
Just as you learned skills to be a practitioner, there are skills necessary for building and managing your business successfully.
It is important because if you only focus on your clinical skills and neglect your business skills then your Yin and Yang will be out of relationship and your practice will struggle or fail.
Why do you think there’s so much resistance to this concept (acupuncturists accepting their role as business owners), and what do you think it will take to address this on a large scale (i.e., in North America)?
It is a cultural mindset in the world of academia and medicine. There is this guilt to be paid directly by our end consumer. Professors are happy to accept grants and a school salary but not money directly from students. Doctors have no guilt billing insurance but we have some issues asking patients to pay. So it is an underlying belief in the fabric of our culture.
To address this on a large scale it will take a change in our attitude and belief about money plus a few TCM pioneers to lead the way for the rest of to make the change. It starts with accepting the fact that you are in business and that you need to be able to afford to keep your clinic doors open in order to treat your community. And as we each succeed and experience more financial abundance in our lives I hope the successful acupuncturists will give back to their communities through charities and donating their time and services too.
I am on a mission to help my colleagues succeed because the world needs more prosperous acupuncturists.
Learning to “own” our role as entrepreneurs is a big leap for many of us. What’s your advice for changing how we see ourselves so that they can actually embrace the business side of our chosen profession?
It is simple, you are a small business owner. To succeed you need to adopt the attitudes and philosophies of successful entrepreneurs. Here is an excerpt from my book, Missing the Point:
Many TCM practitioners operate under the myth that to have a thriving practice, you must be a scholar and a clinically skilled master of Chinese medicine. But your clinical skills have little bearing on how busy you are or how much you can charge for your services. Why? Because patients cannot tell the difference between a good acupuncture/herbal prescription from a poor one.
That’s an important point, and one that most practitioners are in denial about, so I’m going to say it again: Patients cannot tell the difference between a good acupuncture/herbal prescription and a bad one. Your patients are not experts in Chinese medicine, so they cannot judge your treatments. Though the quality of the work might affect retention and word of mouth, your patients choose their acupuncture practitioner based on a variety of emotional, financial, and interpersonal factors that are often independent of any clinical factors. So if you want to help as many people as possible and receive fair payment for your valuable work, you have to know how to connect with patients on emotional, financial, and interpersonal levels.
Many TCM practitioners find it challenging to meld the identities of “businessperson” and “health-care provider.” Some have a mental block to financial success—perceiving money as the root of all evil—while others lack the work ethic required to succeed. But hopefully once you acknowledge that you are the CEO, marketing manager, accountant, healer, counselor, and janitor of your business, your perception will change.
Practitioners who reject their role as business owners experience meager earnings and endless amounts of frustration, whereas if you do accept that your roles as businessperson and healer are mutually dependent (just like the laws of yin and yang), then you can create a future where the sky is the limit.
You control your destiny and the success of your acupuncture practice. And one day, instead of wondering where it all went wrong, you’ll marvel at all the people you’ve been able to help and who have happily paid you for the improved quality of life you helped them create.
It is important to me that my message is communicated clearly and properly. I want you to be BOTH a skilled practitioner and a skilled business person. I am not suggesting being a sleazy practitioner and taking advantage of the public. I want you to succeed with integrity. This requires investing in the skills needed how to run a business as well as the skills to treat effectively and safely.
In your book you talk about gratitude and lack of entitlement as important components of practice success. Why are these so crucial?
Where the mind goes the Qi follows, what you focus on becomes your reality. So practicing gratitude daily is very important in order to re-wire and train your brain to perceive the world from an optimistic perspective. You will be amazed how you will now see opportunities that you missed before that can lead you on the path to success.
Entrepreneurs depend entirely on their own abilities for economic security and expect opportunity in life after having created value for others. This is the attitude necessary to achieve your dreams. You already know how important attitude is. It affects your thinking, your actions, and the way you are perceived by others. Sadly, an entire generation in North America has grown up with an attitude that they deserve privilege and benefits without putting in the effort to earn them. At some point, the American dream mutated, and the Land of Opportunity became the Land of Entitlement.
Remember the Janet Jackson song “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” That’s what this syndrome reminds me of. If you have this entitlement attitude—you believe that the world owes you something, that people should act a certain way toward you, or that some association or governing body is supposed to help you out—then there’s unfortunately very little I can do for you. This attitude is the antithesis to the entrepreneurial spirit and certain to keep you from being successful.
The entrepreneur’s attitude is to be paid or provided with opportunities after they are confident that his customer is receiving value and benefit in return. I practice gratitude daily as an exercise to help me create and maintain the right attitudes. These attitudes and beliefs become the filters in I see and perceive the world so it is imperative I protect and influence the wiring of my brain so I can experience more joy and success.
I’ve always been a big proponent of marketing efforts that add up over time, and I feel like the outlook in your book is similar. You state that success is the result of “sustained effort, even when it feels fruitless” and I agree. I’ve never believed that there is a real marketing “secret” or “shortcut” that will suddenly make us all rich. It’s repeated effort, over and over, that makes a business great over time. How long did it take you realize this? How have you seen it play out in your own business efforts?
