Today I’m very excited to interview Katie Altneu, MS, L.Ac, the founder and creator of AcuProsper, a new marketing and practice management resource specifically for acupuncturists.
Katie’s been teaching the Practice Management course at the Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine for four years and has a booming acupuncture practice in Denver, Colorado. She’s only been in practice five years but already has an acupuncture associate and has paid off all of her student loans.
Katie took her Practice Management teaching experience and condensed it into AcuProsper, which is full of free resources like worksheets and instructional videos. What’s really important (and awesome) about AcuProsper is that all of Katie’s advice is relatable and actionable. In other words, she provides easy, straightforward ways to incorporate her suggestions into your practice right away.
AcuProsper covers topics like:
- Attracting a steady stream of patients
- How to market acupuncture
- How to use Quickbooks
- How to set your prices
- How to pay off your student loans*
There are two reasons I’m sharing AcuProsper with you and interviewing Katie today:
- This is a rare resource for acupuncturists. I feel like most acupuncturists feel a little lost when it comes to marketing/practice management, and AcuProsper is exactly the clear-cut, actionable help that you’re looking for. It’s incredibly comprehensive and most of it is free of charge. #Winning!
- Katie is an expert with both professional success and teaching experience to back her up. I’m all about learning from the experience of other acupuncturists. Why reinvent the wheel when there are people who offer great advice based on their own trial and error? Knowledge is power. Let’s share the knowledge around!
So let’s get down to business and learn more about Katie:
- Why she’s so committed to helping acupuncturists succeed.
- What most acupuncturists do wrong in their marketing (and how to do it right!).
- What one thing she thinks acupuncturists should never do.
- Her top suggestion for acupuncture students to prepare for their future practices while they’re still in school.
- How she paid off her acupuncture student loans after only five years in practice. #Gasp!
Hi Katie! Thanks so much for joining me today. How did you get into acupuncture, and where did you go to school?
Hi! Thanks so much for inviting me, I’m happy to be here spreading the word about these resources. I hope they help other acupuncturists.
Like so many acupuncturists, I discovered the power of our medicine when I had health issues of my own. I have a background in economics and was working as a financial analyst in San Francisco, but wasn’t satisfied with that profession. It felt… empty. So I quit my job and spent six months in India doing economic development work and studying yoga.
When I came back I had some health issues. I went to doctor after doctor who ran test after test and then told me I was fine; nothing was wrong. I was like, “What? You can’t tell me nothing is wrong. Something is wrong!” A friend told me to see an acupuncturist. I was skeptical and unsure, but willing to try anything at that point. It helped me so much!
I was blown away; grateful that it had helped me but also a little angry that I hadn’t done it sooner. I thought, “How did I not know about this? Why don’t more people know about acupuncture? The world needs this!” I enrolled in grad school at Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, Colorado a couple months later, with the mission of sharing the power of this medicine with the world.
How did you start your business after acupuncture school? Were you ever an associate, or did you go right into private practice?
I started my own private practice immediately after graduating. I did research in grad school and realized that I would have to start my own business since there weren’t many opportunities for employment.
Plus, I wanted to create my own clinic and experience for patients. I thought about it a lot and worried about it a lot. It surprised me that my fellow students didn’t seem to be thinking about it at all. It felt taboo or like a faux-pas to ask teachers about their practices, or to discuss the business/practice management side of things.
I realized how much money I was accumulating in student loan debt and it really freaked me out. I wanted someone to tell me, “Yes, you can make it as an acupuncturist. You can support yourself, you can make a good living and pay back your student loans. I’ve done it, and you can too,” but no one ever told me this.
Now, in my Practice Management class, this is one of the first things I tell my students: that I’m supporting myself well, have a busy practice, have paid off my student loans, love my practice and feel like I have the best job in the world. If I can do it, they can too.
They always look incredibly relieved. I think we should talk about and embrace the business side of acupuncture more, in school and in general. Somehow the message is given that it’s impossible to be successful as an acupuncturist, that markets are “saturated,” that you’ll never make it.
It’s a shame that this is what’s being spread among acupuncturists and students. It creates resistance and the subconscious programming of a scarcity mindset, and it’s just not true. It can be incredibly empowering, inspiring and fulfilling to be in practice.
I love that you really embrace your role as your role as a business owner. What kind of business education have you had?
I majored in economics and minored in business in undergrad, and when I was a financial analyst my job was to find, analyze, and select companies to invest in. So I understood a little bit about big businesses and the economy, but that is so different than actually running my own small business!
