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Partners in Practice

April 19, 2017

Be Sure to Do This Before You Hire Your First Associate

By: Lorne Brown, Dr TCM, CPA

In the final installment of Dr. Lorne Brown’s four-part blog series, he offers advice on how to build the best possible team for your practice and discusses how important training your staff is for the success of your practice. With an educated, empowered team, you’ll find that your patients are happier and that their trust in your clinic is bolstered. Happy patients make it easy to grow your practice.

Lorne Brown, CPA, Dr TCM, is the clinical director of Acubalance Wellness Centre, an internationally renowned educator and advocate for integrated fertility care, and author of “Missing the Point: Why Acupuncturists Fail and What They Need to Know to Succeed.”

Your Customer Isn’t Who You Think It Is

When I started my practice, I rented one room in a practice full of massage therapists. Eventually that grew to two rooms. Now I have my own location and have grown my niche practice to fill five rooms run over 14 hours a day, shared between my hired associates (soon to be seven) and myself. Our practice is busting at the seams with an ever-growing patient waiting list. We’re already looking at expanding again. With this level of success, it would be easy to think, “I arrived. I’m done!” But you never arrive. If you are fortunate, your potential grows. If you are like other successful entrepreneurs, you set new, exciting goals to be achieved as you contribute to healing your communities and making the world better for you having lived in it.

While I now see patients at the clinic only one day a week, I’m still finding ways to create value for my team. I’m not sitting at home drinking daiquiris the other days; I’m contributing in other ways that bring value to my clinic, patients, and staff. The patients are no longer my only customers. My associates are also my customers. Your employees have to thrive if your practice is going to thrive.

Don’t Make My Mistake

When I hired my first associates, I didn’t want them to leave. So I held back teaching them everything I knew out of fear that would become dispensable to them and they would leave. But what’s worse: training your staff and having them leave or not training your staff properly and having they stay? It’s like Richard Branson says, “Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” My first mistake was considering my associates a cost to growing my practice instead of as my No. 1 customer. Happy employees tend to treat your customers better. In my early years I was not concerned enough about my staff members’ happiness and did not always hire based on the right fit. This was a big mistake on my part. I learned the hard way that a successful team isn’t built by hiring an individual with the right skills but rather by hiring for the right cultural fit within your clinic. There are plenty of skilled acupuncturists, and you can always train newbies to be rock stars too. But to build a successful team you need to hire individuals with the right attitude and cultural fit. And you need to create value for your associates.

The right fit will depend on your clinic. You’ve got to decide the vision of what you’re building, know where you’re going, and understand how your associates will fit into that vision. This is the big picture. Dream what your clinic is going to look like in 10 years, before you even add an associate. What’s your role? That’s very important. You’ve got to have this direction to know what kind of associates to hire. If you just want somebody to subsidize your overhead, then you rent a room. If you’re really looking to create a difference and grow on a large level, to be able to take holidays and have you clinic continue to run in your absence, then you need to build an excellent team of associates and admin staff.

Treat Your Associates Like Family

I want to be clear: When I talk about “associates” here, I’m not talking about someone renting a room in your clinic. I’m talking about the equivalent of a family member. And just like any household, you’ve got to strike the right balance of autonomy and boundaries.

In our clinic, my associates have a ton of autonomy; but it’s not a free-for-all. We all have the same business card, share one website, and have a dress code. We have team meetings once a week. We have philosophies we’ve ascribed to and certain courses and treatment styles that we like to do. We’re all completing a graduate mentorship program together. Despite these boundaries, no one is micromanaged or overly controlled. There is a huge factor in the happiness quotient for associates: autonomy.

The second factor is a feeling of being valued. It’s one thing to value your employees, but it’s another thing entirely to communicate that you value them. As a self-motivator I didn’t express my appreciation enough to my team members. I took my associates for granted a lot in the beginning. Now I communicate verbally and through other ways that I appreciate and value them. That’s important.

Push the Envelope

The third factor in your associates’ happiness is the ability to master their craft. At Acubalance, we do so much continuing education. We’re constantly learning. Older practitioners act as mentors to the new hires. We support each other. Because of my seminars, my associates have access to incredible material before it even comes out. They often join in the review process and volunteer at the annual integrated fertility symposium. I have an awesome team.

We keep pushing the envelope to see what we can do to help our communities and create better value for Chinese medicine. We built a good team, where everybody works hard and is professional and self-motivated. It’s not a simple recipe, but these concepts are very important and will help you a lot. Select for cultural fit, train your staff, and treat them well; then combine that with the three qualities of autonomy, mastery of skill, and feeling valued. You’ll have a really good start at expanding your practice with associates and admin staff.

Get a Mentor

If you’ve already read “Missing the Point,” and are applying the principles I share with you in the book, I strongly encourage you to start reaching out by taking practice management courses and hiring a coach or finding a mentor. Talk to your local Standard Process representative to learn new ways of supporting your niche practice. If you’ve tapped those resources and still have questions about what you’ve read and have been trying, feel free to email me.

If you like what you read here and you’re excited to learn more, don’t miss our upcoming What Acupuncturists Need to Know to Succeed webinar.

Order your copy of “Missing The Point: Why Acupuncturists Fail . . . and What They Need to Know to Succeed.

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