Kudos, and a Few Thumps on the Head

The year is winding down; all the award shows have been on television lately, and I’d like to give out a few of my own, along with a thump or two on the head of those who need it. Call me a critic! These are my opinions only and should not be construed as the opinion of anyone else.

Kudos to Rick Rosen for starting the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, and to the organization for putting on one of the best meetings I’ve ever attended earlier this year, and for taking the initiative to set some standards for teaching massage. If you are involved in massage education and you haven’t joined yet, I suggest you quit procrastinating.

Kudos to the Massage Therapy Foundation for all the work they do in promoting research in the field, and in particular for offering classes in Teaching Research Literacy. And to Ruth Werner for being such a fabulous ambassador for the organization.

Kudos to the executive officers and chairs of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, the American Massage Therapy Association, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, the Massage Therapy Foundation, and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork for coming together this year at the Leadership Summit, and particular kudos to Bob Benson of ABMP for taking the responsibility for making that happen.

Kudos to Paul Lindamood, former CEO of the NCBTMB, for doing such a great job in putting that organization’s finances back in order. I was very sorry to see him go.

Kudos to AMTA, in particular the Oregon Chapter, and Glenath Moyle, National President, for putting on one of the best conventions in my memory. Kudos also the the thousands of AMTA members who volunteer at their chapters and the national level.

Kudos to ABMP for their generosity in allowing everyone, regardless of what organization they belong to (or none at all) to read Massage & Bodywork Magazine online for free, and for providing the huge forum at www.massageprofessionals.com, which is also open to everyone.

Kudos to Facebook. Not only are they my favorite place to hang out online, they are also spending millions of dollars building their new data center in my hometown, and providing much-needed employment in a very economically depressed area.

Kudos to Dr. Christopher Moyer, Bodhi Haraldsson, Paul Ingraham, Ravensara Travillian, Alice Sanvito, Rose Chunco, and the other folks out there who keep beating the drum for Evidence-Based Practice of massage.

Kudos to Jan Schwartz, Whitney Lowe, and Judith McDaniel of Education Training and Solutions. They don’t toot their own horn enough about some of the excellent work they have done for the Massage Therapy Foundation, the World Skin Project, and in general advancing excellence in online education.

Kudos to Angie Patrick of Massage Warehouse for her tireless work in the Sanctuary and raising money through massage for the Massage Therapy Foundation, the Liddle Kidz Foundation, and other worthy causes.

Kudos to all the massage therapists in the trenches, who give of their time in performing community service and their income to support deserving populations and those who can’t afford massage. I know hundreds of them so I just can’t list them all here, but every day, someone is out there donating the awesome power of touch in hospices, abused women’s shelters, the VA hospitals, homeless shelters, and hospitals. Bless them all.

Kudos to all those teachers out there who have what I refer to as “a higher calling.” Those who are teaching hospice massage, cancer massage, pediatric massage…There are too many to name, but they are led to work with the sick, the dying, the special-needs. Bless them all, and those they teach.

Kudos to any massage school and/or instructor who is teaching their students to be research literate.

And now, a few thumps on the head. The names have been omitted so as not to put the magazines who publish my blog in danger of a lawsuit, but you know who you are:

A thump on the head to the therapists who say “I’m better than any doctor or chiropractor. I will heal you when they can’t.”

A thump on the head to the therapists who say “I don’t refer out to anybody. No one is as good as I am.”

A thump on the head to the therapists who say to their clients “You really need this  (expensive water filter, nutritional supplements, foot patches, juice by so-and-so) etc that I am selling.”

A thump on the head to the therapists who say “I don’t need continuing education. I already know everything there is to know.”

A thump on the head to the therapists who impose energy work on every client who gets on their table, as if it is some God-given right, when the client hasn’t asked for it, doesn’t want it or believe in it, and it hasn’t been discussed.

A thump on the head to the therapists who are telling their clients that massage is detoxifying them and that they need to drink a lot of water to flush out their toxins.

A thump on the head to the therapists on massage forums who can’t behave and can’t have civil discourse, and instead resort to name-calling and personal attacks.

A thump on the head to the therapists on Facebook who are identifying themselves as MTs and posting pictures of themselves that look like they belong in the centerfold of Hustler.