When I first started I didn’t know anything about marketing, websites, or anything actually useful. I was totally overwhelmed and freaked out (and excited). Now, in retrospect, I think my background helped me more than I realized, because I wasn’t scared of the business stuff, enjoyed learning about it and reading books about it, and really tackled it. I still think it’s really fun and empowering to talk and learn and share about it.
You have a very successful practice in Denver. How long did it take before you felt like you’d “made it” with your business?
I think my yardstick for success keeps shifting and I’ll always have the next mission I’m working towards or improving on. But I love celebrating small victories and setting goals and milestones. There are several times I reached a goal and felt it was evidence that everything was going to be okay and I was going to “make it.”
The first instance was when I reached a milestone that I had established in my business plan. I wrote a business plan in my second year of grad school, long before our one practice management class (because I’m dorky – or maybe just anxious – like that). In it I had created a spreadsheet (you can get an example of it here) that estimated my costs and calculated that, based on my prices and expenses, I needed to see 20 patients a week in order to support myself.
So when, after eight months in practice, I had reached 20 patient visits a week, I was ecstatic and felt like I had “made it.” When I reached 35 patient visits per week ten months later, hired an associate, and was paying off my student loans, I felt like I was “making it.”
And then, when I finished paying off my student loans last year, I felt like I had “made it.” Now, I think once I’ve bought a home, had babies and saved for their college educations (I know, I know, they aren’t even born yet and I’m already worried about it, haha) then I will maybe feel like I have “made it.” But we shall see.
I’m so impressed that your goals and measures for your personal success grow larger with each previous success. That’s amazing and inspiring! I feel like AcuProsper is the next logical step for you in your upward spiral. What made you finally decide to create AcuProsper?
I created AcuProsper because the world needs successful acupuncturists to spread our medicine to those who need it. I want to help other acupuncturists create thriving practices. Too many acupuncturists struggle to grow their practices and feel over-burdened by the business part of their practices. I went to school with amazing healers who now aren’t practicing and have given up on practicing acupuncture. It makes me so sad, because they have amazing gifts that could help the world so much.
Building a busy practice doesn’t have to be difficult. We just weren’t given the business education and know-how that we need. I get so fired up about this! I teach the Practice Management class at CSTCM in Denver, CO. I have taught it for years, and I love it. But as much as I try, that one semester is not enough to set my students up for success. There is so much more they need to know.
So I created online resources, tools, and business education for acupuncturists. These are things I wish I would have known from the beginning. Things I had to learn the hard way. Things I wish every acupuncturist knew and embraced.
We need to learn how to run professional, approachable, successful practices. We need to learn how to market effectively, in a way that builds respect for our profession. Not steep discounts. Not shoddy websites. Not weird language that no one understands. This is what we need to grow our practices and our profession, and what the world needs us to do.
When you decided to pursue acupuncture, could you have imagined that would you be teaching and helping other acupuncturists succeed?
I never imagined I’d love the business and marketing side of running my practice. I just wanted to help people heal. I thought marketing was icky and pushy and it made me uncomfortable. I thought that since acupuncture is so amazing and can help pretty much everyone, that I’d just set up a website, hang up a sign, and be flooded with patients. Of course that’s not what happened, so I started to study and read more about marketing, and discovered that good, effective marketing isn’t icky or pushy; it’s actually the opposite; it’s really loving and requires compassion, soul searching, and mindful communication. Things I like!
I never thought I’d be teaching other acupuncturists. It’s funny how life works. It takes you somewhere unexpected, and then you see how where you are is exactly where you’re meant to be. When CSTCM asked me to teach I was hesitant. I had recently graduated and only been in practice three months when I started teaching the Practice Management class, so I didn’t feel I had much expertise to share. I felt like “Me? What do I know?”
But when I saw the curriculum the previous teacher had been teaching, I knew that I couldn’t refuse them. I knew the students needed so much more. I was frustrated with the lack of business education in my schooling, and felt strongly about changing that for other acupuncturists.
After I started teaching, my previous students often approached me to ask for advice or coaching. After coaching a few acupuncturists I realized that what they needed was education, tools and processes around certain areas, not necessarily individualized coaching, which is so expensive. It annoys me that business coaches are so outrageously expensive and unaffordable for the people who need them the most.
We need affordable business education for acupuncturists by someone who’s actually been there and done it – didn’t learn strategies from a book, but from experience – and can relate. My students led me down this path with their questions and now I feel like it’s part of my calling.
