Episode 11: Jason Stein and Michelle Grasek
In this episode, we chat with Michelle Grasek, an acupuncturist who also specializes in marketing. Michelle shares with us her journey to becoming an acupuncturist and how her grandmother’s experience with acupuncture sparked her interest in the field.
Michelle also talks about
- Her love for marketing and how she started her blog on Acupuncture Marketing
- The biggest struggles acupuncturists and healers face in marketing their practice
- How the COVID pandemic impacted Michelle’s practice and how she shifted focus
- The importance of thinking outside the box and finding one’s passion points to avoid burnout
- What’s coming up for her in 2023 and how letting go of insurance gives you more time
Michelle Grasek bio:
Michelle Grasek is the host of the Acupuncture Marketing School podcast. She’s a practicing acupuncturist and marketing strategist and she’s been teaching marketing, both online and in-person, for 9 years. In that time, Michelle has taught marketing to over 3,500 acupuncturists. It’s her mission to help you grow your business using marketing techniques that are genuine and generous.Through MIchelle’s articles and online PDA courses, she aims to help you outline a strategy, focus on marketing that’s authentic, and get new patients every week. She shares all of her practice-building tips at michellegrasek.com and on social media @michellegrasek.
Jason Stein 0:03
Hey, this is Jason Stein and has been a while since our last podcast I want to welcome you to another episode of the wellness renegade podcast. Here we explore the crossroads of wellness entrepreneurs like you and me who are committed to making money while helping others live healthier lives. People are going against Big Pharma insurance conglomerates and the mainstream medical models. Each episode we journey into the challenges and the breakthrough it takes to own your own business, pay the path through conventional medicine and truly become a wellness renegade welcome welcome. Welcome Michelle Gresik. Hi. Hi. I’m so glad that you said yes.
Michelle Grasek 0:50
Oh, me. Oh, I’m excited. Hello, listeners
Jason Stein 0:53
Just a little bit like where do you live? What do you do?
Michelle Grasek 0:58
So I live in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. And usually for people who are not familiar, I like to explain that as I am closer to Canada than Manhattan, because people here in New York and they instantly think New York City. We’re about four and a half hours northwest of New York City. So I have a small practice in Seneca Falls, New York, and I also teach marketing to other acupuncturists online, which I absolutely love.
Jason Stein 1:28
Nice. Now, what’s the population of Finger Lakes?
Michelle Grasek 1:32
So the time that I’m in Seneca Falls is about 9000. People.
Jason Stein 1:36
Okay, so I’m in Joseph, Oregon. It’s 1200. Okay, you win both of us run practices, both of us do practice management for yellers. I’m really curious. What did you do before acupuncture school?
Michelle Grasek 1:54
I went right from undergrad to acupuncture school.
Jason Stein 1:58
Wow, that’s not common. Are you a TA or did you work like work study at all?
Michelle Grasek 2:05
Oh, sure. Yeah, I feel like I had, I had a lot of interests in undergrad. So I have a bachelor’s in biology. I did research on rats and natural food supplements. I studied abroad in England, I was accepted to a master’s degree program in England for acupuncture Research at th e University of York so I went and did that. And that was there for a semester and I dropped out. Because I realized I really missed I felt like I was missing the opportunity to be in practice. I went immediately after getting my acupuncture masters.
Jason Stein 2:44
So a f act that I didn’t know about you. Yeah,
Michelle Grasek 2:48
I definitely am always exploring, I think, which I did not realize was a positive good thing until like my mid 30s.
Jason Stein 2:59
Nice. So I don’t know if you knew about me when I was teaching it Oh, calm. The NIH National Institute of Health gave us a grant for research appreciation for acupuncture is to understand research.
Michelle Grasek 3:13
Cool. I love that topic. That very specific topic. Acupuncture is understanding research and how we can participate. Very cool.
Jason Stein 3:23
Now, I didn’t look it up before the call. But I’ve been very curious because when I used to teach, I noticed a trend in the US which is every year we spent more on health care. And every year we die earlier than other countries. Last I checked, we were 43rd like so I’ll look that up
Michelle Grasek 3:45
Jason Stein 3:46
We’re number one in health care spending. Marvelous. So what out of all the choices you could have done? What how’d you choose the acupuncture path.
