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.