No matter how much we plan ahead, we can’t always predict the direction our lives will take and Stephanie Ykema-Stunes understands that better than most people.
Ykema-Stunes, the owner of Excelsior-based Balance Acupuncture & Wellness Center, has always loved helping people and growing up in a family full of healthcare practitioners, she’s also passionate about wellness and taking care of the body, mind and spirit. It would seem only natural that she would go into the healthcare field herself, but it took a serious car accident and the loss of her job as a truck driver recruiter to set her on the path she’s traveling now.
“I had somewhat of a ‘Come to Jesus’ scenario when I lost my job. My husband didn’t want me working in trucking anymore because it’s extremely stressful and you never get a day off,” said Ykema-Stunes, who is also a licensed massage therapist and herbalist. “I decided I wanted to go back to school for chiropractic, but my aunt, who is a chiropractor herself, talked me out of it. She told me that acupuncture was what the face of medicine was going to look like in a decade.”
Ykema-Stunes had acupuncture when dealing with the aftermath of her accident and knew it worked well to manage pain. She just didn’t know how or why but she was intrigued enough to start studying it and in 2016, she received her Master’s degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from Northwestern Health Science University. She opened her practice that same year, renting a room from another acupuncturist one day a week while she built up her clientele. Then, 18 months later, she took a “giant leap of faith” and moved into one of the most coveted historic buildings in Excelsior. She’s been going strong ever since.
“I did it my way instead of following the pre-paved path that people think they should take,” she said. “But I’ve always been like that. I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum.”
As an acupuncturist in Minnesota, Ykema-Stunes is part of a relatively small community of about 450 practitioners and over the course of the pandemic, several acupuncturists she knew in Minneapolis went out of business. Ykema-Stunes, on the other hand, has seen her business grow 91 percent over the course of the last year. She attributes a large part of her success to what may seem to be an unlikely source – her background in trucking.
“In trucking, you’re constantly chasing that business. Sometimes I’d have to talk to the same driver 40 times before I got them to commit to working for my company,” she said. “I only got paid when I hired drivers and when your paycheck is depending on it, you’ll be willing to do just about anything.”
How To Succeed Long-Term
That tenacious spirit has helped Ykema-Stunes build a thriving business and the lessons she’s learned along the way have played an integral role in her continued growth. If you’re looking to launch your own venture and want it to succeed long-term, here are some of her tips and suggestions:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for the business: At the end of each appointment, Ykema-Stunes always asks her patients when they want to come back and tries to schedule their follow-up visit. “I don’t just let them leave and tell them to call me later,” she said. “If you have them in the moment either on the phone or in person and you ask, they’re almost always going to say yes.” People won’t give you stuff for free, she added, and that’s why she encourages business owners to be straightforward and confident with their customers and potential customers if they want to gain more business.
- Put yourself out there and chase the business: Business opportunities don’t often simply land on Ykema-Stunes’ doorstep and that’s why she is constantly out pounding the pavement. When she was first starting out, she visited nearly every local business to leave a stack of business cards and introduce herself to someone she hadn’t met before. To this day, one of her regular strategies is to insert the fact that she is an acupuncturist and she owns a business in Excelsior into as many conversations as she can. “My husband actually thinks I’m super weird, but I’ve picked up at least a half a dozen patients in the last two years by doing that,” she said. For example, if she’s in a restaurant, she’ll make small talk with the server and wait for an opening where she can share what she does for a living and explain how acupuncture can help them. “As soon as you do that, their eyes light up and they’re like ‘really?’” she said. “I don’t think a lot of acupuncturists do that, but I’m a salesperson at heart.”
- Utilize previous life skills and experiences: Even though trucking is a completely different field, it taught Ykema-Stunes about the importance of hard work and persistence, both of which have been invaluable to her success in acupuncture. If you’re making a career switch, think about the skills you’ve learned in past jobs and figure out how you can apply them to what you’re doing now. Maybe you worked as a teacher – that’s great! You can use your experience to patiently educate people about your products and services in a friendly and non-threatening way. Have back office experience with payroll and finances? You’ll be in a great position to handle the behind-the-scenes part of running a business (though it’s certainly OK to outsource those things once you start getting busier).
- Network and hustle: Ykema-Stunes spends several days a week attending BNI networking events to cultivate more business, learn from other business owners and serve as a resource for anyone who’s interested in finding out more about acupuncture. Additionally, she’s always looking for ways to expand and diversify her business and make it bigger and better. She’s currently exploring doing corporate events where she can share the benefits of acupuncture with a broader audience and is also posting healthy recipes on her business’s social media pages. “I’m constantly thinking outside the box,” she said.
- Be authentic: Ykema-Stunes is well aware that many people perceive acupuncturists as Birkenstock-wearing hippies but she herself isn’t like that – and she doesn’t try to be. “I tell people that I’m the least woo-woo acupuncturist that you’re ever going to meet,” she said. “Obviously I believe in the science and I’m a good acupuncturist but I’m also very straightforward with people and I don’t give them the illusion that I am anybody other than who I am.” By being a real person, Ykema-Stunes said, you become more relatable and more personable and in turn, your clients will feel more comfortable with you and keep coming back.
- Do market research: When she was just starting out as an acupuncturist, Ykema-Stunes studied the area to determine where there would be a need for her business. She looked at metrics such as the median household income and the number of other acupuncturists operating in the same area. Based on her research, she decided on Excelsior, even though it’s a 60-mile daily commute for her. “Everybody seems to think that you need to be in downtown Minneapolis in order to be successful,” she said. “No – you just need to find the right niche and you need to find where people can pay for the services that you’re trying to provide. I don’t think I would still be in business if I were in Minneapolis.”
- Pay it forward: Ykema-Stunes recently had an acupuncture session for her neck pain with another practitioner who was using some outdated technology. And even though this woman is technically her competition, Ykema-Stunes spent an hour of her time showing her how to use an app that would help her streamline her scheduling and payments. “When you have a chance to help someone – whether they’ve asked for help or not – not only are you helping them and giving to them, you’re also opening up another opportunity,” she said. “Because when you help somebody like that, then the next time they’re doing something, they’re going to think about you because you helped them. Givers gain and when you pay it forward, good things will come back to you exponentially.”
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