When I was a little girl, my uncle gave my parents a West Highland Terrier puppy. My uncle was a breeder of these dogs. With his certifications, bloodline, and paperwork, this little guy was worth about $1,000. We named him “Westy” (of course we did – my name is East, my brother’s name is West, and we just had to have a dog named “Westy,” right?).
Sadly, Westy didn’t work out for our family, so we decided we had to give him up. We placed an ad offering the little guy for free (seeing that we got him for free we figured that seemed fair). Days, weeks, and a month went by without not even a single person expressing interest in Westy. Hmm? What was going on here? My parents considered the idea that people were holding the perception that Westy wasn’t valuable because we were giving him away for free. Why would someone give away something valuable, right? So, they changed the advertisement to offering Westy for $750. Within hours we received eight responses, and someone bought Westy that night for $750. Can you see where I’m going with this story (besides letting you know that I didn’t change my name to East to go to Chinese medical school)?
In this article, I will present you with five strategies for raising your prices.
Before I give you my secrets, however, I’d like to propose we shift our way of thinking (kind of how my parents did in offering Westy, the dog).
I’d like you to shift from selling to offering. In my years of coaching practitioners, I have found that they an almost visceral reaction to the words “sell” and “selling”. If you think about it, we aren’t selling our treatments or even ourselves. We are offering to help. We are offering to use the tools, wisdom, and education we have gathered to help someone feel better, to heal, to laugh again, to live a life of well-being.
Another shift I’d like to propose is from treatments to results. We don’t sell needles, acupuncture, massage, gua sha, moxibustion, or counseling. We offer our patients a way to their desired results. Because of us, people have babies when everyone else told them it was impossible. Because of us, people play golf without having to take prescription medications or receive surgery. Because of us, people no longer have debilitating migraines, back pain, pee their pants, suffer from extreme anxiety or depression. It’s all about the end result – that is what we offer. I’d love for all of us to recognize this and hold that in our minds when we are coming up with our pricing structures, marketing, and/or communications to our communities.
Lastly, before I divulge the goods:
When raising your prices, I’d like to offer you three rules:
- Time it Right. Do it when you have happy patients—in some cases a full practice where everything is going well.
- Clearly Communicate. Use newsletters, a poster in your office, postcards, your website and verbal communication to let everyone know that your prices are going up. You don’t have to explain why. In fact, DON’T explain why. You don’t have to.
- No Apologies or Reasons. It’s your business. These are your decisions. The sooner you practice how you want, when you want, with whom you want and where you want you will align with what I refer to as your Three P’s: Purpose, Passion, and Prosperity.
Okay, as I get off my mini soapbox, and without further ado, here are five strategies for raising your prices.
#1: Raise Prices for New Patients
- Keep current patients at old pricing.
- All new patients are given the new, higher pricing structure.
- Raise prices across the board but raise prices slightly for current patients and more for incoming patients.
Good for: Moving your practice to a new location, or a growing practice.
Maybe you are feeling super loyal to your existing patients and don’t want to raise prices on them. That is okay. What if you just raised prices on any new patients? Your prior/existing patients can be “grandfathered” into your old pricing structure. This is a good strategy if you are moving to a new location, and only a handful of your patients will follow you or if you are phasing out of a specialty and entering into a new one. Perhaps you once were the Queen of fertility, but now you want to treat more sports injuries. You can keep all your fertility patients at the old pricing structure and publish your new pricing on your website and any other marketing for new patients.
#2. Give a Grace Period
- Give a grace period to all patients: current, new, and potential.
- Give grace period to existing patients only.
- One month is entirely adequate.
Good for: All situations.
You can announce the grace period by having a sign at the reception desk. Something like “As of (this date) our prices will be (this price). Thank you for allowing us to continue to provide service, comfort, and support to you and your families.” In addition, you can provide grace period notice in newsletters, emails, text messages, social media posts and on your website. For the website notice, create a small pop-up message on the main page or on the page that describes your services. Again, you can write something like, “We love our patients and community. As of (this date) our prices will become (enter new prices). Thank you for allowing us to be of service. If you have any questions, please (enter how you want them to ask you questions).
#3. Add Value
- Gain new knowledge, skill, or techniques that make your sessions more valuable
- Add new modalities or products that also make your sessions more valuable
Good for: Those who have been in practice for several years, just completed new training, or bought new equipment or tools (aka practice toys).
Many of you have started using expensive tools like lasers or Acugraphs, which cost money AND add incredible value to your sessions. That is a reason to raise prices. You have a choice here: (1) You can raise prices across the board and communicate to patients that all your sessions now offer this new modality/tool, or (2) you can offer two prices: one price for a session without the new tools/modality and one price for a session that includes the new tools/modalities. My suggestion: raise your rates across the board and let people know that a session with you may include this tool or modality. Sometimes you use it, sometimes you don’t. By raising prices across the board, you make things easier for yourself and less complicated for your patients. Giving them too many options can leave them with option paralysis.
