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01/06/2006 - Letís talk Business Ė the Acupuncture business

Let’s talk about making money – a load of money, as a Traditional Chinese Medical practitioner.  The dirty five letter word Money. Have I got your attention?  Have I brought up your resistance?  ‘I’m not in it for the money,” I hear you say. “I want to help people and be a healer.  I want to ease the suffering of humanity.  It’s not spiritual; it’s not what I became a practitioner for.”

Yes I would agree with you, money wasn’t the main reason I became a healer either. ‘But’ and this is a big ‘But’, as soon as you enter into starting up a practice, as soon as you decide to charge for your services, as soon as you say, “I am going into professional practice” money will rear it’s big fat ugly head.  And if you don’t get a handle on it, it will cause you to fail. 

It’s a common fact that 2 out of 3 practitioners within three years of leaving college won’t be practicing, mainly because you can’t learn practice management at college.  You have to learn it through practicing it.  You have to learn to ask the questions, before you can find the answers.  No use trying to teach someone who doesn’t even know what to ask or look for.  Professional Practice Management is learnt first by the seat of your pants.  In the first years of practice you will be confronted with all your issues around self worth, around money, around service, around generosity and around your spiritual beliefs.

You will have to ask sick people while they are suffering to pay for your services.  You will have to pay your rent and bills, because I guarantee you your real estate agent isn’t going to care that you gave away your treatments, because spiritually it was the right thing to do and that poor patient was really suffering.

I had a classic example of this when a woman client, who was a friend of a friend, came in to see me.  She had just broken up with her partner; she had no work and a young son to look after.  She was stressed out and short of cash, so she said.  So I, in my male hero role, discounted the cost of her treatment.  She was very grateful and I felt like I was really helping.  On her next appointment I found her dancing around the reception listening to her new iPod.  Isn’t it great she said?  I felt like saying “Yeah – give me the ear phones because I bought them for you.”  It was just another lesson for me not to get into other peoples’ stories and to stay true to myself.

Clinical practice will constantly throw up these little tests.  Personally I don’t think I am in clinical practice to save the world anymore.  God has placed me there to learn my lessons about who I am and the people who visit me each day.  These people seem to be sent by God to teach, test and reward me when I get it right.

Professional clinical practice comes with awareness.  You have to learn many new skills.  You have to learn to be a business person, a promoter, manager, accountant, leader, as well as technically proficient. has given me the opportunity over the next couple of months to share with you some of my 27 years experience as an acupuncturist and herbalist.  I hope to over the coming months give you some great ideas to build your practice.  I have worked in all types of practices with many different practitioners.  I have always sought out mentors, people who have successful busy practices.  They are people who enjoy giving their best and who are generous in sharing their wealth of knowledge. 

If you are struggling in practice right now, or are feeling burned out, then my first word of advice is to go out and find yourself a mentor, someone who is succeeding, someone who loves their work and is happy to pass on their excitement.  Remember even a dead black piece of coal only has to be placed next to a hot glowing fire to become ignited.  The same goes for practitioners, find help, don’t do it alone. 

Another piece of good advice is to phone a successful practitioner and be willing to work or observe for free until you discover what it is that he does differently that makes him a success. 

The Chiropractors over the last 80 years have built a strong business ethic.  They have many practice management seminars.  They have learnt what it takes to make a business succeed.  They have research everything from the type of client to how to lay out your appointment book.  They have learnt how to increase the service to a client while still cutting down the time it takes to treat.   And if you are in it for the money they can show you how to make $1 million dollars a year in clinical practice. 

In this article I am not into the morals of how much money you make, my point is that we as a profession have done little to help raise our professional business standards. Most successful practitioners I know have had to learn it all by themselves.  They have collected together in small groups and shared their hard earned lessons.  I often find at seminars that I learn the most not in the lecture room but in the breaks over coffee talking to my colleagues.  Even at our new conferences there is little in the way of how to build a practice and frankly I get tired of practitioners/students constantly having to speak on how their trials have proven that acupuncture works for this or that.  In my mind it’s just ‘reinventing the wheel’.  When will we begin to accept 4000 years of clinical trials and get on with helping the sick, easing suffering and building a happy successful life for ourselves and family?

One of my fellow practitioners at the last conference pointed out to me how he likes being a TCM practitioner.  Looking around the room he said, “You know TCM people are a bunch of really nice people.   I am proud to belong to this group.”  In that moment I could really feel what he meant.  We are a good hearted people.  We give a huge amount of energy and time to learn how to heal others.  The problem is, to succeed in business we have to give just as much time and energy to learn how to be financially successful and happy.  ‘We have to become good people with great skills.’ 

In the future I would like to see our association focus more on developing practice management seminars.  One idea would be to gather some of the leaders in our profession to share their wisdom.  Maybe there could be a lecture series over a year that utilises the collective experience of our elders.

The Chiropractors developed a strong political voice because they had the wealth to spend on promotion.  Until our members become successful and have some spare cash to more fully support our association we won’t have the political success the chiropractors and medical doctors have had.  Professional success plus business success equals political success.  We have some great people in our association who work tirelessly for little reward.  Their only wish is to give back some of the satisfaction they have received out of TCM, but it is hard going when you don’t have enough money to support or promote. 

My belief is that we have to start at the grass roots and if we can help each other to build successful practices we are then naturally building a strong healthy association.   With that comes recognition of what we have to offer our communities and that recognition builds government and political awareness.  Then, and only then, will we see the changes needed for TCM to be accepted.

Over the coming months I would like to share with you successful ways to improve your practice.  If any of things I have mentioned interest you or you have any practice management questions you would like me to discuss in next month’s article, please email me at .

To summarise what you can do to build a better Business.

  1. Find a mentor
  2. Visit some successful clinics
  3. Meet in groups and share your experience
  4. Be willing to work for free – experience is worth a fortune
  5. Ask the Association to create a practice management lecture series – that utilises the collective experience of our elders.

Robert Kendall is in practice on the Gold Coast, Queensland. He may be contacted on TEL: 07 5522 0411 or email website: