News from the New



This is a really long post; you might want to pour yourself a cup of tea.

As a new Community Acupuncture clinic owner, I’m in good company.About 50 CA clinics have opened in the last year or so, meaning that roughly a third of the community clinics on our Locate-A-Clinic page are pretty new at this.So I thought it would be fun to check in with my fellow newbies and see how everyone’s doing.We all celebrate when a new clinic opens, but we don’t always get to hear how things are going six months or a year down the road.So I did an informal little survey of the new clinics and here’s what people had to say.Please keep in mind, this is not one of those surveys that are designed to prove a particular point or paint biased picture.My goal here was twofold: 1) to give everyone an update on how our new clinics are doing, and 2) to give the CAN-curious an idea of what they might expect in the first year or so when opening up a new clinic.

I had about 20 responses total, and not everyone answered all questions, which is fine.And if you’re a new CAN clinic and I didn’t contact you, please forgive me.I tried to reach everyone but one or two of you may have slipped through the cracks.Okay, so here we go!

When did you open?

Everyone opened sometime between June 2009-August 2010.

Why did you decide to open where you did?

The top reason here was proximity to home.Diversity, a need for affordable healthcare, and good exposure were other popular answers.

What is your business structure?

50% of the new CAPs are LLCs, 39% are sole proprietors, and 11% are partnerships.None of the CAPs who responded are corporations.

How many punks do you have?

One new CAP has 3 punks; of the remainder, half have 1 punk and half have 2.

Did you attend a CAN workshop?

35% did not attend a workshop, and 65% did.Some folks attended workshops before and after opening.

How many patients does your clinic treat per week?How many would you like to treat?

Answers varied widely here.For number of patients treated per week, answers ranged from less than 15 to 200 a week. 3 of the 18 clinics who responded reported being satisfied with the number of patients they are treating.Of the remaining 15 clinics, answers for the number of patients they’d like to treat in a week ranged from 40 to 250 patients per week.The average number of patients per week among all responses was 54.For those clinics who haven’t quite reached their target, the average number of patients seen per week was 34.

What’s your physical space like?

Square footage: answers ranged from 296-1960 square feet.Average was 980 square feet.  Number of chairs/tables: answers ranged from 5-17.Average was 8.6 chairs/tables.

What do you like about your space?

I got a lot of interesting answers here.Some owners cited practical reasons: affordability, large size (although one owner likes the small size of her clinic), having a separate reception area or private office, accessibility, and having a sink in the treatment room and herb room (I’m jealous!).Some owners also like their clinic’s aesthetics: paint colors, natural light, trees, and beauty.Intangible reasons were also cited: serenity of the treatment room, positive energy, a cozy feeling, and quiet.And then there were community-minded reasons: building neighbors and working-class neighborhood.

What do you dislike about your space?

The most popular answers here were: too small, too expensive, no separate reception area, and poor visibility.Other answers included: not enough natural light; too much noise from the outside; divided treatment rooms; no thermostat; no separate intake area; having to move furniture in a shared space; poor sound barrier between waiting room and treatment room; lack of a private office for making phone calls; no way to see into the waiting room from the treatment room; no space to teach tai chi without moving chairs; and inadequate storage space.

How much is your rent?

Answers ranged from $340-$2250 per month.Average was $1090 per month.One clinic pays based on a percentage of income.

How much did you spend on startup?

Answers ranged from $200-$17,000 (which included 2.5 months’ rent).Average was $6,384.

How did you fund your startup?

Answers here really surprised me.I funded my startup with credit cards and assumed most others did as well.Boy was I wrong.Half of new clinic owners funded their startups from personal savings.Of the remaining 50%, funding sources were dispersed pretty evenly: credit cards, phasing out of another office or working another job, family support, or the sale of a home.One owner obtained a microloan through the county.Another owner received an inheritance literally the day before signing the lease.How’s that for timing?Financially, we are a pretty creative bunch!

Are you paying yourself yet?