I could thump all day–and give kudos all day–but I’ll save some for a future blog.

CE Providers: Expenses Going Up, Income Going Down

In January of this year, I blogged Continuing Education Providers: Sink or Swim, and followed up that one with the report from the meeting convened by the NCBTMB, where profession leaders were invited to give input into the revamping of their Approved Provider program.

Last week at the wonderful annual meeting of the AFMTE, one of the presentations was by Debra Persinger, Executive Director of the FSMTB, who talked about the intention of the FSMTB to start approving continuing education. One of the burning questions from the audience was “how much is this going to cost us?”, a question without an answer as of yet, since their program is still in the planning stages. Knowing the folks at the FSMTB, I don’t expect it to be anything I would classify as exorbitant, but unless it’s free, it will still be one more expense for us to pay.

I’ve previously mentioned the states who have their own approval process–and accompanying fees to pay–for continuing education providers. With the exception of Florida, who doesn’t charge you additional money if you are already an Approved Provider under the NCBTMB, these range from a couple of hundred dollars to “you don’t want to know.”  There’s a reason why I’m not teaching in those states…it isn’t worth it to me, at this stage of my career, to lay out hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and in some cases to complete a mountain of paperwork, to teach in a location that I may visit only once.

Another unfortunate trend is all the expense associated with presenting at trade shows, spa exhibitions, and conferences.  At many of these events, not only do you not get paid to teach; in some cases you actually have to pay for the privilege. Big companies who budget thousands of dollars into their advertising plan can afford to pay a big price for a booth. With a few of the heavy hitters being the exception, the average individual provider cannot. It’s a Catch-22 of spending the big bucks to get your name out there, and then rolling the dice to see if you’re going to be able to recoup that in sales–assuming you have anything to sell. Some teachers are just that–teachers–and they’re not necessarily textbook authors or purveyors of DVDs, home study courses, etc.

I’ve been an Approved Provider since 2000, and I have organizational approval. I have a classroom at my facility in Rutherfordton, NC, where I teach myself and host other instructors. During the recession of the past three years, I’ve had to cancel classes that some of the most well-known teachers in massage were scheduled to offer. Some of them didn’t receive as much as one inquiry about the class. In addition to mailing to licensees, advertising in a number of venues, my publicizing it to my email lists and social networks and them publicizing it to their own substantial lists, it just didn’t happen.  The classes that did happen have tended to be the ones taught by more local teachers, not as well-known, and not as expensive, as some of the big names.

Some perfectly competent, long-standing, and popular teachers have suffered to the point of drastically reducing the price of classes in order to fill seats and maintain their income. One of the most well-known teachers told me a few weeks ago that his teaching income was down $70,000 last year due to the recession. I know many who have never made that kind of money in any year, and their loss has been proportionate.

All the expense associated with teaching continuing education, in my opinion, is going to have some serious fallout. Some talented, but not necessarily famous, instructors will give it up because they just can’t afford to keep on doing it. By the time you provide handouts, pay your own travel expenses, advertise your class, ship whatever books or products you might have to offer, your profit has flown out the window along with the ridiculous price of your airline ticket.

True, some well-known providers have corporate sponsorship. Those are the exception; not the rule. Corporate sponsorship usually goes to those who are already at the top. They want someone with name recognition whose picture looks good in their advertising and helps sell their products. There are only so many big corporate sponsors. Small, but quality, companies often don’t have that money to spare.

It will be interesting to see how the CE environment changes when the FSMTB gets their program up and running. Their mission is public protection, and during her talk, Persinger addressed that fact. I don’t think the Federation intends to start approving Reiki classes, although I could be wrong. I believe their intent is to approve classes that have a direct bearing on public protection, such as ethics, contraindications and the like.

The lack of income is not just an issue for CE providers. Massage schools are notorious for low pay, and therein lies one of the problems in attracting quality teachers. They may deservedly feel they’re better off doing massage for $60 an hour than teaching for $20 an hour. Most of them don’t do it for the money. They do it because they love to teach.

