Now that we’ve learned more about our profession and the professional ecosystem that supports us as well as looking into how our personal situation can influence our business, we move on to what will become the foundation of our acupuncture practice marketing.
In this third and final research step, we consider what group of human beings we are called to serve.
The matter of specialization in Chinese medicine practice (women’s health, fertility, etc) is one of the ways that most acupuncture students first become aware of the business concept of “niche.” Niche, specialization, target market – in some way all of these words mean the same thing. They all describe a way of conceptualizing a subset of people towards which you are directing your marketing efforts. This subset of people is bound not just by some shared experience, but often also by shared “cultural” attributes, expectations, financial needs and so on.
In constraining the group of people we are considering as we go about building, marketing and operating our practice, we do ourselves – and our patients – an enormous service. Yet, most acupuncture practices are what would be better described as “generalist.” When I talk to most practitioners and students, in fact, they express a real resistance to the idea of seeking out a niche.
Part of it comes down to fear. Many people, perhaps you, are afraid that if you make your practice tailored to too small a group, you cannot thrive. This is simply not true. In fact, as I discuss in many places – and will teach explicitly in upcoming courses – tailoring your message AND your work to the needs of a smaller subset of the population increases business success greatly.
You’re able to be more focused on their needs, keep your eyes open for solutions that suit them, and it helps focus your own learning as well.
On the other hand, some people simply don’t believe that Chinese medicine practitioners should be specializing. The concern is that by restricting our medicine to, say, a biomedical disease category, we are unwittingly falling prey to the same “specialization mentality” that exists so strongly in biomedicine. One specialist after another is brought in as one aspect of a person’s pathology is focused on – all without anyone holding the vision of the whole.
That concern is warranted, and we DO need to be careful about how we niche, how we approach and understand the people we are trying to reach. We can’t simply read a bunch of books about choosing a niche geared towards any business and expect to feel good about the result. Our situation is different enough to warrant a specific approach. I hope to offer my perspective on that information soon.
Regardless of whether you embrace a smaller, more specialized group of individuals, it makes sense to think about “your people” in the sense I am describing.
Let’s say you choose a giant niche, something like, “Residents of Portland, OR.” This is a diverse group, to be certain, much too large for the kind of community building I’m discussing. And yet, can you see the value in thinking about how Portlanders experience the world differently than other folks?
For one thing – Portlanders tend to suffer from symptoms of dampness more than others. They have an experience of climate and weather that is quite unique, impacting them not just in physical but also in cultural ways – and in building a business to serve them, you might do well to consider this. It could change how you talk about your products and services, how you decorate your space, whether you have space blankets or fuzzy electric blankets, and whom you choose to partner with in your marketing.
While none of these specifics should really be included in a business vision in the sense I’m discussing, it may well help add a layer of understanding to your desires as an acupuncture clinic owner – which then provides additional fuel for your visioning process. In other words, it may not be part of your Vision Document, as such, but may well influence your overall business visioning process.
As in the previous two articles on this topic, I’ll offer a short series of questions that might help you to dig into this realm of research:
- What communities are you or have you been a part of? How about family or friends?
- What are the demographics and psychographics in the community where you practice, or plan to practice?
- Who do you get along with well, and with whom do you typically struggle? Are you thinking about working with people who fit more in one or the other group?
- Do you plan to have a cash or insurance based practice? What other financial circumstances might you need to consider based on the people that you will be serving?
- Where do your people hang out? What do they like to do with free time?
- Do they enjoy engaging in self improvement and healthcare – or struggle with it?
- What’s their level of familiarity with Chinese medicine? Are they generally interested in learning new things?
- Are your people generally comforted by biomedical practitioners and their trappings (white coats, stethoscopes) or are they negatively triggered by them?
- What sorts of language will your people accept? What colors, textures, sounds and themes attract and repel them?
With these and similar questions, regardless of your standpoint on niches and specialization in Chinese medicine, you can begin to unlock layers of information that can guide you as you build your acupuncture clinic vision.
I’ve now discussed three areas of research you can do as you build a vision for a brand new clinic, or perhaps reconsider the vision for a Chinese medicine clinic you’re already running. Obviously, particularly for those of you new to business, there’s a lot more to learn. I’ll be unfolding this material in future blog posts, as well as in an upcoming ebook and future courses!