#4. Create Programs
- Offer a number of sessions as a program (i.e. four, six, or ten treatments).
- A program provides a series of treatments/sessions with or without herbs, supplements, and/or other products that have been shown to improve treatment outcomes when combined.
- All sessions include herbs, products, any new tools/modalities. Therefore, the price has gone up.
Good for: Offices that sell herbs, supplements or products and where you have holes in your schedule
You can offer Basic Programs (i.e., six sessions of acupuncture, heat lamp, moxa, cupping, liniments, aromatherapy) and Basic Plus Programs (i.e., six sessions of acupuncture, heat lamp, moxa, cupping, liniments, aromatherapy PLUS herbs or supplements). You can even create a VIP program where clients receive the same number of sessions as in the Basic and Basic Plus programs, with even more products and pampering.
Now you are increasing your income per patient visit ratio (meaning you can make more money seeing the same amount or even fewer patients) AND you are moving products off your shelves.
(Please note: I specifically did not use the word “package” because of all the controversy around the term as in “packages are illegal” or “we aren’t allowed to offer packages”… we are allowed to offer programs).
#5. Gradual Increase
- Small increases
- Regularly scheduled is best
Good for: Practitioners who are in the early years of practice
Raising prices slightly, every 1-2 years, sets precedence. You are basically raising your rates the cost of a cup of coffee, if you think about it. For this strategy, being consistent is critical. Decide when you will raise prices and how often and stick to that schedule, so patients know what to expect, and you can budget appropriately. Ideally, every two years has seemed to work successfully for many others.
My #1 Advice for new practitioners: It’s easier to lower your prices than raise your prices.
Newly emerging practitioners often feel awkward or even undeserving of charging high prices for their services. They are tempted to offer really reduced rates to get patients in the door. I get it. We’ve all been there. What I propose to you is to set your prices at the going rate in your area even if that rate feels too high for you. You can always say something like, “normally I charge $175 for a session, but I’m offering a Spring Special of $100 for your first visit”. Then, as you are in practice, you can grow into the higher price you set for yourself in the first place. You won’t be raising your prices when you finally charge that $175 rate. Instead, you will simply communicate to your patients that they were paying the special rate and that you are now at your regular rates.
With that last piece of advice, I’ve now covered six strategies on pricing. Now what?
After raising prices, or setting a high price to begin with, you are most likely going to have a strong urge to reduce them or revert back to your old pricing. DON’T DO IT! Have patience. Please, give it at least 30 days.
Karen came to see me for pricing. At the time she was charging $75 for a treatment. In fact, this had been her rate for over eight years.
Since she had set this rate eight years ago, she had acquired hours and hours of extra and specialized training, new information, new skills, and gained a ton of experience. It was definitely time for her to raise her prices.
I suggested she raise her price from $75 to $125. She cringed. She brought up every reason why she shouldn’t, couldn’t, how everyone would leave her, she’d go broke, she’d have to move back in with her parents and on and on.
I told her to do it and have patience. To trust me.
Begrudgingly, she raised her prices to $125 and literally called me every day saying how scared she was, how she was sure she was going to lose all her patients and end up living in a van down by the river.
Every phone call, I assured her that it was going to work out and encouraged her to stay the course. I told her to give it 30 days. I told her to hang on for 30 days and if she still felt this way she could go back to her old pricing or to a lower price.
She called me on Day 8 and said, “One of my patients told me that they were so happy that I finally raised my prices.”
“Oh, really?” I said, with a smirking smile.
On Day 20 of her price increase she called to tell me that not even one patient left her practice and that more and more of her patients said the same thing, that it was about time she raised her prices.
Needless to say, by Day 30 of raising her prices she was calling me saying how great she felt and even suggesting that she may want to raise them even higher!
Stay the course, give it time, be patient.
Will you lose some patients? Maybe. Honestly, it’s good if you lose the patients that aren’t willing to pay for the value you are bringing with your services and the end result that you are giving them. By losing those types of patients, you make room for the patients that are willing to pay you your new, higher rates. There’s a saying: “you can’t bring a new car in the garage if your old one is still parked there”.
I hope these strategies have been helpful and wish you much success and happiness. May you be fully aligned with your three P’s: Purpose, Passion and Prosperity.
With a commitment to helping others actualize their greatest potential and wellbeing, Dr. East Phillips, DAOM, LAc, has been a licensed acupuncturist since 1999 and professor of Chinese Medicine at the Pacific College of Health and Science since 2004. She currently resides in Del Mar, CA with her husband and two kids and continues to help practitioners, students, and the general public with her books, lectures, masterminds, various workshops, events, coaching and wellness-related products. You may connect with her at www.doctoreast.com.