Nine behaviors that doom acupuncturists

Quote overlaid on a photo, "Nine things acupuncturists do that doom them to failure".

Nine Behaviors that Doom Acupuncturists to Failure

This article will probably ruffle some feathers. I’m not trying to be harsh, but sometimes you’ve got to rip the band-aid off. I love our medicine, want our profession to be wildly successful, and believe it can be if we’d all just get a touch more business-savvy. Because the world needs us!

So In the spirit of a tough coach who cares deeply about the team but who also has to call them on their crap from time to time, I offer you: Nine Things that Doom Acupuncturists to failure. I bet almost every acupuncturist that reads this will identify with at least one of these behaviors (including myself!).

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1. Not knowing who they are/wanting to be everything to everyone

So many acupuncturists want to be a jack of all trades. They don’t want to narrow down a specialty to focus on, for fear of “limiting” their potential patients. The result is they are sending unclear messages to their potential patients, so people don’t know if they can really help them, and just don’t really “get” them. They want to “specialize” in everything (sorry, you can’t specialize in more than two things, mayyyybe three, really).

These acupuncturists jump around trying new techniques, studying new specialties, mentoring with different people and hoping that something will finally work. One day it’s Five element, the next day it’s Dr. Tan, one day is all about focusing on fertility patients, the next is autoimmune disease. The problem is that they never stay put in any place long enough to get any traction or real depth of understanding, and they are sending mixed messages and confusing their patients and potential patients.

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2. Frantic and erratic busy work with little or misguided forethought

They go through bursts and desperately try to get some traction but they’ve got no structure under them to build on. It’s the old “building one’s house on sand” routine. They work themselves to a husk trying to network with any networking group that will take them, or to develop a facebook following, or write their own hodgepodge website, or whatever new bright shiny tactic promises to finally pay off, but they miss the foundational elements that give focus, longevity and sustainability.

They’re like those cartoon characters who assemble a giant wobbly structure out of anything they can find to try and get up to the cookie jar. It almost always collapses. How much easier is it just to get the damn ladder out of the garage, set it up, and get the cookie quickly and safely!? And leave the ladder there, so you can back for the cookies again and again? If the ladder’s too heavy call someone to give you a hand!

What’s the point of having a website that no one can relate to or schedule an appointment on? Why go through all of the work to do a health fair but not have a clear way to communicate what makes you the person they should come to? Why go to networking events when you haven’t got proper business materials to share? Why spend money on an office space if it’s not professional or convenient for your patients?

Which leads us to the next…

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3. Everything’s incomplete or half-assed

Lots of things started, but everything is half assed. Half assed intake forms. Half assed website. Half assed presentation for a talk. A website up for two years but didn’t take the 15 minutes to complete the meta tags and wondering why they get no traffic. Or they collect a ton of juicy contacts from a networking event and never bother entering them into any kind of system so they can actually keep in touch.

We all know from grade school math classes that what happens on one side of the equation happens on the other. Half assed work on one side = half assed results on the other. In business terms, we call this False Economies.

It’s astounding the number of acupuncturists who honestly think that they can have a thriving practice by doing everything as cheaply as possible. Shoddy office space, slapdash website, cheap business cards, terrible photographs, sloppy presentation…and they’re hoping to grow a thriving business that way?

Does spending $15 a month on website hosting or $10 a month for online scheduling or a one time fee of $200 on a graphic designer for a good-looking logo cause you to have chest pains and cold sweats? There’s almost certainly better expenses to eliminate before your infrastructure. Instead of cramping your practice you may want to consider brown bagging it, skipping one or two lattes a week, or getting a few hours a month in on a second job for a little extra income until things start flowing.

One doesn’t need to spend foolishly or extravagantly, but there’s lots of free and very inexpensive resources to get started with, so let’s get you thinking out of the poorhouse and pointed towards abundance. You can’t skimp your way to prosperity.

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4. They don’t know who to speak to

These acupuncturists want to sell to everybody. They are afraid of limiting their potential patients and want to leave their options open of helping everyone. They’re not sure what they stand for, or who they most want to help, or who they most relate to or enjoy working with, they just like to “heal and love everyone” and figure that’s enough to cause people to reach for their credit cards.

They don’t know who their “people” are – so they don’t what their problems are or how to attract them. They don’t know why they do what they do. They are sending unclear messages to their potential patients, so people don’t know if they can really help them, and just don’t really “get” them.