Michelle Grasek 3:59
I was actually pre med for most of undergrad in high school, I wanted to be a doctor. But I think if I was honest, I wanted that route because it sounded like the hardest thing I could choose. And I just wanted to prove that I could do it. So luckily, at some point in undergrad, I realized that is a really poor way to like make your life choices. And so it was actually I don’t remember if it was junior year or sophomore year, but everyone was preparing to study for the MCAT. It’s because I was in a biology learning group, which is pretty much all the students who want to go to med school. We lived together in one dorm so we could torture each other with study.
Jason Stein 4:39
And did you end up taking the MCAT?
Michelle Grasek 4:42
I did not I during that time when I was trying to decide my grandmother had a mild stroke and my aunt brought her for acupuncture. And she was very lucky that she didn’t have a lot of symptoms afterwards. She just had a little bit of difficulty using her left hand and her left arm but from the acupuncture, I’m sure she got so much better. And I had visited in acupuncture school, in high school in my tiny hometown as a field trip. And so as soon as my grandmother felt better from acupuncture, I just felt like that’s it. I’m not going to med school. Like, there’s no way.
Jason Stein 5:19
Now what year? Was it that you took a left hand turn, you became an acupuncturist? And then you’re like, Well, I really also want to teach other acupuncturist.
Michelle Grasek 5:30
That’s a good question. So I graduated in 2010. And, and then I spent this semester in England, and I decided not to stay. So I came back and opened my practice in January of 2011. Probably the following year, I realized that, at that point, my favorite part of being in practice was the marketing part,
Jason Stein 5:54
which is why it’s such a rare breed. So,
Michelle Grasek 5:58
so wild, and I have to apologize. There’s a special event happening today with the train outside my office. So I think it’s about to get noisy.
Jason Stein 6:07
Oh, okay. Filters?
Michelle Grasek 6:11
Yes, yeah, there’s a, it’s the Finger Lakes railway, whichever one gets very excited about. So at one point, I was sitting at my desk in my office waiting for a patient to arrive, and I was working on my website, and the patient came in. And I just felt so frustrated, because I was interrupted with the marketing that I was trying to do on my website. And I realized, like, this is not really, maybe how it should go, right. Like the patient is definitely the priority. And I was talking to my mom about it. And she’s like, you have been talking about marketing so much recently, I think you should start a blog, like, tell the internet about your love for marketing. And so I googled it. And there were only eight or nine other people talking about acupuncture marketing, on the whole internet at that time. So like 2011 2012. So I started my blog. And I actually wrote that for two years and didn’t I mean, I didn’t have any courses or classes or anything. I just wrote marketing advice for two years, and finally realized people were emailing me with the same questions, same struggles over and over again. And so that’s when I finally decided to put together my first online class just to answer those questions all in one place. So I didn’t have to repeat myself.
Jason Stein 7:32
And so what year was that? 2014. So 2014, for you’ve seen it changed a lot since then. Yeah. And what do you think are some of those biggest struggles for healers and acupuncturist now,
Michelle Grasek 7:51
I would say the main one that actually has not changed that much is just helping people get past the resistance that they feel to marketing. And there are lots of reasons that people push back against marketing, but just helping them uncover what that is, and realize that marketing does not have to be gross either. For us, as the person doing the marketing or for our audience, like our community, who is receiving the marketing, it can feel good on and be effective for everybody. So that I think is the hardest thing to teach people, but also the most important, and once people get past that hurdle, they realize marketing can be creative and interesting. And they can lean into their strengths, and then they can find their people in the community. And it just starts to feel so much lighter and better after that.
Jason Stein 8:45
Now, one of the things I saw that you did that I thought was brilliant, is that you started offering continuing ed on your own site rather than through someone else. And why is it like you and I, if we put our heads together? We know some amazing instructors, like that have taught for decades, right. And those usually, although there are outliers are not the ones that go do continuing ed and make lots of money on their own. Those are usually the ones that get paid by the schools and have to be like, overwhelmed all the time by administration. And so why why is that?
