There seem to be two 'camps' when it comes to acupuncturists using Groupon, Living Social and other online coupon programs to promote their services. One camp says, it's a great opportunity to gain exposure, get new patients and make some money. And another camp says that the deep discounts and high fees make it a financial bust, and worse, devalues the profession.
There's no doubt that you can lose money using these online coupon programs (as has been well documented in the dining industry), but if you read the coupon program's fine print, understand your goals, calculate your ' break even price point' and plan accordingly, I believe you can make these programs work for your acupuncture practice. Here are my recommendations to any practitioner who is thinking about using Groupon, Living Social, or any online coupon company. Understand and plan on ways to optimize:
Front end income
Back end income VERY IMPORTANT!
Costs (including time)
(1) Front end income :Front end income is what you get from your coupon sales. When you see service based businesses using Groupon to sell over 1000 coupons at $50 a pop (like a local glass blowing teacher did), it's pretty easy to get caught up in the "$50,000 payday" and think you've found the answer to all your prayers. But if that's all you see, you could be one of the many business owners who lose money on these deals. So please, pay attention! If we examine an acupuncturist who courageously tried out the Groupon program to sell a $30 coupon for a 45 minute session, we can see that $30 x 109 purchases (last I checked) = $3,270. Half goes to Groupon so that leaves $1,635 in front end income. That's only about $15 per person for 45 minutes of treatment, which stinks! BUT WAIT... here's what you also have to factor in:
15-30% of people who buy the coupon never redeem it before it expires. That free money. Don't count on it, but just know that it's there.
For an acupuncturist who does not have a full schedule and ALL s/he has is TIME, this is a great way to get exposure, create buzz, and generate profit (see back end income below) without laying out any cash.
(2) Back end income : This is the key to generating profits! You need a plan in place to upsell these coupon-purchasing customers. What I like about Mary Ann's Groupon is she included in her sale an "Individual Wellness Plan". This is clearly aimed at getting these initial buyers back through her doors for a series of treatments. Even if just 10% of her initial 109 people scheduled 6 treatments as part of her "Individual Wellness Plan" (at her normal rate of $80) that's 10 (people) x 6 (visits) x $80 = $4,800. Now we're talkin! Acupuncturists MUST learn how to turn these qualified customers into repeat patients (who refer new patients) in order to make significant long term income. If you add in sales of herbs, oils, books etc., that backend revenue per coupon-paying customer increases. For those of us who understand (and teach) online marketing, the backend income can also significantly increase by offering products like digital products or online wellness coaching and creating automated email campaigns to keep customers interested and coming back. In other words, this is a great way to build a list of qualified customers for future service or product sales.
(3) Costs The big thing acupuncturists need to watch here is time. (Costs for needles and other office supplies is usually minimal.) The cash infusion from the front end income can help take care of working expenses and pay for upsell items (sold when they receive their session). But time is something that is limited and scheduling must be planned so that full paying patient slots are not taken up by $15 slots. I would recommend dedicating 2-3 days a week just to the Groupon people and get them all scheduled and treated within 3 - 6 months. Personally I think a year is too long to 'wrap up' the coupon customers. This may mean working days that you don't usually work until everyone gets their coupon redeemed.
So before we dismiss Groupon and other social online coupon programs for acupuncture practitioners, I think it's important do some research (read other business' deals), think things through, test it out on a small scale then take the lessons learned to larger and larger scales so you can minimize your risk and maximize your potential for generating profits. That's why I congratulate acupuncturists for having the courage to TRY something new, generate buzz and build their businesses.