By Dan Clements of The Alternative Health Practice blog was created to help complementary, alternative and holistic practitioners find success in their practices

Adding associates is a tried and true way of taking your alternative medical practice to the next level. In a majority of cases, though, associates come into their own and decide it’s time to leave, becoming your competition in the process. Here are a few considerations for your first (or next) associate that may help them stay in it for the long run:

Don’t Add Them Too Soon
Adding an associate if you’re not busy in your own CAM practice can be more trouble than it’s worth. Associates work best when they can get a steady stream of referrals from the office they work in. If you and your associate are competing over each new patient, then you’re splitting the same meager pie, and it’s going to create resentment.

The exception to this is when you add other types of practitioners. If you’re a chiropractor, for example, it makes sense to add a massage therapist or acupuncturist to your practice even if you’re not fully booked. You can both see the same clients without “poaching” each other’s business. The rule still holds, though, that the busier you are, the happier you can make your associate.

Involve Them in Your Practice
Most alternative health associates are just starting out. They’re fresh out of school and are inexperienced in practice and in business. Your role as a mentor to them is just as important as the dollar value of the patients you deliver to them – perhaps even more so.

Include them in your cases. Discuss patients. Challenge them. Answer their questions. Encourage them, and remind them that everyone is new at the start. Weren’t you, once?

Consider Alternative Payment Models
The % of billing model is an extremely popular one, though it may be frowned upon by the IRS if you live in the US, and want your associate to be an independent contractor.

After some time, associates may begin to resent paying a percentage – the more they make, the more they have to give you, and for someone unfamiliar with the workings of business, this may seem unfair. Consider leasing your space and services for a flat fee to an associate, and be open to discounted payments in early months during their startup.

Give Them A Future
Most smart and talented associates will eventually leave if you don’t give them a compelling reason to stay. They’ll eventually become competent CAM practitioners, and once they understand the intricacies of running an office, they’ll realize that they can be you, and grow a business of their own!

If you have a great associate and you want them to stay, consider opportunities for partnerships, real estate ownership and other equity investments. If you’re seeking an associate, decide what the future might look like for the right person, and make that clear to your prospects. Most associates don’t want to be associates forever.

Open the Books
A common misconception among new alternative medicine practitioners is that it’s not that expensive to run an office. After some time, they’ll look at your operation and think, “Let’s see – a phone line or two, rent, assistant. That’s not much. This guy’s making a killing off me.”

Consider explaining the true costs of running a business. Show them the costs of photocopy cartridges, faxes, wage burdens, utility bills, insurance, taxes, maintenance and other less obvious expenses. Open your books, and explain how much of their monthly fee to you actually goes in your pocket. It’s almost always a lot less than they think.

No Non-Compete?
Non-competition clauses may seem attractive to you, but many associates may be turned off. It’s not uncommon for new docs to want practice in a specific geographic area, and a non-competition agreement means they’ll have a difficult time eventually starting their own practice in the same area if they start out as your associate. What option does this leave them? They either start their own practice as your competition, or work as an associate for your competition – both outcomes are less desirable than having them in your practice!