Identifying your People will not limit your success, it will amplify it. It will make your marketing far more effective and allow you and your marketing to actually resonate with people. I know, it can be scary and difficulty to do this, to commit to narrowing your focus when what you want is to expand. I have a system that walks you through this process and makes it easy to get clear on this. And clarity always breeds confidence.

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5. Considering the business of managing and growing their practice to be beneath them

They scorn it or think they’re above doing it – with a delusional belief that their healing/work/technique should sell itself. Well, what are the mechanics of that exactly, and how’s that going for you?

How do you attract a steady stream of people interested in your services? How do you deliver a message that’s clear and resonates with them and moves them to action? How do you keep people wanting to come back for more? The truth is, if you don’t embrace the marketing aspects of your business then you’re doing a disservice to the people who need you most. It’s your job to find them, not their job to find you. Let this be your wake up call.

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6. They have hang ups about money

They don’t want to tarnish their healing with the stink of filthy money; they think that commerce degrades the purity of it. Bah! Money and profit are not evil, they allow you to stay in business and help more people. They are a direct result of you SERVING others. We’re supposed to prosper via our gifts and skills and ability to serve others. What do you think these gifts were for; to keep us downtrodden?!

These concepts can run deep and be quite complex and even subconscious. They could be tied to your parent’s relationship with money, or your own self-worth. The amount people will pay you is in direct proportion to the amount you value yourself and your work. So please step into your worth. No other marketing efforts or business strategies will matter if you can’t first get past this self-limiting belief.

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7. A lack of understanding about what it takes

Many acupuncturists think that all they need is great results to get tons of word-of mouth referrals. This is a huge myth in our profession. You DO need great results, absolutely you do. But you also need a lot more than that: you need to be professional, conduct yourself and your business in such a way that fosters confidence and trust from your patients and potential patients. It needs to be an absolute pleasure to do business with you.

Some acupuncturists think that, not just results, but more exposure or time will solve everything: “If only more people knew about me.” The reality is often that exposure would just expose that they’re unprofessional or they don’t have systems in place to manage their practice effectively and smoothly. It takes consistency and professionalism, excellent communication and people skills, and systems in place in order to make the most of getting more exposure. These make people want to do business with you and continue doing business with you, builds loyalty and makes your patients want to refer their friends and family to you.

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8. They don’t have a structure to explain acupuncture, how it helps people, or on-board patients to the healing process

These acupuncturists don’t have any idea how to talk about what they do, or explain to patients how their system works. They haven’t stepped into the position of authority, and they let their patients dictate their own care. They don’t know how to build trust and establish themselves as an expert or effectively communicate what they do. They don’t know how to communicate the value of what they do in terms their patients and potential patients will understand. You’ve got to know how to say, “I understand your problem and I understand where you’d like to be. If you want to achieve this result, this is how we are going to make it happen.”

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9. They let themselves get overwhelmed

Which makes them procrastinate and feel lazy and rotten and the cycle perpetuates. They know they have to do a handful of things, but rather than coming up with a plan and buckling down, they distract themselves with whatever they can and then they can throw some guilt on the fire too.

This overwhelm leads to procrastination and accusations of laziness. They wring their hands and pull the blankets over their heads and go through complex dances to avoid doing what they know they should do. It becomes vital to post an article to facebook! To make homemade granola! “I need a haircut!” Pros don’t do this. They roll up their sleeves and make things happen. Often it’s just a matter of getting some information and beginning the journey. One small step at a time in the right direction.

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What to DO about it…?

I know that I wrote that in a harsh tone. Fhew, I’m glad that’s done.

Now, some kindness. First, know that you’re not alone. I’ve been there. And I see a ton of others there too. But it doesn’t have to be this way! We can master this, and it’s actually not that hard. For most of us, this is the first time we’re going through the process of building a business and starting a practice. We’ve never encountered these problems before or been exposed to these foibles of ours.

We don’t know anything about marketing or business. The business education we got in school was just not enough (I know all too well – I teach the business class at CSTCM. I do the best I can with one measly semester but it’s just not enough). This is all new to you, and probably no one’s called you out on your flaws yet. So you can hardly be blamed for not fixing them…

But now that you do know, you’re responsible. You can’t claim ignorance anymore. What’re you going to do? Sometimes, just bringing the problem into the light enough is enough. You can go back and re-work the area you most need to focus on.

Sometimes, it takes some guidance from someone’s who’s been there. I can walk you through it.

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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