Eight Mistakes I Made in my Acupuncture Practice & Why I’m Glad I Made Them

Quote over a photo of grass, "Eight Mistakes I Made in my Acupuncture Practice & Why I’m Glad I Made Them".

Starting, growing, and running an acupuncture practice is one of the hardest things anyone can do. Many of us make big and little mistakes along the way, and I want to share with you what I learned the hard way, so hopefully you can avoid making these same mistakes.

1. Trying to appeal to everyone

In the early days, I offered “everything” I could as an acupuncturist. I thought this made me appealing and look like more of an expert. My website said – we offer tons of services! Cupping, moxa, acupuncture, e-stim, herbs, nutrition, Dr. Tan technique, gua sha, fertility work, stress relief, and more! I would do cupping if that’s all you wanted, an over the phone herb consult, a short stress relief treatment, ear-only, anything you could come up with.

Generally, this just led to confusion. It just overwhelmed and confused people.

They don’t even know what e-stim or moxa are usually. And they don’t care. They just want a solution to their problem. They want to feel better. They want a transformation. Someone they can trust to make the decision about what is in their best interest and will get them the result they desire.

So now, I think of myself as a solution to certain problems, not an “a la carte” service offering. I tailor my services and solutions for each particular patient. My message is clear, patients and potential patients “get” the value of my services, trust me, keep coming back, and refer their friends and family.

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2. Holding back from sharing my insights, wisdom and knowledge

I’m not sure if I was afraid of failing, afraid no one would listen, afraid of being presumptuous or pushy or bossy. I was too loosy-goosy with my patients and let them take the reins in terms of their care. I would say to my patient – so, when do you want to come back? I had to learn it the hard way. Finally, I had several patients say to me – I don’t know, what do you think – you’re the doctor! And I was like, Oh yah! I’m the doctor! I’m in charge and I know best!

I know my medicine, I know what’s best for my patients in terms of my medicine, and it is my job to educate them.

It is our job as a practitioner to lead, advise, and serve our patients in their best interest. It is our responsibility to tell it as we see it. In other words, to not hold back in telling them what we know from our experience, will get them the best results. We should never let someone just do whatever they want when it comes to using our services, if it is not in their best interest.

Don’t just let someone come less than they should, in less combination than will get them the best result, or for less time or frequency than they should. We’re doing our patients a disservice if we don’t impart our wisdom to them and share what we know can help them.

Once I stepped into my role the authority and expert, and stopped being shy and holding back information that would help my patients, I learned that In fact, people actually LOVE to be TOLD what to do by an expert!

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3. Undervaluing myself

We have all been there, that dark place where you feel like you might as well be making minimum wage because no one cares. Get yourself right up out of there. QUIT IT!

You and our medicine are so incredible and well-worth the investment and you need to tell people about it and get it out there to more people. I spent my first six months in practice feeling awkward about my fees, or discounting them at the last second because I thought someone would say no.

But once I had been in practice long enough to see the amazing impact I could have on peoples’ lives, I realized that I have something to bring to the table, something different than anyone else has. I have unique talents, experience, and skills. And SO DO YOU!! So stop it.

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4. Believing in the myth “build it and they will come”

I moved into my office, hung my shingle, put my website out there and waited. I would check Google analytics daily to see if people were looking at my website. As if something would magically change with “time” although I didn’t put anything out to the world.

All I got was crickets.

But I wasn’t giving anyone a reason to come, wasn’t getting the word out to let people know I was there and what I could help them with. So why would they come? Once I started doing marketing, and search engine optimization and blogging, giving talks, and getting out there more, my practice boomed.

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5. Lacking consistency

I would go through spurts when I would post on facebook, or sporadically write a blog post I thought would help someone, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere. If I wanted to do this and do it right, I needed to be in it 100%. Once I started blogging regularly and consistently – once a week – my google SEO ranking went up dramatically. By being there consistently, and sharing it on Pinterest and facebook, my numbers rose and I saw my audience continue to grow.

When my practice got so busy that I had a wait list, I stopped blogging again. And once again could see my SEO/Google page ranking drop – just confirming that consistency is key. Even though you don’t see a direct increase in patients from one single blog post, don’t stop. It’s cumulative results over time that drive progress.

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6. Not creating clear boundaries between personal and business on social media

We all know you’ve got to do this with your time, space, and your finances, but where I see a lot of acupuncturists blurring these lines is with social media.

I was making this mistake on Instagram until just a few weeks ago (eep!) when I finally caved and created a separate Instagram account for my practice. Now that I’ve done it, I’m so glad I did. I feel hesitant to promote my practice to my friends and family, it feels icky to me and I want to just be myself and not have to think too much about what I post and share. Once I created a separate business account I feel much freer and lighter to openly share how awesome acupuncture and holistic living is.

Don’t bang your friends and family over the head with acupuncture news, photos, and studies. That will just annoy them. Creating a separate social media profile is free and it’s easy, and you can use THAT as a dedicated space to engage your patients and potential patients.

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7. Not prioritizing self-care

I have a hard time saying no to people who need my help. I’ve often worked from 8:30am until 7:30pm five days a week at the expense of myself and my life – not exercising, not seeing friends, not cooking (which is something I love). This is the recipe for burn-out.

Now I put my foot down, stick to my stated hours, take long weekends regularly, and I show up even better for my patients. I’m happier in my practice and in my life. I realize now that I was often being hypocritical by encouraging my patients to care for themselves without doing the same for myself. By taking care of myself, and making self-care a priority, I am giving my patients permission to do the same for themselves.

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8. Surrounding myself with the wrong kind of people

You know exactly who I’m talking about. They are the negative talkers, the haters and the jealous ones. The people who tell you that you aren’t capable, that you are making a mistake and you should find a “normal” job. The people who put you down or put you out. The acupuncturists who say it’s impossible, you’ll always be broke, marketing doesn’t work, and so on.

‘Often these people are very decent human beings, but they didn’t believe in me or my business, or even themselves. I’m not going to reach my goals if I keep telling myself I can’t. I think it’s important to find the people you want to surround yourself with – your tribe.

I love my circle of strong women, many of whom run their own businesses, and have dreams bigger than my own. They go after what they want. They refuse to listen to anyone who gets in their way. They lift each other up and cheer for each other. They make me happy and I so glad to call them friends.

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I’m grateful for these mistakes I’ve made and the lessons they’ve taught me.

Being in business for myself has been the best “self-help” tool. It continually forces me to confront my demons, fears and insecurities. It gives my reasons and incentive to rise above them rather than shrink from them. So I can help more people. Be of better service to the world. As well as be a happier, more fulfilled person.

These mistakes have largely been about learning to stand in my own self-worth, my own power, my own expertise. Perhaps it’s sad I have to learn the hard way to embrace these, but I’m also so thankful for these lessons I’ve learned. And I’m sure there will be many more “lessons” to come, and I will greet them with a warm smile and welcome them.

Hi! I'm Katie Altneu

I'm an acupuncturist, herbalist, & business teacher

My acupuncture clinic in Denver, CO makes me so happy. It's full enough to support my life, and simple enough to give me peace of mind. I'm a firm believer that bigger is not always better and that we need to "stop the glorification of busy".

I want your acupuncture clinic to be as full as you'd like it to be. I want you to know how to inspire-to-action the people who need you and our medicine. And I believe the best strategies are simple and heartfelt.

Combining my prior education & career in business & finance with my personal experience starting and growing my clinic, I love teaching acupuncturists to master the business side of their clinics. I believe in you and I'm so glad you're here!

Katie Altneu, creator of AcuProsper & the ProsperRing

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