Tag Archives: Irene Diamond

Here’s the Plan

On any given day on my FB page, there will be massage therapists who are excitedly reporting an increase in their practice, talking about the big day or big week they just had, or some other joyful news related to their business. On any given day, there will also be someone posting that they’re closing up shop because they can’t make it, and taking a job they don’t really want because they have to have money to survive. And let’s be real, folks…none of us want to just survive. We want to thrive, don’t we? Be able to take a vacation, give money to charity, buy a new car when we need one without having a financial meltdown. All those things are hard to do when you’re worried about making the rent.

Nine times out of ten, it isn’t that they’re not a talented massage therapist that leads to their failure. Most of the time, it is a lack of careful planning that leads to the demise. Here’s a reality check:

Almost no business is profitable during the first year. Those folks who work from their home or who only do outcalls may be exceptions, but if you’re operating a massage business out of your own storefront, planning to do so, or  or even as a renter or independent contractor in someone else’s space, there are a lot of things to consider.

I’m going to get the independent contractors out of the way first. You are a self-employed person who performs your services in someone else’s space. You don’t have all the same overhead that a person in their own space does, but you still have certain expenses, and you’re working in someone else’s environment. They may–or may not–be throwing you a lot of business.  If you don’t have all you need or want, and it’s because you’re just sitting there waiting for the owner to do it all for you, you’re missing the boat. You still need to market yourself. That doesn’t mean taking out a big ad in the paper. It means you are actively engaged in trying to increase your client base on a daily basis, by networking, giving out business cards, getting yourself out there by performing community service, introducing yourself to people and telling them about the benefits of massage. Instead of blaming the owner for your lack of business, look at what you could be doing to increase it.

For those who are opening their own business, starting out without a business plan and a budget is a serious mistake. My advice is don’t take the plunge into opening your own business until you know you can survive for a year without a profit. When you initially open your business, you’re going to have a lot of one-time expenses–equipment, office furnishings, security deposits for rent and utilities. If you’re signing a lease, you’re committing yourself to paying rent (or a mortgage payment, if you’re buying.) You need to know what your monthly expenses are before you open the door.You need to include laundry, phone, Internet access, office and cleaning supplies, liability insurance, bank service charges and credit card processing charges, self-employment taxes–and that’s before you’ve spent any money on advertising.

I know that in my office, 52 massages have to take place before I’ve covered the monthly overhead. That’s my break-even point, and you need to figure out what yours is. But you can’t stop there–especially if you’re a single person or if your family is dependent upon a two-income lifestyle.  You also need to figure your break-even point for supporting your household.

Let’s say for argument’s sake your office expenses are 1500. a month. Imagine that at home, you need $500 for rent, $100 for  utilities, $100 for the phone, $200 for a student loan payment, $300 for credit card payments, $300 for groceries…then you’ve got clothing, medical care, insurance if you’re paying for that.  If you’ve got children, I don’t have to tell you how much that costs. So if you need $1500 to run the office, and $2000 to run your household, you need $3500 a month to cover your expenses. If you’re charging $60  for a massage, that means you have to perform 58 massages in a month just to make ends meet. That means you aren’t making a dime of extra money that you could spend on the previously mentioned vacation, charity, and any other extras you might like to have, until you’ve done 58 massages.  And if you’re self-employed and also having to take care of the cleaning, the laundry, the bookkeeping, and all the other things that go with that, be realistic about how much you can do.

You must also have a contingency plan…what if you don’t get those 58 massages during the first month, or the first few months? What if it snows and you miss a week at work, or you get sick and miss a week at work? What if your car needs an expensive repair, like mine did last week? Can you still meet your obligations?

In any business, and in service businesses in particular, the biggest mistake people make is sitting around waiting for business to come to them. Unless you own a funeral home, that’s a bad idea. Word of mouth is of course the cheapest and best form of advertising, but you have to get those people in the door first. And the chances are you don’t have a big advertising budget, so what are you going to do? These are just a few of the things I’ve done to increase my own business, and it has worked well for me.

I spend 30 minutes every morning on marketing activities intended to increase my business. That could mean working up a new ad, writing the client newsletter, calling clients I haven’t seen in here lately, sending out a welcome postcard to a new one, or any number of things, as long as it is something that will help spread the word about my business.

I am very active in our Chamber of Commerce (in fact, at this point in time, I am on their Board of Directors, but that’s a very recent development.) I’ve been active in it since the first week I opened my business. I attend as many networking functions, grand openings of other people’s businesses, open houses, etc. Why pay to belong to the Chamber if you’re not going to take advantage of all they have to offer? If you’re joining just to get a certificate on the wall that says you belong, then save your money.

