Building a Practice on a Budget: Getting Started

Building a Practice on a Budget: Getting Started

Real-life tips from Pacific College Alumna and Founder/President of Pink Image Breast Thermography Clinic Wendy Sellens, LAc

Congratulations, you’ve graduated! You have your acupuncture and/or massage license, and you’re ready to start your private practice. Looking at the monetary costs can be overwhelming, but don’t be discouraged; it can be done. My first and most important suggestion to any practitioner starting out is to consider renting a room and building a patient base before investing thousands into your own clinic space. My partner and I rented space for two and a half years on the street where we wanted to build our clinic before investing in our own clinic. With that in mind, here are my “Getting Started” suggestions for building your practice on a budget.

1. Strategic Location Choices for Your Practice

I cannot emphasize this enough. Advertising is very expensive, and, after speaking with several other physicians, is difficult to find on a budget. Most acupuncturists work off referrals, and it works! Spend a little more for a street location with lots of walk traffic or high visibility. I am on a boutique street in Solana Beach, CA and my doors literally open to a farmers market every Sunday, where prospective patients are endless. I do not advertise. Location pays for itself.

2. Know your design and square footage before looking for space.

It is vital to know your design will work in (x) amount of space. Measure and then measure again to make sure you have exact numbers. Be creative to save space. We all need several rooms, but that is expensive. I created the term “studio acupuncture”. Instead of walls, I built studios that feel like cabanas. I made four small studios by inlaying my wood floor with rock borders and stenciled curtains. Plus, I have two private rooms/offices in the back and a small boutique in the front. (All within 600 square feet!) The design makes my space cozy and I am always getting compliments on the design or “feel” of my space. Being tiny and creative definitely pays off.

3. Don’t be afraid to negotiate your rent.

My landlord was asking $400 over my budget. When I told him what I could afford, he basically hung up on me. Six weeks later he called with a counter price that was only $100 over my asking price, plus gave me six weeks free rent to demolish and redecorate. Many landlords will give you some time to decorate if you ask. Do not be timid when negotiating, just do it. All they can say is no, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.

4. Know your budget. Shop smart.

Crunch the numbers. By not paying retail and doing the build out ourselves, we came in $3,500 under budget.  It’s not always a walk in the park; to save money takes TIME! Be prepared to spend all day hunting for deals. I am proud to say my space is mostly re-used or reclaimed, and pretty much everything else, was on sale! Here are a few of my favorite places to bargain shop:

  • Craigslist – I got most of my chairs, shelves, sound equipment, desks etc. on craigslist. Look every day. Trust me, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
  • IKEA – “as is” – visit it every day. I found most of my curtains, rugs, and flooring here. Prepare to compromise your decorating plans. For example, all my floors were going to be wood laminate. (Tip: IKEA has the cheapest, and they are the easiest to install!) In “as is”, I found 150 square feet of white wood laminate that would work in one of my private rooms for $15 instead of a couple hundred retail. Easy sell, I love my $15 floors.
  • Lowes – If you need to go to one or the other, I’ve found Lowes to be much cheaper than Home Depot.
  • Thrift Stores – I love thrift stores. They are great places for terrific finds at nominal prices. Lamps, side tables, track lighting, fans and file cabinets are common good deals.

To find out more of Wendy’s shopping and decorating tips, check back next week for Building a Practice on a Budget Series: Shop Til You Drop, and check back in two weeks for Market Smart. Visit Wendy at

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