When I got into the field of acupuncture, I had no background in running a business. In fact, I had no aspirations of running one, either...at least, not for a good long while. I had every intention of working under someone for a few years, and then maybe, maybe, setting out on my own, eventually. Part of the reason for this was fear, I think. My graduate school prepared me well for a career in acupuncture, but did a poor job focusing on the business aspect. Since day one, I heard the same thing, over and over: most acupuncturists who start their own businesses go out of practice within 5 years. I also heard that no small businesses can expect to make a profit for at least 3 years (not true.)
Armed with all of this negative information, I felt sure that making money on my own in this field was an impossible feat. Add in the fact that I had absolutely no start-up money, and I had pretty much given up on the idea of running my own practice.
I'm not going to get into the whole story of what changed my mind, but suffice it to say, I decided to give the small business thing a fair shot before heading out to look for employment under someone else. And it worked out...better than I ever imagined it could.
So for all of you out there who think it's impossible to start your own business, take my situation as an example. I started with zero business knowledge, no money, and no idea of how to start. Here are some of the things I learned along the way:
- Love your space. I looked at a few spaces before ending up where I am now, and they all had one thing in common: seclusion. In all of those places, I would have been hidden away in a room where no human contact was available. The moment I walked into the space where I am now, I felt at home. I love my office. The moment I walk in here, I'm instantly happier. And other people feel the same way. My patients are always raving about how nice my office looks and smells, and how comfortable they feel here. You don't have to spend a ton of money to find a space that inspires you. When you find the right place, you'll know it. Just don't give up and settle for working in an environment that does nothing for you.
- Surround yourself with cheerleaders. Spend your time with people who want you to succeed. And when you find these people, make sure that you get them as excited about your product as you are. The purpose is twofold: it's a lot easier to maintain enthusiasm about what you are selling when other people are in your corner, and enthusiastic friends make a great referral network.
- And speaking of referrals...they are your best friend. Design a stack of business cards that list places where clients can write reviews for you, such as Yelp and Angie's List. Make it as easy as possible for them to review your services. And offer some sort of incentive for clients who send you referrals. If you don't want to initial a referral program, at the very least send a sincere thank-you note to clients who send you business. People who feel appreciated will tend to continue that behavior.
- Google yourself. When I started my practice, I had no money to invest in advertising. This is what I did: every day, I googled terms that people would need to type in to get to me. So, for example, when I googled "acupuncture in Wayland," I would take note of the websites that came up. I would then list my business on every free one that I found. It was time-consuming and rather boring, but I managed to get my name to the top of Google search rankings within a few months, without shelling out any money.
- Go above and beyond....in every possible way. Check in with clients to be sure they are satisfied with their services. Take classes to get better at what you do. I am never content here. I'm constantly thinking about what else I can do to make my patients' experience better. If you start to get lazy and slip into "get by" mode, people can tell...and then they will move on to something better.
- Be convenient. These days, time is at a premium. Convenience counts for a lot. Think of any way you can to make it easier for your clients. Take credit cards and personal checks, if possible. Return phone calls quickly. When I opened my practice, I thought about what my obstacles to weekly treatments would be. My number one obstacle? Time. I don't have any. If I was seeing an acupuncturist who worked from 9-5, I would never be able to see him. So I decided to have weekend and late-night hours. People came in because I was the most convenient, and stayed with me because they liked what I had to offer. They never would have had the opportunity to see what I had to offer, though, if I didn't make it easy for them to come in.