That’s why I do it. I don’t have a corporate sponsor. I can’t afford to go everywhere I’d like to go. I fit in as many events as I can, and sometimes I have to pass one up. I know a lot of providers in the same position. I had many people say to me last week that they would have liked to attend the AFMTE conference but just couldn’t because of finances. Even when a conference is reasonably priced (as that one was), travel, hotel, meals, missing income when you’re gone from your office, or paying someone to be there covering your office when you’re not, adds up.

I’m hopeful that the education atmosphere is going up, along with income for those who provide it. It really doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

Cultivating Excellence

I often hear from massage therapists who have made the jump from lone practitioner to entrepreneur, and the biggest struggle they seem to face is staffing problems. One of my favorite bloggers, Steph Lasch Lmt, wrote about some of her issues earlier this week. She’s hardly the lone ranger. And I know from my interactions with her that she’s like me–a workaholic and a perfectionist–which makes it all the harder to stomach these things when they arise.

I’ve been incredibly blessed in my own business, with great people who put the clients first. I’m approaching my 8th anniversary at my clinic, and I’ve had very little staff turnover in all that time. I have only had to fire one person…which I did for having a negative attitude. He only lasted a couple of weeks. I need to back up and say that I HIRE people based on their attitude, not on their skill as a massage therapist. If I hire a therapist who is lacking in technical skills that are important to me, I can fix that.  I would rather hire a therapist fresh out of school who may not know as much as I do, who is upbeat and positive and customer service-oriented, than to hire the best massage therapist on the planet who thinks it’s all about them.

Once I hired a young couple fresh out of school who were honest with me about the fact that they wanted to work for me for one year to save enough money to move to the beach. They did a great job for me, and I was sorry to see them leave but wished them well, and they’re both successful at what they do. They still check in with me occasionally. I lost one other staff member who just got burned out on doing massage, and I lost another one who was seriously injured in a car accident. That’s been it. I’ve kept an average of a dozen people employed for the past 5 years or so.

I think there are several key factors in assembling an excellent staff, first and foremost being the positive attitude I’ve already mentioned. I’d have to say that money is right behind it. I’ve had business consultants tell me I’m crazy for paying my staff members what I do. The pay in my facility ranges from $30-$45 an hour, plus gratuities, which I neither encourage nor prohibit. The therapists all do pretty well in that respect. In reality, I could be a lot wealthier than I am if I didn’t pay people so much and let all those profits stay in my pocket, but that’s not the way I roll. In the general scheme of things, not having any staff turnover and having staff members who are happy and who look forward to coming to work every day is more important to me than the money I give up. I had a spa owner tell me that it takes 18 people to staff her spa, and that in one year’s time more than 100 staff members came and went. What a nightmare. I’m better off being a little less prosperous and not having to deal with that kind of problem.

I think the third key to excellence in staffing is clear and direct communication, delivered in a polite way. I expect people to arrive on time. I expect thorough intake procedures, excellent charting skills, keeping their own treatment rooms spotless, giving the client their full amount of time, cultivating excellent people skills like listening to the client, politeness, neat appearance…and I have made that clear at the outset. A couple of  times a year, I call a staff meeting and order in lunch for everyone, and we air any issues and do some problem-solving and planning for the future.

One thing that has really worked for me is giving my staff input. Yes, it’s my business. But I couldn’t run it without them. My staff members are what make my business, and they’re the ones who keep clients coming back. When I’m considering participating in a community event, or holding an open house, running a special, or any other number of mundane things, I’ll say “What do you think about us having a booth at the Octoberfest?”  or “What do you think we should do for our open house?” I get everyone’s opinion. I could just announce that we’re having a booth at the Octoberfest and that’s that,  instead of gathering opinions, but by doing it this way, my staff feels involved. I keep them apprised of my goals for the business, too, which I find is paramount in meeting them. They feel like they have a part in meeting those, and they do.

My main advice is this: treat people well. Pay them what they’re worth; otherwise, they’re looking for the next best deal and you’re going to have the turnover problems. Don’t take advantage of them. Don’t call someone an independent contractor and then expect them to scrub the floor when they’re not booked or to sit there in your lobby off the clock if they don’t have clients. Don’t be a gestapo boss. Communicate what it is that you want in a polite way. State your policies and procedures up front. Train them in the way you want them to go. Set the example. Keep YOUR space clean. YOU dress neatly. YOU model the customer service. Give some signs of appreciation. Give them a card or a small gift on their birthday. Treat them to a free massage once in awhile. Just say thank you. It works for me!

