You can find a wealth of information about how a massage therapist can take care of themselves physically and even emotionally—but the pickings start getting slim when you’re looking for solid advice about how to take care of yourself financially.
When it comes to massage education, both in and after school, we treat business as an “other,” as an optional thing over there on the sidelines. We consider business to be not as important, beautiful or noble as massage. Yet, massage and business each have things to teach the other.
As I write this, the massage community is abuzz about the shortage of massage therapists. Facebook groups are overflowing with business owners (almost always other massage therapists) looking for massage therapists. Even before the pandemic, the number of massage therapists was declining while the demand for massage was climbing.
Every bit of research I’ve seen about why we leave this field cites the same two top reasons: 1) getting worn out physically and emotionally; and 2) not being able to make it financially.
Merge Your Lists
Let’s consider what your massage therapist heart can learn from your business mind, and vice-versa. I invite you to list 10 qualities, attitudes and habits that make someone a successful massage therapist. If you’re like a lot of my students, you’ll use words of the heart, like compassionate, insightful, heart-led, generous and kind.
Now do the same thing for business. List 10 qualities, attitudes and habits that make someone a successful business owner. My students often come up with more mind-related words like ambitious, driven, smart, organized and curious.
What happens when you merge those lists and use them for both sides of your work, massage and business? What would a compassionate business owner look like? How would an ambitious massage therapist spend their time? What choices would an insightful business owner make? What changes to a business would an organized massage therapist make?
Exercise: Balance Out Extremes
There’s an even more important reason to bring mind (business) and heart (massage) together into a truly integrated whole (maybe you’ve heard me say this before): Our massages take care of other people. Our business takes care of us.
Our massage therapist side, motivated by compassion, empathy, and all those other heart-based drivers, is often happiest when it is taking care of other people. When it is making other people happy. When it is making other people’s lives better. In its most extreme, our heart-led self will put other people’s needs and happiness ahead of our own virtually every time. This can look like big discounts, free massages, low rates that haven’t been raised in years, and sessions on our days off because we can’t accept disappointing a client. Most of us have been there.
Our business side, which is motivated by taking care of us, critically evaluates our decisions based on how they affect us. That massage on our day off—does that make business sense (maybe), or is it setting a bad precedent (maybe)? Are those deep discounts so deep that we are actually losing money? Is a free massage the best way to achieve our goal or is there something that costs less? Our business side keeps track of how much we’re making and how much things cost and notices when we need to raise our rates. Our business cares, deeply, that we make enough money to take care of ourselves and be happy.
The business side can also go to an extreme, where every client is viewed only in terms of dollar signs and growth. At its extreme, the business side rates the worth of clients solely on how much money we make from them and how much they tip. The business side pays as little as possible, no matter the quality, for everything because profit matters more than people. Customer service is inauthentic. At its extreme, the business side rates our value based on how much we make and uses it to compare ourselves to our peers.
When you bring your massage therapist self (heart) and your business self (mind) together, unified and whole, they can balance each other out. They can put the brakes on each other’s extremes. Together, they give us the fullest picture of our lives as business-owning massage therapists. Best of all, you will take care of your clients while also taking care of yourself.
Exercise: Visualize Yourself Whole
Let’s dive deeper into what a unified heart and mind look and feel like. Get yourself all comfy. Let your imagination sink deep into your deepest inner self. Find the place where “massage therapist” lives inside you. If you were to give the feeling of that space a physical form, what would it look like—color, texture, shape, size, movement, sound, feel? Take a minute and let that form manifest. Then imagine yourself putting that form you’ve just created into one of your hands.
Now, sink back into your deepest self. Find the place where “business owner” lives inside you. If you were to give the feeling of that space a physical form, what would it look like—color, texture, shape, size, movement, sound, feel? Take a minute and let that form manifest. Then imagine yourself putting that form you’ve just created into your other hand.
Put your hands side by side. How much alike or different are these two forms? Imagine that you want to merge them into one form. How hard would that be? What would you keep from each form? What would have to be softened or sharpened? What colors would work for both? Are their sizes compatible? Can their textures co-exist?
What would a unified business-owner-massage-therapist form look like?
Honor Both Parts of Yourself
You are both a massage therapist and a business owner. Honor both of them with your care and attention. Make them both strong.
I trust you know how to be a heartful massage therapist. Here are some actions to take to help incorporate your business mind into your thought process and actions:
• Bring money into your heart and awareness
• Embrace income (even profit!)
• Know how much money you need
• Structure your practice to make the income you need
• Get educated in business skills
• Make time for business activities
• Know your business
• Create a pleasing business space
Both aspects of your career—massage and business—are honorable and valuable and have something to teach each other, just as our mind and heart work best when they work as a team. When we bring them together, we thrive. When we thrive, we can do so much more for ourselves and for our clients.
About the Author:
Kelly Bowers is the owner of the Healing Arts Business Academy and has been teaching massage therapists how to be better business owners since 2003. She is the author of three books: “The Accidental Business Owner,” “Can I Deduct That?” and “Between Doormat and Diva.” She is an NCBTMB-approved provider of continuing education and a regular presenter at national massage gatherings. She is also (still!) a practicing massage therapist (NC lic. 16669). You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Tumblr. She lives and works in Durham, North Carolina.