Spa Style Massage Add-Ons & Continuing Education

Just a quick post to let you guys know I just put a new NCBTMB approved CE course up on my site

If you need CE hours, cool! They’re super affordable. 

If you don’t need CE hours but you’d like a little add-on inspiration, please feel free to download the course at absolutely no charge and without obligation. 

Thanks for hanging out with us for another year! Here’s to a productive and fulfilling 2016!

Popping The Bubble

Cliques. Tribes. The Matrix, even.

If we gaze at the masses long enough we realize it’s a ubiquitous scenario: People doing things, building things and marketing things while being surrounded by their own people. Bubble People. 

Bubble People are a fine people. Most of them are very nice and we have things in common with them. This is exactly why we spend so much time interacting with Bubble People. Bubble People got our backs. 

But what happens when we want to do, build or market something that could benefit from (or depend on) connecting with people from beyond The Bubble? Should we remain safely surrounded by Bubble People in a spherically-shaped fortress that cannot expand without breaking? Or do we deliberately destroy this bubbly barrier, leaving ourselves vulnerable, opening ourselves up to outside influence, ideas and opinions?

We must decide, because we cannot do both. 

Bubble People are typically easy. They don’t care that we haven’t showered or put pants on by 4 PM on a Wednesday. “Go for it!”, they cheer. “Best idea ever! Keep doing what you’re doing! Don’t ever change it! It’s perfect!”

You’re perfect.

But maybe — just maybe — perfect is something we were never meant to be. 

A bubble for your thoughts?

No one is coming to rescue you

Got that? No one is coming to save you.

There is no knight on a white horse. You’re not gonna win the lottery. Praying isn’t going to pay the bills if you don’t get up and go to work, too. The spouse you married for love (but a little bit for security and money, too) could get laid off any minute.  Spiderman will not be swooping in to pull you from the wreckage of your business malaise. Say it with me, “No one is coming to rescue me.”

That’s a pretty frightening revelation, huh?* Just let that linger in the back of your head for a bit.

There are a variety of things we will do when hunger, housing, health are on the line. We will hustle to feed our kids and keep them clothed. We will deliver pizza into the wee hours if it means helping Dad pay for his medication.

However, we become complacent (not just fiscally, but in our emotional satisfaction) when we hit middle ground. We get lazy. We get stupid.

Here’s a common conversation in my world

Me: How many clients do you want to see every week?
You: Oh, 18-20
Me: How many are you seeing right now?
You: Um… well.. some weeks only I have 2 or 3 clients, some weeks I have 10 or 11.
Me: What are you doing to increase that?
You: Weeeellll… I sent out postcards to my old clients. I worked a few health fairs last month….
Me: How’s your website?
You: Oh, well, I really should update that a little… I’m so busy right now, I haven’t gotten to it. We had a tree fall in the yard and I’ve been cleaning it up. My parrot was sick so I’ve been staying home a lot. And I was running the book fair at my son’s school, that was such a project!!
Me: <<Sigh>>

Or in a class recently

Me: Raise your hand if you’re seeing as many clients as you want to.
Only 2 people out of 20 raised their hands.
Me: What’s your biggest obstacle to getting started with online marketing?
“Finding time to learn!”
Me: If you’re only seeing 5 clients a week, and your goal is 15, what the heck are you doing with that extra 10 clients’ worth of time? (Okay- there are some reasonable explanations here, especially if someone is maintaining another job while starting a massage business. But most of the excuses are BS. Total BS.)

See where I’m going with this?

All the marketing blogs, books, online classes, in-person workshops and savvy-tech tools in the world won’t help you if you don’t GET OFF YOUR ASS and do the work. And it’s up to YOU to do it. No one is coming to rescue you. Masses of clients are NEVER going to just show up begging for your services.  (Secret: even if someone did rescue you, eventually you would still end up back in the hole. It’s imperative that you LEARN how to dig out on your own.)

 

Knowing where to start can be hard, So here are some resources for you.

MassageNerd– Hands on stuff, business stuff, fantastic stock photos. Ryan’s got ’em.

Massage Sloth-Hands on stuff, and Ian’s Facebook page is a treasure trove of brilliant business tips and tricks, too.

Massage Business Blueprint– Yeah, this is my new project, so this is totally narcissistic. Deal. It’s a good resource. 