Michelle Grasek 9:26
Well, I mean, I think it’s partly the problem of the higher education system where brilliant people are expected to churn out content for a college or university for almost no pay. Because they nobody really offers tenure anymore. tenure at an acupuncture school is almost unheard of. Right. And I think there’s a lot of comfort in that structure. Because then you get to say that you have a full time job, or you get to say that you work part time as an adjunct professor, there’s a lot of legitimacy to that statement, right? And then they get, obviously, there’s nothing wrong with that I have done that. I’d love to telling people I was an adjunct professor. Okay. Right, that’s really exciting. But then you get, you get a regular paycheck. Yeah. And it’s sort of like the job funnel that you expect. When you go to undergrad, right? They always say, go to college, go to grad school, you’ll get a job, you’ll be successful. So it’s just part of that funnel, I think, is why. And then I think, I don’t know, the internet feels. It’s not new like it used to. But it’s a big shift to tell people who’ve always done like a very classical education approach, if they’re teaching inside a university to just turn around and figure out how to build an audience, how to record and edit their own video how to launch a podcast. Yeah, that’s a whole new education, to immerse yourself in. It’s, it can be intimidating, certainly, not
Jason Stein 11:05
only intimidating, but I think also, there’s just so much content being produced these days, because it’s so easy to do if you have a phone. And so the big question that I see people ask is, why me? Why should I do it? Why should I go create content? Gotcha. Yeah.
Michelle Grasek 11:23
There’s, I think there’s also a really beautiful humility in our profession, because we have this awareness that we are learning information that has been passed down for for generations, and there’s so much wisdom in the idea that like, it has worked for so long in the past, right. And if you are committed to, like the theory, and the practice, you will improve. But I think that we also have this fear of ever saying, like, I have something to share, that is worth me, like standing up and being very visible in order to share it. Right. So it’s kind of like finding that, that balance between the humility and saying, like, I have something unique to share, which I think is doable. But even that is an intimidating prospect for some people, because they’re like, why would I teach skincare when there’s mozen? Right? Like, of course, I mean, mozen is brilliant, and has just like an avalanche of information to share. But like, maybe you could teach one small class on something specific, right, like acne and just be like, This is what worked for me. For the past decade, it doesn’t have to be earth shattering.
Jason Stein 12:39
It all comes down to marketing, doesn’t it? It comes down to, I’m thinking about, like the opioid epidemic, which was caused by pharmaceutical reps marketing. And I’ve never seen an acupuncture epidemic. So, so you’re talking about,
Michelle Grasek 12:59
you should be so lucky.
Jason Stein 13:01
You’re talking about micro niching into acne relief. And like, the major marketing is proactive. And I haven’t seen long term results be really good with proactive, but I have seen many things with with acupuncture, facials, and dietary changes be incredibly life changing. So it comes down to this marketing. And what worries me most about the future is the recent censorship. Like I know MailChimp has censored some colleagues of mine. Yeah. And during the COVID epidemic that we’re still kind of lingering through. It’s like, you could say some things and not others. And then also dependent on timing, like, certain things about masks were said that were like, you know, totally taken offline. And then later, there was like, more evidence about masks so and even now, it’s still like, you know, even talking about COVID. And having a rational discussion between two people becomes a super intense thing.
Michelle Grasek 14:10
Oh, yes. I mean, online and offline.
Jason Stein 14:13
Yeah. And so as you were marketing, what was your experience with your clients during COVID? I’m really curious.
Michelle Grasek 14:22
Yeah. So in New York State, acupuncturist had to be closed for a lockdown for about two and a half months. And then afterwards, we were considered, we weren’t before lockdown, but we’re now considered essential medicine, which was really like a huge step up for us. Because I mean, not just that, you know, if there was another lockdown, we could stay open, right like the MDS offices, but just for sort of being taken seriously and I was surprised that we were given that authority to say like so quickly during that time, but I found it super difficult to market in 20 in the first part of 21, because people at least in the area I’m in were so sensitive to the numbers, like, I love postcard campaigns, I’m obsessed. And I feel like I’m not quite doing it right. But I am going to figure it out. That’s awesome. So I remember I had several instances where I sent out a, like 100 postcards, 200 postcards, B and like, we’re back cosmetic acupuncture is back. Because cosmetic acupuncture is especially difficult to sell to people who are afraid to come into that you touch them and to take them off, right. So finally, it like felt safe to have people take their masks off. And we have, we have all these protocols to make people feel comfortable. And like that’s, that’s cool. I’m totally fine with that. But I’m like trying to launch it, right. And it was like, as soon as I would send out these postcards, with a discount, and then send out these emails, the numbers would spike, and people would be talking about LockDown again. And nobody would want to go out like people would cancel their appointments or like a whole bunch of people would like patients would get COVID and have to cancel. And that would be like half of my patient numbers. So it was very disheartening to keep marketing with my usual enthusiasm during that time, because it was so unpredictable. I was like, every time I spend money on marketing, something happens out the door. We’re not going outside. You know. And, you know, after a while I realized like, this is just what it is right now. And so I would say that the practice built slowly, and I shifted my focus to things like pain, digestion and anxiety, like I stopped asking people to come for cosmetic for a little while. Because the marketing was the ROI was just so inefficient. But anxiety, lots of lots of people were prepared to come for anxiety treatment, because of course everyone was a basket case. So
Jason Stein 17:12
I’m super curious without naming any names, was there anyone you knew in the acupuncture field in New York would stayed open?
