TCM Graduate TV is an awesome YouTube channel where Kenton reviews point functions and locations, as well answers viewer questions. It’s a fantastic opportunity to refresh your knowledge and incorporate a wider range of points in your everyday practice.
Kenton also recently started The Strength of TCM podcast, which is also about reviewing TCM concepts to help improve your confidence and diagnostic abilities.
Kenton also has experience teaching at several acupuncture schools and continuing education courses.
I’ve always enjoyed Kenton’s TCM Graduate TV videos and one day I stumbled across a fantastic article that he wrote for Acupuncture Today: What to do When Clinic Slows Down. After reading it realized Kenton would be a great fit for a practice-building interview.
In this interview we discuss:
- How Kenton rebuilds a successful practice in a new city after relocation
- The advice he gives to his acupuncture students who are about to graduate
- Suggestions for when your practice is slow
- And much more
Let’s get started!
Hi Kenton! How long have you been in practice?
I have been in practice since 2007. I graduated from the Alberta College of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with a diploma in Acupuncture and an Honourary Diploma in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Where do you practice?
I live and practice in Sundre, Alberta, Canada. I feel it’s important to tell everyone that I just moved back to Alberta after living in one of the most beautiful places in this country: Nova Scotia. I had a wonderful experience building a one-man show in small town Nova Scotia while I also worked with ‘the dream-team’ at Pillars of Health in downtown Dartmouth. We all shared a portion of the rent and I got to practice with two naturopathic doctors, two chiropractors, three massage therapists and a physiotherapist who also had osteopathy training. Working with a team like that for ten years created so much growth for me and my practice.
Can you describe the setup of your practice for us?
Honestly, it depends on the circumstances. Generally, I don’t like working with chiropractors as a business owner – I did that twice and got burned. The multi-disciplinary clinic in Nova Scotia was run by an ND, Jenn Huber, and she was amazing. The office manager, Jackie Lothian, held us all together. I am sure that there are many chiropractors out there who are good people and don’t see patients or practitioners as numbers, but I had a negative experience. I once joked with the chiropractor at Pillars of Health that in my field I have Birkenstock-and-socks, tie-dye sarong-wearing, unkempt hippies that only take cash or cheque. She laughed and responded, “That’s okay – we have used car salesmen!”
In that light, I wear a button-up to work, take debit and credit, and if I can find the right team I will work with them. At the same time I have learned that I also work extremely well alone. When I work alone, I am the only weak link in the chain if anything breaks down. I am the one who answers the phone, calls to follow up, administers the treatment, and cleans the bathroom. This is how I have set things up for myself back here in Alberta.
How did you get into acupuncture/herbal medicine?
It all started when I was 14-years old and saw a late-night television commercial with a white-haired guy beating ninjas up on a bridge. The next morning I asked my mother to take me to said Kung-Fu studio, and my love for Chinese martial arts and culture was born. Between skateboarding sessions, I would stay in my room, burn incense and read the Tao Te Ching, Chuang-Tzu and Lieh-Tzu.
When I was 18 years old I smashed my foot badly skateboarding. After six months of physiotherapy my foot hadn’t gotten any better and a friend I started in Kung-Fu with, Dave Rose, a first-year student at the time, recommended a final-year acupuncture student to treat it. It was only $20.00 to see a final-year student and that was a good thing too as I had spent a considerable amount of money on physiotherapy. Two treatments later and my foot pain was gone – and the pain has never returned.
After working in various industries from computer technician to hardwood flooring estimator, and while never quitting my martial arts studies, I lamented to Dave that I didn’t know what I wanted for a career even though it was staring me plainly in the face. He told me to go talk to the Dean of his college, Dr. Maoyi Cai, and I was very excited that acupuncture and Chinese medicine treated so many conditions other than foot pain.
You’ve been teaching for awhile now. Where do you teach, and what classes?
I had the opportunity to teach for an acupuncture college right after graduation. I taught there for a couple of years and then they closed their doors for financial reasons. I then taught at another college for a year. I also got to be a guest instructor at Acadia University for their History of Medicine course where I taught future doctors about Chinese medicine. I gave their professor a treatment in front of the whole class so they could see the entire diagnostic process. That was a lot of fun. Lastly, I was hired by the Nova Scotia Association of Naturopathic Doctors and ran courses for one of the acupuncture associations in that province.
Do students ask you for practice management/marketing advice? What do you usually tell them?
This always comes up and is a very important topic. The reason it’s so important is because most students don’t realize that once they graduate they become entrepreneurs! Being an entrepreneur is a lot different than getting a job.
I have spent a lot of time getting coached and mentored and the sound advice that I received, I usually repeat to anyone who will listen.
