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Tonification for Your New Practice: An Interview with SWAC Alumna Elyse Rohrer Budiash
CS: What did you have to do to get the business going?
ERB: I had to save a little money for start-up. I invested about $7,000 in the beginning. I did (and still do) everything possible to keep my costs low. My office is small but functional. I use free EMR (electronic medical records) software, and my husband designed my website for me, so I only pay for hosting. I also did not start an herb pharmacy right away. I knew that I wanted one, but I wanted to see what my patients would need and I wanted to get a little more cash flow first. I started my in-house herb pharmacy about 2.5 months after I opened my doors.
I needed to get licensed, which took a couple of months. I made sure to be completely finished with my boards before graduation, but it still took time for NCCAOM and the DC Board of Medicine to get everything and license me. Once that came, I had to scramble for malpractice insurance and an office space. I looked at renting space from other practitioners, but all of those options were only allowing me two or three days of rent for a substantial cost. I thought to myself, “How can you build a successful practice working only two days per week?”
CS: What were the obstacles?
ERB: I moved to a new place where I hardly knew anyone, so I had no immediate connections. Finding enough patients was a challenge—I only had 5 patients the first week. So, in the beginning, I was not nearly as busy as I wanted to be. Self-doubt was another major obstacle. I worried that no one would find me or want acupuncture from me. When I got off the phone with the first patient that called me for an appointment, I cried because I was so relieved that someone really was going to come in and get acupuncture from me. Establishing systems that were functional and efficient (such as electronic new-patient intakes and accounting software) was another challenge.
CS: How did you overcome them?
ERB: I made an effort to meet new people and talk to everyone about acupuncture. I always have business cards with me, and I pull them out like a quick-draw. The most important thing, however, is to have a way to be constantly meeting new people who may be interested in or have need of acupuncture. In the beginning, this was people from the restaurant where I was working part-time. I told everyone there that I was an acupuncturist, about to open my practice. Several people from the restaurant booked with me my first week. Servers are standing on their feet all day, running all over the place, and they really benefit from acupuncture. Pretty soon, several servers, bartenders, and managers were coming to see me. This helped get me started, and there is nothing wrong with being a part-time acupuncturist in the beginning. I was also able to capitalize on my location. I’m located on the first floor of an old art deco apartment building. There are a salon, a telecom firm, and counselors nearby. The counselors told me that no one in the building would come see me. They said that they had been there for five years, and that people like to have a separation between where they live and where they receive wellness services. I thought to myself, “Challenge accepted.”
I now have seven patients that live in the building who see me for acupuncture and herbs. I was also fortunate to have a couple of little old lady champions. They are so good at networking, and they tell everyone in the building to come see me. Lately, I have been getting referrals from an acupuncture clinic that doesn’t do herbs, and I plan on working to get referrals from nearby MDs, physical therapists, and nurse practitioners. Establishing efficient and cost-effective systems just took some experimentation. There’s a lot of free software out there to help with this sort of thing, so look around and ask other acupuncturists.
CS: How did you go about marketing your practice?
ERB: Everyone I spoke with who had been living here for a while gave me little ideas, which really helped. I found out that listservs are very popular in Washington, DC, and that each neighborhood (more or less) has their own. I joined the listervs both in the neighborhood where I live and in the neighborhood where my practice is located, Cleveland Park. I put an advertisement on the Cleveland Park listserv that got me a couple of patients. So that was great.
I have a social media presence. I update Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram regularly. My patient population is concentrated around the 20-45 age range and Instagram seems to be the most popular with my patients. If a patient has an amazing tattoo with needles in it, or if the cups look particularly great on someone’s back, I ask if I can upload a photo to Instagram. I’ve never had anyone say no, but I also purposefully don’t take photos of anyone’s face. I also tried Google Adwords and Facebook Ads, and I ran both for several months but did not get a single patient from either. Word of mouth and other free advertising has always been my bread and butter.
I do a free Qi Gong class on Saturday mornings for patients and folks who live in the building where my practice is. People love it. They are touched that I do something for free. It has built connections and has made me a part of the community. Now, patients are bringing their daughters and friends and telling other people about it. I also let my patients guide me in my marketing. They’ve lived here longer than I have, and they have connections. Plus, people inherently want to be helpful, especially if you help them first. People generally ask me how long I’ve been here during the first visit, and I tell them when I opened up shop and that I’m in the process of growing my practice. Some patients have asked me to come to their office for a wellness day to have their coworkers try acupuncture. This has always allowed me to get new patients. I have also done a promotion at a yoga studio after a patient connected me with the owner.
CS: What do new grads need to know?
ERB: Have confidence in yourself. If you build it, they will come. Be clear on what you want and write it down. Make monthly goals and track your progress. I always write down how many new patients I want each month and how many patients I want each week. Turn any worry into positive thoughts. Every time I do that, amazing things happen. Don’t be afraid of insurance. I was. It’s really hard and there is a learning curve, but do it. You will make more money and more patients will find you. Get help with insurance, because we don’t learn it in school. I got a biller and she is wonderful. She saves me time, and I have less stress knowing that I can always go to her with a question and she will have an answer. Focus on keeping your costs low. The less you spend, the more money you keep. There is a lot of free software out there, and there are many small offices that work great. It is very important to put yourself in personal contact with a group of people who could benefit from acupuncture. There are lots of people who need acupuncture and who will come to you, but they usually won’t find you on their own. You will need to find a way to put yourself personally in their presence. Remember that you’re the boss of your practice, and the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. Finally, being the boss is great, so enjoy working for yourself and all the perks that come with it!