Will any of these resources be different for you?

Only if you are different. You need to buck up and say, “I want to do more, I want to do better.”

Only if you banish the “But I can’t because blah blah blah…” mentality and replace it with, “I’m going to learn this stuff, and I will be good at it.”

No one is coming to rescue you. The good news is, you can rescue yourself. Your call.

[*I want to make it perfectly clear that we’re talking about business crap, not real legit depression stuff, like I talk about often. If you are suffering from depression or other mental illness please be assured that someone is coming to rescue you. Go here and call or live chat with a professional who can help you right now, or refer you to an appropriate care provider in your area.]

Why Do I Laugh So Much?

I get asked that question a lot at massage conference, and my response is: “Life is too short NOT to laugh.”

Let me give you a little background on myself. Most of my childhood I didn’t laugh much, and suffered from Clinical Depression and OCD. I was give different antidepressants in my teenage years, and that seemed to make my moods feel blah! I even ended up in a Psychiatric Unit a few times in my teenage years.

I didn’t embrace my current personality, until I was going through massage school in 1997. I quit all my antidepressants while I was going through the program, and on my own decision. I was feeling better, and I found something that kept me busy, so I didn’t obsess as much.

I still suffer from depression and OCD, and I’ve learned to keep busy. OCD is who I am, and it’s helped my career over the past decade. I can’t do anything small, and I’m always thinking of ways to keep myself busy, so I delve into work. Now, I just need to find a balance between work and play.

I’m not looking for sympathy, and I just want people to find peace with their hiccups in life.

To quote my favorite T.V. show: “It’s a gift… and a curse.” – Adrian Monk

When at home, I’m  working  in the dark on my computer, playing Techno music, and trying to spend as much time with my family as possible. It’s what helps me keep my sanity.

If you want another perspective, I’m making up for lost time in the laughing category :)

I’m A Big Girl Now

I’ve been growing my little foot spa biz for over two years now. It’s currently at what I feel is a really good place number-wise for a part-time hands-on gig. I look forward to filling things out a little bit more in the upcoming year — booking more appointments further in advance if possible — but I’m happy with where things are right now, too.

I’ve also been engagin’ in a lot of learnin’ about potentially uncomfortable subjects recently, including cancer treatment, oncology massage, and death. I think I even finally know how I want my gravestone to look — complete with a refreshing sense of well-placed joy and excitement! (Cue the weird looks!)

bear

When I first became a massage therapist ten years ago, my retired insurance exec cousin told me I should look into disability insurance. What if I injured my tools? How would I support myself? Her questions were valid.

I ended up working at spas that provided disability insurance as a benefit, but those days are over. Being 100% self employed means I have to think about these things and put on my big girl panties. I have to do the things I dread.

This afternoon I visited my insurance rep, Mary. I’ve purchased my business, homeowner’s and auto insurance through her over the years, and she has always been super helpful. I told her I knew nothing about disability insurance, but I’d appreciate it if she’d talk me through it and present me with my options “in case my arm gets chopped off one of these days”. 

We had a lovely chat about the trials and tribulations of small business life and neighborhood gossip. Then she showed me that I could acquire disability insurance for as little as $23.13 per month. 

Tonight I’ll present my options to my better half and we’ll talk it over while we do laundry and watch Fringe. Being a grown up isn’t always easy, but it’s how things get done…and hopefully done right.

So, you’ve got a successful massage business. Why so anxious?

IMG_3289

Let’s get real
Being a business owner is scary. Being a single business owner even more so. And when you’re supporting a family? Holy geez wowsers that sounds terrifying. (Hats off to all of you raising kids and/or supporting a stay-at-home spouse. You are utterly badass.)

Yes, being your own boss is crazy-rewarding and has its own benefits. But it’s still scary as hell.

Most of us started our businesses with just the supplies and equipment from our schooling, slapping together ideas and action as best we could, learning as we grew.

The lucky ones had a business plan (and knew what to do with it). The luckier ones had previous careers that provided some necessary business skills. The smart ones researched the nitty gritty of every situation and made well-informed decisions that led to success.

However you got here, you’re here
You’re pretty well established, staying fairly well booked, and you’ve got the day-to-day tasks of running a business under control. Congratulations! You’ve arrived!