55% said yes, 45% said no.Bear in mind, I didn’t define what “paying yourself” means.For some folks it means paying the bills, for others it means more.The sense that I got from pretty much everyone is that most of us run on a tight budget, and it takes time to actually make a living wage.

How did you advertise your opening?

Flyers, flyers and more flyers was by far the top response.Other frequently-cited means included newspaper ads, free calendar of events, email blasts, facebook, website, and word-of-mouth.Other answers included signs, press releases, a visit from the mayor (how cool!), health magazine ads, postcards, rack cards, craigslist, taiji students, free treatment cards, giveaways such as pens and water bottles, meeting neighbors, networking through the chamber of commerce, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

What marketing strategies have worked best?

Top answers here were word-of-mouth, flyers, free days, and local events such as farmer’s markets and health fairs.Second most popular responses included google ads, facebook ads, 2-for-1 deals, website, and print ads.Other responses included monthly specials, quarterly newsletter, banners, facebook, daily deal websites, free pens, visibility, Angie’s list, and radio interviews.

What marketing strategies haven’t worked so well?

There was no real consensus here.Three owners cited print ads, and the rest of the answers were each mentioned only once: cold calling, 2-for-1 deals, free treatments, flyers, having classes at the clinic, free radio commercial, health fairs, and reusable shopping bags with the clinic’s name.Generally, it seems like the things that cost a lot of money don’t tend to pay off.Then there was my favorite answer to the question: “Nothing!”

How does your front desk work?

7 answers for volunteers, 7 answers for Invisible Receptionist, 5 answers for self, 2 answers for practitioners trading off duties, and 1 answer for paid receptionists.Many clinics use more than one system.

What works or doesn’t work well about your front desk?

There were many responses to this question, but they all basically said the same thing: having a live human at the front desk is invaluable.Here are some reasons people gave: doing front desk yourself takes away time from treating patients and spreads the practitioner too thin; patients don’t always book their own appointments with the IR, or some patients don’t “get” how the IR works, or it’s disruptive in the treatment room; practitioners don’t have enough time to answer basic questions that a receptionist can explain; keeping track of pre-pays is difficult without a live person; and new patients can be disoriented entering an empty waiting room with no receptionist.

Do you use online scheduling?

One-third of clinics do, and two-thirds don’t.Why don’t people use online scheduling? Keeping down costs was by far the top answer.

If you do online scheduling, what do you like or dislike?

Convenience, convenience, convenience.The only “dislike” was having to match up the online schedule with the paper appointment book.

What treatment techniques do you find most effective?

Balance method was by far the top answer – CAN practitioners love Dr. Tan!Other popular answers included Master Tung, 8 Extras, meridian therapy, Miriam Lee’s 10, and treatment protocols in Acupuncture is Like Noodles.Other answers included cupping, TCM, bleeding, auricular, scalp, essential oils, and basic intuition!

What are your busiest days and times?
Days: 5 votes for Friday, 4 for Saturday, 3 for Monday and Tuesday, 2 for Thursday.None for Wednesday or Sunday. 
Times: 6 votes for evenings, 2 for afternoon and 2 for morning.

Did you practice Private Room/Boutique acupuncture before CA?

70% yes; 30% no.

If so, what do you like better about CA?

Affordability was the top answer, followed up by the ability to see more patients and the fact that PRA was boring.Other answers were: PRA was exhausting; not having to make housecalls anymore; CA is easier to market; less hassle with CA; CA is more effective; you don’t have to talk all day with CA; seeing long term, regular patients; seeing patients frequently; patient appreciation; the rhythm of CA; and the fact that CA is easier to start in a new community.

Is there anything you miss about PRA?

Two people answered that they missed having lengthier conversations with patients; and two people said they made more money with PRA.Other answers were: more privacy with intakes; moxa; treating backs, and the less hectic pace of PRA.Several folks answered that they don’t miss PRA at all.

What have been your biggest challenges in doing CA?

