Follow-Up Interview: Year Two in Practice with Michelle Grasek

Here is an update about Avenue Acupuncture with Michelle Grasek. Michelle is a writer and educator about Acupuncture Marketing! I found it fascinating to read through my past interviews to see just how much my practice has evolved! Thanks again for this opportunity, Michelle!

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Full link: Follow-up Interview Year Two in Practice

"Hi everyone, welcome back! Today I’m excited to interview Danielle Talley, acupuncturist and owner of Avenue Acupuncture in Plattsburgh, New York. I originally interviewed Danielle as a third-year student at the Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Upstate New York (my own alma mater too!). You can check out Danielle’s previous interviews here:

I love taking a look at how different acupuncturists run and manage their businesses, as well as following their journeys in the years after graduation. Everyone’s path to success is different but it’s fun to take a peek at where others are in the journey, what works for them in marketing and bringing in patients, what doesn’t work, etc.

Today Danielle and I talk about:

  • How she built her business to 30-40 patients/week
  • Raising her rates and those tricky money conversations
  • Why she takes Wednesdays off for self care (love this!)
  • Collaborations with other businesses in her community that are expanding her practice

Let’s dive right in!

Can you describe your practice for us now that you’ve been in business two years? How have things changed since our last interview?

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The practice is thriving. I see between 30-40 patients a week and I started a wait list for new patients in January. So much has changed since the last interview. I recently moved to a new office space and I’m now sharing space with two chiropractors (also New York Chiropractic College grads). Last year I started collaboration with Melissa Light of Luminous Living offering monthly Restorative AcuYoga classes. I’m getting ready to launch, “The Community Acupuncture Project” in order to spread my services further and allow those with strict financial considerations to still receive treatment. I have more experience under my belt and am more confident as a businesswoman.

So glad to hear business is booming! I love that you’re branching out and making such great collaborations with other business owners in your area. I’m always encouraging my students to work with others to expand their reach. Can you tell us more about Restorative AcuYoga classes?

I was approached by Melissa Light of Luminous Living last year to collaborate on a workshop. Melissa is a well-known and fantastic yoga teacher and health coach. We decided to combine the healing effects of Acupuncture and Restorative Yoga. The workshop is three hours long and the first two hours consist of restorative yoga where participants are guided through 5-7 postures. The next hour is a glorious savasana where participants receive auricular acupuncture. Each workshop is themed a bit differently depending on the season, mood, collective, etc. We have found that most people LOVE this workshop and since we only offer monthly, it is usually sold out! Melissa and I love to hold such a healing space for people!

That sounds amazing. What a perfect collaboration. I’d encourage everyone reading this to consider something similar with a yoga teacher in their area, to get their services in front of a new audience.

Last year when we chatted, you mentioned running a business was your least favorite part of practicing. Is this still the case, or do you feel like you have a handle on it now so it’s less intimidating/less effort?

I would say the business side of things is still my least favorite. I’m a clinician and I enjoy working with and treating patients. Filing taxes and monitoring expenses is still boring and can sometimes be overwhelming on top of my patient load. I have better habits and systems in place to help alleviate the daily stress of administrative work. It is less intimidating now that I have more experience. I have reached out for help and support when needed and I am getting the hang of the business yearly cycle. I am considering hiring part-time help and have been pondering that for quite a while.

Last year you weren’t accepting insurance. Is that still the case? Why or why not?

I’m still not processing insurance claims on my side. I do send patients superbills upon request. If their insurance covers acupuncture they can then submit to their insurance themselves. Almost all patients with the proper insurance coverage have had success getting reimbursed. Since the business is still just me, I do not have the resources to process insurance claims on my own. Most patients do not mind the superbill process. It’s all done electronically on my end – quick and easy for both of us.

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What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of being in practice?

My favorite part is helping people. It has always been my favorite part, in fact helping others is the entire reason I went into this field at all. I would say my least favorite again is the business side. I recently had to increase my prices and even having those conversations with my patients was a challenge for me. Money is an uncomfortable topic for me. It’s hard to proclaim my “worth” and justify the value. I’m proud to say that I have remained firm in that regard, explaining that if the patient has financial considerations preventing them from continuing care that I’d be happy to provide them with a list of practitioners that may better fit their financial needs. I have found that boundary setting has helped. I originally set my prices in the mid-low range when right out of school. I didn’t want to set them too high as a brand new practitioner. Now that I have two years under my belt and a list of people waiting for appointments, I felt like it was time. In addition, I moved my physical practice location to a place that was more expensive, and I don’t believe anything is getting less expensive these days. I would rather raise my prices more substantially every few years rather than five dollars here and five dollars there.

I appreciate that you’re willing to talk about money issues. You’re not alone with having difficulty charging what you’re worth or dealing with money matters in general. The more acupuncturists I speak to, the more I learn that it’s a difficult conversation for many of us. I’m so glad to hear you stuck to your guns and went with the higher prices. You’re right, nothing out there is getting cheaper!

Do you still have mentors for running your business, like you did last year?

Absolutely. I think having the right resources can make all of the difference and I still have people I reach out to and ask questions when needed. My twin sister, who has a background in marketing, communications, and administrative work, has been instrumental in helping me navigate some of the more confusing aspects of the business world. I’m blessed to have such a resource that is literally a text message away. She’s an honest and upfront fountain of information about administrative aspects that I’m not sure about.