Self-Sabotage, or How I Got Your Clients

There are some great massage therapists in my town (other than the ones who work with me), and this isn’t directed at them. But in every town, and mine is no exception, there are massage therapists who are thriving, and massage therapists who are barely surviving…many of whom eventually give up and go back to doing whatever they used to do, or find some other way to make a living.

Sometimes, a business just doesn’t make it in spite of your best efforts.  Setbacks happen that are beyond our control, sometimes serious things like a health crisis, or your spouse losing a job, or some other trauma and drama interferes with our lives and our plans. Sometimes the location just isn’t ideal, or you’re in an area that’s already saturated when you’re just getting started. Sure enough, these things can all be roadblocks to success.

It’s sad but true, though, that people commit self-sabotage, leading the clients they do get to keep looking for another therapist. If your client retention rate isn’t what it should be–or what you hope for it to be–take a good look at the situation. Over the years, I’ve gained many clients who told me they had seen another therapist, and decided to go elsewhere–meaning they came to me. Here are just a few of the comments I’ve heard:

“I really liked her massage but her office was a mess and the bathroom wasn’t clean.”

“I asked him to lighten up several times, but he kept saying, “I can’t, because this is what you need.”

“She could never start my appointment on time. She was always late.”

“She insists on doing Reiki on me at the beginning of every session and I don’t want it, I want the hour of massage I am paying for.”

“He won’t shut up. He talks the whole time.”

“He kept trying to sell me an expensive water filter.”

“She is always trying to sell me this juice that’s $50 a bottle.”

“She’s constantly having some personal problem that requires her changing my appointments.”

“When I was face down on the table I noticed a bunch of dust bunnies on the floor. Two weeks later when I went back they were still there.”

“He did some thing walking around me and banging on a little gong for ten minutes before he started the massage.”

“He told me he had to massage my breasts, it was part of the massage.”

“She answered her telephone during my massage.”

“She’s always telling me I need to do this detox program she sells.”

“She has some kind of aromatherapy oil permeating the air and it’s just overwhelming. Just because it smells good to her doesn’t mean it smells good to me.”

“He spent the whole hour talking about his divorce. I’m a psychologist so I guess he thought I would give him some free counseling.”

“She had her cat in the office. I’m allergic to cat hair.”

“She had her dog in the office and he barked at me. I’m afraid of dogs.”

“She was dressed really sloppy and barefoot.”

“The sheets just had some kind of funny smell.”

I could keep on, but I think you’re getting the picture. At least I hope you are.  The vast majority of the time, when someone tells me that they’ve left another therapist, it has absolutely nothing to do with their skills as a massage therapist. It’s lack of caring, lack of service, or lack of professionalism. If your office is clean and uncluttered, and you’re on time for your clients, giving them what they ask for and what they’re paying for, and presenting a professional persona, don’t give up. And if any of these things could be said about you, change your ways, if you want to cultivate the kind of satisfied clients who turn into regulars and send you referrals.  Otherwise, the people who come through your door are just going to keep looking for that therapist who meets their expectations.

Here, There, and Everywhere

One of the greatest things about this profession to me is all the regional and national conventions and meetings.

I belong to AMTA and I am very active in my state chapter. I’m usually fortunate enough to get asked to teach a class at our meetings, but I’m going to be there either way. I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I also attend the National Convention every year, and it’s just a blast. Being around a thousand or more people who do what you do is something you should experience, if you haven’t already.

This past year I attended the World Massage Festival in Kentucky and I participated in the awesome World Massage Conference, which is a totally virtual event…both events were highlights of my year. I also went to the inaugural meeting of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education. I skipped the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards meeting last year due to some conflicts, but I’m hoping to hit that one this year, too. I just got back from attending the Massage School Makeover event in Miami. In 2011 I am also looking forward to the American Massage Conference in Atlanta, the World Massage Festival in Cullowhee, Vivian Madison-Mahoney’s Take it to the Top Summit in Gatlinburg, the AMTA National Convention in Portland, another World Massage Conference, and who knows what else is going to materialize! They are all great events, and they all have one thing in common: massage therapists!