Many clinic owners cited the difficulty of the building phase: getting enough patients to make it work, building from scratch, being patient while it builds, and making a living wage.When relating to patients, some challenges included figuring how to provide good care with less time, having good treatment protocols, and getting patients to trust and engage in the process.Practical, business-oriented challenges included marketing, bookkeeping, incorporating herbs, and front desk operations.Learning to go with the flow and not be attached to success or failure were other challenges.

What have been your most pleasant surprises?

There were SO many great answers here!One recurrent theme is that people have been overwhelmed by amount of gratitude and support from their communities.Better clinical results was another top answer.We already heard about all the fruit from the patients in Chico.Molly and Rachel at Casita Community Acupuncture wrote, “In our first 3 weeks, between the clinic hours, a free day, and a health fair, we'd already seen 100 patients, which is astounding compared to our PRA friends' first 3 weeks.”

What have you had to learn or unlearn in order to practice CA?

Speed, new treatment techniques, and communicating treatment plans were top answers here.Other answers included simplicity, staying calm, losing the ego, forgetting about what patients paid, and thinking outside the box.

What advice do you wish you had gotten before starting a CAP?

Okay, those of you interested in starting your own community clinic, pay attention:Start ASAP.Don’t do it alone; get people to help you.Negotiate with your landlord for a good deal.Have other CA owners look over your lease before you sign – they’ll find things a lawyer won’t.Have a step-by-step marketing plan.Get advice on how to talk to patients so that they’ll come back.Know how to treat pain – learn Tan and Tung.Be patient; it can take a good three months before you see the fruits of your efforts or marketing strategies.Get business advice from local business development groups.Don’t let the financial details get overwhelming!And one more, a piece of advice passed down from the folks at TCA: Radical Simplicity.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Oh, this blog would be twice as long if I shared everything I heard here.Jennifer Woolf of Concord Community Acupuncture summed it up pretty well: “CA is about so much more than acupuncture. It’s about love. Love for self, for others, for the satisfaction of work, for giving and receiving, for acceptance of each person right where they are…”  Well said.

Thanks all you new clinics for participating!!! 


Author: alexa

Hey y'all!  I opened my CA clinic here in beautiful Music City, USA, in January 2010.  I love hanging out with other community acupuncturists, so come visit!

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  1. Thanks, Alexa!

    Thank you so much for conducting the survey.  I really enjoyed filling it out and am so pleased to see the results 🙂 Having more info. about other new CAPs is so helpful!

  2. Alexa you are on it girl!

    I also read how well your clinic is doing in the forum.  Kudos to you.  It’s interesting to read how new clinics are taking the mountain of information gathered over our 4 years in existence and making their own way.


  3. Thanks!

    Alexa – Thanks for compiling this. I enjoyed reading about all the other newbies. I think the two toughest things in these early months have been decision-making and self-evaluation. That is, asking: “What to do about this and that” and “How are we doing”?  It’s nice to see the variety of choices that other new clinics have made, and also to be able to benchmark our results.


    Michelle Faucher

    Chico Community Acupuncture


  4. Thank You!

    Thanks Alexa for your survey! I
    just opened a new CAN clinic in Portsmouth, NH two months ago and reading the results of your survey was very helpful and reassuring for me. So far, starting out has definitely had it’s ups and downs, but the ups make every down so worth it. Also, I must say, that the CAN community is beyond amazing, and the support I’ve received from other CANners near and far has blown my mind. So, thank you, thank you 🙂

    Emily (Portsmouth Community Acupuncture)

  5. Congrats!

    Emily, congrats on opening your new clinic!  I’m glad the survey was helpful.  Remember, you’re not alone! 

    Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane. -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  6. as a newbie-wanna-be

    As a Newbie-Wanna-Be, this rocks. 

     I am always profoundly grateful for CAN’s forum and blog posts as I approach graduation in 2011 and setting up my own practice.   It feels overwhelming, and all the wonderful supportive comments I read here give me solace.