An image of a barista's hand handing a cup of coffee to a customer's hand is used to illustrate the concept of conscious capitalism, defined as a caring way of doing business that yields big returns.

How can you be fair to the people working for you and make money? The answer may lie in a business model called conscious capitalism.

Often on Undercover Boss, a CEO rewarded an undervalued employee with a $20,000 check. As a small business owner, you may want to reward an employee for a job well done with a bonus, but if you operate on a shoestring budget, you don’t have the resources of an Undercover Boss. This is where conscious capitalism comes in.

Although conscious capitalism was designed for corporations, we are going to apply it your business with the help of Raj Sisodia, co-founder of Conscious Capitalism and co-author with John Mackey of “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.”

By the way, if you are a sole practitioner, conscious capitalism could work for you, too.

What is Conscious Capitalism?

Conscious capitalism is more than being nice to the people who work for you. It is a caring way of doing business that yields big returns. According to Sisodia, who spoke with me for this article, conscious capitalism companies, like Trader Joe’s, spend less on advertising and outperform companies who follow the traditional business philosophy.

There are four tenets to conscious capitalism: higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious culture and conscious leadership. Let’s explore them in greater detail.

Higher Purpose

Higher purpose starts with the feeling that gets you out of bed in the morning and makes you want to go to work. It can be expressed as a service statement. When I asked Sisodia for an example of a higher purpose statement for a massage therapist, he said: “I’m here to help them heal.”

If you are wearing more than one hat, Sisodia’s higher purpose statement works for other health and wellness occupations, like personal trainer, yoga instructor and wellness coach, too.

That said, this is not a copy and paste exercise. You will have to figure out what is meaningful to you because your higher purpose statement will be your emotional driver and will impact every part of your business from returning calls to doing the massage. After you have your higher purpose statement, it’s time to think about stakeholder integration.

Stakeholder Integration

Don’t let the term stakeholder integration scare you off. In the traditional corporate sense, stakeholders equal stockholders. In the conscious capitalism model, stakeholders are society, partners, investors, customers, employees and environment, according to Sisodia and Mackey.

Since we are applying a corporate business model to a massage business, we will need to make some adjustments. If you are a sole proprietor:

• You are both the investor and the employee

• Your clients are the customers

• Partners are businesses you have relationships with to carry out your work

• refers to your contribution to improving peoples’ lives

• Environment is what you will bring to the table for taking care of the planet

Did you just think I’m all in! but then imagine yourself volunteering at a local non-profit, giving 5% of all massage sales to your favorite environmental cause, doing free chair massage at a business partner’s event, and going out of your way to make sure each client’s massage at your office is a five-star experience—and then collapsing from exhaustion?

That won’t happen, Sisodia explained, if you understand “you are the most important stakeholder.” In other words, you need to take care of yourself. When you do, you have the capacity to create a conscious culture.

Conscious Culture

A conscious culture is more than a great place to work. “A conscious culture facilitates the continued growth and evolution of the individual as well as the business,” wrote Sisodia and Mackey in their book.

Sisodia believes the best work environment is one where there is true caring for each other, empathy, transparency, deep listening, accountability, vulnerability and a growth mindset.

Although work isn’t a daily group-therapy session, a conscious culture work environment is uplifting, allowing everyone to be fully human, Sisodia said. A conscious culture doesn’t happen through luck. It comes about through conscious leadership.

Conscious Leadership

Sisodia believes a leader has to have a vision to take people to a better place. When I asked him what “a better place” meant to him, he said it is a place where people have autonomy, can express mastery and feel a sense of purpose.

Leading people in a way that creates a culture of autonomy, mastery and purpose is a tall order. You may want to start with a baby step. For example, if you are a massage therapist and massage business owner, ask yourself: Do I spend time in the break room with employees and colleagues? Or do I hide in my office?

If you do the latter, give yourself a reason to be with the other massage therapists, like moving your coffee maker from your office into the break room. As you become more comfortable in the break room, listen to your stakeholders and understand what a better place means to them. Then put a plan together to create a conscious culture.

There’s a caveat here: It is imperative to hire employees and subcontractors who are a good fit with your better place concept or your own efforts to create an uplifting work environment will be undermined.

Still thinking conscious capitalism is more idealistic than realistic? Let’s go through an example of a sole proprietor who wants to implement a conscious capitalism business model.

A Conscious Capitalism Massage Business

Jinx is a massage therapist of five years. She works for herself and has a good, but not great, business. Ideally, she would like to see four more clients a week. Jinx loves the idea of conscious capitalism and already follows some of the philosophy.

For instance, Jinx’s higher purpose statement is to make enough money to take care of her family through uplifting others. She does that in every part of her massage business, from making her clients feel welcome when they walk in her office to sending out cards at holidays. Her customers are loyal to her because she is kind, does great work and consistently provides them with a healing experience.

When Jinx started to view her business through the conscious-capitalism-stakeholder lens, she realized that she often made her clients’ time more important than her own time—which enervated her to the point of almost burning out. Jinx decided to stop answering clients’ texts late at night. She also added more breaks in her day to disengage and recharge. As a result, she felt renewed and ready for the challenge of growing her business.

When looking at other stakeholders in her business, specifically society and the environment, Jinx saw a disconnection between her business life and personal life. In her spare time, Jinx volunteered at the local animal rescue and donated money whenever she could to environmental causes, but through her business, she did zero giving back to society and the environment.

Immediately Jinx joined her local Chamber of Commerce to meet other business owners in the area who might be referral sources and partners she could collaborate with on community projects. At one meeting, she met, Destiny, a yoga instructor who has a business two blocks away from hers. They teamed up to run a free massage-or-yoga event every quarter that benefits a local, animal non-profit.

Jinx also was motivated to edit her website to let customers know that she reduced plastic usage in her massage business by giving clients water in glasses instead of plastic bottles and by using detergent strips instead of detergent liquid that comes in a plastic bottle.

By taking what she did in her personal life—give back to society and the environment—and doing it in her business life, Jinx gained more connections, referral sources and visibility in her community. In six months, her book was completely full and she needed to bring on an additional therapist.

Jinx hired, Ivanna, a massage therapist who was aligned with Jinx’s values. Jinx viewed Ivanna as a stakeholder in her business, and she asked Ivanna to provide consistent hours. In return, she gave Ivanna complete control over her schedule, meaning Ivanna could take off whenever she wanted or needed to.

However, Ivanna understood that Jinx’s business system is delicate balance—and if she abused her autonomy, the system failed. There was a trust between Jinx and Ivanna—and that trust drove the business to more success. As Jinx made more money, she rewarded Ivanna with bonuses and an hourly pay raise.

Is Conscious Capitalism for You?

Granted, Jinx is a theoretical example, but successful conscious capitalism corporations, like Trader Joe’s, are not. There is no reason to think ma-and-pa business owners can’t also thrive using the conscious capitalism model.

If you are ready to try conscious capitalism, you have a leg up if you already follow some of the tenets of conscious capitalism, like higher purpose. Formalizing these tenets in a conscious capitalism business plan won’t be a far reach for you.

At the end of the day, your business is your creation. You get to decide how it interacts and impacts stakeholders—and if you keep that in mind as you grow your massage business, you get to be Undercover Boss every day.

Mark Liskey

About the Author

Mark Liskey, LMT, CNMT, is a massage therapist, business owner, teacher and blogger. You can access his free, massage-business crash course on his business page.