Michelle Grasek 17:21
Actually don’t know any names are there in the beginning of lockdown? I think there was one person maybe like an hour away who stayed open for a little bit but ended up closing. And there was I mean, there was certainly some confusion as well. I think like, chiropractors were sort of like, Should we be open or closed? Like half of them were open, and half of them were closed? So and it was Yeah, yeah. It’s such a weird world.
Jason Stein 17:48
You know, the reason I love marketing is that my clients that had a newsletter and were able to pivot during the COVID era, they were able to not just take PPE loans, but they were able to make some money, and help people by literally help people. And so I’m curious, did you see that as well?
Michelle Grasek 18:12
So I didn’t create any, like an online course directed at my patients, if that’s what you mean,
Jason Stein 18:18
no, or any of your clients. I’m just wondering, innovation is super important in business when it comes to marketing because things change, right? It’s like, if you were to let’s say market vinyl records, there was an era when he moved to digital, when it was like your business Tower Records went belly up, right. But now, vinyls back in a big way. So I’m curious if you saw innovation and where you saw it, like, what did you see happen?
Michelle Grasek 18:52
That worked? Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I had marketing clients who decided to create their own classes for things like Chinese medicine, nutrition for what I found worked, the best was when their classes were very specific. So not just like, Chinese medicine, nutrition, introduction, like dietary approaches, not just broad for any patient, but like Chinese dietary therapy for painful period, or Chinese dietary therapy for, you know, like very specific digestive symptoms, because that helps your email list of patients who were seeing you in person that helps them know like, oh, this class is specifically built for me, right? And that’s what makes them feel really good about buying it, they know they’re gonna get a lot of value, because you’re pretty much calling them out and being like, if you have these symptoms, like I made this class, you can take care of yourself at home. So the more specific people got with their online courses, I felt like the better they did.
Jason Stein 20:01
Nice. And did you get into a creative mode at all for yourself?
Michelle Grasek 20:07
It’s interesting, I kind of it kind of came and went in waves. I did create an Instagram class in 2020. That did really well. And then I had periods where I just felt like well, let me let me start over. So like we had locked down, right? So I had two and a half months to build my marketing business online, teaching all of these webinars and creating courses. And so that became much, much busier. And then eventually I reopened my practice. And that slowly got busier. So after a little while, I realized that I was working at like three fourths capacity for both of them. Right. So instead of having like, two half time jobs, I know had to almost full time jobs. Yeah. So I definitely had periods where my creativity tanked because I was like, just maintain. But then you, you usually hit that burnout and realize, like, I need a timeout, and then you take a little sabbatical of some sort. And when you come back, you’re so refreshed. And you’re like, Okay, now I have great ideas.
Jason Stein 21:17
It’s amazing. I kind of it’s all foggy, because the last two years have been so intense for so many, that you and I came out of the gate in 2020 and offered that telehealth course. And I think that course was amazing. I actually think that a lot of people had no idea what to do and how to shift gears.
Michelle Grasek 21:39
Oh, my goodness, for sure. Yeah. And I think we had 100 People live with us on that class. Yeah.
Jason Stein 21:45
And then you also I remember, you did an ADA website class, because that was needed. So I just love the creativity of getting outside the box of like, I think you nailed in the beginning of talking about you kept writing your blog, and people kept asking the same question. So for the listeners, for your clinical practice, what questions do you keep getting asked and what info product could you create? That would be an add on to the services? Yeah, that’s a great approach. Yeah. Because you’re already meeting the need.
