Hello all! Today I’m excited to chat with acupuncturist Mara Carlini about her first five months out in practice. Mara graduated in August 2015 from Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture in Seneca Falls, NY. I’m excited to follow up with her now that she’s in practice.
If you’re an acupuncture student, I hope this article helps you get a feel for what your first six months in practice might be like. I know that in my last year of acupuncture school, I really wanted to be able to picture what the future might realistically look like. I always felt that if I really knew what being a new practitioner would be like, I could plan better. Well, learning from new graduates and hearing their stories is the best way I can think of to answer that for you!
I know the future of everyone’s practice will be different (of course) and not everyone’s journey will be like Mara’s, but I hope this article brings a little clarity, direction, and inspiration to your plans for the future of your practice!
Today Mara shares with us:
- What one thing would Mara do differently if she could start her practice over again?
- Mara’s advice for third year acupuncture students.
- Which marketing efforts have worked for her so far, and which ones haven’t?
Hi Mara! Thanks so much for chatting with us today about your experience as a recent acupuncture graduate. How does it feel to finally be practicing the medicine you studied so intensively for 3 years?
Hi Michelle! I just graduated five months ago and I’m still swimming in my first year here, but this is definitely an interesting time to talk about. It’s been a time of quick decision making to get things into motion, and I think its a time that many people wonder about.
Can I just say that it feels amazing to be finally practicing this art of acupuncture? I honestly didn’t know it would feel this good to be graduated; the real world seemed like a dream. And while it’s scary at times, as is everything unknown, it just feels great to be working toward something that is very cumulative.
Can you describe your practice for us?
When I graduated in August 2015, I imagined myself in a private practice, in my own office, in a growing area near a Whole Foods, yoga studios, and all kinds of cool, upcoming things. I had to wake up to the reality of my own situation! While that still is a dream of mine, I found myself not quite in the position to do any of those things.
While I could (and still might) take out a business loan for that amazing practice, I realize that I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to practice. I didn’t know if I wanted just one room, or a room for community acupuncture, or a yoga studio (I’m also a yoga teacher). How many patients could I really work on at once? I just graduated, and I had one patient an hour at school… was I ready to spend for twice the space and equipment?
There were just too many questions. But the key was: I had questions. And I needed answers! The only place to start is by asking, “What do I want!?” I needed to find that out. Sitting around at my computer looking at pretty acupuncture offices on Pinterest wasn’t helping. So I decided to get my questions answered and just get out there; one room is all I needed to decide. I reached out to a chiropractor in my small hometown of New Kensington (New Ken), Pennsylvania, and a neuropsychologist in the up-and-coming area of Wexford, Pennsylvania (near a Whole Foods!).
Right now I’m practicing three days a week in New Ken and one day in Wexford. In each place, I have one treatment room with a table. I bring my travel acupuncture bin; literally, the one from my Clinical Skills class. It has my needles, supplies, files, and e-stim machine, and I bring a Lulu Lemon bag with sheets. I have nice dim lighting and TDP lamps to keep at each location. At home, I keep a locked box for my files, and boxes of needles.
I take care of scheduling and payment, and I love that. While many people advise me to use someone else’s front desk staff, or to get my own receptionist, I am more of a person who likes to handle all of that myself; the less people involved, the better. I know who paid and how much, and I know who is coming in next from my phone calendar.
My schedule has varied. Some weeks I am very booked, to my surprise, and some weeks just don’t fill up or people cancel. But I feel as though my efforts are paying off, and I know the more that I do to build the foundation, the more it will build upwards.
How do you feel about running a business? Is the business aspect of acupuncture something you embrace?
To be honest, the business part of this is throwing me for a loop, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without help from others! School was great for business and I really feel like it put me on a good path. But the biggest thing I can share with your readers is, DO NOT be afraid to ask for help! Reach out and find someone who will help you!
My husband, for example, has been a huge help to me. He finds the behind the scenes stuff, like the “The Entrepreneur Handbook of Pennsylvania,” getting the “fictitious name” of your business to be a legal business, what you need on an invoice for Superbills, Quickbooks troubleshooting and more.