I have in the past borrowed a favorite phrase from my friend and colleague Felicia Brown: collaborative competition. Normally I use that in the context of therapists themselves.  This time, I’m speaking of all these meetings. Many times at these meetings, I run into a lot of the same folks. It’s actually one of the nicest things about attending–besides seeing old friends, there’s also the added benefit of making new friends and potentially advantageous business contacts.

When it comes to these events, I take the same attitude that I do with massage in general, and that is there’s enough to go around. I’ve complained before about meetings that don’t welcome certain organizations to their events, and I will continue to do so.  I am not shy about expressing my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me if you want to. I’m not insulted by that. I wouldn’t be writing these blogs if I didn’t have a thick skin. I don’t like professional jealousy–I actually think of it as un-professional jealousy–when it comes to massage therapists, and I don’t like it any better when it comes to conventions and meetings. I think there’s enough to go around.

I think ALL events that are about massage therapy are a great thing. Each is unique in its own way.  Some cost more than others…some are geared at different purposes. I guess it’s the American way of marketing to claim that one is better than another. That’s not how I roll. To me, they are all great networking opportunities. Just like my opinion that no one organization is entitled to a monopoly, I’m happy that there’s more than one meeting. ABMP, which I am also a member of, doesn’t put on a national convention (although they do have a national school summit meeting every year.) One of the things I look forward to at AMTA National is seeing my friends from ABMP who attend.  Even though AMTA doesn’t allow them to have a booth in the exhibit hall, as they are a competing membership organization, lots of my ABMP friends are there. It’s not about them; it’s about massage. Networking, continuing education, product education, legislation and other information…it’s all valuable.

Sometimes at one meeting, I get invited to, or at least informed of, another meeting. Don’t forget attendance at these events is tax deductible, folks! I can’t afford to attend every single thing that comes around, but if I could, I’d be at all of them. So if you have something going on I don’t know about, post it in the comments. I like to be here, there, and everywhere, and maybe I’ll see you there!

My Ten Best Tips for 2011

Today is the beginning of a New Year, and I always view that as an opportunity for a fresh start. I’ve heard from a lot of therapists this year who are struggling in their practice. Most of them blame it on the economy. Yes, the economy has been bad….in my rural North Carolina county, we have the second highest unemployment rate in the state. I live in a small town of 4000 people, and the entire population of our county, which is the largest area-wise in NC, is about 60,000. There are numerous foreclosures in the newspaper every day, and few job listings. In spite of that, my business had the best year so far in the 7 years since we opened and I exceeded my goal of getting 365 new clients this year by more than 100, so I really can’t buy into the “bad economy” theory where massage is concerned. In fact, I think when people are stressed out over the economy, a massage is still an inexpensive method of wellness, or a treat for those who view it as such. I think people who couldn’t afford to take a vacation this year got a few massages instead, based on my client experiences.  I’d like to share a few words of advice that I think works for anyone who is willing to take it. I’m not saying you’ll be rich by the end of the year. I’m saying that adopting some new habits will improve your circumstances.

1. Get Organized. Yesterday on New Year’s Eve, I posted on my Facebook page that I spent the morning packing up my files from 2010 and getting my file cabinet ready for 2011 with fresh new folders. I’m a big believer in organization. I am a follower of Suze Orman, the financial advisor, and the one thing she says that sticks in my mind is that “Clutter in your home and office is a sign of clutter in your financial life.” Amen. I think I can attribute a good bit of my success as a business person to being organized. Someone asked me yesterday if I could teach them to be organized. All I can say to that is really very simple, it just takes a little effort. I keep a folder in the back of my appointment book labeled “Due Bills.” Anytime a bill arrives, it goes there. I check that folder daily and I pay them on the due date. I could pay them the day they arrive, but then I wouldn’t have the use of that money…and I believe I should be able to use it as long as I can. I don’t pay late, because I don’t want any late charges. As soon as the bill is paid, the check stub is stapled to the invoice, and it goes in a file. My files are labeled for advertising, rent, taxes, utilities, in alphabetical order, and the folders are in hanging files. That way, at the end of the year, you remove the folders, file them neatly in a box in alphabetical order, and put in new folders for the new year. Mission accomplished.