Michelle Grasek 22:24
Yeah, so and you already know exactly what to tell people.
Jason Stein 22:28
I’m super curious, like 2023. What’s coming down the pipeline for you?
Michelle Grasek 22:35
Well, I have a podcast, acupuncture marketing school that has been on pause for a little while. And I am really excited to start releasing episodes where I’m interviewing people just like this, which is wonderful. It’s been a solo podcast for over a year. And part of that burnout was definitely reaching the point where I was like, Man, I love this podcast. But I’m like, out of things to say I never thought I’d never shut up. So I’m really looking forward to the really refreshing energy of just these kinds of conversations with other people on the podcast, I think is, is wonderful. And just talking with other people breeds that creativity that you’re talking about? Do you
Jason Stein 23:24
always go for passion points first? Or do you look at finances of like, what will generate revenue?
Michelle Grasek 23:32
Like when I’m advising someone on when you’re
Jason Stein 23:34
thinking about your own business?
Michelle Grasek 23:36
My own business? Yeah. That’s a really good question. I’m definitely at the point now where I focus on the things that I am really interested in that give me a little jolt of endorphins. Yeah. Whereas in the past, I would certainly teach classes or create things that felt like a grind because I was building my list or, you know, income was low comparatively for certain months. I don’t really do that anymore. After my burnout experience, how it’s like I need I need to get get serious. Yeah, I don’t think I’m focusing on I don’t
Jason Stein 24:19
think I’ve met anyone in the field of health and well being that hasn’t burned out at some
Michelle Grasek 24:24
point. Yeah. So yeah.
Jason Stein 24:27
What’s your what’s your burnout tip?
Michelle Grasek 24:31
Just don’t be hard on yourself for realizing you’re in that place. Because I think we we all really believe we can avoid burnout. Like we’re somehow going to do the hustle and the grind better than other people so that we don’t get tired. But the truth is, if we’re really buying into the, you know, that idea that like, the more money we have, and the harder we’re working, the happier we’ll be. I think we’re definitely going to hit burnout at some point. So just don’t be be hard on yourself, if if you find yourself really tired, just figure out what you can rearrange to take, like mental breaks.
Jason Stein 25:10
And like, it’s such a good conversation on burnout, like, what’s your biggest tip for either stress resilience or to really put deposits in for yourself?
Michelle Grasek 25:24
I have a lot of things that I like to do. And I always preface this with the fact that I don’t have children. Because sometimes people are like, how much free time do you have? I’m like, I don’t have kids. That matters. I mean, every morning, I have like, two hours in the morning of quiet time, more or less before I get to work. So I journal I meditate, I literally make time to sit with my cat. Because I think animals are super therapeutic. And I feel like, especially if you’re in burnout, journaling, if you like writing, I know not everybody is into it. But it can be incredibly helpful in revealing, like how you got to that place, and what you should do next. I mean, sometimes it’s painful, right? You sort of have to face all of the stuff that you’re dealing with, and then work through it and figure out like, Okay, what do I really want? How do I actually want to spend my days, which is how you spend your life. But I think that time by yourself writing things down, gives people a lot of clarity, instead of just letting it be a jumble in your brain.
Jason Stein 26:44
I’m fascinated of the crossroads between burnout, avoiding burnout and making money. And so I really like your tip of journaling, because it’s something that I’ve met many people that used to journal. But I’ve never met anyone that had journal for a little bit. And they hated hated journaling. I’m sure they exist, I just haven’t met them. And so the flip of that is making money, like what’s your tip on moneymaking?
Michelle Grasek 27:16
So the way that I like to think of it now is sort of make a list of all of the things that I am offering, right? So either in my clinic or in my marketing business, and then think about how much time do each of those things take to really execute? And how much do I like doing them. So there’s not much that I’m doing at this point that I don’t enjoy. So I don’t have to think about that as much. But some people, you really have to take it into consideration. And I recommend doubling down on whatever makes you the most money in the least amount of time that you actually like doing. So an example is at my office. And I’m in such a rural area. So our cost of living is extremely low. So people are always floored by these clinic prices. But don’t worry, we are on par with everyone else. So a one hour like general acupuncture treatment is $60. On one hour cosmetic treatment is 90. And I like cosmetic acupuncture, like I like doing it. I like the process of all those extra needles and the guasha on the face, right? which not everyone enjoys. So for me when I think about like how am I going to make more money and not burn out? I’m going to focus on getting more cosmetic clients because I don’t need as many, right? Yes, my general science,
Jason Stein 28:48
you make $30 more per client.
