Alumni Advice: 10 Mistakes Healers Make When Building Their Practice

by Gail Daugherty, LAc, MAcOM, MBA, Diplomate of Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) ®

Gail Daugherty graduated from AOMA in 2009. After graduation she worked on cruise ships for three years honing her acupuncture and business skills. She has a successful healing practice in McKinney, Texas (, helps other healers fill their schedule and has a bi-monthly newsletter with resources to help you grow your practice. You can sign up for her email at

1. Hire professionals like attorneys, bookkeepers, CPAs, etc.

I hired an attorney to look over a lease for a building I wanted to rent. It used to be an acupuncture clinic. It had all the bells and whistles I could want. It had a beautiful reception area, piped music into each room, built-in bookcases and desks for the receptionist area and each office. It had remote alerts the patient could click and it would alert the receptionist they needed something. It even had a Tai Chi room in the back. It was perfect and I was stoked.

The lease was two pages and looked fairly simple for a three year lease. The contract mentioned the lease owners and my responsibilities. It also stipulated a yearly rent increase for the length of the lease. I almost didn’t have an attorney look at it since it seemed so straightforward. Always trusting my Dad’s opinion, I had him review it and he agreed that it looked good, but urged me to have his attorney review it.

My parent’s own a medium-sized business and their attorney cost more than I wanted to spend. I was just getting started and it seemed like an unnecessary expense. But I had that little feeling telling me to have him look it over. I called him and my idea of renting that dream office was crushed.

The owner of the building was trying to sell the building and trying to get someone to rent it during the process. There was some odd wording that my Dad and I thought meant I could buy the building at the end of the lease. In actuality, it stated that I would have to move out as soon as the building sold.

I still think about that building and the blessing of asking a professional. Spend the money on these services. If you don’t have the money, you would be surprised how many professionals that will work on trade and need your healing service. Start building those relationships and utilize them. It truly is worth it.

2. Having a website and a business card is not all the marketing you need to do.

Building a website is a big deal. You pour your heart and soul into it whether you create it yourself or have someone else do the work. It’s an expression of who you are, what you do and how you can help. It can feel like you’ve tackled a massive hurdle once it is complete. Now that they can see what’s in your heart and how you can help. People will not magically find you online and schedule with you. It is one way people will find you, but not the only way.

Websites are important if you’re going to have a healing practice. People want to feel like they know you before coming to see you. They need to find you first and just having a website is not enough. I have never spent money on building an “online presence” or on SEO. You don't need to spend a lot of money to get clients, but you do need to work smart beyond just having a website.

Working smart means spending time developing a referral network, having a plan to follow up with patients and with referral sources and finding where your ideal patient hangs out. Build a relationship with the people that come in contact with your potential patient.

3. Don’t waste time and money on things that don't bring in clients.

Continuing to tweak your website until it’s “perfect” or spending a month creating your business card is too long. There are so many other things you could be doing out in the world to fill your schedule.

Buy some perforated cards from an office supply store. Type up the name of your practice and your contact information. Print out a couple sheets and start using them. Get version one out there today and improve on it with the next printing. I make changes to my card almost every printing. You have to get version one out there before you can have the perfect version six.

I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on things I thought would improve my skill and bring in clients. My best investment has always been on improving my skill. I have a IMAET computer (the system that works with Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques) and an AcuGraph. Neither was a small investment and neither of them has brought in a single patient. They do collect of lot of dust that I have to keep cleaning off.

I went to Boston three times to learn a technique that relieves pain with just a few needles. It was also an expensive investment and it has brought in thousands and thousands of dollars. It’s my “magic trick” when I’m showing someone how awesome acupuncture works. They have a pain and I put in a needle and their pain goes away. They are definitely going to tell people about their experience and they come see me whenever they have another ache or pain.

4. Enjoy the party! Don’t spend time at a social events trying to get clients.

I am an acupuncturist and I used to dread going to a social event and telling people what I did. I love acupuncture and I love healing. I don’t love standing in a room with dance music playing talking about it. I want to dance!

It’s an easy trap to share how awesome you are and how your practice can help. You probably love it and love talking about it. The problem is you’re satisfying curiosity instead of enjoying the party. Pull out your schedule and schedule them for a consultation. If they are interested they’ll schedule. If they are just making small talk you can give your best three sentences about how awesome it all is and then hit the dance floor.