2. Track Your Advertising. Why spend money on something that doesn’t give you a good return on investment? For the first five years I was in business, I kept a log on my desk with a column for every venue I was advertising in, and one column labeled “referrals.” EVERY person who came in was asked where they heard about my business. It’s not necessary to do it for five years; one year is enough to give you a good idea of what’s working and what isn’t. If you’ve spent money on weekly ads in the newspaper and only gained three people from it, it’s time to let that go and spend your money elsewhere. Don’t keep throwing away money on something that isn’t working.

3. Analyze Your Expenses. I get a lot of office supplies at Staples, and anytime you get more than $50 worth they give you free shipping, so that’s convenient. It was so convenient that I used to order everything from them, including toilet paper and paper towels. One day when I realized I was about to be out of toilet paper, I went to a janitorial supply place in town and was shocked to find that a case of toilet paper was less than half the price of what I had been paying at Staples. DUH! Lesson learned. Shop around for the best price. Scrutinize your bills and your bank statements every month, too. While most of those things are computer generated, there is a human somewhere punching in the numbers, and they’re just as apt to make a mistake as the next person. I have found mistakes that saved me a big chunk of money, including getting bank charges removed etc, by carefully scrutinizing every bill that comes in. You also have to shop around for services. If you’re paying $30 a month to lease a credit card machine, you shouldn’t be paying a penny. Any reputable company will GIVE it to you as long as you are using their processing service. Look around for the best rates you can get on everything. Spending a little time doing so can save you a huge chunk in the long run.

4. Keep in Touch. If a client disappears, do you contact them? You should. If someone who has made more than a few visits to my office quits coming, I call them or send them a handwritten note. No one has ever found it invasive, or if they have, they haven’t said so to me. I have found out that some have lost their job, or had some family tragedy or sickness that got in the way of their getting massage. At least by contacting them, I have let them know that they were important to us.

5. Give Reminder Calls. No-shows happen a whole lot less when you remind people. I have one therapist in my office who almost never has a no-show because she calls every client or sends them a text message reminding them of their appointment. One or two others who aren’t as conscientious have a much bigger incidence of it happening. My staff are independent contractors, and I’m not taking on that job for them. It is something that every therapist should do for themselves, especially if you’re the lone ranger in your office. A few missed appointments can play havoc with your paycheck. Resolve to call every client this year.

6. Get Out of Your Office. I am active in the Chamber of Commerce. I attend other people’s grand openings and donate door prizes to other businesses’ events. I go to Business After Hours. I network with other merchants and other service people. I attend charity events. Every person you meet is a potential client or source of referrals.

7. Give Out Your Business Cards! I put an exclamation point on that one. Your cards are not worth a hill of beans if the only place you have them is the holder on your desk. Resolve to give a business card to two new people EVERY DAY. It only takes a minute. Leave them in every venue where they’re allowed—many restaurants and other businesses have a place for people to leave their cards and/or brochures, so why aren’t you doing it at every place you can? It’s a free opportunity to publicize yourself.

8. Get Your Elevator Speech Down Pat. An elevator speech means that you can tell someone in two minutes about the benefits of massage and why they should be coming to you. When I see a harried mother in the grocery store trying to shop with four kids, I hand her a card and say “You look like you could use a massage. I’m Laura Allen and my office is on Main Street,” and go from there. I also do it with people who are wearing a cast, for instance….I tell them that when the cast comes off, that massage can really help them regain their muscle tone and flexibility. Just do it.

9. Reduce Your Debt. This is major. If you owe $5000 on a credit card and you are only making the minimum payment, it will take you almost 30 years to pay that off. On the other hand, if you double the payment, you’ll have it paid off in less than 3 years. Debt is death by slow strangulation. You may think you can’t get out from under it. You can, but you may have to give up a few things to do it. Instead of buying a $5 cup of coffee at Starbucks on the way to work, make a pot of coffee when you get to the office.  Buy office supplies when you see them at a yard sale. Do my clients suffer in any way if I get a box of file folders or a ream of paper at a flea market for a dollar? No, they do not. I do it all the time.