Except for that nagging, petrified little voice in the back of your head shrieking, “It could all fall apart in an instant!” Daily. Or maybe weekly. Or maybe just when you’re having that day where 5 clients call to cancel upcoming appointments and your week falls apart.

Why am I diving into these tales of woe? Because Cindy said, “Business is wonderful here, but my anxiety keeps me feeling like there’s a hidden shoe about to drop. [I’m] still struggling with looking ahead instead of behind despite being very solidly booked.”

And from the response her comment got, I can tell that’s a common problem for people in her situation. In some ways, it’s a good problem to have. It means you’re successful! But it kinda sucks the fun out of working for yourself.

For every fear, there is a solution to make it tolerable. Here are my go-to anxiety relievers. 

Have a go-to protocol for slow weeks, and make it easy
Look at the things that have helped you bring in clients in the past. Figure out what’s worked and what hasn’t.

For me, sending an email to my clients with a list of that week’s open appointments is really effective. But if I have to make an email from scratch every week, it becomes a whole big project. I’ll procrastinate and never actually do it. So I finally made a sweet last minute appointment template with all the links and buttons to my online scheduling. I can just drop a one-liner note in there to keep it fresh and send. It’s an easy, 10 minute task that’ll fill an appointment or two.

If you get a great response on Facebook, spend a few minutes making some adorable graphics in Canva and save them to your computer and mobile device. When you have a slow day or week, upload to Facebook with a headline and the link (or contact info) to schedule. That’s a five minute task when you already have the graphic ready.

If you still have too much time on your hands, I’ve got a few bigger tasks outlined over here on the At Peace Media blog. 

Just having a protocol in place can be comforting. Sure, it’s a slow week, but you know what to do to make it better. You’re in control.

Get some emergency savings
This is the thing we all know we need, but few make it happen. We need an emergency savings.

Because your car will need a new transmission the same month your second quarter taxes and license renewals are due. Your fridge will break the week that you pay for the kid’s hockey season including all new equipment because holy heck she just won’t stop growing.

Or you’ll just miss a week of work when you have the flu. You need a backup. And when you own a business, this is doubly true. You need a savings for living expenses and business expenses.

We should all have at least three months of expenses in the bank. Six to nine months is even better. If you don’t already have this started, it seems like a Herculean task to save That. Much. Money.

So, like most things that are big and scary, we put off getting started. Then it doesn’t happen. Then you jam your thumb and immediately have a panic attack over the notion that you could lose a few days of work and oh my god what if I break my leg I’m going to be homeless in a month my life is falling apart someone help me. Or maybe that’s just me?

Anyhow, the thing about accruing a solid savings is that it happens slowly. But when it happens, it’ll change your life. A whole layer of fear and anxiety lifts from your life. Really.

How to do it? Again, slowly. I recently got my act together and started building up a savings. I created a whole new saving account at an online bank. Every week when I sit down to pay bills, I transfer money from my local credit union to the savings. It’s super easy to do online and takes under five minutes. I force myself to transfer at least 5% of the last week’s income, I try to do more when I have busier weeks. If that seems impossible to you, start with 2%. Or if you take tips, transfer half of them. Something is better than nothing, and it’ll add up over time.

Having a cushion takes all sorts of stress off a slow week, an illness, or a busted water heater.

Get some cheerleaders
There will always be tough times in business ownership. Sometimes your preparedness won’t be enough of a comfort and anxiety will eat you up. Hopefully you’ve got friends and colleagues to lean on and talk you out of your funk. And if you’re a loner, the rest of us are right here.

How do you keep the anxiety from ruining the fun?

Weird things that matter when you’re running a business.

I live in New England, where we’ve been getting an unholy amount lots of snow over the past few weeks. It’s a project to dig a car out and clear it off post-storm. Common sense dictates one would clear off one’s car completely.

But some people don’t. Some people clear most of their windshield, maybe a little of the rear window, and set out onto the roads putting other people in danger.
That’s a mark of character, I think. And I wasn’t too sad to see the state police pulling people over for it during the recent blizzard.

car covered in snow

photo via the MA State Police Facebook page: http://ow.ly/ILx6p

 

I’m a hardass. I know I skew a little stricter than average about guidelines and rules, especially when it comes to running a business. Just like the snow-on-the-car thing (but certainly not as dangerous), I think there are actions and inactions that indicate character in a business owner. I think they matter.

