By Elicia Crook – Originally published in ABMP’s Massage Magazine: Massage & Bodywork, May/June 2021 edition
Why is the average life span of a therapist’s career only a little more than three years? After surveying over 1,200 therapists around the globe, 69.4 percent report that the two biggest challenges they face are (1) not having enough clients overall or (2) not enough bookings each week. How do we close this crazy gap between creating incredible health, life transformations, and experiences for people, and getting stuck not seeing enough clients—or feeling totally overwhelmed and burned out?
Most of us got into this profession because we want to help people. We learned how muscles work and the powerful effects our soft-tissue skills could have on people’s bodies. Elongating this, stretching that, deactivating a trigger point here, even holding the space for someone who is a little overwhelmed and sharing a genuine listening ear. This all adds up to a pretty rewarding career!
It’s funny — we often think if we build our hands-on skills, the business side of things will naturally flow. But what I’ve discovered in my 20 years as a therapist is that mastering your business is a skill that must be learned and practiced just like anything else.
Acquiring business skills is a similar journey to acquiring hands-on treatment skills. It starts by understanding how we influence our own decisions and actions, and by realizing that while hands-on skills are vital, they do not teach us how to make money, retain clients, or even run a great business. Those are different learned skills, and among them, the one that underpins everything else is understanding the role mindset plays in our success in business (and life).
Mindset — to me — is our ability to learn, adapt, and show resilience as we make it through the challenges of business. A mindset that leads to success is strong and flexible, like a tree that is able to bend. The reason we see palm trees still standing after hurricanes (often they are the only thing left!) is because of their ability to adapt to their surroundings even when things get extreme. Likewise, with mindset, the person with the most behavioral flexibility is able to stand strong through times of chaos.
Another good example of behavioral flexibility is driving a car. When you drive a car, you adapt your behavior to suit the conditions around you. Your car might be able to do 100 miles per hour—and probably has the capacity to go even faster—but we drive according to the conditions of the road. Raining? We put on the windshield wipers. Fog? We slow down and turn on our lights. How did we learn how to do this? Experience and skills.
What if the concept of adapting our mindset is like driving a car? Imagine our mind has instruments like on a car’s dashboard that show us how to behave. If you are driving along and your check engine light comes on, most of the time you would use that as a signal to know you need to . . . yep, check the engine. If you want to turn left or right, you put your turn signal on (and you see evidence of that on the dashboard). If your gas tank gets low, then you pull into a gas station and fill it up. The way we read and understand the instruments affects our behaviors.
Imagine if the instruments didn’t work properly. For example, what would happen if you put your foot down on the gas pedal and instead of seeing the speedometer go up, you see the fuel gauge on empty and think this means you are not going anywhere? How confused would you be?
This crazy car analogy is how some therapists show up in business. They incorrectly interpret the data, make decisions based on wrong information, and then get confused about why the results are not what they expect.
I believe every therapist deserves to have a deeply rewarding business. Massage is important, and we want the industry to flourish so communities can be healthier around the globe. And for large-scale flourishing to happen, individual therapists and business owners need to able to create businesses that support them.
SOURCE, SERVE, AND SCALE
Three concepts that drive massage business success and allow for longevity in the industry are source, serve, and scale.
The source of your business is you, the owner, and it is the most important concept of the three. After all, you are the inspiration behind everything, and you are at the center of creating this amazing business. You need to look after yourself so everything around you continues to flourish.
You may notice your source needs work if you are regularly feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or find yourself procrastinating instead of taking action. The problem that presents here is not a matter of hands-on skill but instead a reflection on your business skills. Your source being off-kilter is most visible when you find yourself obsessing with questions like: What will I charge? What do I believe I deserve to earn? How do I set goals and actually achieve them?
Successfully moving through these source challenges happens when you can move from confused to clear. To help, the first step is to recognize our business is always a reflection of us! It’s a reflection of our experiences, our beliefs, the people around us, and whatever set of skills we have acquired since we began. So, if we are challenged internally or our mindset is avoiding something we know we should be doing, these conflicts will impact your business results. The lights we see in the business dashboard can actually point to something we need to work on in our mindset.
