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Acupuncture Today – May, 2011, Vol. 12, Issue 05

Ways To Market Outside the Box

By Joni Renee Zalk, MSc, LAc

Recently, I met the human resources assistant for a local manufacturing business which has over 2,000 employees spread out over two locations - both within 15 minutes of where I live and work.

The company's annual health fairs were coming up (there were two to accommodate the two locations), and when she found out what I do - she immediately asked me if I would come to be the acupuncturist for the events. Attending the health fairs were several chiropractors, massage therapists, one pain clinic, an eye clinic, and a nurse from a local hospital taking blood pressure. As I live in a city that jests: 'one cannot walk five feet without tripping over an acupuncturist,' I was surprised and delighted that I would get to be the only acupuncturist at two local health fairs that included so many people with health insurance - especially health insurance that included acupuncture as an option.

As I thought about what to bring - ear seeds rather than needles, a few herbal formulas, and lots of business cards - I wondered where all of the other acupuncturists were, and why no one else thought to connect with the human resource departments of big companies with health insurance. While Chinese medicine is an age-old practice, it is still fairly unique to America. In such an up-and-coming science/art, we need to start marketing outside of the box.

Understanding and reaching Our Target Market

Our target audience has changed in the last few years due to the recession.

It used to be that our target market was people with disposable income. Now, there is a whole new batch of people - people who have lost their health insurance as they lost their jobs.

Not only does Chinese medicine promise more, but most of the time, the out-of-pocket expense for someone lacking health care is cheaper than going to a Western medical doctor (except for emergency cases). Let's see how we can creatively and easily connect with these people, and others with insurance, and be busy practitioners.

There are hundreds of careers we could have chosen, but something drew us to Chinese medicine rather than to law or accounting. We might enjoy healing patients in pain, endocrine system disorders (thyroid, fertility, etc.), emotional and chemical disorders (i.e. depression, bipolar, OCD). If you ask 100 acupuncturists how they got into their trade, you might get 100 different stories. That thing that drew you in might be your specialty now. In acupuncture school, we were still trained to treat almost every disorder, but there are one or two things that we are especially passionate about.

Market this passion.

As you treat what you are passionate about, your happiness and energy will grow, and people will want to come to you for your passion. As other problems arise, either for themselves or for their family, they will think of you, and your practice will grow.

Education and Partnerships in your Community

One of the easiest ways for Chinese medicine practitioners to market outside the box is to take the time to educate curious people and prospective, new and current patients. This can happen while on the phone, or in person, and also by providing lectures and writing articles for local papers. Learning how to take the Chinese lingo that we learned in school and translating it into layman's terms is invaluable, and makes what we do much less intimidating to people, and seem less like witchcraft.

Independence can lead to isolation. One way to combat that isolation is to work part-time for another company. While working the health fair that I mentioned above, I was asked to come in for an interview at a local hospital, as they were hiring an acupuncturist part-time. The nurse taking blood pressure happened to be the director and decision maker in this hospital ward, and I had been working next to her all along! I was completely honored when she said, "I knew there was a reason I was supposed to come here today – it was so that I could meet you."

Another way to combat isolation is to create partnerships with healers of other modalities. Even if you have full confidence in your abilities as a practitioner, you never know what will ultimately heal a person, whether it will be your skillful acupuncture techniques, herbal formulas, rolfing, chiropractic, yoga, Western medicine, massage, etc. In terms of a successful practice, the old adage remains: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Creating business partnerships with both practitioners and businesses will lead to more success than plowing through the world on your own. Offering specials with others is a great way to broaden your name while creating community.

An example of cross-marketing is to connect with your local yoga studio and offer 10 percent off the first acupuncture treatment for yogis, [and comparably] a free yoga class for all your existing patients. The yoga studio will post the fliers in their space, and you will post theirs in your office space. You will, of course, share the expense of the marketing materials.

Another idea is to offer a discount on multiple services.

For instance, if you have a massage therapist or a nutritionist that shares your clinic space, then offer a discount to try all the services. Selling gift certificates (e.g. all three services for $150 rather than $75 per service) for new patients is ideal. It is not ideal for regular patients who already utilize these services, as it is just a cheaper way for them to get the same services they already use. This is best around the holidays, and should only be used for new patients, or people who are uncertain about trying something new.

ATTEND Health Fairs

Believe it or not, health fairs happen all the time. Health clubs, gyms, health stores, and yoga studios will likely have at least one health fair per year - if not once a month. Start by asking the manager at the places you visit most often to get practice in learning about health fairs, and then branch out to other companies to find out when other local companies host theirs. A list of all the local companies and how many employees they have will be found on your county's website.

Remember to keep your rapport with these companies strong, and follow up with a thank you letter or email to the manager of the event.

Using Online Marketing

In a world inundated with traditional media, many of us have noticed that advertising in local newspapers, magazines, or phone books doesn't have the same effect as it once did.

Let's look at some creative ways to illuminate our names.

I am not fully convinced that it is a fancy website that will draw in business as much as internet marketing. Even once you get your website up and running, it is still a question as to whether or not you will draw viewers to that website. The easiest and most effective question is: how will people find you online? If someone goes to the almighty Google, then mostly what is important is that they can type in keywords such as: "acupuncture" plus your city which draws up your name (or your clinic's name) instantly in their search. Go to:, and add your name to Google maps, and when people search on Google, they will instantly see your name, clinic name, phone number and address in cue. It is the phone call to you that is most important, rather than someone looking at your website. More importantly, Google emails you bi-monthly letting you know how many people typed in your keywords, and searched for you. This gives you instant feedback as to what people are seeking in your neighborhood.

It is monotonous to plow along the business path paving our own way rather than to learn from others, and repeat what is already tried and tested. Find other acupuncturists and healers in your city and create communities. There is no lack of patients to treat. Have fun!

Joni Renee Zalk, MSc, LAc, completed her Master's degree in Chinese Medicine at Middlesex University in London. Along with a part-time practice, Joni provides business consulting for clinics and offers several seminars on natural childbirth options. You can find her at

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