OK, now that you’ve made your decisions, set up your space, and you’re ready to start, now what?
Like I said before, do NOT lock yourself in your office with a calculator! Do not drive yourself around in circles in financial panic. This is a tough time, yes indeedy, but it is not impossible. Keep a clear head, be prepared to work hard, and you’ll survive it.
Also worth repeating: money and time go quick. Watch both like a hawk, spend both wisely. Have a plan and stick to it. Write it down if need be.
Back to regularly-scheduled programming–getting the patients.
With any luck, you’ve set up shop in an area where the prevailing overall personality/vibe matches yours; you’ve got to be compatible with the people. You’ve got to be comfortable where you live. If you’re not, and you’re miserable where you’re at, don’t waste another minute; consider a move.
With any luck, you feel good about your office space and how it turned out. The reality often materializes slightly different from the vision; that’s OK. Hopefully, it set well with you.
Time to open your doors. During this time, try to resist any temptation to take another job. Other jobs will only take away time and energy that you’ll need to invest into your own practice, and trust me, a new practice is like a newborn baby–they take a LOT of energy and resources.
Now, if you’re sinking or you’ve got a family, then be responsible and do what you need to to provide adequately, but seriously–try to slash your cost of living so that you can survive these next few LEAN-@$$ months.
Building the practice is slow at first. The best thing is, like I mentioned before, to start with your neighbors, then just up the street, and then slowly work a wider radius. It’s all about headspace. When people ask what you do, stick with conditions/specialties you have some experience and confidence treating. (You’ll have to fake some of the confidence for a while; that’s OK. You’ll have to call more experienced colleagues like old professors for help/guidance fairly often at first. That’s OK, too.)
But seriously–go in with the intention of helping. Be enthusiastic. Don’t be slimy or sales-y. Dress nice but casual, like clinic attire without the tie. Project the persona you’re comfortable with. Match your community; if you’re in a down-home small town atmosphere, you won’t want to go in wearing a 3-piece suit with flamboyant accent colors.
Headspace, headspace, headspace.
If your intentions are good, you’ll reap good karma. In fact, you’ll be a refreshing switch from the weirdo fringe DCs or the cattle call MDs, and people may just flock to you – in small droves first, sort of a trickle, but then steadier and steadier.
Keep your bubble small; live, shop, work, and play within just a few square miles. This way, the same people pare more likely to see you and become familiar with you over time. Eat at the same restaurants (tip well, leave your card!), volunteer for local events, shop at the same grocery stores (strike up conversations with people in line with you or cashiers at checkout), visit gyms and yoga studios, offering to do some free demos, health talks, or even basic treatments. Limit it to something like 2 hours per week per venue, call it community service, tell people that giving back is a big deal for you and in your practice, and you’d be surprised. Choose a nearby bank and make friends with the tellers and managers. Joke with them, be friendly, have a good time. Attend their customer appreciation events. Locate massage therapists, doulas, midwives, other DCs, open-minded MDs/DOs, compounding pharmacists, conventional pharmacists, yoga instructors, colon hydrotherapists, psychologists, RNs, health food stores, martial arts studios, personal trainers, etc etc and build meaningful relationships with them.
Avoid coming on too strong about your practice. Be a likable personal first, be a good neighbor, emphasize your commitment to your community.
That said, a word of caution: make sure that what you say is true. People are smarter than we often give them credit for, and their BS-o-meter will go sky-high if they don’t think you’re for real. So be for real–mean what you say and follow through.
Other healthcare practitioners will often invite you to events, whether it’s a support group for a condition like migraines, a group for a cause like breast cancer, parental groups for kids with ADD/ADHD, etc. We got invited to a large, local cross-disciplinary Functional Medicine group. Do not be afraid to meet the other DCs in your area. Chances are, they practice differently than you do or that y’all excel in different areas. Maybe you take different insurance plans. Even if you’re exactly the same, your personalities and practice management are different, so you’ll attract different people. It’s good to 86 the weirdness that often puts up a wall between neighboring DCs. You’re not competition for each other any more than you’re competing with the liquor store next door for the customer’s disposable dollar. Mmmm-kay?
Avoid direct-mail advertising; instead, seek out niche advertising. If you’d like senior citizens, there are plenty of seniors guides and whatnot out there that you can advertise in. If you like the more well-to-do crowd, you can advertise in free holistic practitioner magazines in the bins at the front of health food stores like Whole Foods. Figure out what demographic you want to attract and go there.
