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Partners in Practice

March 4, 2017

Why Having a Niche Will Save Your Practice


By: Lorne Brown, Dr TCM, CPA

In the second installment of Dr. Lorne Brown’s four-part blog series, he addresses the power of narrowing your focus. When you position yourself in a niche, you become known as an expert in that particular focus and can significantly grow your business.

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.”

Like It or Not, You’re a Small-Business Owner

One thing that surprises me most about acupuncturists is their denial that they’re in business. I hear so often that they can’t make ends meet and have to take other part-time work or even leave the industry altogether in order to feed themselves and pay their bills. They lack business skills; more importantly, they often lack any interest in developing those business skills. Don’t believe me? I was recently at an association conference at which a meeting was held to address how the profession is struggling. After spending the morning acknowledging what a big deal this problem is, two breakout sessions were held in the afternoon: one for treating ankle pain and one for how to build your practice. Out of 100 people, 85 went to the ankle session. Only 15 went to the business session. Acupuncturists are aware they’re struggling, yet they don’t often have the awareness to attend a business talk to improve their situation.

This isn’t just an acupuncturist problem, however. It’s a small-business problem. Small businesses are at risk of failing due to the fact that they lack resources. These businesses may not have the money to hire a marketing director, an office manager, somebody to answer the phones, an accountant, or a lawyer—just like acupuncturists are cleaning their own toilets, changing their own tables, doing the laundry, strategizing all their own marketing, building their websites, etc.

Any small business that lacks resources, people, money or time is at a risk of failing. The difference is, when you’re in denial that you’re a small business, you don’t take this risk into account. You’re often not open to receiving advice on business or taking a class to improve your skills. All this does is increase your risk of failure.

Think of It Like a Yin and Yang Relationship

When yin and yang are out of relationship there is disease, and when yin and yang separate there is death. This is the same for your business. As a practitioner, you need to become skilled as a clinician, but you also have to be skilled as a businessperson. They’re interdependent. If you’re only skilled as a clinician, then your yin and yang are out of relationship. Your practice won’t thrive and will probably fail.

The first step, then, to establish a successful business is to accept the fact that you’re a small-business owner. You need to develop your business and clinical skills equally in order to survive. In the next segment of this series, “How to Grow a Practice Despite Success Being Counterintuitive,” I’ll cover the most important step to take in developing your business skills. When it comes to clinical skills, most acupuncturists overlook this essential strategy to ensuring a successful practice: Build a niche.

Expand Your Business by Limiting Your Practice

Finding a niche is counterintuitive, if you think about it, because it would seem you are limiting your patient population by focusing on a narrow area. When I chose fertility, I was told that I would starve to death because of how few fertility patients I was going to see. I remember this was in 2002. Then, practitioners were lucky if they saw even one or two fertility patients in their practice. In our Chinese medicine textbooks, fertility doesn't even get its own chapter. Logically, specializing in fertility made no sense. But by 2004, my practice was so busy with fertility cases, I had to hire my first two associates. Ten years later, I’m now taking on my seventh associate to help with our exploding patient load. Why? Because having a niche is what gives you expert status, and patients want to see an expert.

Think about it: If you have heart disease, you don't go see your general practitioner or a dermatologist; you see a cardiologist. Why? You assume the specialist has extra training in the field and more experience treating the particular condition than most general practitioners. That’s how I built my practice. If a patient told me he or she had diabetes or a particular condition other than a fertility issue, I’d say, “I treat reproductive health, so I'm going to refer you to somebody else.” It seems counterintuitive to grow your practice by limiting who you take on as patients, but by focusing on a specialty and referring out, you accelerate the demand for your services.

Myth Busting a Niche Practice

Some people do say that having a niche in Chinese medicine is not true to the holistic model of Chinese medicine. That’s a myth. It’s a big myth because fertility acupuncturists still treat holistically. How can you just treat reproductive health well and not treat the individual holistically? We still do a full intake. We still look to see if they have headaches, skin conditions, digestive issues, etc. The main differences between a generalist and a specialist are:

  • Patients have more confidence in a specialist.
  • Specialists gain more clinical experience in their area of expertise quicker by the very nature of choosing to see only this narrow demographic.
  • Specialists tend to focus their continuing education on the area in which they have chosen to specialize.

Both the generalist and the specialist still treat the individual rather than the disease and use a holistic approach.

As you grow your practice, you start to learn what other resources are available for your patients, from hypnosis and naturopathy to Western medicine, etc. You start to create an excellent referral network. It’s a real confidence builder for patients when they come in and you know about things that are even outside your scope of practice. Being able to have that discussion and understand your patient and each individual situation—that’s what having a niche does.

If you like what you read here and you’re excited to learn more, watch the What Acupuncturists Need to Know to Succeed webinar. Stay tuned for the next installment of our series, in which Dr. Brown talks about how being successful requires deliberate action.

To get the whole story, order “Missing the Point: Why Acupuncturists Fail . . . and What They Need to Know to Succeed.”

Tagged in: acupuncture

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