Mindful Coffee with Alex Tan, Licensed Acupuncturist

Alex Tan Chinese Medicine
Business is the lens you learn how to best serve the client. They go hand in hand. The service and the business. Too much focus on either will be problematic, you need to find the balance. 
— Alex Tan

Guest this Month: Alex Tan

We use to lease our wellness center's treatment rooms for his acupuncture practice. After 10 years running his practice in Beijing, he moved to Arizona with his family and started his own clinic, building his clientele from the ground up. 

In this Q&A, Alex Tan shares;

  • How he overcame one of the biggest challenge as a business owner,

  • How he promoted and grew his clinic,

  • Some of the best habits he cultivates to balance work and family life,

  • His outlook on the tipping point between being busy treating patients, and working ON the business.

Whether you’re thinking of setting up your own business or already did, you’ll find some truly valuable advices!

Mindful Coffee Q&A

I like my coffee…

Black - I like milk but it does not like me. Coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. 

What do you have for breakfast on the good days? 

Oatmeal or rice or millet porridge with an egg on toast. I feel regular breakfast each day is a key to preventative health! Breakfast is one of the easiest preventative health activities we can do. After studying traditional world breakfasts, my tips are hot-soupy grains with some protein!

You managed a successful practice in China for 6 years and then started your own clinic when you and your family moved to Arizona in 2015. How did you build your clientele ?

Well, first I needed to get my national license which required a year of supplementary education and board exams. Once licensed, I spent the first year sharing a clinic building clientele. I did invest prior to arriving in the US in a good website and that helped me, but other than that when I first started, I relied on word-of-mouth and I would go out and give free talks and presentations to build presence in the community.

After a year, the business was growing and I ventured out on my own as I needed two rooms full time to make the clinic business work. I reinvested a substantial percentage of the profit from the first year in the fit out of new clinic. Finishing year two in business, I have a substantial marketing budget that includes a weekly wellness tip on a local radio station, social media agent, google Adwords and exploring YELP.

Chinese Medicine Alex Tan

What was your biggest business frustration? How did you overcome this? 

Biggest frustration was that, after 10-years of practice I needed to get my US Licensed Acupuncturist L.AC. Qualification and start all over. It was long and costly and I was supporting an international move with a wife and three kids (back then). We did the downstairs basement up to be an AirBnB to supplement income and that was a savior. I was frustrated at times in the quality of the board exam process but kept my head down and eventually prevailed. 

There were some advantages with hindsight. Restarting of the business provided me an opportunity to do everything better the second time round so I should be thankful. I could also use what I had and recycle much of it in a more effective way.

What would be the advise you would give to someone who wish to start his own clinic? 

Running your own clinic, I would say, is the ultimate goal for most Acupuncturists. There is the practice and then the business. I know many Acupuncturists tell me they don’t like the business of healing. Unfortunately, there are not so many jobs for Acupuncturists. 

For me It’s like been a presenter and only focusing on the information, not the presentation, it needs to be balanced! 

Chinese Medicine Alex Tan

I actually enjoy the business aspect and I’ve found it guides the way the clinic works best. Business is the lens you learn how to best serve the client. They go hand in hand. The service and the business. Too much focus on either will be problematic, you need to find the balance. 
You need to be realistic about your goals and I suggest start within your means and small is ok. Don’t get into debt, rather grow and learn. 

I call this ‘blue-collar attitude’ - you are there to work and serve your clients as best you can.
— Alex Tan

My big tip is whenever you start something, do it full-time. I mean 40-hours a week. Even if you don’t have clients there is plenty for you to work on in terms of branding and education and investing in your business to make every aspect of it better. In fact that is a great time to take on larger projects like in depth articles etc. I still use this information I spent a lot of time creating early on in my career. 

I call this ‘blue-collar attitude’ - you are there to work and serve your clients as best you can. Regardless of how many clients you have - work the 40-hours on the business and that will give you the best chance to grow.

Being a husband and also father of 4 young children, how do you balance family life and running your clinic? 

Chinese Medicine Alex Tan

Good question and it’s not always easy. These are my tips:

A. Set clear times of work. For example, I’m in the clinic 7:30am-5pm, Monday to Friday. With family I need to be home at a reasonable hour and on weekends, so I make that commitment to my wife and family. 

B. I commit to school holiday long-weekends off work. I take minimum 2-weeks off (usually 4-weeks) in the summer. 

C. I take a long lunch every Thursday to meet with my wife. We call it ‘marriage time’ and discuss work and family obligations as well as plan out the weekends. 

D. I don’t travel or work nights unless absolutely beneficial - and I always run it by my wife. 

If a health practitioner is too busy on service side with clients, and never finds the time to work on the business aspect, what would be your advice?

It is ok to be a sole-practitioner and it is a lifestyle choice. However, you need to accept that you can only grow in value by seeing more clients or increasing the price of your service. Now, that is a choice you make and if that is your choice, pace yourself for the long-term and be confident that you will be happy with your income.

In my case, as you realize that your costs - for example I have a family with 4 children - increase at a faster rate than my value, I am presented with a problem. Now, this is a lifestyle choice and hats off to you if you can live more economically and live frugally. However, upon investigation, that will not be enough to live the life we choose to live. The other issue is that when you are not there - or fall ill, or are needed to support family - you can't take time off - the business is you and when you are not there, there is no income.

The other thing to consider is that growth can be very good for you - consider helping more people. And, if you are very good you may be fortunate enough to leave a legacy that continues to help people once you are gone. I feel that growth has a very natural evolution and maturity to it. Sure, you can grow too fast but you can also grow too slowly - so find your rhythm and bring out what you have in you - your true potential! 

Chinese Medicine Alex Tan
Unlike the wayward man, the bamboo grows straight! 

The bamboo in Chinese represents this growth idea. In fact, Chinese planted the bamboo in ancient times to reflect on this timeless process of growth and consolidation. The culm grows - growth - and then there is a knot - consolidation. Grow too early and the consolidation is not adequate, making the knot weak, compromising the whole structure. Over-consolidate and grow too slow and the knot is too big and the growth-culm cannot be as strong, compromising the whole structure. The bamboo is a symbol to remind us of the growth and consolidation balance in everything we do. Unlike the wayward man, the bamboo grows straight! 

I believe that…

We all have potential for success and failure. We want to succeed and, rather than will our success, our best chance is to look at the environment we create for ourselves. Invest in the environment we provide ourselves and watch success naturally arise from that.

About Alex Tan:

Alex Tan L.AC. is a licensed Acupuncturist. After completing his degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Alex lived and practiced Chinese Medicine for 10-years in Beijing, China. A native-born Australian, the son of his Australian mother and Chinese father, Alex's bi-cultural heritage helps him skillfully bridge Eastern and Western health perspectives. He believes the true power of Chinese medicine lies in a balanced approach towards prevention and treatment. Rooted in Chinese Medicine observation based theory & methodology over millenniums, Alex’s talent lies in delivering these Eastern healing modalities to his modern Western clients.

Alex runs a busy clinic in Flagstaff Arizona. 

The true power of Chinese Medicine is in prevention. Prevention is first about education. You can find his website at www.straightbamboo.com where you can find loads of articles and videos and sign up for the new moon newsletter to receive a monthly health tip and seasonal advice.

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