I also find myself reaching out to people who graduated ahead of me, or my classmates, and it’s just what you have to do. Don’t waste your time internet browsing if you don’t know what you’re looking for; just ask someone who does!
The thing I love about the business is not working directly under anyone else. That was always something that I knew I couldn’t do. I cant take orders from people, and I like my own schedule! That overrides any “bad part about business” for me.
Is running a business what you thought it would be?
It’s not exactly what I thought because of the behind-the-scenes work. I do a lot of work at home (emails, setting up advertising and presentations), and sometimes I have to make myself stop working. I could work all day, and I know people that do, but then I wouldn’t be able to have a life. As an artist too, I need to make time for that, as well as for my husband, my house, and everything that makes up a balanced life. I didn’t think about how difficult it would be to time-manage something that I have no idea how long things are going to take.
Do you use a practice management software? Pros and cons? Cost?
I literally sat online for an entire day playing with different software, and they all had so many pros and cons, I just kind of gave up – but in a noble way! To me that wasn’t important right now. I said to myself: if i practice, I only need a room, a table, three forms, and some needles/supplies. To keep it simple, I am using the forms we used in school. That’s all I want until I know what I want, and I look forward to evolving into a software someday soon when everything is flowing better.
What’s your favorite part of being in practice so far?
My favorite thing right now is educating people and using this unique set of knowledge as a healing art. I love this “mysterious” field of acupuncture, and I love how it’s growing quickly in popularity. People are learning to no longer feel stuck in their usual healthcare paradigm. When they see that they can add acupuncture and Chinese medicine into their lifestyle and actually get some relief, it’s the best feeling to have shared that with them. It’s also kind of nice to get paid for something we were doing for free so long in school! 🙂
Do you have an acupuncture mentor, or a business/marketing mentor?
I have a few people that I discuss things with, but it comes from different places. I talk to the chiropractor at my New Ken office and the neuropsychologist at the Wexford office about advertising strategies because they have an inflow of people for their businesses. They (and their staff) help me to get the word out and keep business cards and brochures flowing.
The Wexford location shared an article about the “new acupuncturist” in the local community magazine, which was helpful, and they are always offering me helpful ways to advertise. I feel very fortunate to be with such supportive colleagues.
I also have a mentor that helps me stay grounded energetically and work through emotional blockages that tend to hinder my business sense. It helps me to stay positive and confident as I grow this business.
What advice about preparing for the life after graduation would you give to acupuncture students who are in their third year or about to graduate?
For third years about to graduate, I’d suggest two things:
1) Find your questions! Ask yourself what kind of business/work you want as an acupuncturist. Find the questions that are easiest to answer first, such as: Working in a hospital? Yes/no. Working in a group of acupuncturists? Yes/no. In my experiences, those are usually easy ones for people to say yes/no on.
If you answered, “Maybe,” then that’s a question you want to write down somewhere, and figure out how your’e going to answer it. Maybe the answer is to go work in a hospital. It doesn’t matter; just do it. Realize that no matter what you do in your first month out of school, you can always change it. Even if you’ve signed a contract, remember it’s your life and you can do what you want (even if you have to face the consequences!).
But first, we have to figure out what we want and don’t want sometimes. Ask yourself as many questions as you can. Write in a word document, keep a journal, and remember to go back to these frequently and see what you’ve answered about yourself!
2) Get a website and business cards. Just get something up online! That was the best thing I did before trying to go out and start a practice. It took up more time than I thought because I wanted to have a nice website. A nice website convinces me about other kinds of practitioners, so I put a lot of time into mine.
You can work on this in between classes and studying. Even if its a free Weebly or Wix website, just have something. Even if its only one page that has your number and email on it, just do it.
And get business cards with all that info on them as well. Have it ready by graduation. At least get 50-100 cards and know that you can change them later; you just need something. Remember that a lot of places take two to three weeks to print! You need these even more than a plan for what you’re doing the week after school, because the more people you reach even if you don’t have a space yet, they will wait for you.
