Employee to Entrepreneur Stories

Opening an Acupuncture Business

Joy Lundquist lost her job at a not-for-profit after voicing disagreement with the organization's new direction. She's pulled out a win though, as she now has transitioned into owning her own business as an acupuncturist, which she loves. As she says, when you love doing something very much, you cannot possibly fail. So true!

One thing about working for somebody else is that you are not in control.

If you disagree with the direction the company is heading, it can be very frustrating. This was the case for Joy Lundquist, based in Brooklyn, New York.

Eventually, she lost her job. But she's rebounded with a plan to control her own destiny and no longer be beholden to the whims of others.

We caught up with Joy to hear more about her transition from employee to entrepreneur.

What type of firm were you working at when you were let go? Was it part of a downsizing or was there some other reason given by them?

I had worked for others all my life.

In 2004 I was working for a national not-for-profit as senior program manager. Post-911 our organization had, like many others, lost a lot of funding. The CEO hired a consultant to come in and give us some direction and what resulted was a dramatic change in our organization and its mission.

I voiced some pretty loud objections to these changes, which included a completely new job description basically turning my position into that of a fundraiser. Much to my immediate supervisor's chagrin, I wrote a letter to the CEO stating that I was not in agreement. Her response was, as they say, "there's the door."

I was dismissed with no severance and only the vacation pay I had accrued. Long story short, I decided the time was ripe to pursue a longtime dream of studying Chinese medicine. I began full-time in acupuncture school and received my master's degree three years later, obtaining a NY State acupuncture license in September 2007.

Sounds like you decided to become an entrepreneur instead of simply looking for another job. Was that something you always wanted to do or did you go into with some hesitation?

I've always loved the idea of having my own business, but until I became an acupuncturist never thought I had any particular skill to offer

Also, when I would think it out beyond just the romantic idea of being an entrepreneur and answering to no one but myself, the reality was pretty overwhelming -- startup costs, marketing, establishing a business...yikes!

And honestly I did like the security and benefits of being an employee.

So, tell us more about how you ended up owning your own business.

While I was in school, one of the part-time gigs I did was working in an acupuncture office. A friend of mine was seeing an acupuncturist who was looking for a receptionist/office manager. We met and she hired me that day. It was the perfect job for a full-time student. No pressure, no politics, just an easygoing group of wellness practitioners. The pay sucked but the experience was great!

Just before I graduated, the acupuncturist decided to move out of state. However, she owned the practice, had a below-market lease in a good location and was not ready to give it up.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

In exchange for continuing to manage the space and the other renters, she and I worked out a deal that would allow me to begin my own practice in that office.

It was a real good deal for me as I did not have to lay out any money to rent a space or purchase equipment. I was able to just start marketing my services and begin the process of building a practice (I did not take over her client list).

That does sound like you were in the right place and time! But, why did you think this was the right business for you?

I honestly can't think of anything else I would rather do! After years of toying with the idea of owning my own business I had come upon the perfect marriage of my interests and skills. It just feels right.

Are you going it alone on this process or are you consulting with others for advice? If you are talking to others, who have you met with? What good advice have you heard?

This first year has been an eye-opener. I've experienced months of not being able to meet my expenses, and the stress both professionally and personally that creates is not something you want to go alone!

For me, the light bulb went on last spring when I looked around my office and really saw how isolated I was. I knew that being a brand new sole practitioner was a lonely business at times, but had never realized how important it was to have a supportive network.

Having come from a corporate environment I had always taken my business contacts for granted -- they just seemed to come with the territory through no real effort on my part. Now on my own, I realized that I had to find and cultivate business relationships. So I began looking into various networking groups.

One of my favorite networks that I participate in is a group of local small business owners. We meet every other week for breakfast. Everyone gets a chance to introduce herself or himself and what they do. Each meeting has a "spotlight" presenter, and the group gets to learn about that person's business. It's a great teaching moment, and an opportunity to attract potential clients. If someone in the room happens to be looking for an acupuncturist, lucky me!

But the real benefit is getting my name out there and letting others know how I can help. I think of networking as a long-term investment. I will likely not see any immediate results, but if I "invest" by staying active in my networks, they will eventually become an important source of referrals.

In just a few short months I have met people in my networks who have helped me in a couple other ways as well. I have gotten some great feedback and marketing ideas from some the more seasoned business owners, and others I've met have become sources whose services I can refer my own clients to.

I also take free business classes and information sessions that are offered in the community. Just recently I sat in on a class offered through the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce for people starting a business. They had a panel of representatives who were able to give guidance and answer questions on things like taxes, incorporating, marketing and microlending, all aimed at small businesses like mine.

It was also another good networking opportunity. In the coming months I will be taking a series of seminars with a non-profit organization that helps entrepreneurs such as myself qualify for loans to help grow the business. And again--networking, networking, networking!