5. You should have your schedule on you at all times.

Scheduling systems are worth their expense. Get one. You will miss out on helping people if you don’t have an easy way for them to book online. All the scheduling systems I know have a mobile app. Don’t just give them a business card and wait for them to schedule. Get their information and get them on the schedule for a consultation or an appointment. You don’t have to be aggressive. Ask your potential client about their “area of concern” and then just a simple “I have had people walk in my office with ten out of ten back pain and leave with zero. Do you want to come in and give it a try?”. I’ve scheduled a new patient standing in line to buy tacos!

6. Make time to celebrate successes, breathe and enjoy the experience.

Congratulations you are your own boss! Celebrate it! The fear and joy you feel everyday never goes away. It will be a wild ride of emotions, incredibly rewarding and remarkable scary. Get help riding the wave so you can experience success and find joy in the ups and downs. Relax, it is a totally normal feeling to think you’ve made a huge mistake deciding to do it on your own.

It takes a very special person to have the courage to set out on your own with the mission to help and heal people. Take some time to be proud of yourself, congratulate yourself and celebrate. It is an exciting time with dreams of helping people and changing the world. You will help thousands of people. They will be healthier and happier because they worked with you. Helping and healing the most people you can takes great risks. It also offers rewards you can’t find anywhere else. While this is a time of excitement and enthusiasm, it can also be a time of self-doubt and fear. It’s going to be okay. You will survive. You will succeed.

Feelings of self-doubt and fear come from not having a plan, not knowing what to do next and not knowing how to get more people in the door. Knowing proven steps to help you be successful makes getting new clients fun and easy. You love what you do and you want to help a ton of people. Talk to people that are successful. Ask questions, listen with an open mind and try new things.

7. You should be rebooking clients before they leave your office and ask for testimonials.

You are an expert at what you do. Only you know what the patient or client needs. Tell them when they need to come back. If you broke your arm you wouldn't go back to a doctor that asked you if you wanted to come back to get the cast off. You want to be told by the professional exactly what to expect. There is a comfort in knowing the reality that you will still be in pain after you leave the office, but that after a few weeks the pain will start to get less and after six weeks you will be healed and the cast will come off.

I always tell a new patient at the end of their first session when I’d like to see them again. It’s usually again that same week or the following week. I say, “I’d like to see you again next week to see how this session worked. Some people keep feeling less and less pain, some people feel the pain return after a couple hours or a couple of days and some people don’t notice any improvement at all after the first session. Knowing how you respond will help me know how to best help you and know how many sessions you might need. Does this same day and time work for you?”.

Ask your patient to write a testimonial. Send them a follow up email asking for a quick comment. Post your testimonials on your website. Your new clients wants to know that you’ve worked with people before and it’s always better coming from their voice. The most testimonials the better. Ask everyone because only a small percentage will actually follow through. When I worked on cruise ships I would give them a clipboard, a pen and a form to write their testimonial. I’d leave the room to run their charge and ask them to make a quick note about their experience. I said I could help more people if they heard it in their words. I collected hundreds of testimonials.

8. Use a follow-up system.

Follow up with your clients. Put it on your calendar to call new clients within three days and recurring clients after they’ve missed two weeks in a row. Whatever their regular schedule is contact them if they miss. It’s a simple call to say “Hi, I’m just checking in to see how you are feeling. I’m assuming you are feeling great since I didn’t see you this week. If not, please let me know how you are doing. I’m here whenever you need. Thank you.”.

9. Return calls in a timely manner.

You are probably your own boss and you don’t have a front office staff. Most of the people in your industry are the same. You need to be the first person to return the call when they leave a message. It’s okay to call them back and say “I’m about to step in with a client, but I really want to answer your questions. I heard in your message you hurt your ankle playing basketball. I work with a lot of athletes. Would you like to schedule online or can I call you back to get your scheduled after I finish with this patient?”. It takes a minute and they feel cared for by you and reassured that you care and can help them. Return those calls as soon as you can!

10. You are not alone. Ask for help.

Feelings of self-doubt and fear come from not having a plan, not knowing what to do next and not knowing how to get more people in the door. How excited would you be if you knew that you were going to have four new people scheduling appointments with you every week and they would become regular patients? Knowing proven steps to help you be successful makes getting new clients fun and easy. You love what you do and you want to help a ton of people, but you don’t know how. There are people that want to help. Ask someone that has been there, has worked through the problem and succeeded. We are healers by nature and helping you grow your practice is an extension of our healing spirit, but you have to ask.