3) In my third year, I wish I would have found this blog earlier, for everything in it! There’s so much good advice here. Share it with your friends! Everyone deserves to know about this information. I would have written up newsletters before I graduated and just had them ready to go.
So far, what has been the most important or relevant piece of advice you’ve received about running a business?
The best advice I received is to “Stay Open.” And while that looks like it means hours/availability, that’s not what I mean at all. Staying open is about energetically staying positive and being ready and accepting of what comes to you, and many good things will come. Don’t close up energetically. People sense that somehow and stop calling, stop responding to your calls and emails. Find ways to balance your life to stay open, while still protecting yourself of course.
For me, this comes with meditation, self reflection, exercise, eating well, and balancing work with play and family. If you want more about this “staying open” concept, read Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. Highly recommended!
What’s the most effective marketing tactic you’ve used so far in your practice?
The most effective tool is different in each location. In my small town, I feel like my most effective marketing is actually a sign I put up out on the road nearby. The place I’m in is in a huge sports complex, and I wasn’t able to get a sign up in the lawn or parking lot. So I put a yard sign out down the road at a busy intersection, and I get a lot of calls and recognition from that. You may get mixed reviews from that tactic; it’s just something I didn’t think would make a difference, but it did!
In the larger town of Wexford, that sign would do absolutely nothing. It’s so busy in that area and it would look kind of out of place. It really helped to get some advertising in the community magazine, and I also attend community events that are held at the location for marketing and meeting people in that community.
Least effective marketing tactic so far?
Honestly I feel like brochures are hard to be effective! I seriously feel like I went through so many in my first few months. People grab them here and there, and I put them everywhere, and I’ve never had anyone call and say, “Oh I picked up this brochure.”
Hopefully that will be a cumulative tactic when people begin to see them repeatedly, but right now I just feel like they are getting thrown away!
Any big plans coming up for you? Changes in practice location, opening another office, etc.?
Right now I am happy the way things are going and I do not want to get ahead of myself! I can see things will be changing within the next six months to a year, but I’m not sure what that involves yet!
If you could go back in time and do one thing differently in opening your practice, what would it be?
This is so hard to answer! I feel like everything is happening so strategically in the matrix of my destiny that I hesitate to change anything. I think if I could change one thing that is stressing me out right now is to just say no to insurance and be firm about it!
I would also try to duplicate all of my supplies and actually leave them in each of the treatment rooms that I am in. It’s a work in progress right now since I don’t fully trust people to not mess with the needles, but I think having the supplies handy and being prepared is such a crucial strategy to the flow of work.
Another thing I would consider changing (but not actually change) is to scope out more options before settling in my first endeavor. I love the places I am at now, and I think they are helping me to answer my “questions.” However, I do wonder what else I’m missing or what other opportunities are out there. I was so scared to just “get a place” and go to whoever accepted me right when I moved home. I do wish I would have scoped out more places to see what else was out there, because now I feel like other places really are interested in having an acupuncturist that I didn’t even know about!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I recommend learning some grounding techniques from your qigong classes and actually using them in practice. It’s important to connect yourself as a channel to healing, remembering that you are not the healer, just the conduit into helping the patient heal themselves.
I was getting exhausted and drained after long days, and felt like all I did was acupuncture and had no energy for anything else. When I began to use grounding techniques (grounding my feet into the earth while connecting the crown of my head to the sky), I found myself more balanced and energized after a long day
I set my intention that each time I change sheets; I say to myself that the room is cleansing itself for the next patient. Also, in between patients when I wash my hands, I reconnect with my channel to earth and sky, and I set my intention on my energy field cleansing itself before the next patient (and sometimes physically brush my body with my hand!). If anyone has questions about this, its definitely something to look into. If it’s not for you, forget about it! But if you are exhausted after your days, that’s just not the way to live!
Thanks Mara! I really appreciate your sharing your experiences so far with us. I think a lot of students out there will benefit from reading about how your practice is set up, your two practice locations to diversify your options, and your recommendations for balancing work and life.
If you have questions for Mara, feel free to leave them in the comments!
Other practitioners, any advice for students who are about to graduate?