Marketing can be very expensive. I learned from a business coach in 2005 to always have a call to action in your marketing and especially if you are spending money on ad. it is a process that requires repetition and takes time so do not spend all your budget on one big marketing campaign.
Marketing serves three purposes. One is to let people know you exist. Second is to communicate how you can be of value to them (why should they care you exist). And third is a call to action that invites them to get to know you. It could be to attend a lecture you are offering, watch a video you have created, attend acupuncture happy hour at your clinic or a fair, or to download something of benefit to them from your website. (For example, we offer the Acubalance fertility diet and recipes eBook free online if you submit your email.)
I think occasionally the concept of “sustained effort, even when it feels fruitless” is hard for people to embrace; because you can build a practice consistently for years before feeling like you’ve “made it.” This is normal, but hard to accept sometimes. Do you have advice for staying motivated when a practitioner feels in a rut? Like they’re not where they want to be yet, and it feels like it’s taking a long time to get there?
I fall into these ruts still today. I want to manage your readers’ expectations and let them know you will never be immune to these ruts where you feel frustrated, have self-doubt and lose your confidence. But it is possible to avoid falling into these ruts as often and more importantly how to get out of them quickly. I really like Dan Sullivan from Strategic Coach’s description of the Rut which he calls the GAP and which share in my book.
Strategic coach Dan Sullivan has written Learning How to Avoid the Gap, which uses the following analogy: Imagine you’re sailing across the ocean. Ahead in the distance you see a horizon—which is just an illusion where it appears that the sky meets the ocean. The horizon signifies our long-term goal(s). For patients, it signifies the magical end to their problems: no back pain, no headaches, normal blood pressure, an end to sleepless nights, a baby, whatever it may be. For us as TCM practitioners, it might be a full practice, or an abundance of income that affords us the luxury and comfort of freedom to do whatever we want, or the ability to take well-deserved holidays or pay for our kids’ college education.
But as you’re sailing across the ocean, the horizon never seems to get closer. Every morning as you return on deck from your sleeping quarters and look out at the horizon, it will appear every bit as far away as it did the day before. If you focus only on the horizon and do not regularly check behind you to see how far you have traveled from land, then it’s easy to get depressed and frustrated and to lose your confidence because it appears you are not making any progress. But that’s because you are only focusing on the horizon, what you have yet to achieve.
This is The GAP.
It is very important to set goals if you want to be successful, but you also need to regularly stop to measure your progress and appreciate your milestones along the way. Just like the horizon, your goals can keep eluding you as you change them or you choose bigger goals. It is human nature to constantly strive to be better. Just like the horizon, we can never truly reach our full potential, so it is important to avoid the gap by regularly looking back and acknowledging how far you have come since you started.
I have found two approaches that prevent me from regularly falling into THE GAP and that also allows me to come out of it quickly too. I still fall into a GAP but I can come out it within minutes or a few hours instead of remaining in it for several months or years. The two activities I apply are mindfulness and practicing gratitude. Practicing gratitude is about measuring the progress you have made from where you were yesterday or a few months ago to where you are today. You are experiencing a RUT because you are comparing yourself today to where you want to be (the horizon) instead of where you have come from. I practice gratitude daily and if I feel like I am in a rut I intentionally look backwards and measure my progress.
The second approach is mindfulness. I give myself permission to be in the moment and enjoy the activity I am doing. Everything slows down as if there is no future or goal. I experience pleasure out of just doing the activity without any attachment to the outcome. I have not mastered this skill but the few seconds I am able to be just in the moment brings me pleasure from just doing the activity for the joy of doing it and takes me out of the Rut/GAP.
In Chapter 10, you emphasize that “free has no value” and you don’t advocate giving treatments away. There’s always considerable debate on the topic of discounts or free treatments as a marketing tool. Why do you think that giving your services away for free is a bad marketing angle?
Free or deep discounting can devalue your services. Patients are often not as invested in their health outcome if they are not paying. The only way we can appreciate a value is by its cost to us. If it doesn’t cost much we probably wouldn’t call it valuable. There is something that transforms us when we have to pay for something. It makes something of us when we pay for it versus free. I prefer to not compete on price otherwise I will end up having to keep lowering my fees and working harder. There is a time and place for discounts and freebies but it is beyond the scope of our interview but I do cover it in lectures. My message is “free has no value” so it may not be the best way to attract patients value your services and are willing to pay you for them.
I also enjoy that you really encourage acupuncturists to think outside the box, that “part of innovation is to overcome the objections of others.” Basically, that if we have a great idea for the way we run our business and we feel confident that it will work out, we shouldn’t write it off just because others say, “That’s not how it’s done.” How has this manifested in your practice, or in Pro D Seminars?
I have a long list of successful endeavors that would never have manifested if I had listened to the naysayers.