10. Surround Yourself With Positive People. This is my last piece of advice, and it is both business and personal. If someone close to you is always stomping on your dreams and telling you why your plan is a failure, consider the source. If the person giving you advice is someone who is already a big success, you might want to listen to them. But if it’s someone who is chronically negative and their primary activity is sitting on their butt waiting for something good to come to them while they are telling you what’s wrong with your life, kick them to the curb. That might mean getting out of a relationship you’ve been in for a long time. It might mean avoiding certain family members, or changing friends. At the very least, don’t take it lying down. If someone starts their negative crap with you, you can always say “You appear to be looking at the glass half-empty. I prefer to look at it half-full.” Bless them and send them on their way.

Those are my sage words of advice for the New Year. I hope 2011 will bring you prosperity in your health, your wealth, and your relationships.

Non-Compete Agreements: Disagreeable

I hear from massage therapists many times that they have been asked to sign a non-compete agreement when accepting employment. Here’s my take on that: There are enough aching bodies and stressed-out people to go around.

I have a decent-sized staff of 14, and I have never asked a single soul to sign a non-compete. Most of my staff members have been with me for years, and I am certain if one of them left, a certain amount of people would follow them out the door. It has been a very rare occurrence for me to lose a staff member, and when I have, and someone calls for them, I say “Lisa has opened her own business located at so-and-so.”  To do otherwise isn’t going to endear me to any clients. They’d eventually find her anyway, and their opinion of me would go down if I bad-mouthed her for leaving or said anything negative about her departure.

Fortunately, my business is not built on one person’s ability, other than my own ability to hold it all together. I would no more try to prevent someone from striking out on their own, or trying to better their circumstances in any way, any more than I would cut off my nose to spite my face.

I pride myself in being a good person to work for. My staff members are paid above the average. They are all independent contractors…they come and go as they please. I don’t expect anyone to sit around, unpaid, while they wait for clients who may or may not materialize. I don’t expect them to scrub the toilet. My expectations of my staff members are that they act ethically and professionally and that they put the client first, give great service, and act like team players. It’s very rare that I’ve been disappointed. I have people standing in line that would like to work in my clinic. No one has ever left me without working a notice.

When it comes to non-compete agreements, Dale Atkinson, internationally-known attorney who represents the FSMTB, put it this way at last year’s Federation meeting: if an employer asks you to sign a non-compete agreement, go ahead. It won’t stand up in court unless you happen to be the VP of Massage Envy who is privy to company secrets. When it comes to the average massage therapist, it’s just a blatant attempt to restrict free enterprise, and it won’t hold up.

I believe people have the right to work where they choose. And yes, I have spent money to advertise my staff members and done marketing for them…but in spite of that, I can’t visualize myself possessing the type of professional jealousy that would make me ask a therapist to sign a paper that virtually says they can’t practice unless it’s in my place of business or far enough away that it is no longer competition. What’s the matter with people? Competition is a healthy thing. Trying to tell someone that they can’t work unless they work for you is contrary to the principles of entrepreneurship. To me, the message is “I’m so insecure in my own ability to maintain a decent business that I wouldn’t want you to compete against me.”

I suggest that instead of having non-compete agreements that aren’t going to fly anyway, employers should provide a work environment that attracts quality people. When a spa or clinic has a revolving door of people coming in and out, the problem is usually the management, not the staff, and most of the time the owner is in denial. Treat people well and you won’t need a non-compete agreement. If someone leaves and opens their own business, take the high road and wish them well. It will serve you better in the long run than filing a lawsuit and acting like the clients they might have had are your property. People have the right to do business with whomever they choose. Trying to prevent that is like herding cats, and it will not cultivate loyalty from either employees or clients.

AMTA-MA Chapter Sets the Bar High

This past weekend I was fortunate to be invited to teach at the 50th anniversary celebration of the MA Chapter of AMTA. Let me tell you, these people know how to throw a party!

To begin with, in honor of hitting the 50-year mark, the members got to attend this magnanimous occasion for the paltry sum of 50 bucks–and that included their education and meals. The food and service at the Crowne Plaza in Worcester was excellent. The folks in this chapter are excellent.

