It’s Monday morning. You spent the weekend with an old friend who came to visit.
Everything was going great until she said, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s been five years since you started your massage practice. You must be rocking and rolling with clients. I assume you are having fun!”
You gave a lame reply. “Well, yeah. It keeps me out of trouble!” Then you changed the subject.
The fact is you aren’t having fun, and your client list is shrinking rather than growing. As you slide the key into the lock of your office door, you glance down the hall where six doors away sits the office of a three-person massage therapy group. From what you can tell, their business is rocking and rolling.
“Why is that?” You ask yourself. “What are they doing that I’m not?”
What they’re doing is taking chances.
Taking Chances Creates Change
You love massage work. What you don’t love is the business part, such as building a practice. You have some ideas about things you might do to raise your game. You could learn a new massage technique, sell a different line of products, or join other practitioners to offer a wider array of services.
Or, you could continue to do nothing except to watch your business stumble along. Somehow, that doesn’t seem like the right answer. But what is? And why is it so hard?
Building a successful practice requires taking chances. It means trying out new ideas without knowing how they will land with your clients. They might dislike them, criticize you for changing things, take their business elsewhere, or love them. Anything can happen and you won’t know what until you try. That makes you nervous.
What you know is that if you don’t do something, there won’t be a practice to build, much less one that will make you happy and proud. That makes you even more nervous.
Embrace the Discomfort of the Unknown
Welcome to the scary world of growing a business.
To create something better, you have to embark on a journey to explore new ideas without knowing at the outset how things will turn out. Because of that, venturing into the unknown can be uncomfortable. It also can be exciting, leading to a new and better place for you and your clients.
The key to navigating the new is to see the discomfort of the unknown that comes with change in a positive rather than a negative light. If you want to improve your practice, your mission is to embrace discomfort and let it inspire you to learn what your clients need to deepen their massage experience and tell their friends about it.
5 Steps to Move You Forward
Here are five steps you can take to move your practice to a better place:
1. Choose a dream: Choose a new idea that is a dream you would like to try. If you are not sure where to look, think about something you have been avoiding because the consequences, good or bad, of pursuing it feels too scary. Nevertheless, the idea tempts you.
You might introduce a new massage technique that while untested in your local market is gaining popularity in a couple of other cities. You could change the format of your services to allow more time to learn about your clients’ goals for massage and how you can best serve them. Forming a more personal connection with clients may take you out of your comfort zone, but understand its value to them.
2. Learn about the people who could benefit from your idea. Once you have chosen an idea, the detective work begins. Your job is to discover whether your idea will meet the needs of your target clients. That means asking them for feedback. Oh, you say, that could be awkward. Possibly, but if you focus on the goal of improving your practice, it will help steer you through those feelings.
To launch the process, send a note to a cross section of your current clients. Explain that you are working on a business plan and would value their input. Might they have time to meet and answer a few questions? If they can’t see you in person, ask if they could answer by email or phone.
Once you have their attention, ask questions about their massage experience in general and then questions that are specific to your new idea. Here are examples of general questions:
• What do you want from your massage experience?
• What would make the experience better?
• Does the space feel comfortable? What might improve it?
• Would having additional therapists in the practice make a difference to you?
• Have you heard of other massage techniques, products, or services that interest you?
• Any other thoughts?
When conducting your survey remember to:
• Listen with an open mind.
• Ask follow-on questions.
• Avoid debating what you hear. If you don’t understand the answer, ask for clarification. If you disagree, make a note and return to it at a later time if it will help you with your plan.
• Give them heartfelt thanks.
3. Get comfortable with the scariness of risk. Traveling in the background of going after a new idea is risk. That can be scary. And yet, without taking on the risky business of trying, you won’t learn what will make your practice successful.
Risk sparks internal conversations about possible failure and the reactions of others. Old tapes play loudly and add to your anxiety:
“Others will laugh at me if I try this.”
“It might not work and hurt my credibility.”
“My peers will see me as too ambitious and a competitor.
“It might work—and then what?”
There are also physical feelings. They vary by the person. Some feel their muscles tighten. Others get a headache or feel shaky. While massage professionals are experts on the physical symptoms of stress, when it comes to themselves, they may be harder to spot.
To grow your practice, the goal is not to get rid of stress, but to pay attention to what it is telling you. Treat it as a normal part of chasing a new idea. Understand its message that you are up to something new, different, and good. It also is a reminder to learn what you need to know to demystify and test your new idea.
4. Watch out for defensive behaviors. Once you have crystallized your idea with the benefit of client feedback, it’s time to test it. Because the outcome is unknown, you could meet with resistance from others and yourself. That can cause anxiety.
Protecting yourself from anxiety with defensive behaviors is normal. There is nothing wrong with that, unless the defenses prevent you from achieving your new idea. For example, if you catch yourself endlessly nitpicking the wording of the promotional materials for a new service rather than sending them out, it may be time to stop and reflect. If you are stuck due to your fear of not knowing what could come next, gather your courage, and hit the “send” button.
There are many common defenses including micromanagement, personalizing, and conflict avoidance. Learn to recognize when you are triggered by something that is making you react defensively. Pause to reflect on what is going on for you, then shift gears toward finding a better approach to the situation. Consider brainstorming the possibilities with a friend, trusted colleague, or mentor.
5. Find a motivator to guide you toward your dream. For dreams to come true, you need a good reason to endure the discomfort of reaching them. Choose a purpose that will motivate you to push through your discomfort. It can include anything from wanting to beat out a specific competitor to honoring the confidence placed in you by a revered relative. Whatever works, works!
The road to building a better practice is paved with the discovery of the new. While it can be uncomfortable getting there, at the end of the road lies something different and potentially wonderful. Dare to dream, face you fears, and go for it!
About the Author:
Julie Benezet spent 25 years in law and business, and for the past 16 years has coached and consulted with executives from virtually every industry. She earned her stripes for leading in the discomfort of the new as Amazon’s first global real estate executive. She is an award-winning author of The Journey of Not Knowing: How 21st Century Leaders Can Chart a Course Where There Is None. Her new workbook, The Journal of Not Knowing, a self-guided discovery guide based on the Journey principles, was released in fall 2018.