by Honora Lee Wolfe

Where I live in Colorado, during the Spring season there are tons of “Health Fairs” co-sponsored by a large local TV station along with one of the big hospital chains and other health-related companies. There are free and low-cost screenings for all types of things like blood sugar, cholesterol, pap smears, body mass index, blood pressure, and how-to workshops for all kinds of things to help folks stay healthier. These screenings are very low cost compared with standard lab fees. Can’t say for certain, but I expect these events happen all over the US.

Our state association has developed a relationship with the folks who plan these fairs and encourages participation by members all over the state to help build their practices as well as for gaining general public awareness of acupuncture. Still, I am sure that many acupuncturists would ask, “What would I do at one of these events? What screening or service would I offer?”

Here’s a description of what I would do at one of these events.

  1. Focus on the visual. Take an acupuncture mannequin. If you cannot beg or borrow one, get a stiff foam-core board from a hobby store and tape a good acupuncture chart to it. Prop this up on a book-stand or tape a triangular “hinge” on the back to make it stand up.
    1. Small plexiglass sign-holders that say things like “Chinese herbs are everywhere.” Put this in front of a dish of ginger snaps with tongs for people to take one. (I used to suggest black licorice pieces but for people with high blood pressure this is a no-no.)
    2. Consider making an herbal trail mix with goji, walnuts, chopped red dates, and almonds. Write up a little sign stating what each of these does according to Chinese medicine.
    3. Some companies will sell you herbal samples to give away or you could make some small liniment samples of your own with one-oz bottles and lids from a packaging supply company.
  2. Invite your patients. Offer a free treatment in exchange for them coming for an hour. These events usually run 7AM-12Noon, so if you could get 4-5 patients to be guinea pigs for one hour each, you’d have most of this covered. Put needles in points that are visible to people. I guarantee this will prompt folks to come over and ask, “does it hurt?” at which point the patient says  “No! it’s great! You should come!”
  3. Have a large sign that says, “Can acupuncture help you? Get a FREE consultation here today!” For this you create a simple 1/2-page sheet for them to fill out with name, major complaint, what they’ve done to treat it so far, would you like my e-newsletter (and if so put your email here, which I never sell, rent, or share), and a short disclaimer that you are not an MD and are not attempting to replace anyone’s MD. These should be only 10 minutes, during which time you ask 2-3 questions, perhaps look at the tongue and take the pulse for one minute. Then tell them whether you think acupuncture could be helpful in their case and how many treatments you’d need to start. Something like, “Acupuncture therapy certainly has a history of success with this condition. Although you may see immediate change with one treatment, you need 4-5 treatments to see if we could consolidate some improvement in your case.”
  4. Take lots of cards, brochures, research articles, anything that helps build credibility and gives you something to hand people who visit your booth. Have a clipboard sign-up sheet for your newsletter. Consider another plexiglass sign-holder that says “Ask me about speaking to your group or association about the benefits of acupuncture.” This could get you some speaking engagements.
  5. Stay up front! You need to be on the front side of the table in order to engage people. Don’t sit in a chair in the back!! Make your body language say, “I’m here for you. I want to engage you.”
  6. Video could be good. This is more complicated, but a video about acupuncture that plays in the background could offer some people a way to engage without having to speak to you first if that’s too scary. You can get good videos about the benefits of acupuncture from Acupuncture Media Works.
  7. Two or more practitioners for your booth will be useful so that you can speak to everyone who stops by and not leave people waiting too long.
  8. A coupon for a discount? This is optional of course (as are all these ideas) and there is always a case to be made for not giving any discounts, but a “10% off an initial appointment” coupon might get you some appointments right on the spot. I’d try one fair with a coupon and one fair without and see what happens. If you only get “tourists” from the coupons, ding the idea.
  9. Work with a local non-profit. Another piece of info on your table might say, “Make an appointment today and we’ll donate ½ the proceeds (or whatever percentage is comfortable) of your first appointment fee to XYZ Local Non-Profit.”
  10. A Fish Bowl.  “Enter with your Biz Card to win A Complete Diagnostic Session, a $100 Value!” Change the words or numbers as you like, but you get the idea.
  11. Have a sign-up sheet. Offer to send people specific research or a free monthly newsletter or a link to a free ebook if they sign up to receive further information from you.
  12. Take Time to go and meet all the rest of the people at the other booths and tables. Offer them your card, be friendly, ask about their work, ask where they work, invite them over for a free OM assessment (or whatever you are offering), thank them for participating in the fair.
  13. Follow up. After the fair, get in touch with anyone who left contact information. Thank them for coming by. Include a biz card even if you think they took one. Encourage them to visit your website. Tell them to feel free to call if they have other questions about acupuncture/Chinese medical care. Anyone who wanted your eNewsletter, send the most recent issue along with a personalized email. Remember that many people may not be ready to become a patient now, but everyone becomes someone’s patient eventually, so stay in touch with those who’ve given you permission.

So this is work, but not more work than other marketing methods that get you out into a community of people. It may not cost you anything for the table at the fair, or perhaps a very small fee. However, the people who stop by your booth are self-selected and are, by the fact that they are there in the first place, interested in their own health. You will learn a ton about what people think and wonder about acupuncture, and you can get new patients this way.

Good luck and thanks for reading!

Honora Wolfe has been writing, teaching, lecturing, and blogging about business and marketing for a decade or more. Her book, Points for Profit: The Essential Guide to Practice Success for Acupuncturists, is the biz book to own.

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