The Chapter made a $10,000 donation to the Massage Therapy Foundation. MTF President Ruth Werner and IPP Diana Thompson were both in attendance and said it was the biggest chapter donation in the history of the organization. They also raised another $800 by raffling off a quilt made by Ruth Werner, that was matched by the NCBTMB for a total of $1600, that was also donated to the MTF.

The vendors were great, lots of giveaways, and Massage Today and Massage Warehouse went a little crazy giving away all kinds of goodies, including a massage table and several chairs.

The NCBTMB was one of the sponsors of the event and I spent time with their CEO, Paul Lindamood and the Director of Exam Development, Elizabeth Langston chatting about the forthcoming Advanced Certification Exam. Even the BOD Chair, Neal Delaporta, was very gracious to me, which is nice since I’ve been quite nasty to him in my blog over the years.

I shared a shuttle to the airport with Diana Thompson. She’s not old enough for me to refer to her as one of the grandmothers of massage, but I found out massage has been her one and only career since the age of 19. After rising to the position of leading the Massage Therapy Foundation, and is now the IPP, she still does 10-15 massages every week. I think that’s amazing.

Mary White, Richard Wedegartner, Allissa Haines, Lisa Curran Parenteau, Sister Pat and all the rest of the chapter members bent over backwards to make me feel welcome. The people who attended my classes in Using Research to Market Your Practice were great.

The theme of this gathering was promoting research in massage therapy, and I don’t think it could have been any better. I also enjoyed seeing so many friends and FB friends–met quite a few people who have been on my FB page and that’s always fun. I also had dinner with Chris Alvarado and Angie Palmier, who were there teaching “Research Rocks.”

I encourage every AMTA chapter in the world to shamelessly steal this theme for an upcoming meeting. We need to educate therapists about research so they can go out and educate the rest of the world.

Thanks so much to the fine massage therapists of MA!

Laura Allen

Professional Associations: Do You Belong?

Do you belong to a professional association? I do, and I find it is well worth the money. Liability insurance  is of course a benefit, but there is so much more.

This weekend I’m hanging out with the AMTA folks from North Carolina. We always have a blast at our conferences. Good classes, a social on Friday night, meals together, vendors….one of the usual vendors sells beautiful handmade jewelry, so twice a year at our meetings I treat myself to a pair of her earrings. I haven’t missed a national convention in years. There is something totally awesome about being with a couple of thousand other people who do what you do.

I also belong to ABMP. Their client newsletter alone is worth the money. They also have cheap online classes, and numerous marketing aids that are yours at no cost if you’re a member.

I blog a lot about the politics of massage, and I want to point out that these two professional associations have government relations representatives, and they pay lobbyists to look out for the interests of massage therapists. I keep saying that many therapists aren’t involved, and I also hope to change that. By belonging to one or both of these organizations, your annual dues money is going to help finance the cost of their assistance in legislation that stands to affect massage therapists.

These organizations also make large annual contributions to the Massage Therapy Foundation, so your membership dollars go to support that, too.

I know a lot of therapists who say they have let their membership go because of the recession, and that it is just one more thing they have to pay for. Just a reminder: if you are operating without any liability insurance, you are taking a huge risk.

According to my research, about 6% of massage therapists have been sued. I am sure it’s actually more, because my figures are just a compilation of those from AMTA and ABMP, and don’t include any therapists who aren’t members. That may not sound like many, but you don’t want to be one of them. If you have that insurance, you’re good to go. If you don’t, and someone sues you, they could get a lien against your property, wipe out your children’s college fund, get your retirement money…you get the picture, and it ain’t pretty! Don’t let that happen to you.

I get a lot out of my memberships. Free listings on their websites, trade magazines, networking opportunities, education opportunities, volunteer opportunities, teaching opportunities…sounds like they’re the place to go for opportunities, doesn’t it? Membership in AMTA and ABMP, along with your insurance and all the rest, amounts to less than a dollar a day. It’s one of the best values around.

If you are a school owner, massage school instructor or administrator, or provider of continuing education, the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education is there for you. This young organization is holding their first annual membership meeting this June in Park City, UT, and I plan to be there. The AFMTE will act as an advocate for education, and some of the great minds of massage are lined up to speak, including Tom Myers, Carey Smith, and Cherie Sohnen-Moe. Membership is an investment in the future of education. Join us!

Peace & Prosperity,

Laura Allen