Michelle Grasek 28:51
Exactly. And you’re just sort of applying that. Like okay, so now what am I going to do with my marketing? I’m really only going to talk about cosmetics. Yeah, because that’s my goal.
Jason Stein 29:03
It’s so crazy. I have a client in Portland. I think they charge 250 For microderm. And then I have someone for microneedling Yeah, yeah. And then. And then I have someone in the Midwest. They charge 300. Yeah. And they get it. Yeah.
Michelle Grasek 29:21
Yeah. In New York City. microneedling can be upwards of four 454 50 For
Jason Stein 29:26
and they told me the treatment takes 30 minutes. Yes, that’s crazy.
Michelle Grasek 29:32
I am actually considering adding micro needling to my practice for this exact like conversation that we’re having because thinking about like, what are the things I enjoy? I like natural skincare. As an acupuncturist in New York State. It’s within my scope of practice to do micro needling and it’s a little investment upfront to buy the micro needling pen but once you get going you can charge three or four times as much in a half hour session.
Jason Stein 30:00
For someone that likes cosmetic, that’s a no brainer. I talked to another client about it and said, No, no facials, no fertility, not for me.
Michelle Grasek 30:11
And I, you know, I think that’s valid. That’s the whole thing where it’s like, you could choose to do things that make you more money. But is it? Is it creating like that nails on a chalkboard feeling in your chest, then that’s not worth it. That’ll send you straight to burnout.
Jason Stein 30:27
Yeah, what I love, I don’t take insurance. And I’m working with more people that don’t take insurance and you don’t take insurance, right? Yeah. And so when you take the insurance out of it, your practice can become so much more fun again, it’s just so, so much. I had no idea how draining insurance was. But I can tell you when I go to acupuncture healing forums online, often, over 50% of the conversation is about billing insurance.
Michelle Grasek 30:57
Yeah. And I used to take insurance for I think, three or four years when I was first in practice. I mean, it just took, like a four hour chunk of my work week. And that was I mean, that was in 2011. And so everything was paper, like literally filling out insurance paperwork. By hand. Yeah, yes. And it just was it was very draining. And lots of you know, phone calls with the insurance company asking why they didn’t pay you. And they’re like, well, we’re not really sure. So just send it again that, like,
Jason Stein 31:33
as a caveat, I’m not against insurance providers. I’m against insurance for me. Yeah, I know, people that are taking VA, I know that people are starting to realize like, I believe ash would go bankrupt if everyone just said not worth it going somewhere else. Or whatever those providers are these days that are charging the less and every year, they’re reevaluating the contracts and giving providers less when right. Everything’s costing more. Right. So it’s just as an interesting conversation for a different day. But especially if you take insurance, think about these classes that Michelle and I are talking about create something outside of the one more patient one more paycheck model. Yeah. And so I love it. You’re avoiding burnout, you are making money. And what I love is I’ve watched you over I don’t know how long we’ve known each other. It’s been years at this point.
Michelle Grasek 32:37
Oh, gosh, six years, seven years, and maybe more.
Jason Stein 32:41
I just I, every year I see you struggle Less and More, which is awesome. So it’s me, any final words to the community.
Michelle Grasek 32:59
I gosh. I feel like I should have prepared. What’s busy that I can say, marketing doesn’t have to be gross. I hope, you know, I hope everyone has that little kernel of hope in their heart. And yeah, just let’s not be so hard on ourselves.
Jason Stein 33:17
I love that message. Yeah. Because I think we all are at different times. Yes. Yeah. So I just appreciate you the listener. You know, you can visit us at wellness renegades.com. And I’m doing this in reverse. Michelle, where can people find you?
Michelle Grasek 33:34
Michellegrasek.com. And then on Instagram @Michelle Grasek.
Jason Stein 33:38
Great. I appreciate having you today. And if you’re listening, I invite you to like, subscribe and check us out over at wellnessrenegades.com. I’m Jason Stein, and I’m wishing you guys a great day.