It started with me leaving a secure and well-paying job as a controller back when I was pursuing my CPA career. My family and friends thought I was throwing my financial freedom and future away. Today, I make as a good or better living as my accounting colleagues who I used to work with but I am having way more fun. My future has turned out well and thankfully I did not listen to those who were discouraging me to pursuer Chinese medicine as a career.
I continue to follow my heart and dreams which also means ignoring the doubters. Here are some more examples.
Pro D Seminars
I was told in 2007 for online continuing education (Pro D Seminars) would fail because not enough people would want to give up attending live webinars to watch on their computers. I believed for didactic learning that online learning can be superior because you can go back to the recording and watch it over again and choose to learn to in-person because you can choose to study in smaller chunks of time instead of 8 hours straight. Pro D is one of the pioneers of online learning for Chinese medicine and now there are many online CEU providers. I am having so much fun moderating classes and I am personally benefiting clinically by having access to all this incredible online content and to the speakers who offer the courses.
The Integrative Fertility Symposium
I hosted The Integrative Fertility Symposium (IFS), a destination conference for acupuncturists, especially Americans, held in Vancouver BC in 2015 and 2016. I was told it would fail because it was too specialized, Americans will not travel, and in-person TCM conferences in general are struggling because practitioners are choosing online courses. The IFS sold out 8 weeks in advance in 2015 and 2016 and now we are planning to hold it again in 2017 and 2018.
Acubalance Wellness Centre
I began my practice in 2000. By 2002 I started to specialize in treating infertility at my Acubalance clinic. I was told by many of my peers I would starve to death as there were not enough patients to fill a practice dedicated to such a niche. I understood where they were coming from. Back in 2002 infertility patients seeking acupuncture was rare. And infertility did not even have its own chapter in our TCM gynecology text books and instead was listed as a miscellaneous disease. My practice was so full with a waiting list by 2004 that I chose to only see reproductive health related patients and I hired two associates that year as well to help with my wait list and demand by fertility and pregnancy patients wanting to have acupuncture.
My advice is if you are passionate about something then go for it and ignore the nay sayers and surround yourself with people who support your ideas.
If you are passionate about Chinese medicine and you change your thinking as you discuss in your book, what else is necessary to be successful?
Two thoughts come to mind (no pun intended).
Taking action. The right thinking is not enough to be successful. Thinking and attitude must be followed with action to be successful. I do not believe you can achieve your goals with only wishful thinking.
And secondly is to create value.
If you are passionate about practicing Chinese medicine but no one is willing to pay you for your services, then it is really just a hobby and not an actual career. So many practitioners struggle to pay their bills. Many need to take on part time jobs to support themselves financially or have to let go of practicing Chinese and choose a different career path.
The public has to perceive there is value in what you are offering. They are not concerned about how many years you went to school or how much school debt you have accumulated. They are only concerned if you are the solution to their health issue. You must be able to communicate to them that you have the ability to help them, supported by past successes, for them to perceive enough value, that the treatments are worth the investment
“Profit is the applause you get for taking care of your customers and creating a motivating environment for your people.” ~ One-minute manager by Ken Blanchard
If you could give us just one piece of advice that we can put into practice today to improve our success, what would it be?
Change your thinking. Your daily actions are the habits that will lead you to success or failure. But your actions are always congruent with your philosophies and beliefs so it starts with the right thinking. See a clinical hypnotherapist, practice gratitude daily, read motivational books and hire good coaches to find out the attitudes of successful entrepreneurs.
You refer to marketing as “mindshare,” which is a pretty spectacular way of putting it. You emphasize that marketing is simply letting the people who need you, know that you exist. I feel like this makes marketing seem more like simply sharing what you do, instead of being pushy or salesy. Why is this so important for acupuncturists to keep in mind?
Your goal is first to become valuable to the market you want to serve. This requires continually investment in yourself and your practice so you become more valuable. And marketing is your vehicle to communicate this value. Do not try to sell them. It is a dance. You are developing a relationship. Solid relationships are based on trust and mutual respect. So do not try to close the deal in your marketing. You are using marketing to let the public know that you exist and that you have something of value to them. Remember the call to action. Make sure to provide them with an easy way to get to know you better through a call to action like attending a lecture, or to download an article you wrote.
You devote several chapters to marketing – why it’s important, how to think about it, and different kinds of marketing that are out there with advice for each type. What kind of marketing do you feel has worked best for you in building Acubalance?
Lectures have been the best way to reach our audience for Acubalance. We spend money on print ads to market the lectures.
Any other tips or wisdom you’d like to share?
The world needs more prosperous acupuncturists. Please nourish both the Yin (clinical skills) and Yang (business skills) of your practice. We have some excellent business courses on www.medigogy.com that are free to watch and download handouts by Dan Clements, Kirsten Karchmer, Nicole Lang and many more.
Thank you, Lorne!
I hope everyone is inspired to check out Lorne’s book so you can dive even deeper into his philosophy and advice. I know I’m looking forward to reading it several times more, because so much was covered and it has a positive emphasis that makes me feel like I can take over the world.
You can buy Lorne’s book here on Amazon:
Have questions or thoughts for Lorne? Leave them in the comments below!
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