That's really great. You really are using networking to your advantage! What other lessons have you learned as you've transitioned to owning your own business?

If I had to do it over I would be more mindful of my financial situation going in. I'm not only struggling with getting a practice off the ground (and not always meeting my expenses), but I have enormous student loan debt that I have to factor in.

I think first getting myself on more solid ground financially would have been a better way to start out. Unfortunately, in today's economy it has been difficult to find part-time work to supplement income from my practice. I've been out of the job market for too long and my resume has lost its appeal! Too, the market for acupuncturists as employees is very, very small.

Also, anyone considering their own business has to be aware of just how much marketing is involved. At least for my field, it is not enough to just place an ad or have a website. It is an ongoing process.

Even if I have a full calendar of clients this week, it's not a guarantee next week will be the same. As a healthcare practitioner, my mission is to make my clients well so that they don't need to see me again!

I can hope to get word of mouth referrals for a job well done, and indeed I count on that. But mostly marketing has to be an ongoing, daily task.

Are your loved ones and family supportive of you making this transition?

I think I scare my family a little. I just turned 50 this year, and have basically started over. I would say that my family is supportive but a little bewildered by why I've made a choice that at this stage makes life more difficult rather than easier!

I come from a working class background, and the traditional belief system that you pay your dues and work toward retirement, and only then do you enjoy the fruits of your labor.

My friends are more understanding of my need to do something fulfilling in the here and now.

What are some of the big challenges you are facing as an entrepreneur right now?

One huge challenge I will be dealing with this coming year is the re-negotiation of our office lease. We have a sweet deal right now, but it is ending and I may be looking at relocating my practice to someplace more affordable.

As most of my clients live or work close to my office, this may mean essentially starting over. My first goal for 2009 will be to figure this out and make a plan. I also have goals in terms of continuing education, as well as financial aspirations.

Almost the last question. What makes you think you will be successful in running your own business?

It's funny but as difficult as this journey has been so far, I have never doubted for a moment that I will be successful. I love my work and can't believe my good fortune that I am doing something that doesn't feel like a job!

I look forward to being in the office each day, even if I don't have any clients. There is always something to do to promote my business, so if I am not treating someone I'm working on marketing or researching or taking a class and learning something new.

When you love something this much you cannot possibly fail.

Anything else you'd care to share with us regarding the transition from being laid off to starting a business?

Find people who support you. Unless you have a comfortable financial buffer to get you started, it will be stressful. The last people you want surrounding you are the naysayers, the ones who shake their heads, bemoan the economy, and tell you how hard it will be.

You know that and don't need to be told. What you need is encouragement and positive feedback.

Join networks. Talking to others in similar situations can be tremendously helpful and uplifting. And as I mentioned before, it is helpful to have a bit more of a plan (and a bigger bank account...) than I did.

Do I regret my choice? Absolutely not! I look forward to every day and its possibilities.

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Conversation Board

Joy's story is truly inspiring for many who may have lost their jobs recently and are thinking about starting a business. Do you agree? Leave your comments, questions and advice below. Thanks for participating!

  • Paul posted on 1/15/2009
    That is an interesting story. I am 45 and unemployed by the recession and am seriously considering TCM. I put off classes this semester because I'm not as confident as you, Joy. The "struggling acupuncturist" is all I ever hear. I cannot afford to fail at this. The money thing is the main concern. I'd love it I am certain, and would be a great caring practitioner. But it seems very risky with the cost of school, debt repayment and low income. It could end up pretty bad! I don't want to sound like I have a "povery mentality", but I've seen the statistics. They are not pretty. I commend you on your courage. I wish I had the same. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Paul
  • Liquid Sunshine posted on 8/2/2009
    Liquid Sunshine
    Hey Paul! The 'struggling acupuncturist' is NOT all there is. I work at one of the foremost TCM colleges in the US and recently did some research into the pay thing for part-time clinical faculty (educator/practitioners). I found that an overwhelming percentage of our practicing acupuncturists are making enough money at their practices to tend to pull them away from teaching. To be sure, there is a segment of our graduates who never build successful practices (mostly out of not knowing how to market themselves), but those who are willing to promote their practices and network (like Joy), do pretty well. Check out Lisa Hanfileti's insights-for-acupuncturists.com website. And, good luck on your journey.
  • Jake posted on 1/11/2010
    A counterpoint. I have been out of Acupuncture school for 12 year, and the vast majority of my class no longer practices professionally. While it is possible to succeed as a practitioner, it is not very likely. The odds of being able to pay back your student loan without some other job, even less so. Sorry to be a downer. I do love the profession, but schools are in the profession of selling to students, not filling a need for practitioners. The teachers of practice management in particular are mostly laughable. Great medicine. I would not suggest it for the money!

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