What marketing tactics have worked best for you in building your practice?
When people hear the word “marketing” they tend to think “advertising,” but those words are not one and the same. I think this is part of why acupuncturists shy away from learning about marketing. They think it means a pushy/salesy approach, instead of an attractive/magnetic approach.
But once you understand marketing you see that everything is marketing. The way you speak to your patients. What you say on your website. The language you use on your brochures or your reminder emails. Everything! And it’s not pushy; it’s just mindful communication, which is necessary in any good relationship.
If I had to pick one, the best marketing for my practice has been my website and search engine optimization (SEO). Also essential is what I think of as “yin marketing,” which is communication and education of my patients, the relationships I build with them, and excellent customer service and professionalism.
I’ve done a few pieces of advertising. A few totally flopped and I got zero patients from them. That was before I learned about marketing. Once I learned about narrowing in on a specific pain condition and target market and how to communicate the value and benefit of acupuncture in a way that would resonate with the people I want to attract, then I created two pieces of advertising that worked amazingly well.
I did direct marketing: postcards in my clinic neighborhood. Each cost about $300 and brought in more than 20 patients, many of whom still see me today. Definitely worth it! I did that three years ago, and haven’t done any advertising since. Because I have the “yin marketing” in place, it’s now all word of mouth referrals or organic website traffic that bring in new patients.
And my patients tend to be very loyal and committed and stick around for a while, so I don’t need a ton of new patients to maintain a busy practice. But it feels very comforting and empowering to know that if I want an influx of new patients, I know how to do it affordably and effectively.
Which marketing tactics haven’t worked well for you? Anything that you felt were a waste of time or money?
As I mentioned, I did some advertising that got zero responses. But it was because I did it wrong. When I learned more about effective marketing, it worked very well. I hear so many acupuncturists say that advertising doesn’t work. And I think it’s because most of us are doing it wrong and don’t understand it. You can’t blame us; most of us haven’t learned anything about marketing or advertising. That needs to change.
We as acupuncturists make several mistakes with our marketing. One is doing what’s called “institutional” or “tombstone” advertising, which is just putting your logo and maybe a bland general statement like “try acupuncture” or “feel better now” in an ad. This gets your company name and logo out there and works over time to get your business into peoples’ awareness, but it doesn’t clearly communicate the benefits of what you offer or give people a compelling reason to take action.
So if you keep this ad up for a year or so and people see it several times, mayyyybe it would work finally on someone who already knows what acupuncture is and that it could help them. But in the meantime it would hemorrhage cash from your practice.
This works for huge companies like Coke or Nike, but not for acupuncturists. It takes a huge budget, time, and repetition to work. Doing one ad like this just doesn’t get you any new patients. This is what acupuncturists do and then decide that “marketing doesn’t work” and swear it off.
I made this mistake too. I spent $400 for an ad in my local neighborhood newspaper, and got zero response. When I learned more about marketing and created a postcard with a specific message that clearly articulated my value and benefit to patients with a call to action, I got a much better response and tons of new patients.
The other mistake acupuncturists make is steeply discounting their services in an attempt to attract patients. This can have the opposite effect. It turns people off; at least the people who aren’t just looking for the next deal and will actually commit to care. People think you must be desperate for patients, and therefore you must not be very good.
This isn’t true of course, but that’s what people assume. It’s a disservice to you and our profession. We need to cultivate respect for our medicine, not act like desperate amateurs. If you clearly communicate the benefits and value of your services, you won’t need to steeply discount them. So I’ve found that advertising is a waste of time and money if you aren’t going to learn how to actually do it in a way that works at attracting patients (which is easy to learn).
What one piece of advice would you give us that we can all put into practice today to increase our patient numbers?
First, center into the truth that you are an amazing healer and person and the world needs you. Your touch, your perspective. And center into the fact that you need to be compensated and rewarded for the healing work that you do, in order for you to be able to continue providing it to the world. Give yourself permission to shine, to thrive, to give, and to receive in exchange.
After you’ve embraced that, spend some time putting yourself in your patients’ and potential patients’ shoes. Why do they initially seek you and your services out? Why do they stick around? What is the benefit or result they are really looking for?
The reality is, people aren’t buying acupuncture from you. They are buying the result or benefit of acupuncture from you. Try to get specific. “Feel better now” or “Have more energy” doesn’t really hit anyone in the gut or resonate with people the way you think it would.