You might also try networking groups like BNI. BNI is a paid version of a networking group, but there might be a free group or two out there that someone has put together for fun. If not, you can form your own! That could be another segue into meeting people that doesn’t involve the automatic salespitch of your business; simply mention that you’re trying to get some business owners together in a weekly/bi-weekly networking group at no cost. Maybe you can trade off whose house you meet at to save money by not having to rent out a restaurant and you all bring refreshments potluck-style.
With BNI, you can attend each group twice before they insist that you join. Bring some cash for a meal/weekly dues. As you meet people, don’t forget to show interest in THEIR business. See how you can work together. Think of who you know might be looking for their services that you can refer to them.
One intern I knew got through clinic successfully recruiting all of her patients easily. I asked her how, and she said she just engaged in fun stuff she liked to do, without going there just for the patients. She did things like yoga, martial arts, working out at the gym, etc.
You’ll be amazed at how life threads together to weave a tapestry. People are brought together and connections are made with a simple spark. We attended a seminar in our city, and met a fellow DC a few miles away and a compounding pharmacist who happens to be just up the street and knows everyone, including like-minded MDs/DOs.
Also, one of the first people we met was a neighbor just down the hall in our building. She introduced us to a colon hydrotherapist, a Functional Medicine group, and a well-read holistic magazine at Whole Foods, and made sure we knew who the pharmacist was. This person also facilitates network/support group, body-mind-soul oriented, for those battling or winning against cancer (or who know someone who is, or maybe they don’t but they’re interested anyway), and she invited us to speak right away at the following month’s group meeting. Wherever you go, bring cards! Offer to display other peoples’ cards in your office, although be choosy. When someone has treated you well or whatever, ask them for a whack of their cards so that you can display them in a card holder that holds 6-12 cards. You never know who will see them, and you never know who will come see you!
One of the coolest things we did was, not only did we decide to treat on the first visit (many DCs think it devalues our work; I say phooey, and my experience as well as the stories I hear from the public back me up), but we decided to give that first adjustment away. Yes, you heard me: FREE. We are so confident in what we do and that the patient will feel that much of a before-and-after difference that we put our money where our mouth is (literally) and adjust them at no charge. Our reasoning for this was that in our society, there are lots of barriers to chiropractic: cost, overall prejudice, bad press, flaky/weird/substandard DCs, etc, and we wanted to eradicate one of the biggest barriers of all: the financial burden. Most people simply don’t like the idea of paying someone they don’t know a couple hundred bucks before they even get adjusted (because many DCs don’t adjust until the 2nd, 3rd, or sometimes 4th visit!) , especially in a slumped-over, anxiety-ridden, unstable economy.
Take that barrier away, and people know they feel better, and then they come back ON THEIR OWN…and they gladly pay you, and we charge about $15 more than the average DC. They also accept our recommendations for rescheduling timeframes, adjunct massage therapy treatments, lab testing, and supplements, without question.
They TRUST us. We’ve earned that trust.
Address money with your patients. You both know it’s on their minds, so meet it head-on. Tell them you know firsthand what it’s like to be cash-strapped. Be straight up with them. You’re not the cheapest, but you’re not the most expensive, either.
And over time, you’re the most cost-effective, the most bang for the buck, because you get people better faster and you DON’T keep them coming back needlessly.
The whole subluxation-based practice thing? I hate to say this, but it doesn’t work. This concept is part of the reason DCs see 6-percent-and-falling of the population. I know firsthand that the high-volume, year-o’-care, 3x/wk plans do not sit well with patients. So please don’t go there.
Seriously, just be straight up with patients and be patient-centered. If you are, people will see that, and they’ll appreciate it. If you truly, sincerely want to help, they’ll sense that from you. If you tell it like it is and you’re nice the whole way through, you’ll build trust quickly. If they want to go, let them go, and let them know they’re always welcome back. You won’t please everyone, and some people are simply set on being negative. Those people won’t be happy no matter what you did, so don’t take it personally. Others are subconsciously attached to their issue. This sabotages any progress you try to make. Usually they’re not consciously aware of this. And truth be told, not every treatment failure is the patient’s fault. It’s the doc’s fault almost as often. Sometimes it’s no one’s fault; it’s just a personality or preference mismatch. That’s OK, there’s someone/something out there for everyone and for everyone that goes, there will be many more that come and stay! 🙂