What advice would you give to acupuncture students regarding starting their practices?

Start making a business plan early. You have to put in the time and effort to lay the groundwork for a successful practice. The success of a business should not be on a wing and a prayer.

Agreed! Successful businesses are most often built with a plan in mind; sporadic marketing efforts result in sporadic income. Can you outline your marketing game plan for us? What marketing do you engage in to keep your practice full?

My marketing game plan is simple: Provide great service that makes patients want to spread the word. I haven’t really paid for marketing besides sponsored posts on Facebook. Most new patients hear about the practice through other existing patients. I have recently had t-shirts and hats made featuring the Avenue Acupuncture logo but otherwise I have focused on solid communication via appropriate channels and providing great service.  I absolutely love having merchandise, even though that may seems silly to some. Seeing my shirts worn around town gives me such a sense of pride.

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Which marketing efforts are bringing in the most patients for you right now?

The most successful thing I ever did was an open house right after the business launched in 2015. I think the most important part of that open house were the live demos. It was important to show the community that these are thin needles that do not cause the type of discomfort that a shot or blood draw causes. In addition, I showed cupping, tui na chinese massage, and facial rejuvenation. I decided to be open and honest – allowing any questions to flow in real time. I also offered a small discount on gift certificates – $10 off per every $50 spent. The patient numbers doubled the week after the open house it has been busy ever since. After the open house I have simply done maintenance. Since the wait list was started in January of 2017 I have really scaled back any marketing efforts. I have to think about longevity too. I can’t just take a zillion patients in a week for the foreseeable future. Even though it was uncomfortable, I had to do experiments around what number felt best for me both for each day and for the week. I could see why burnout is a real thing. Scaling back was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made for my mental health. Some could argue that it would be a great time to hire someone, but I like being a sole practitioner right now. I’m not ready to hire yet.

Are there marketing efforts you’ve tried that really fell flat?

I haven’t had anything fall flat. However I would caution any person new to marketing that traditional print media (white pages, newspaper, magazines, etc.) can be quite costly often with a little return on investment (unless extremely targeted). Grassroots and word of mouth are often more effective.

Agreed. Print ads (or ads of any kind) need to have a very specific target market to be effective.

What has been the most important advice you’ve ever received about running a business?

It’s okay to ask for help. You don’t have to do it all yourself.

In your second year in practice, do you feel like you’ve “made it?” Why is that? Or, what do you feel like needs to happen before you’ve made it?

I feel like the term “made it” means that the work is over and you have reached your full potential. For me that’s not really the case. I’m not sure I will ever feel like I’ve “made it.” I’m trying to have more of a mindfulness-based approach where moment to moment check-ins with about how life and the business are right now is a priority. I’m trying to put less emphasis on some fictitious end and more about the journey. I do know how cliché that actually sounds, but that is true for me. I am unable to put into words how grateful I am to have the wonderful patients and community support. Two years was the amount of time I gave myself to sink or swim in Plattsburgh and I would say that thankfully, I am swimming.

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I agree that taking time to stop, check in, and focus on mindfulness is enormously important. What goals and plans do you have for your practice in the next year?

As mentioned above, I am adding community acupuncture to my offering. This Fall I plan to have some open hours for patients and new patients to walk in and try mini acupuncture treatments in a group setting. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time so I am excited about the opportunity.

In the future I have big dreams and goals to open my own larger office (with more acupuncturists) and studio space for yoga classes, workshops, and other offerings. I have recently been certified in Buti Yoga, which is a mix of vinyasa yoga, tribal dance, and plyometrics. Buti yoga is a high intensity, fun workout done to upbeat music. I have found a great deal of healing for myself with yoga. I can’t wait to offer it to others.

Buti Yoga sounds like tons of fun. If you could go back and do anything differently in the past year, what would it be?

There are not any actions I would do differently but I would tell myself is okay to say no, it’s okay to ask for help and it is okay to know and ask for your worth.

If you don’t mind sharing, how many patients are you seeing a week?

I am seeing about 30-40 patients a week. I decided to cut down my schedule to only 4 days per week that I am in private sessions. My Wednesdays are still a work day, but more for administrative work and self care. I find that carving out time during the workweek is actually best because I have no excuse to not get my work done before the weekend comes. In addition, the integration of self care has been crucial in order to continue caring for people. I think it’s important to have a healthy work-life balance. This is something I’ve had to really fight for because I tend to let work bleed into other aspects of my life. I mean I have had to literally keep my work phone completely off on weekends and refrain from checking e-mails. Boundaries are key. I am still a work in progress.

Self-care is so essential. I think you’re providing a great example of how to fit self-care into a busy practice. Glad to hear you took that leap! 

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Thank you for an awesome interview, Danielle! I appreciate that Danielle is willing to share the steps she’s taking to build a business that is an important and integrated part of her community. And I love traveling along that journey with Danielle in these yearly check-ins. Can’t wait to see what awesome new plans she has in the works for next year. Don’t forget to check out Danielle’s previous interviews:

Have questions for Danielle? Can you relate to her experiences as a new practitioner?  I’d love it if you left a question or comment below!"