Coaching and mentoring takes time, and any advice takes time so sink in. If I could do your question some justice without creating a novel I have three ideas on business I want to share:
1. Diversify: Combine passions and interests with acupuncture. Love running? Infiltrate the running groups knowing what kind of injuries and lifestyle they lead. Volunteer your time, knowledge and/or services with a local running group. Are you vegan? Be the vegan acupuncturist who teaches their patients how to do it the right way and know what pitfalls might affect their digestion. Being a licensed acupuncturist can mean more than just sticking needles in people. We can spin our profession many ways and help patients, practitioners and public.
2. Don’t be afraid to get a part-time gig to support your full-time gig: Colton Oswald taught me this one. Hanging a shingle, taking on rent, or paying off student loans while establishing oneself as an entrepreneur is serious business. Even in times of transition when I had to build myself up again after a move I would have no problem taking on a joe-job to help make ends meet. There’s no shame in this and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure in any way, shape, or form. Owning a business is a constant grind. I have no problem having a part-time gig supporting my full-time gig that will eventually be full-time.
3. Don’t give up: my own motivational quote is, “Whoever last the longest wins.” I use this to remind myself that being an entrepreneur is a marathon, not a sprint. I will wait it out, change my trajectory, adjust, and keep pushing until I win. So, go win.
I love these suggestions, especially the one about integrating your passions with your clinic – it’s easy to niche down and become a true expert for your patients that way! This can really help acupuncturists stand out in a crowd.
What about alumni – do graduates reach out after graduation with questions for you as well?
I have students and graduates reach out to me all the time. They often tell me they are confused about the knowledge being taught to them, or that they lack the confidence in their skills after graduation. This definitely doesn’t apply to everyone, but as we are all different human beings, and not all educational experiences are created equal, some people have a difficult time – and that’s why I started mentoring online.
How did you set about building your practice when it was brand new?
I have built and torn down a shingle seven times. As I said prior, I just moved back to Alberta so I will have to rebuild again. I do the same things every time. I network with other practitioners in the area. I teach qigong and tai chi free to the community. And I try to find another business that I trust and that is well known in the community and offer exclusive discounts to their clients. The rest of it takes time – and as I say at the end of all my mentoring videos: safety is king, bedside manner is king and results are king – in that order. I truly believe that if I hack away at my business and do a damn good job at it for a long enough period of time everything will work out fine.
Seven times! Wow. What marketing techniques have worked best for you in that case?
I hate spending money on traditional marketing – and even social media marketing. Most of us in small business don’t have the funds, especially in the beginning (or in my case of re-building), to spend on advertisements, Facebook ads, etc. So I don’t. Word of mouth is my marketing and it doesn’t cost me anything other than being the best I can be sprinkled with a bit of patience.
I think it’s normal for us to graduate from college, hang a shingle and expect people to come to us because we put so much time and effort into getting our license. But that was school life and anything there doesn’t count anymore once we graduate. I like to give. Give treatments away. Give discounts. Give my time and knowledge to community groups.
I don’t believe in giving everything away, but I can’t expect to not give to a community and then have them invest in me. Many marketing gurus will tell people not to discount services, or if they do it should be an exchange – I don’t operate that way. I give because it’s the right thing to do and never ask for anything in return. The ‘return’ always comes back to me ten-fold.
Yes, free treatments and discounts are definitely a hot-button topic right now in our profession. I’d love to get a group of us together to discuss all the pros and cons someday.
Have you tried any marketing efforts that didn’t work well, or felt like a waste of money?
As I just mentioned, general, blanket advertisements are a waste of money – at least they are for me – so I don’t recommend advertisements in the paper, with Yellow Pages or even online. I have a question on my intake forms to ask new patients where they found out about me. I recommend other practitioners ask their new patients the same thing to make sure their advertising dollars, if they choose to use them, are working.
One type of advertisement seemed to work early on in my career when I was breaking into an area that had never had an acupuncturist was to write for a local ‘pay-for’ paper. I would pay to have my business-card sized advertisement in their paper and they would let me write 300 words. I never pushed my services and always gave information away that readers could use. One of my most popular articles was when I wrote about looking at your own stool. I had three new men patients come to the clinic that read that article. When my roster is mostly women, it got me wondering if men look at their poop more than women!
Can you tell us about TCM Graduate TV?
TCM Graduate TV is my YouTube channel where every week I upload a video in regards to what I call “Heavy Hitters.” These are the most powerful acupuncture points on the body. The next thing I do is use Instagram (follow Kenton on Instagram) to remind people about powerful acupoint combinations – and I post tongue pictures from willing patients to teach the art of tongue diagnosis. I also have a small, but mighty, Facebook group where people can ask me questions about business or patients – and my answers can be shared with the group.
What made you start TCM Graduate TV?
I started TCM Graduate TV for two reasons. The first is because I had so many stars align for me during and out of college. I had such a clear understanding of TCM-style acupuncture given to me and then I was mentored for a year-and-a-half out of college. I wanted others to have the experience, and gain the confidence, that I had. Learning Chinese Medicine is like not knowing how to swim, being thrown in the deep end, and the instructor starts yelling commands from the edge in a language you don’t understand. I want to be the translator.
The other reason I started mentoring online is because I love teaching so much and I no longer had the opportunity to teach for a college. Honestly, if I had the opportunity to tour and teach everyone in person my easy-to-understand-TCM-style-acupuncture, I would jump at the chance. Youtube, Facebook and Instagram are the next best thing, and my reach is global. It’s been a very positive experience.
Can you tell us about The Strength of TCM podcast?
The podcast is available on iTunes and on Podbean.com and is based on my workbook of the same name. I will be using a workbook to guide the listeners through lessons on TCM-style acupuncture from the ground up. I hope with all the theory I don’t put anyone to sleep – but then again it might work better than Anmian!
I hope to support the community by hammering the basics over and over until they are sick of me. Then I will know that every time they see Spleen Qi Deficiency they will think about a Spleen 6 and Stomach 36 combination, get results in the clinic, and their confidence will go up.
When confidence increases, a practitioner can really sell their craft to anyone who asks about it because they not only believe in acupuncture but believe in themselves.
Yes! That confidence is definitely key to helping potential patients take the leap into their first acupuncture appointment.
What advice for starting a practice would you give to third year acupuncture students who are reading this?
My advice is two-fold. First, get as much real-world practice as you can before you graduate. Maybe observation in China isn’t the best thing. I skipped the China trip and instead treated 600 actual patients in my final 700-hour practicum. Many of my colleagues went to China, Japan, Korea, Nepal, etc. They were only allowed to observe. Treating actual patients with two clinic supervisors at my disposal was a definite confidence booster before I graduated – and it’s how I think it should be for all students.
Second, find a mentor or two for after you graduate. Find people who are honest and have made a living doing acupuncture and hang on to them for when times get tough. I remember sitting in my clinic all alone for those first months without anyone calling or dropping in. The mind has a funny way of creating doubt and uncertainty. It’s good to have a mentor to screw your head back on.
You wrote a great article about what to do when your practice slows down in Acupuncture Today. I love your advice to “do something, do anything.” I think that many of us underestimate the power of small marketing efforts taken over time. What’s your favorite method for established practitioners to bring in new patients quickly during slow weeks?
Exactly. I think many of us, during the slow periods, and even after many years of practice, forget that it’s a longevity game. It’s like lifting weights. If I ask you to squat 100 lbs today and expect muscle gains and definition tomorrow I am kidding myself. We all know that weight lifting adds up over time. The same is key in business – everything I do today is NOT for today, instead it’s for tomorrow.
In regards to my favourite thing to do during slow periods? Anything. Anything to break the pattern of feeling stuck in a rut:
- Put up flyers
- Call recent patients
- Email old patients
- Come up with referral rewards for other practitioners in the area
- Run a class
Anything will work over a long period of time – and that’s the key – to work on gaining clientele during the slow periods because when one is busy there is less time to do so. I look at everything as Yin and Yang. When my clinic is Yin, my marketing is Yang. When my clinic is Yang, my marketing is Yin.
I love that approach of thinking of the marketing of your practice as Yin and Yang. I think it’s an incredibly important perspective for building a practice. Anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to say that I am always amazed at how brave people are. So many acupuncture students I connect with are going to college or university during a transition period in their life. Some are changing careers. Some are just beginning their careers. And some are even going through divorce.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine is taught similarly to my martial arts studies – it’s a web of knowledge that is taught from all angles and, because of this, it can be difficult to understand until much later. The amount of personal growth one gains by looking inside themselves due to this way of knowledge transmission is phenomenal.
I am really excited for everyone going through Chinese medicine studies because it’s the challenge they are looking for and I know it will change their life in such a positive way.
Lastly, I want to thank you very much for interviewing me. I am truly humbled.
My pleasure! Thank you for sharing your experience and your knowledge, not just in this interview but on TCM Graduate TV and The Power of TCM podcast as well!
Follow Kenton online:
- TCM Graduate TV Youtube Channel
- Instagram (@TCMGraduateTV)
- TCM Graduate TV Facebook Group
- The Strength of TCM Podcast: sotcm.podbean.com or on iTunes here
- Kenton’s clinic website: www.KentonSefcik.com
Have questions or thoughts for Kenton?
Leave them in the comments below!