Five Things I Wish I Knew Before I started My Acupuncture Practice

Quote over a photograph of Katie treating a patient, "Five things I wish I knew before I started my acupuncture practice".

My first career was in economics and finance, until I had my own personal renaissance and took the giant scary leap away from a job that just didn’t make my soul happy. I quit my job, travelled to India to study yoga, and when I had health issues of my own I discovered the amazing powers of acupuncture, and that was it.

I was done. I had found my calling.

Rays of light were shooting out of my eyeballs and I was full of optimism and Captain of My Promising Future. After 4 years of grad school, I launched my business, and started tackling the running and growing of a practice.

But there was a LOT to learn, and some of those things weren’t covered in my Practice Management class in grad school, or my economics and business classes in undergrad. I read through piles of books, spent hours webinar watching, countless weekends pumping out and tweaking website copy, and teaching myself graphic design. There were many things I had to learn the hard way.

Here are 5 things I wish I knew when I started my practice. I hope they will save you some time and anguish.

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1. Running the business part of your practice is equally important as giving great patient care.

You are not just an acupuncturist or healer. You are a business owner. Your success (and survival in business and ability to help more people) will come from expertly running your business – not just choosing the perfect acupuncture points or writing poetic herbal formulas. In other words, you will spend 20% of the time doing what you love and treating patients and 80% of the time marketing, doing paperwork and bookkeeping, strategizing your business, writing your website, and answering email.

Survival will totally hinge on how quickly you adopt this role of Business Owner first, healer of people, second. This sucked for me because I wanted nothing to do with running a business. I just wanted to be an acupuncturist who helped my patients all day.

2. Business is the best self-growth or self-help tool available.

Get ready to confront your own demons. Entrepreneurship is probably up there with marriage or parenthood in terms of transformational roles or relationships that a persona can have.

The biggest challenge you will deal with in running your practice is your own resistance – your own chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, self-justifications and a million reasons why you can’t/shouldn’t do what you know you need to do. You will be faced with your fears, your insecurities, your crappy excuses, your inefficient time management, your complex relationship with money, your shoddy boundaries, and more. It will challenge you, and change you, and feel vulnerable. And rewarding. Working out difficult issues in your business will resolve problems in other areas of your life as well.

And at some point, in a way that quietly sneaks up on you, you will realize that you aren’t succeeding in spite of yourself, but because of who you are. You will learn to love and accept yourself, to be authentic and vulnerable, and that you are the secret sauce to your success.

3. You must devote time to becoming a brilliant marketer.

MUST. Believing in the myth “build it and they will come” only leads to the sound of crickets singing. Especially in your first years. I know you just want to spend all your days making tinctures and bone broth and poking people, but if you don’t spend time marketing you will not make any money.

This was my biggest weakness when I started because I thought marketing = slimy pushy salesmen and I couldn’t! I wouldn’t. But then I picked my head up out of magical fairyland and started reading and listening to marketing geniuses and thought leaders – Michael Port, Tony Robbins, Seth Godin and started to realize that marketing isn’t icky, but involves empathy and listening and learning to communicate effectively – stuff I like! Stuff I can get behind! Once you learn this, marketing will be a thousand times easier because you will be working within your natural instincts.

4. It can get lonely. Find yourself a community of like-minded peers.

This was surprising for me, because I have a busy practice full of patients I care about and enjoy immensely. I firmly believe we need to be professional and keep professional boundaries. Yet “professional” doesn’t mean stuffy, non-personality, robot-person. You can share a bit about yourself with your patients, and you should! People want to do business with people they like and connect with. However, it’s not all about you and there is still a doctor-patient professional boundary, and it’s just not the same as an equal friendship among peers.

It can get lonely being in business for yourself, even though you’re having deep and meaningful conversations with your patients all day. Find yourself a community of healers or acupuncturists you can share with, swap ideas, support, commiserate, understand and encourage.

5. Number five is a mish-mash:
  • Do not work 7 days a week. Step away and get some perspective.
  • Take a walk around the block every day at lunch.
  • Set your boundaries with your schedule and stick to it.
  • Cover your legal butt from day one.
  • Do not price your services around your personal ability to pay for it – you are not your patient.
  • Connect with other acupuncturists and small-business owners and meet with them regularly.
  • Create systems.
  • Stay up to date with your paperwork and data entry, and your life will feel lighter.

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 acupuncturists to know how to inspire-to-action the people who need us 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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