Dynamic Chiropractic – April 9, 2010, Vol. 28, Issue 08

Seven Things I Wish I'd Known Sooner

By Perry Nickelston, DC, FMS, SFMA

It's hard to believe I have been a practicing chiropractor for 13 years! Where did the time go? Seems like yesterday I was walking across the stage accepting my diploma, full of passion and excitement to take on the world.

I had invested years of dedication and commitment to learning the art, science and philosophy of chiropractic. It was now time to venture out and apply all the skills I had learned.

But wait, not so fast. The harshness of the so-called "real world" came knocking on my door soon enough. Where were the droves of patients rushing into my clinic to experience the power of chiropractic? Why was I working twice as hard and making half as much? I'm a doctor; what do you mean I have to learn to be an entrepreneur? Overwhelmed, I soon realized that this running your own business stuff was harder than I expected. It was a rude awakening.

If I only knew then what I know now, my initial journey would have been much easier and more profitable. There are many things I've learned to do and not do during these 13 years; I've narrowed down the list to seven that have been the most impactful to my professional and personal life. Here's hoping they can do the same for you.

1. You Need a System

Bring order to potential chaos by implementing a procedural operating system in your office - a system that can be easily duplicated and in which everyone knows exactly what is expected. This makes for a cohesive team, because everyone shares a common goal. When you hire a new staff member, they should quickly and seamlessly integrate into the system. Doing so sets the stage for patient expectations and leaves no room for surprises. If you are away from the office, can it maintain itself? Can it survive without your physical presence? Think of your office like a franchise. If you had multiple locations, would they look, feel and function just like the original? Some key aspects of any good system include:

  • New-patient intake procedures
  • Patient re-evaluations
  • Telephone interactions
  • Staff meetings
  • Reports of findings
  • Patient education workshops
  • First-10-visit patient protocols

2. You Are a Doctor Second

It is a noble cause, helping people live better through chiropractic; but it's very difficult to accomplish if your office can't stay open for business. So, I'd say it's pretty important that you learn as much as you can about owning and operating a successful business. You must see yourself as an entrepreneur first and a doctor second.

Want to know one of the most important lessons you will ever learn about success? Here it is: Everything in life comes down to selling. You must always be selling yourself and your services. Why? Well, because as I've said before, there is this little thing called competition and if you are not able to sell (educate) your "customers" on why your services are better, they will go to someone who does.

There is a reason why billion-dollar companies still market and advertise their products or services. That reason is called perceived market value. What does the public think about your business? Do they even think of your business at all? Go to your local library and check out books on selling, running a business, skills for entrepreneurs, marketing and business finance. I guarantee you will learn information that can transform your career.

3. Stop Chasing Pain

When it comes to finding the cause of pain, X rarely (if ever) marks the spot. So often it's easy to get caught up in treating symptoms and forget to look for causative factors outside the site of pain. Most of the time, the symptomatic area is just a compensation for an underlying non-painful dysfunctional problem. Take the necessary time during your evaluations to look at everything. In my clinic, if I do not see a significant improvement in symptoms by the fourth visit, I re-evaluate the patient for something I may have overlooked.

Take your ego out of the equation and remember that the patient comes first. Remain open to the possibility that some problems may be beyond your scope of practice and a referral could be necessary. Here are several compensation and dysfunctional patterns I have discovered in working with difficult cases.

  • Shoulder pain: evaluate the thoracic spine and opposite hip.
  • Knee pain: evaluate the hip and ankle.
  • Hip pain: evaluate the ankle and hip flexors.
  • Back pain: evaluate the ankle and hips.
  • Neck pain: evaluate the plantar fascia and scapular stability.

4. Personality Counts

Success in business and "real life" is kind of like being back in high school. The most popular person is usually the extroverted social butterfly who is fun to be around and participates in lots of activities. The prom queen and superstar jock stand out more than the introverted, brilliant, "book smart" individual. People gravitate toward that positive, infectious energy because it's human nature to be social. All things being equal, the person with the personality wins.

Is it right? Is it fair? No, but it is human nature. Don't get me wrong, of course you must strive to learn and master your craft. Just remember, it's not always the smartest doctor who is the most successful in practice. People buy people first! Your potential patient will be evaluating your personality long before they evaluate your skills. They will ask themselves: Do I like this person? Do I trust them? In other words: Do I buy them?

My advice here is to invest time learning how to be a better communicator. Take courses and become involved in your patients' lives. Get them to buy in to you and they will buy in to the care you recommend.

5. It's Who Knows You

The old adage that successful networking is about "who you know" is wrong. It's actually more about who knows you! At first glance these might appear to mean the same thing, but in reality they are quite different. How? When someone "knows you," they think of you as a valued friend, colleague and trusted referral source. The "who you know" people may be familiar with your name or service, but it is on a more superficial, non-emotional level.

When networking or connecting with others, it is vitally important that you enter into the relationship with an intention of giving more than you get. It's called the "give to get" principle of success. People will do far more to help you succeed when you have done something of benefit for them first. Relations can be forged through gifts or personal favors without obligations and expectations. For every action, something is usually given in return. Think of ways you can help the other person first. It's about being genuine in your desire to help others.

6. The Power of Appreciation

Human beings crave acceptance. They want to feel valued, appreciated and respected. It's an even more powerful motivator than money! You will inspire and motivate people far more with a kind word or sincere compliment than you ever will with anything monetary. Observe entire personas change in a split second when you give people a sincere compliment. You can see it in their body language. Plus, it makes you feel good. That's what we like to call a win-win scenario. Everybody benefits.

When I started to live this philosophy, all aspects of my professional and personal life began to blossom. Every day I make it a point to compliment at least five people. In the work environment, take a moment to thank your staff for doing a great job. Show them how much you value their contributions to the success of the office. They will be loyal to you and the office team. Thank your patients for choosing you as their doctor. Congratulate them on sticking with their care plan. You will soon discover many wonderful things happening in your life when you think about others first.

7. Don't Be Afraid to Play

Lighten up and don't be so serious. Have fun and enjoy what you do. People love doing business with people who make them feel good. Give your patients an enjoyable experience.

What is the difference between what you have to offer a customer and what the competition down the street has to offer them? Here is a hint. It has little to do with the price you charge or what insurance you accept. Your office never benefits when competing on price, because there is always someone who will offer a cheaper service. The difference is in the experience you give a customer (patient).

In Seattle, there is a famous business called Pike Place Fish Market. The wildly popular book FISH! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results was based on Pike Place. The book discusses how Pike Place easily dominates the competition based on the principles of play and having fun. It's not a hum-drum fish market by any means. The employees are encouraged to playfully interact with customers and are known for their fish-throwing antics. The employees actually throw and catch fish around the store, all the while singing and joking with customers. The customers eat it up, literally and figuratively.

Now I am not suggesting you go crazy tossing things around your office. However, think of how can you make your office environment like Pike Place - fun and engaging. Find innovative ways to offer a unique chiropractic experience. It all starts with you.

Never Stop Learning

A formal education teaches you skills for a career, but taking the extra time to invest in your personal and business development teaches you how to become a success. Invest more time in yourself than you do your job. You will soon find that the job takes on an entirely new dimension. Success is something you attract by the person you become. Never stop learning to be a better you. For things to change, you've got to change. For things to get better, you have to get better. I'm ready for the next 13 years - how about you?

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