Where you park your car
Some business owners park in a spot far away from their entrance, reserving the closer spots for customers. And I’ve seen others take the spot closest to the door, and stay parked there all day while clients have to schlepp from a distance, both before and after their massage.

The bottom line here is, are you making convenience a priority for you or your client? Your clients will catch on to that.

(Yes, I know that not everyone can control the parking situation around their business. If that’s the case, this doesn’t apply to you.)

What you wear
I know. I KNOW. People get piffy about this one. But the reality is, if you show up every day in ragged yoga pants, dirty sneakers, and a tshirt, it’s pretty damn clear that you don’t respect your work. Our ‘uniforms’ will vary according to environment. But the clothes you wear for work should always be clean, not worn-out, and not overly-casual.

Oh- and let’s have a little side chat about wearing custom tshirts with ignorant puns or ‘jokes’ about massage. Stop it. Your profession is not a joke. It’s a career, dammit. A career that has the potential to change lives. Unless of course, those people think you’re an unprofessional twit who wears silly tshirts. Then they will never come to you for massage and you will never change lives. “I’ve got your back” is fun. “I’m a massage therapist, I get paid to hurt people” is not.

Your trash
We need trash baskets. They will often have trash in them. This isn’t rocket science. But if you let them hang out more than half full for days at a time, it looks bad. It looks like you can’t be bothered to empty your trash. If you let them hang out full and overfull, it looks even worse. Trash is a visible indicator of how clean the rest of your office is, even the not-so-visible parts. Make it a good indicator.

What else? What are the little ‘things’ you notice that turn you on or off to certain businesses?

Light at the End of the Tunnel

We’re pleased to publish this guest post from our friend, Katie Adams. She’s a career therapist in the Boston area and knows.her.stuff. You can read more about her in the bio at the end of this post.2015-02-02_0810

Thank you, lax ligaments, for allowing me to get away with doing massage for 19 years without much pain. Over the past two, however, I have chased nerve-like symptoms up and down my arm while continuing to practice full time. I’d only cancel clients when the pain was enough to cause me to panic, haphazardly putting out the fire with chiropractic, massage, trigger point dry needling, some strengthening and stretching.

My thumb and first two fingers were tingling a lot when I went to my annual physical this past October. My PCP kindly reminded me that I was complaining about forearm and wrist pain at my last annual physical. Duh! Something always hurts when you are a bodyworker, right?

“I just don’t know where it’s coming from,” I said. “The pain jumps around between my neck, shoulder, biceps, forearm and thumb. But, come to think of it, I have been dropping things a lot lately. I just assumed I was clumsy.”

Full disclosure, I knew I had a positive Tinel’s Sign and Phelen’s Maneuver, so I begrudgingly made an appointment to see a neurologist.

I wanted to see a “soft-tissue friendly” doctor, so I made an appointment with a wonderful woman who is a neurologist and physiatrist. She remarked about my fear of the painful EMG test, “You have had a tingling hand for over a year? Trust me you have already felt more pain than this test will elicit!”  

Well, it was a rather unpleasant experience, but not that painful – quite interesting, actually.  An electromyogram (EMG) measures the electrical activity of muscles at rest and during contraction. A nerve conduction study measures how well and how fast the nerves can send electrical signals. My neurologist taped electrodes to my skin and put small shocks through my upper extremity nerves. Using a thin-needle electrode, she then stuck various muscles and asked me to move, listening to what sounded like loud static. Results: muscle damage (also called wasting) in my abductor pollicis muscle and significantly slowed median nerve impulses in the carpal tunnel. Diagnosis: moderate-severe Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).

Normally, if symptoms are caught early, conservative treatment for CTS inclusive of rest, PT and a cortisone shot to the wrist is prescribed. However, mine being a moderate-severe diagnosis with muscle and nerve damage, is a surgical case.

According to WebMd.com “Endoscopic surgery uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached (endoscope). The endoscope is guided through a small incision in the wrist (single-portal technique) or at the wrist and palm (two-portal technique). The endoscope lets the doctor see structures in the wrist, such as the transverse carpal ligament, without opening the entire area with a large incision.”

