Since posting about my resort spa-leaving in October, a handful of lovely people have approached me to express their own desires to go out on their own and become entirely self-employed. Some have asked questions like “what’s the first step?” or “how do I find clients?”. I hope to share my insight on these matters briefly yet somewhat competently in this post.
Let me start by mentioning that no two paths to entrepreneurship will be the same. Each of us are born into individual circumstances, raised in different environments, given unique opportunities, and influenced by factors specific to our own lives. I share some of my experiences here, modestly hoping that at least one small, useful part resonates with someone out there in our virtual living room. If you have an entrepreneurial story of your own – good, bad, even completely unrelated to massage therapy – I encourage you to share it in the comments section. Entrepreneurship is one of those blog topics that can only benefit from group participation, and I thank you in advance. Now let the listing commence!
- Identify your vision. What kind of work are you passionate about doing? What types of products are you passionate about using? I love doing many kinds of massages and spa treatments, but foot massage is right up there at the top of the list. I also like using luxurious creams and oils that are beneficial to the skin (this is especially important here in the Mojave Desert). So I opened a little day spa that specializes in feet. Pinpointing your passion will help you to hone in on your signature offerings, which will set you apart from the chain massage clinics down the street. This is one of the first steps to building your identity as a business.
- Get cozy with your branding and stay consistent. Maybe you live in a small town and you’re the only massage therapist within 200 miles. You can probably afford to name your business “AAAAA Massage Therapy” even if everyone hates the name. But in my experience, I’ve found that in a marketplace full of half-baked business ventures and forgettable distractions, having a fun, clever or thoughtful name is a plus. It also helps to keep you on track when you’re considering the overall feeling that your brand conveys. “Feetish Spa Parlor” has always been very Victorian in my mind, so I keep my branding consistent with that vision as much as I can. Victorian influenced furniture, cabinets, ceiling tiles, lighting fixtures, décor…even the typefaces and clip art used on my signs and printed materials are reminiscent of the time. Obviously I use a smartphone, hot towel cabi and factory-produced hand soap too, but you get the idea. You wouldn’t install Ashiatsu bars in a room that isn’t used for Ashiatsu, so don’t clutter up your image with inconsistencies that dilute and confuse.
- Remember that you can’t be all things to all people. I can’t do couples treatments because my office is tiny and there’s only one of me. Once in a while I have to explain this to a caller. But I continue to put myself out there, and the right people find me. Again, focus on what you can do, and on what you enjoy doing.
- Location is key. I don’t necessarily mean you have to be in the biggest, flashiest building in town, but if you’re running a brick and mortar operation, location is pretty damn important. You’ll want your location to be convenient to the clientele you’re looking to attract. You’ll also want your location to be convenient to yourself, as you’ll be your very own #1 VIP client. Is there parking nearby? Is the area relatively safe? Are there other businesses in the area that mesh well with yours (cafes, boutiques, other places where relaxed or adventurous people with disposable income hang out)? Are there other businesses in the area that compete with yours that might cannibalize your clientele now or in the future? Stake out the locations on your list of possibilities. Become obsessed. Check out the flow of people on different days of the week during different times of the day. Do this for months. Talk to people who are active in the community where you hope to set up shop. Make allies before you sign your lease. Spend your money in this community. Say hello. Smile.
- Make your presence known. You will have to market your business. You will have to invest countless hours into this seemingly thankless task. You will be tempted to give up, but you shouldn’t. Cast a wide net. The advertising I pay for right now consists of my website, business cards, and printed spa menus. I will sparingly and selectively donate gift certificates to causes I’m passionate about. I send out a monthly email newsletter using MailChimp. I have a free Yelp listing. But other than that, most of my marketing efforts are concentrated on social media. I use Instagram a lot, and I usually auto post my photos to Facebook and Twitter. Someone may see you on Yelp today, someone else may see you on Google tomorrow. You never know.
- Don’t get in over your head. Signing a lease on an 8,000 square foot facility may sound like a dream come true right out of the gate, but I’m having heart palps just thinking about it. It’s perfectly OK to start small.
- Consider your schedule. The more hours you make yourself available to take appointments, the more appointments you’ll likely take. Wait! You say you only want to work Tuesday through Thursday from noon ‘til 5? And you wonder why you’re only booking two appointments per week? And you resent the whole damn thing because you just drove 45 minutes one-way to perform a 30 minute service when gas is $3.26/gallon? It sounds like it’s time to rethink your schedule. Two years ago when I first opened my business, I had set hours when I was in the office — appointments or not –five days per week. This was good at the time. But last year I realized it benefitted my clients (and my sanity) more if I switched to working by appointment only, but with greater availability. Now I can schedule my life around the appointments on my book and vice versa.
- Make things happen. Create excitement! Start a blog for your biz! Video chat online and upload it to your business’s YouTube page! Visit with your neighbors! Throw a party at your office and invite the neighborhood! Offer them food! Share meals with people…people like to eat! The early days of business ownership are usually the loneliest. Fill that time connecting with people and building relationships with people in your community, because eventually, when you’re super busy with appointments, you’ll wish you had more time for that.
- Adapt. Now that I have more appointments on my book I’m no longer able to sit in my office with the door open, waiting for retail customers to stroll by. So I’m running a clearance sale on Dermalogica this month, and it’ll probably be a while before I order more retail-sized items. And y’know what? I’m totally OK with this.
- Some pressure is OK. Like a firm handshake or a leather corset. But business is messy, invention is messy, and life is messy. To quote my dad: “We can’t control everything that comes our way; we can only control how we react.” Countless successful entrepreneurs have failed in business multiple times before they eventually made it big, but they learned a lot along the way. Entrepreneurship is hard work, long hours, boatloads of stress and tons of sacrifice. I’m still really happy with my decision to take this path, but if it ever gets to be too much for me – if I feel like I’ve been paying too high a price for too long with too little return on investment – I’ll do my best to adapt. And if that means hanging up my holster for a bit so I can treat myself to some well-deserved kindness and understanding, then that’s what I shall do.