I give a business card to two new people every day. You’re out somewhere every day where you have the opportunity to meet new people, or where you see someone you may already know–at school, church, the grocery store, the doctor’s office. Strike up a conversation with someone and give them a card. It takes three minutes.

Track your clients. Create a simple form on your computer listing the places you are advertising, plus referrals from doctors and clients, and ask each client, “Where did you hear about us?”  Write that down. If  a month or two has gone by and not one person says they’ve come in because of the ads you’ve been running in the Woman’s Weekly, it’s time to spend that money elsewhere.

Before you spend money on an ad, think about the potential return on investment. If you spend 100. to advertise in a regional magazine that goes to 5000 people, when you could spend that same 100. to place an ad in the local newspaper that reaches 50,000 people, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which one you ought to do.

These days, people expect every business to have a website. If you’re using some obscure url for a free site, they’re not going to find you. Spend the money to have a real website, one that is search-engine optimized and user-friendly.

You don’t have to be a financial whiz, or even a marketing whiz, to succeed in a massage practice, but you do need to take a realistic look at what you need to do in order to have a profitable bottom line. So before you start out, take a good hard luck at your budget and your personal financial situation…and don’t depend on opening a business to get you out of some financial mess you might already be in. And once you hang out your shingle, don’t sit on your hands waiting for business. Go out and get it. You can see more of my business tips, along with tips from Irene Diamond, Allissa Haines, Michael Reynolds, Felicia Brown, the Massage Nerd, and many more great educators on the Massage Learning Network.

It Was a Very Good Year

As I look back over 2011, it was a very good year. For the 8th year in a row, since I first opened my business, I am going to finish the year with a growth in sales and in my bottom line. That’s rather miraculous, considering the unemployment rate in my county has been between 14-16% for most of the year. Many businesses have closed. The foreclosure notices in the paper have far outweighed the job listings for the past couple of years. And still, we have thrived, and we had zero staff turnover. I’m very grateful to be blessed with such wonderful staff members and clients.

This year started out with a bang when we made a trip to Miami to participate in the Massage School Makeover organized by Angie Patrick of Massage Warehouse. What started as a little project of Angie’s snowballed into one of the most magnanimous displays of generosity throughout the massage world. The Educating Hands school ended up with over $80,000 worth of equipment and supplies donated by industry partners. As they were moving into a brand-new building at the time, it was just a fresh start for their well-respected school. It was a joy to participate in it and to see so many of my friends from the profession at the festivities. I also got to visit my youngest brother on that trip, and got to see a dear friend who used to live here in NC that I  hadn’t seen for several years. That one was bittersweet since her husband, who was also a friend and former business partner with Champ, had passed away suddenly a few months before, but it was a wonderful visit.

I was honored at the American Massage Conference this year as the Massage Therapist of the Year…and that wasn’t even the highlight of the conference. Getting up to play a few tunes with Errol N Schroeder at the dinner dance was the high point for me. I had a blast! Scott Dartnall and the rest of those Canadians came out of the gate running and made their first American event a resounding success.

Then the World Massage Festival came along and I was inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame, which I appreciated, but I was also awarded there for Government Relations, which I’d have to say meant even more to me. I’m no Sally Hacking–whom I greatly admire and who has been working in GR for several decades–I’m not able to go all over the country attending legislative sessions and even if I could, I certainly lack her expertise and experience; the award was for my efforts to keep the masses informed of what’s going on through my blog and social media. My politics aren’t popular with everyone, and that’s okay. I feel good about it if I am able to jolt even one person out of complacency to take up the fight against detrimental legislation. I got to play some music at that one, too. The Hinkles are just some of the nicest people in massage and I always enjoy the World Massage Festival, which I refer to as the Woodstock of massage. Leave your coat and tie at home, and just come and have a great time! The 2012 event will be in Las Vegas.

My annual trip to Ireland was one of the high points of the year. It always is. I enjoy teaching the students at the Obus School of Healing Therapies, hanging out with my Irish friends, visiting a few pubs 🙂 and in general, just breathing the Irish air.

I traveled a lot this year. I was invited by the NCBTMB to come to Chicago for a meeting with a lot of industry leaders to offer input on how they can improve the Approved Provider program. I in particular appreciated that meeting, because that’s where the seed was planted for the Massage Therapy Profession Leadership Summit that took place a few months ago, where for the first time, all of our national leaders came together for the common good. It was attended by the executive management and board chairs from the AFMTE, FSMTB, AMTA, ABMP, COMTA, NCBTMB, and the MTF. Speaking of the Massage Therapy Foundation, it was another red-letter day for me to be included on Rise and Shine, a CD of wonderful music donated by massage therapists to raise money for the Foundation. If you don’t have your copy yet, get on the ball! I am very honored to be in the company of such great musicians. It is truly a great compilation.