According to WebMd.com “Endoscopic surgery uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached (endoscope). The endoscope is guided through a small incision in the wrist (single-portal technique) or at the wrist and palm (two-portal technique). The endoscope lets the doctor see structures in the wrist, such as the transverse carpal ligament, without opening the entire area with a large incision.”

There are two main types of CTS Surgery: Open or Endoscopic. The hand surgeon that I consulted with specializes in the endoscopic procedures. He really seemed to understand my anxiety about my hand. “It’s more than the ability to support myself, I said, “It’s my connection to the world. My sense of touch is highly attuned – far more than any of my other senses. What if I lost it?”

No one can look into a crystal ball and know the outcome of any surgical procedure. But, according to the hand literature, my surgeon told me four things:

  1. Anyone with my level of nerve impairment (proven electrically) is best treated with a carpal tunnel release. Surgery can immediately halt further progression of nerve fiber loss and damage, provide symptomatic relief and prevent further loss of function.
  2. The damage thus far is not going to reverse by itself. Steroid injection can temporarily improve pain or tingling. But, there will be ongoing nerve loss with time, even while pursuing conservative measures, possibly progressing to ultimate total numbness and weakness in the hand.
  3. In the short term, less invasive endoscopic technique has been shown to be less painful and allow quicker return to function for the patient.
  4. At a certain point post-operatively, all carpal tunnel surgical patients should function equally (which is to say quite well). The hand ligament will heal over, but with roughly 30% more space for tendons and nerve to coexist within the tunnel.

My take away:  there is no guarantee that conservative treatment will take pressure off my carpal tunnel. I could spend a year trying non-invasive therapies, but with the moderate-severe diagnosis, it’s a gamble for sure. While spending time treating the symptoms, I could lose time for the nerve to viably recover. With the possibility of more permanent nerve damage, I decided to pursue surgery.

As I left the surgeon’s office, my brain slammed with self-defeating thoughts: 

“You are so stubborn, you could have prevented this if you’d taken better care of yourself.”
“You have been slouching for years over the massage table. You could have worked with better ergonomics.”
“What were you thinking digging in the garden and making rock walls for all those years while you did massage?”
“You were completely stupid trying to do sand bag carries and pull-ups at the gym followed by 5 massages back to back without rest.”
“I should have given up gluten and sugar…” (isn’t that ultimately what everyone blames these days?!)

Massage Dinosaur
I’ve often called myself a dinosaur in the massage world. I’m either seriously old, or I’ve survived the 7-year average burn-out rate multiple times.
Reflecting back upon the 18,500+ massage hours I have done in my career, I realized that I have been given the rare gift of a second chance with this surgery. I can prevent career extinction.

It’s easy to assume people just want a quick fix when they have surgeries.  As massage therapists, we usually try to help our clients avoid them at all costs. I never realized, however, how hard it is to actually make the decision to have an elective surgery. It is an exhausting and emotional process. But making the decision can be a true ‘light at the end of the ‘tunnel,’ bringing hope for longer lasting relief. Remember this the next time one of your clients comes in and has made this very personal decision.

To my massage colleagues I say, do not be afraid of injury or extinction!  The “Age of Dinosaurs” was the Mesozoic Era, which got divided into three periods: the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous (albeit 145-66 million years ago). I figure that I’m just entering my own post-surgical, ‘Jurassic’ massage era. I wonder if the Jurassic Park Discovery Center at Universal Studios in Orlando needs a new exhibit!

dinoKatie Adams has been practicing NMT in the greater Boston area for a long time. She founded the group practice 360 NeuroMuscular Therapy in Needham, MA which is uniquely focused on rehabilitation of soft-tissue dysfunction associated with medically diagnosed injury and myofascial pain syndrome. She is on the faculty of Myopain Seminars in Bethesda, MD, and also a regular speaker at medical conferences, including for the last five years, the New England Baptist Shoulder & Sports Symposium. Katie holds a BA from Ithaca College, and achieved national NMT certification in 1996 after graduating from the Massage Institute of New England. She is an active member of the American Massage Therapy Association, the National Association of Trigger Point Therapists and the International Myopain Society. Katie is always eager to confer with fellow or budding Massage Dinosaurs! Kadams@360nmt.com | @katieadams360 | #massagedinosaur

Transition

This is a guest post from our friend Michelle Giles, a Phoenix, Arizona based massage therapist and continuing education provider. You can learn more about Michelle here

***

You are a well-oiled machine. Body mechanics spot on. You’ve learned exotic massage techniques from all over the world.  You use many interesting products. Your sacred work space is beautiful. You love your clients. After 10 years you’ve hit your professional stride…or was that a wall?…made of bricks.  