Part of the discovery process for source can be to ask great quality questions. Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.”
The question I ask my clients about source is around how centered they are: What shows up when you are centered and in flow? What do you do to stay centered? How do you know when you are out of flow? The specific answers can be different for everyone, but if you create some awareness around being centered for yourself, you will notice when things are going off course and what you need to do to self-care your way back on track.
Being able to serve is also vital and includes having the skills to help your niche clients come back and knowing how to promote yourself so you can have an abundance of clients flowing through your doors. To create this abundance of clientele to serve, you need to up your marketing game.
Marketing is the engine of growth for your business. If you want to grow your business, you must learn how to get your message out there. Speak the right language to the right people at the right time so you attract your ideal clients. When you get it right, you will go from being ignored to being intentional.
Something I see people get wrong all time is they think the magic of marketing is somehow in the platform or channel they use to get their message out—Facebook, website, Instagram, networking, referral strategies, etc. They jump on all the latest tech platforms looking for their magic bullet, but in reality, marketing success is all about the message you are sending—no matter which channel it goes through.
Potential clients need to be clear on what you do and who you work with before they even come in. This provides the foundation for being effective on any channel your audience sees and empowers referrals because you are clear about your ideal client profile and the problems you solve.
When your marketing is on point, you will attract clients you know you can make a difference with and who are willing to pay what you’re worth—and that is a rewarding experience for you as a practitioner.
Scale is how you accelerate your results by creating consistency and systemic success— where the results and growth you experience are a seamless product of the way the business is being built. Just as structure governs function in the body, structure in your business will govern the function of it and the results it creates. If there is no structure—no systems, procedures, support, or software—then your business’s ability to grow is diminished. Plus, it puts extra strain on the practitioner (source) and can lead to burnout.
Creating a strong structure as you scale moves you from feeling trapped to becoming abundant. For example, let’s talk money for a second. Part of scaling is about charging what you’re worth in order to create a sustainable practice, which will support your life and allow you to stay in the industry. Let’s break this down into simple math:
• See 25 clients a week (an average full-time client load).
• Charge $90 a session.
• Work 48 weeks of the year (allowing for four weeks annual leave).
• Gross $108,000 per year.
This simple little equation is often a bit of a mind spin for therapists, as so many work for an equivalent that is below minimum wage.
Yes, as massage therapists, we are often not motivated by money (which is absolutely OK). We probably did not start doing this to become wealthy, and some people even feel guilty that they charge at all. I am sure you have heard someone say, “I just want to help people.”
However, if you are running a business and want it to continue long term, then some money is vital. After all, a business comes with overhead and expenses, and living is not free. Rent, mortgage, and food are things that cannot be paid for from the kindness of your heart.
In our culture, money equals influence. The more you make, the greater the influence you can have and more great work for good can be done. For example, $50 a month will help lift a child out of poverty in a developing nation; $200 a month extra will allow you to buy higher quality or organic food for your family, and you might be able to afford a better education for your children. So, what if we could do both—make money and help people?
Luckily, when your business is set up properly, helping more people makes you more money, which in itself is one of the gold nuggets of scaling. Many therapists are so focused on the here and now, all they talk about is getting bookings right now, this week. I think that’s a pretty shallow (and shortsighted) conversation. We could be going so much deeper with a little forethought. To start thinking more long range, ask yourself: Where do I really want to go? What would I like to have happen in the future? Where will I be in 12 months, three years, five years? How many clients do I want to see? What do I want to charge? How much time off would I like to have each year?
If you were head of the universe and could have everything your way, what would that look like, sound like, and feel like?
These are just a few questions to get you thinking about what a deeply rewarding business looks like for you. Remember, in your imagination there is no right and wrong. You might want to see 10 clients a week, and that’s perfect. Maybe you want to see 40—that’s great too. As Oprah Winfrey said, “Anything you can imagine, you can create.” So, check in with your intuition, set your intention, ask some great questions, and then see what starts to show up for you. Take the first steps and you are already on your way.