Get more specific so people feel like you really understand them. This is where honing in on a target market or pain condition is so beneficial. It allows you to really speak to and resonate with your potential patients. They’ll think: “Ohmygosh, she gets me! She can help me! Where do I sign up?”
I walk you through this process in this Marketing Foundations course. If you can do this well, you’ll be able to communicate your value to people who never would have considered getting acupuncture before. People will feel like you get them and will trust that you can help them. This is what will hugely transform and grow your practice. This is what will help us grow and widen the impact of our profession.
What is the one thing you feel that acupuncturists should never do?
Never hold back from sharing your insights, wisdom and knowledge with your patients. No, don’t be that annoying person who tells your friend at the party that they really shouldn’t be eating that cheese dip; she didn’t ask for your “help”. But with your patients, don’t hold back! You are the expert.
I had to learn this the hard way. I’m not sure if I was afraid of being presumptuous or bossy, but in my first few months of practice I was too loosey-goosey with my patients and let them take the reigns in terms of their care. I would say to my patient, “So, when do you want to come back?” Finally, I had several patients say to me, “I don’t know, what do you think? You’re the doctor!” And I was like, “Oh yah! I’m the doctor! I’m in charge and I know best!”
We know our medicine, we know what is best for our patients in terms of our medicine. It’s our job to educate them. It’s our responsibility as practitioners to lead, advise, and serve our patients in their best interest.
In other words, to not hold back in telling them what we know from our experience will get them the best results. We should never let someone just do whatever they want when it comes to using our services, if it’s not in their best interest. Don’t just let someone come less frequently than they should, or for less time than will get them the best results.
We’re doing our patients a disservice if we don’t impart our wisdom to them and share what we know can help them. Once I stepped into my role as the authority and expert, and stopped being shy and holding back information that would help my patients, I learned that people actually love to be told what to do by an expert!
What advice would you give current students that they can put into action right now, in preparation for running a business?
I think it would be this: Running the business part of your practice is equally important as giving great patient care. There’s a common myth that all you need is great results and your practice will be built for you on word-of-mouth referrals. But that’s just not true.
Just look around. There are so many amazing acupuncturists who get incredible results with their patients, whose practices are struggling, and who watch patients flock to other perhaps not-as-talented acupuncturists. And that sucks, and makes me sad.
You do need great results, you absolutely do. But it also takes more in addition to great results. It takes communication and people skills that build trust and confidence and connection, and a smoothly operating business that’s easy and an absolute pleasure to do business with.
These are all important parts of building trust and confidence and what inspires people to refer their friends and family to you. You are not just an acupuncturist or healer. You are a business owner. Your success (and your survival in business and ability to help more people) will come from expertly running your business, not just choosing the perfect acupuncture points or writing poetic herbal formulas. Your success will totally hinge on how quickly you adopt this role of Business Owner, as well as healer of people.
My biggest piece of immediately actionable advice for current students is this: Get a job at a health clinic. Now. Even if you’re volunteering your time and not getting paid. Even if it’s just two hours a week. Even if it’s not an acupuncture clinic, but a chiropractor or dentist office. You will learn so much; about how the clinic runs, the importance of systems, how to use Quickbooks, how to answer the phone, and small intangible things like how to greet or reschedule a patient in ways that feels good for everyone. Seriously, do this while you’re in school. It will be so valuable for you.
What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you regarding being a business owner?
The best advice I was given is from a homeopathic doctor I worked for as an office manager while in grad school. She’s become a great friend and someone I think of as a mentor. She believes that we each have our own hierarchy of values (things that are important to us in our life) and that the best business strategy is to make sure our business supports and enables our highest values.
For example, I really value food and love to cook. If my practice didn’t allow me to get home in time to grocery shop and cook a healthy, delicious dinner, I wouldn’t be happy. I also really value spending time in nature and in the mountains. If my practice didn’t allow me to take an extra day or two off here and there and get time away in the mountains, I’d be unhappy. I think that’s really good advice. We should make sure our businesses fit into and support our greater lives and goals.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t forget that you’re amazing and the world needs you!
Thanks so much for all of your advice and insights, Katie! I hope each of us reading this found something significant to take away and start using our practices tomorrow. Don’t forget to check out all the resources on AcuProsper.com, like the worksheets and eCourses.
Let’s do this! We can all be successful and have practices that make us proud and reach more patients. Let’s spread that acupuncture love around!
Have questions or thoughts for Katie? Leave them in the comments below.
What marketing or practice management technique has been most useful for you in your practice? Let us know in the comments!