Wait. How many treatments have you been doing a day? Between six and eight. Are you taking breaks in between sessions? Very few, with clients stacked back to back. Since school ended you have been striving, building, advertising, networking and flexing your boundaries and schedule to accommodate clients, never considering how this might impact your body. After all — you love what you do. 

I injured my right arm, shoulder and chest wall simultaneously last January. I didn’t feel it coming — no aches, no warning shot, nothing overtly physical. The signs were there. Subtle things. Things that can be mistaken for general fatigue; a neck ache, headache, or malaise that drifts into life from time to time. It’s easy to get lulled into a feeling of comfort when business is great. It’s also easy to get lazy with self care when you feel good and nothing hurts. 

I tried slowing down, putting more space between clients, getting acupuncture and physical therapy. After a few weeks of that routine, the reality of the situation weighed heavily on me. I was really hurt. Not “get a massage, take a few days and sleep it off” hurt, but “out of commission” hurt. Stubbornly, I still saw a few clients a day for another week. I refused to acknowledge that I was hurt — after all, I had worked so hard to build this. Then a miracle arrived disguised as a disaster — my landlord sold my studio out from under me. I lost my office and was forced to take a break. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Once home, I did some research. I read articles about injury and professional burnout.  One fact stood out from the rest: “The burnout rate within the massage industry has been estimated at 50% to 88% within the first 3 to 5 years after graduation according to a study completed by Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, a reputable industry organization.” I am not sure how many of us know and absorb that statistic. I have been a full time massage therapist for 15 years, and had no idea it was that high. 

I was depressed for about a week, alternately sleeping and crying.  An MRI revealed severe tendinosis and RSI injuries surrounding the area, and it would take between one and 5 years to heal completely. My PT was very honest with me — no amount of therapy could help at this stage. I felt frenzied, I wanted to will it better with salves and treatments. The simple truth was rest and accept.

Looking for gifts within life’s challenges is tough. My mind wanted to ruminate on loss. I made the conscious choice to use this time to reinvent and rethink my entire approach.  Epiphany: I was in the next stage of my career. I was fortunate enough to be able to take seven months off. This is what I did with that time:

  • Sold most of my belongings from my old office to create a new environment
  • Designed a 200 square foot massage office in the garage behind my house
  • Designed and built (enter my husband’s building skills) 8 large wooden planter boxes to grow herb and plants to make infused oils and salves. Also functions as a courtyard space to separate work and home
  • Learned to use Himalayan salt stones instead of hot stones
  • Learned to use Chinese cups and gua sha tools
  • Bought a product called Armaid to begin rehabbing my arm
  • Learned how to foam roll and use racquet balls for self care
  • Applied for and received my continuing education provider number enabling me to teach continuing education classes out of my new space
  • Learned how to create my own scrubs, soaks, lotions, lip balms and deodorant
  • Created my own website with the free ABMP tool (simplistic, but great)
  • Rested, stretched, soaked, and focused on my new self care needs

I had emailed my client list when I began my sabbatical, emailed them again when the office was done, then emailed a small group of regulars to let them know I was coming back in July…slowly. I began by taking one client a day a few days a week for a month. Then two clients a day a few days a week for two months. After two months, I emailed the rest of my clients announcing I was back to work. It has been seven month since I have been back.  I only see three clients a day. I schedule morning, afternoon and evening- leaving hours in between each. No compromises. My clients have loved the new modalities, the fresh space, and knowing no one is stacked right after them. They take their time, and so do I. What a change. My patience and new approach has paid off, and last week I realized my arm doesn’t hurt at all anymore. I will never return to my old way of doing business; it was outmoded.

Professional transition is inevitable. As our bodies age and change, so should our approach. Self care, exercise and diet need also change as we do. What worked in the beginning of our careers won’t always work. 

Injury is a great teacher.

10 Things Your Mother Never Told You About Entrepreneurship

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!

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.