The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education meeting in Charleston was one of the best events I’ve ever attended. The annual national convention of AMTA in Portland was probably the best one I’ve ever attended, and I’ve been going to those for quite a few years. Kudos to the Oregon Chapter and to President Glenath Moyle for putting on a heck of a good time in such a lovely city. I also got to make my first trip to New Orleans on behalf of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, and it was a blast. I completed five years of service to that board this year, and while I miss the wonderful staff and friends I made at the board, I don’t miss that five-hour haul to Raleigh or having to participate in disciplinary hearings. I got to make my first trip to Los Angeles to attend the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards meeting, which was as usual, informative and a good time visiting with so many other board members from across the country.

Without dragging out my calendar, I can’t recall every place I got to teach in this year, but they were all fun and filled with beautiful people. One of the high points–literally–was the Take it to the Top Summit put on by Vivian Madison-Mahoney over in Gatlinburg, TN. The hotel was at the top of a mountain, we were on the 14th floor, and the view was just beautiful. That was one of the best education conferences ever, and Vivian and her husband John certainly know how to throw a great event. A lot of my buds were there–Lynda Solien-Wolfe, Michael McGillicuddy, Irene Diamond,  Mike Hinkle and his wife Cindy and a lot more, and a good time was just had by all. I got to play some music at that one, too. Vivian loaned me her limited edition Martin for the occasion since I came without a guitar. It was great.

I made my first site visit as a peer reviewer for COMTA a couple of months ago. I went to New Bedford, MA to review a community college massage program. It was a good learning experience for me, and the other reviewers were great companions. We had a good time. Our hotel was across from the harbor and a good seafood restaurant, so it was a good time.

I had some great classes at the office this year. Marjorie Brook came down from NY to teach a Scar Tissue Release seminar, and she was accompanied by my friend Allissa Haines. We had a good time visiting with them. Christine Courtney and her husband Colum came over from Ireland for Christine’s classes in Indian Head Massage and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and we always look forward to their visit as well.

On a personal level, lest I just sound like an effervescent fool who never has a bad moment, we’ve had some. My husband’s best friend Brent Stephens passed away this year…he was suffering, so it was a blessing for him to go, but it was still a great loss to both of us. Another dear friend died suddenly this year. Donna Metcalf was the picture of health when I saw her last, and three weeks later, she was gone…an unfortunate case of going to the hospital for a simple procedure that went very wrong. Donna was a force of nature, one of those women who dressed in sparkly clothes and a feather boa, and just lit up every room she ever entered. Her death was a shock. It was also a reinforcement that you ought to live every day like it’s your last. It just might be.

I’ve had some family trauma and drama this year…hasn’t everybody? But I’m pleased to say it seems to be on the upswing. My constant prayer is that those family members who need to forgive each other will just get on with it. One year at Christmas when there were some family divisions, my husband said “Well, we could have two dinners.” He was referring to the people who weren’t speaking to each other and the “I won’t be there if they’ll be there” situation, and my reply was “Hell no, we will not have two dinners. They can sit down and break bread with each other or they can go to McDonald’s.” My fond hope is that they’ll all come to the table. The people we resent feel good. Carrying around resentment is, as someone said, like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It isn’t hurting anyone except the person carrying it around.

One of the last great things to happen this year was my husband Champ passing the MBLEx. He is currently waiting for his North Carolina massage license to arrive. Champ is a builder by trade, and the economy here has been a sudden death to his business. There are so many foreclosed properties here, no one needs to build anything. You can buy a house that was on the market three years ago for a million bucks for less than $200,000. You can buy a perfectly livable house for less than $30,000. In fact, if you only need a small one with one or two bedrooms,  you can find some for less than $20,000. Still, I feel optimistic that things are looking up. Facebook has recently built a new data center in our town, and a couple of other manufacturing businesses have come in on their coattails. Hopefully, the economy is going to turn around and the residents in my county will see their circumstances improve. I certainly hope so.

Another great thing this year was what I have been referring to as The Grand Purge. I have been on a mission the past couple of months to clean out my house and my office. I keep watching the old video clip on youtube of George Carlin and his rant about “Stuff.” I have too much Stuff. Or rather, I had too much Stuff. A lot of it is gone…I’ve donated things, sold things, thrown out some things, burned some things…I’m getting rid of my Stuff. Stuff is like an albatross around your neck. My attitude is if I haven’t used it in a year, I’m not going to use it in another year.  I figured if I was going to move, and wouldn’t want to take it with me, then I don’t really need it. So goodbye, Stuff. It’s been very liberating.

I’ll remember this year. A lot of good things happened. A few bad things happened. That’s the way life goes. But all in all, it was a very good year.