by Don Dillon, R.M.T.
Our education often trains us sufficiently in the technical and theoretical aspects of massage, but rarely adequately prepares us to go into business for ourselves or work for a larger enterprise. Although the startup and successful administration of a solid business model is a big topic, the following quick-and-easy conceptual framework may help you get started.
Becoming and sustaining a prosperous massage-therapy practice can be “EEEEasy.” EEEEasy is an acronym for: effective, efficient, ergonomic and economically sufficient.
Regardless of how soothing a massage session can feel, it must be effective, address the person’s main complaint or need—whether rehabilitative or relaxation—and educate that person on steps she can take to reduce the harm she is experiencing from her own behavioral habits and choices. The person needs to understand the cause of her condition, the complete impact to the body-mind, and how you plan to intervene and correct or restore her biomechanics and well-being. Focusing on too many symptoms or being vague in approach will diffuse your therapy’s effectiveness and dismantle the client’s confidence in your treatment plan.
Become an expert on the cause-and-effect implications of postural distortion, repetitive mechanical strain and emotional stress. The more learned and experienced you are, the more effective you will be in the intervention of the person’s problem. Your clients are paying good money for results; they’re not paying for your time.
Being efficient means minimizing waste and maximizing results in the consideration of cost and time efficiencies. Again, people don’t want to pay for your time, but they’re happy to pay for results. Utilize electrotherapies and hydrotherapies to prepare soft tissues for treatment. Incorporate techniques like contract-relax or muscle energy technique, or simple remedial exercises, to leverage biomechanical release and recruit the person’s neuromuscular-skeletal system in your favor. Other techniques may help you gain more while using less resources. Seek those out and study them.
Use practice-management programs to streamline intake, accounting and billing, marketing and administration systems. Ensure your workspace is clean and equipment is handy. Work with other practitioners simultaneously—as in a hospital ER unit—to provide care for more people each day. Separate your work time from family and self-time, so you can enjoy both and be more effective in each. Be efficient to maximize results, focus your intention and minimize waste.
Some techniques like alternate thumb kneading are taught without work volume in mind. To serve others, you must also preserve your body—or you’ll break it. In a study administered by the Atlantic College of Therapeutic Massage, massage therapists from Canada were surveyed to assess the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain. The findings were reported in Massage Therapy Canada in winter 2006: More than 60 percent of respondents reported low-back pain, and more than 80 percent reported pain in the wrist and thumb.
To preserve yourself while caring for others, incorporate a hydraulic or electric table and special bolsters to ensure your client is comfortable, aligned and safe. Utilize proper body mechanics (study tai chi to help with this) and avoid using small or weaker hand and finger joints until after adequately preparing the soft tissues with your larger surfaces (palms, fists and forearm ulnar borders), so the tissues are pliable and lest resistive. Every time you engage the soft tissues of the person on the table, ensure you are comfortable, breathing thoroughly and generating force from your lower body. You’re no help to anyone if you harm yourself.
Although massage therapists may feel they are competent at the first three ‘Es’ mentioned, many struggle with the fourth. In my experience, unrealistic and unsustainable financial terms, ignorance of financial means or needs, distorted beliefs about value, prosperity and generosity, and difficulty applying marketable skills into a business model context doom many practitioners to poverty-level incomes or a vocational exodus.
Your income must provide for your business expenses and a personal draw, which includes money for contingency, retirement, tithing to your favorite charities and for your personal growth and cultivation. Many models are time and labor intensive and compensate inadequately. For example, self-employed therapists will work with the standard one-hour spa model (time and labor intensive) but will slash their fees 40 to 50 percent of what spas will charge because “my clients can’t afford it.” In addition, contracting practitioners often demand 60 to 70 percent of the service fee from a clinic owner, when it’s the clinic owner who bears the risk and the lion’s share of the operating costs. Clinic owners with this model are on their way to bankruptcy.
Whether a clinic owner, contracting/employed therapist or sole proprietor, your business model must make sense financially. Break from the current conventions and find ways to increase your capacity to provide care (while lessening strain on yourself) and collaborate to share resources and reduce overall expenses. You don’t have to settle with the old models just because that’s the way it’s always been done.
Don Dillon, R.M.T., is the author of Better Business Agreements: A Guide for Massage Therapists and the self-study workbook Charting Skills for Massage Therapists. Dillon has lectured in seven provinces, and many of his articles have appeared in industry publications including Massage Therapy Canada, Massage Therapy Today, AMTA Journal, MASSAGE Magazine, Massage Today, AMTWP Connections, Massage Therapist and various massage school and professional association newsletters. For more information, visit www.MTCoach.com.