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Acupuncture Today – May, 2009, Vol. 10, Issue 05

The Three Crucial Ingredients That Guarantee Your Practice Success

By Kevin Doherty, LAc, MS

As a business coach to many acupuncturists over the past few years, it has become apparent to me that there are essentially two kinds of practitioners. The first group accounts for roughly 5-10 percent of all the acupuncturists currently in practice. This group is thriving. They enjoy a high-volume, high-income practice. They have a sustainable and scalable business model, meaning that their business can continuously grow, even without their direct involvement.

The second group accounts for the vast majority of acupuncturists. This group has either tasted partial practice success or they are really struggling to make it. Their income and practice volume are either barely adequate or deficient. Many times, the practitioners in this group either work too hard with too little return or they treat their practice more like a hobby than a business.

It is my contention that, for the acupuncture profession to survive and prosper long-term, we need more thoughtful leaders and entrepreneurs who are seriously interested in merging clinical success with business savvy. In order for this to happen, it's vital that we identify the most predominant attributes of this upper 5-10 percent of practitioners who are currently setting the standard for the profession.

Having personally worked with many of these practitioners, I'd like to share the three most crucial ingredients that they seem to universally possess. When all three ingredients are activated, the practitioner literally becomes unstoppable. They are totally empowered to achieve their practice goals, and they believe wholeheartedly in what they are doing. If there is a weak link in any one of these, however, it will be nearly impossible to experience your fullest potential.


Life purpose is the absolute core foundation to everything that you say, do and are. We can define purpose as "the identification and expression of your unique gifts, strengths, and attributes." I encourage you to take a moment to contemplate your own level of clarity in this regard. Do you know what sets you apart from other practitioners, what makes your practice compelling, magnetic, and original? In business terminology, this is called your unique selling proposition, or USP. Successful practitioners are very clear about their USP. They often don't even look at their practice through the lens of having to compete with others because they are so clear about their unique offering.

I can't tell you how many acupuncturists with whom I've worked who are incredibly intelligent and motivated but who have never really asserted their own creative and unique voice within the vast framework of TCM. When your purpose is activated, you will be able to market and package your services in creative and resourceful ways. Your marketing message will attract patients who are the right fit for what you offer.

Another aspect of purpose is commitment. Highly successful practitioners are deeply committed to the daily operation of their practice. They maintain a consistent intention by showing up, both physically and spiritually, in the treatment room and in their business. They take their work seriously, and they don't allow distractions and time-wasters. They are committed to using their practice as a forum for engaging their highest potential.

Especially in this day and age, it is so easy to allow all of the negative messages about the economy and the state of the world to deflate our commitment. My sense is that now, more than ever, it is vital that you commit to serving as a role model of inspiration and strength to those around you. You may have already noticed that these are the qualities for which so many of your patients are longing right now. If you can embody purposeful living and exude inspiration to your patients, your practice and your patients will benefit tremendously. After all, your personal presence is often what helps patients change as much as any protocol or technique you are using.


This second crucial ingredient is a bit more nuts and bolts, but it is also absolutely vital to your long-term success. You need systems in place in order to ensure the stability of your practice. A system is basically a procedure you implement into your practice that will yield a predictable result. Below is a brief list of various systems you need to have in place.

  • Marketing systems
  • Patient-education systems
  • Patient-retention systems
  • Patient-recall systems
  • Bookkeeping systems
  • E-mail contact systems

Even if you are an exceptionally skilled acupuncturist, if you don't consistently and methodically market your practice, educate your current patients and reactivate old patients, your practice will be compromised. Successful practitioners consistently use systems such as these to ensure that their practice grows as they desire, regardless of the economy or any other external factors.

Learning how to systemize your practice is likely not something you were taught in acupuncture school. If you have been beating your head against the wall trying to figure out why your practice is unstable or why you struggle to maintain adequate patient volume, please know that it is not your fault. The truth is that you were never taught these critical skills. It is never too late to learn how to implement systems in your practice.


Every single successful practitioner and business owner with whom I have ever worked has stressed the importance of building a team of colleagues, mentors, coaches and support staff to help them achieve their goals. It is amazing to me how many acupuncturists are still out there trying to wear all the hats in their business and basically doing it alone.

I understand that you may have wanted to own a practice because you are independent and you didn't want a boss. But it's also important to know that the full potential of your practice can only be actualized with the help of other people. The top 5 percent of practitioners out there have support staff like a receptionist and bookkeeper. They also have a network of other practitioners to whom they can refer when necessary. Many of them have used the services of business and life coaches. They have also worked closely with experienced practitioners and mentors to strengthen their clinical skills. Most of the top practitioners I've known) have invested a lot of money and time to develop both personally and professionally.

Now, take a close look at these three crucial ingredients and honestly assess for yourself if you have weaknesses in any one of these. Are you totally clear about your purpose and committed to your success, no matter what? Do you have the right marketing and practice management systems in place to create predictable and consistent growth for your practice? Do you have a team of people around you who can guide and support you every step of the way to expedite your growth process and make it more enjoyable?

When you have all three of these ingredients in place, your practice is destined for success.

Click here for previous articles by Kevin Doherty, LAc, MS.

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