Several months ago, I did a survey of readers concerning their knowledge, experience and attitudes around running acupuncture practices
It was a slightly different version of a survey I did years before that. In both instances, there were two types of concerns that rose to the top of almost everybody’s responses. First, most people cite their main anxiety as getting enough patients to sustain themselves financially. Fair enough – patients are the lifeblood of the clinic and in most cases, they don’t just appear when we want them. And, to be fair, acupuncture practice marketing can be mystifying and frustrating at times.
The second highest rated difficulty is balancing the various factors that go into making up the life of a contemporary Chinese medicine practitioner
Work and life. Marketing and learning medicine. Doing book work and spending time with patients. Working on business and working on the backyard. I have struggled with this for all of my life – including before I was an acupuncturist. But, being a medical practitioner and running a business will keep you busy – finding time for a life can be difficult indeed. So, I understand (and constantly geek out on) this area of research and development.
I’ve found that there is one basic answer to both of these questions
In the years I have been running an acupuncture clinic, teaching business & practice management to students, and going all over the country to talk about clinic management with diverse folks, I have found that one thing stands out as an answer to BOTH of the top concerns of my survey respondents. What’s funny is the answer is right in front of you as an acupuncture practitioner.
We teach our patients that healing doesn’t always happen with one treatment, or even several. There is no “magic point” or “quick and easy cure for psoriasis.” There can be profound shifting in just a few days of herbs or a single treatment, but for most conditions, the approach needs to be intricate, careful, and at a natural speed. It’s like growing a redwood, not like growing a dandelion.
By trying to short-circuit the healing process through quick fix methods, we often end up with worse side effects than the original disease had symptoms! The same is absolutely true of business. By using some of the reasoning we use when we treat patients, we can make great progress with lasting energy.
In particular, we should consider the importance of the principle of holism
Holism, one of the foundational principles of East Asian medicine (as well as many other medical systems) asks us to take seriously the idea that the whole of a complex system is MORE THAN the sum of its parts and, even more importantly, that the interdependence of the parts is such that they really cannot exist outside of the group in which they are embedded. Just like we look at all systems of the body when doing a pattern differentiation, we must look at all the systems of our business if we want to get our marketing and finances into the proper healthy place.
In other words, remember that your practice is a complex system and that all its parts must be attended to for the system to thrive
When the system of our acupuncture business thrives – patients come in the numbers you need, when you need them. When the system of our acupuncture business thrives – our lives are in balance, joyful, complete.
Considering my research and experience, five main principles stand out as demonstrating the best way to approach this kind of lasting acupuncture practice success holistically. I’ve used (and am still using) these very principles in the growth of my clinic. In fact, it was a recent period of difficulty at Watershed Wellness that helped me to understand and articulate these principles so I can share them with you.
The five holistic steps to lasting acupuncture practice marketing success, to be outlined in this series of blog posts are:
- Engage in whole life business planning
- Know the professional landscape you’re entering
- Have deep knowledge of and respect for self
- Birth a solid and intertwined pair of foundational business plan concepts – vision and mission
- Give it all a beating heart by diving into the ethics and values that guide your practice and your medicine
On seeing a list like this, some might scoff. It seems too complex, maybe a bit too “soft” or “woo woo.” It would be easy to dismiss the list as having nothing to do with modern marketing, or the intensity of running a practice. However, I want to show you that these topics, and the questions they naturally bring about, will allow you to understand how to construct a marketing strategy and how to execute it in a way that gets you the right patients, at the right time, in the right way – and to do it consistently over a long period of time.
In this article, we’ll dig into the first principle – the importance of engaging regularly with what I’m calling “whole life business planning.” In future posts, we’ll unpack the rest.
I contend that too many people, pushed by the forces of business, practice management and busy personal lives, find themselves preaching to patients about balance while burning their own candle at both ends.
Even worse, they’re sacrificing their vital qi and not even finding that much success in attracting and keeping the patients they need to be financially stable.
I want to contribute to changing that situation
I want to articulate, teach and encourage a way of looking at contemporary Chinese medicine practice as something that takes our paying attention to our wholeness, our fullness, and giving each aspect an important place in our process.
We cannot make a radical separation between who we are and how we practice or run our business. We cannot see 75 patients a week and take no time for self care. We cannot abandon our study of business and marketing to focus “only on the medicine,” nor can we forget that Chinese medicine is a medicine of lifelong study. In all things Chinese medicine business, we must proceed holistically. This includes in writing the plan for our business.
I developed the idea of Whole Life Business Planning during the second major planning retreat I had for my own business.
We had gone through a local business organization to gain some education on how to write a business plan, and had something we felt proud of. It was written in the traditional way – you can find plenty of articles that tell you about how a regular, bank-directed business plan is written. It’s a boring process, but necessary if you’re seeking traditional funding – and honestly – there aren’t many proposed alternatives to this model.
What I found is that the traditional business plan was far too focused on financial projections and simple market analysis more helpful for guiding advertising purchasing.
After this kind of business plan is written, it’s hard to know what to do with it, and frequently the business goes quickly out of the bounds of the plan and it is forgotten. What a waste of the creative energy that goes into business planning!
So I set about to find a better way
A whole life business plan focuses on articulating a multi-dimensional, holistic framework to help you make decisions about your practice in real-time, in real situations. It is not just a method or a concept, but is actually a process that anyone can implement for any kind of business. When engaged with fully, and frequently revisited, the Whole Life Business Plan becomes the dashboard you need to get your acupuncture practice marketing from overwhelming to overachieving.
The process involves looking into all of the following areas in detail, looking into past, present and future, personal and professional, financial and spiritual, and everything in between:
▪ The Dream
▪ The Executive System
▪ Vision, Mission & Values
▪ Practice Basics & Questions We’re Not Answering Yet
▪ The Team
▪ Startup or Redevelopment description & expenses (OPTIONAL)
▪ The Location & Facilities
▪ The Operations System
▪ Marketing Foundations & Strategy
▪ Marketing Tactics and 12 Month Plan
▪ The Financial System & Relevant Projections
▪ Narrative of places of creation, interconnection and hierarchy
▪ Narrative telling of the next 3 years and conclusion
A Whole Life Business plan is for YOU.
It is a map of your future, a complex and real embrace of the fullness that lies at the heart of your desire to build the acupuncture practice of your dreams. By sinking into this fullness, you build your acupuncture practice marketing (and every other aspect of your business) on a foundation that is true. This allows you to weather hardships, find deeper balance, and emerge into success that lasts. As you might be able to guess, this isn’t an “easy” process. It is one that allows you to build a business that resonates with the principles that you communicate in your treatment room.
I’ll be talking more about this concept in upcoming posts – if you haven’t already, sign up for the newsletter.
And depending on when you’re reading this post, one of my courses guiding you along this path to becoming a thriving acupuncturists just might be available – click this link to find out.