The other day I was treating one of my regular patients. There was nothing in particular that he was complaining about; he just loves Acupuncture and comes every week regardless. I look at his tongue, feel his pulses, look at him in general, and needle accordingly. This time while I was feeling his pulses he mentioned that his grown daughter, who lives in another part of the country, visited a hybrid clinic (part Community Acupuncture, part Conventional or Boutique Acupuncture) near her. This clinic has been open for almost two years now; one of the four practitioners in fact was at the first workshop that WCA put on. I had recommended that this daughter go there as she needed follow-up treatment for sciatica that she had when she was visiting her parents earlier this summer. So now dad was telling me of her experience.
Dad said, “She didn’t like it much. It was a small room of just a few recliners and she was the only one there the whole time. But what really bothered her was that when the treatment was done the practitioner said to her that if she didn’t like the treatment, they could always try a private room.”
A paying customer lost.
Let that sink in for a second. Think how a customer was turned off and how word of mouth drives our businesses.
I almost don’t know where to begin in commenting on this; there are so many things to comment on in that one sentence, “if she didn’t like the treatment, they could always try a private room.” Okay I’ll start here: If you don’t truly, madly, deeply* believe in what you are doing, you- yeah I’m talking to YOU– you will fail as an acupuncturist. There’s no doubt. You will get another job to pay your loans or get your spouse to pay them for you but fail you will. Guaranteed.
People- patients- pick up on hesitation. They smell dishonesty as well as dogs do. They smell failure too. If you try to do any kind of Acupuncture without believing in it and yourself doing it, you will fail. That’s doubly true if you try to do Community Acupuncture where you need a lot of people to make up for the low prices you are charging. You can’t be half-assed about it. You can’t succeed with 4-7 chairs in the long run. You need a bigger set-up.
To get bigger you must like doing Community Acupuncture. Hey- to succeed in either Community or Boutique Acupuncture you must like doing it as much as you like doing anything else in your life. I understand that when you are newly licensed you are nervous and unsure of your abilities. I was too. But somehow you have to move past that. You must develop confidence in your skills and the only way to do that is by treating enough people. You must learn that the way most every patient gets better through Acupuncture is by getting treated multiple times, dozens of times often, and not by some great whiz-bang treatment. That is the nature of chronic illness: the whole body participates in the illness so you need to slowly convince the whole body that there is another way of living without that pain, and that takes a bunch of treatments. You must learn what I am saying on a deeper level than a sales pitch. You must believe.
The example I began this post with is an example of not believing. That practitioner is either completely unsure of what Acupuncture can do and/or they are using Community Acupuncture as a loss leader. In the end it makes little difference as they are on the road to going under. The clinic can’t support its three practitioners and like the great majority of Acupuncturists in the US, that clinic is more of a hobby now, one in which its best if they don’t quit their day jobs.
As I’ve said before, its entirely unrealistic to expect most newly licensed Acupuncturists to set up their own clinics and succeed. Realistically they need to work for others until they are comfortable enough to go on their own. Most never will get that comfortable. But since at this point working for others is not an option for almost every Acupuncture school graduate, they must set up a practice on their own. The natural thing to do in that circumstance is to hedge your bet on the new practice. Keep it small. Keep all options of treatment open. Be conservative. Convince yourself that you like a quiet special place to treat. And so you fail. Silly. You’ve already bet up to $100 large on your education-you are all in already! Getting cold feet right at the end will doom you. Figure out how many patients a week you need to survive and the make your clinic so that it can comfortably treat that many and some more. Hint: if you are doing Community Acupuncture, you need more than five chairs. Don’t think small.
There are many tips in the forums for CAN members to read on the many other issues of owning a practice. The important thing though to be open in your business dealings. Acting like the Acupuncturist at the top of this post will doom you. Don’t go there.