I've been a licensed acupuncturist for only a few years so my memories of starting out are more recent than someone who has more experience. Over the past few years, I've seen some of my former classmates build thriving acupuncture practices, and I've seen some of them founder.I have asked for input from my mentors and colleagues because the more advice we can give to you, the better.
Don't sit in your office waiting for patients to come to you. If you were lucky, you had a practice-management class in acupuncture school. If not, purchase a copy of the book Points for Profit. I also recommend looking for a practice-management class in your community. It may be specific to health care workers or a more general one from your local Small Business Administration. SCORE can be a great resource as well.
Tap into your intern experience. Did you work part-time for another acupuncturist while in school and get to observe their practice in action? What did you learn from that experience that you like and what will you do differently?
Don't work in a vacuum. You may work alone in your office but you don't have to do everything alone. Find a mentor and ask them for advice, whether it's about a difficult case and what formula to prescribe, or about how they handle insurance.
Ask your friends who have been in practice longer than you have about the basics in setting up your practice. My friend and colleague Sabrina Kirkland gave me a list of things I needed to do when I started out that included everything from where to order different supplies to how to get a business license.
Get together with colleagues and discuss cases. Join an online mailing list such as the Chinese Herb Academy where you can get advice from acupuncturists from all over the world.
Word of mouth is the best way to get new business. How do you spread the word about you? Ask patients to write testimonials for you. This is simple and it's free. Voila! Instant word of mouth.
Join a networking group. This was perhaps the single best piece of advice I got from my colleagues and from acupuncturist and business coach Kirstin Lindquist. There's BNI (Business Networking International) and your local Chamber of Commerce to get you started. There are also groups specific to women and different demographic groups. Besides getting and giving referrals, being in a networking group with other professionals in different industries gives you the opportunity to explain acupuncture in plain English so that non-acupuncturists will understand you. In a networking group, you'll learn to do it in a very short period of time. This is sometimes called the "elevator pitch" or the "infomercial."
Networking groups also give you the chance to do some public speaking. I don't really enjoy public speaking, but I volunteer as the Educational Coordinator of my BNI chapter so I'll get better at it. Arrange to speak at schools, community centers, bookstores, etc., to spread the word about Chinese medicine and your acupuncture practice.
Use Both "New" and "Old" Media
Make sure you have a Web presence. Online social networking also counts as word-of-mouth marketing. Get on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Meetup to promote yourself for free. You can set up a fan page for your practice on Facebook and ask people to join and write reviews/testimonials. Angie's List is a consumer review site similar to Yelp but the difference is that consumers pay to use the list, whereas on Yelp you either have a free page or you can pay for an enhanced profile.
Web sites. There are options from almost "build-your-own" Web sites to hiring a graphic or Web designer to do one for you. It doesn't have to be fancy. A lot of people use the Internet to search for things, and having an ad in the phone book may be a waste of your marketing dollars. Be sure to learn about Search Engine Optimization when getting a Web site put together so you can help search engines find you.