Archive for October, 2011
Guest Post by Susan Epperly of Tiger Lily Studios
|“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.” ~Vernon Law|
“If I could start over again, I would do these 3 things differently (OK, 4 things…)”
Generally speaking, I’m really not a fan of dwelling on what I call “Shoulda, coulda, wouldas.” And I try to bite my tongue whenever I hear myself starting to say, “I wish I had…,” “If only I hadn’t…,” or “Why didn’t I…” The so-called mistakes that my husband and business partner, Shane, and I have made in our massage therapy careers have paved the (admittedly, sometimes pothole-filled) path to the thriving private practice that we now enjoy.
While I do believe that getting mired down in the regrets of the past is a big, fat waste of time, I also realize that honest reflection and a constructive evaluation of our past can not only help us direct our own futures, but also help others, who may just be starting out on the route that we’ve already traveled. And it’s a good feeling to be able to drop a few “breadcrumbs” along the way for those who may be coming along behind us.
So, in the interest of playing “Karmic tour guide,” and hopefully helping some folks who may be making their way down the path behind us, I’ve suspended my distain for “shoulda, couldas, wouldas,” and compiled a handful of thoughts on some things that I wish I had known before we embarked upon our adventures in massage therapy.
1. I wish I had known that my life as a Massage Therapist would, in no way, resemble that of Phoebe’s on “Friends.” This sounds dumb, I know, but let me explain. When I enrolled in massage school, I was looking forward to a low-stress, easy-going lifestyle and work environment. The reality is that while it is relatively low-stress and easy going, it’ ain’t easy. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I love my life. But Shane & I work really hard. We work all the time. We’ve worked harder in this industry than we’ve worked in any other industry with which we’ve been involved. Unlike Phoebe, we spend precious little time sitting in coffee shops chatting with friends, drinking lattes, and leisurely writing goofy folk songs and strumming on our guitars. Part of this, admittedly, is due to the fact that we are, by nature, hyperactive, over-achieving, über-particular workaholics (more like Monica, really), and even becoming Massage Therapists could not squelch that inherent tendency. But we’ve also discovered that being successful private practitioners in a world of corporately-owned chains requires an unparalleled level of commitment to quality, customer care, and professionalism (which means long hours, and significant and consistent investments in our practice of time, energy, and money). But, to borrow the Peace Corps’ slogan, I still believe that being a Massage Therapist is “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Don’t, for even a moment, think that being a successful private practitioner will be easy, but then again, nothing worthwhile ever is.
2. I wish I had understood earlier the enormous role that technology and social media would play in operating a successful private practice. I remember when Shane and I attended one of the first classes of our Massage Therapy program, the instructor had asked us all to introduce ourselves and share our reasons for being there. I remember saying something about the fact that I had been looking for a career that was more organically-driven, rather than technologically-driven. While, as Massage Therapists, most of our attention is focused on the organic nature of human bodies, and the foundation of our practice is manual therapy, Shane and I have realized that incorporating technology into our treatment rooms has not only expanded our ability to resolve our clients’ pain complaints more quickly, more efficiently, and often more comfortably, but also allowed us to work more hours, see more clients, increase our income, and protect the longevity of our careers. And technology has also played an enormous role in the cultivation of our practice, in terms of our business and our “brand culture.” Social media engagement, e-mail marketing, website design and management, the utilization of an online booking system, the implementation of online social buying sites, and an endless list of other internet-based technologies have allowed us to acquire new clients, maintain a dialogue with existing clients, and nourish our brand culture. Don’t underestimate the necessity of embracing technology and social media. Stubbornly turning your back on technological advancements will do nothing but leave you in a plume of dust created by the practitioners who are charging into the new reality of conducting business.
3. I wish I had incorporated all of my talents into my massage therapy endeavors much sooner. If you want to cultivate not only a successful private practice, but also a fulfilling one, don’t neglect your other passions. Instead, invite them into your massage therapy endeavors. My first loves are art, crafting, writing, decorating, and anything else that revolves around creativity. Shane is a photographer, and loves still photography, videography, film, graphic design, and photo & video editing. It took us a little while to figure out that these activities deserved a significant role in our new life as Massage Therapists – not as mere hobbies that would provide us with something to do during our down time, but as talents that would give us an edge in our massage therapy practice. Instead of denying ourselves the joy of engaging in these creative passions on a regular basis, we’ve made a conscientious decision to make these loves and talents an integral component of our massage practice. Not just something that we’ve “tacked on” to the larger “body of work” that is our practice (excuse the pun), but rather a core element that is actually woven throughout the fabric of all of our endeavors. My artwork, writing, and crafting skills and Shane’s photo and video talents have become the backbone of our signature marketing materials. The catchy slogans that we use; the creative “bulletin board” style promotional posters that are displayed in our lobby; the hand-made fizzing bath bombs that our clients take home with them after their appointments; our client e-mail newsletters, filled with original articles and other content; the seasonal promotional favors that we distribute; the vlogs and educational videos that we produce; the original paintings, collages, and photos that hang on our clinic walls – they are all key elements of the brand culture that we have cultivated, and they all rely on skills that might seem “irrelevant” to massage therapy. But that’s just it – whatever your “special purpose” may be (please contain your giggles, Steve Martin fans), regardless of how little it may seem to have in common with massage, you will realize an exponential level of success if you make a conscious decision to bring those talents in from the cold and integrate them into your practice. Sometimes it can take some unconventional thinking to figure out how, exactly, those talents can play a meaningful role in your massage therapy endeavors, but remember that, as a private practitioner, you are not only selling your therapeutic abilities, but yourself – your personality, your nature, your character. If that “self” includes a passion for marching bands, banzai trees, Boston Terriers, astronomy, Harleys, or whatever, embracing that and unabashedly incorporating those interests into your business will make for a more authentic brand culture and a more successful practice. Don’t sequester your passions from one another. Let them interact and comingle, and they’ll all become more fully realized as a result.
4. I wish I had understood the degree to which our former professional incarnations would contribute to and inform our massage therapy endeavors. Don’t rely (exclusively) on the massage therapy industry to provide you with leadership in the area of business. In other words, cast a wider net when it comes to fishing for business guidance. An article need not have the word “massage” in the title in order to be relevant or helpful to your business (and, in fact, in many cases, it shouldn’t). Shane and I have been married for seventeen years now, and we’ve been self-employed and have worked together in various industries throughout the entirety of our time together. We’ve operated an historic movie theater in the Pacific Northwest; we’ve taught English as a foreign language and worked as freelance newspaper writers and photographers in Asia; we’ve designed websites and logos from the comfort of our Airstream trailer, which, at the time, was criss-crossing its way across the continental United States (about seven times, in total!). Believe it or not, we’ve managed to draw invaluable lessons, tips, and insight from each and every one of these experiences, which we’ve subsequently been able to apply to our most recent incarnation as Massage Therapists. And however long, short, varied, or limited your job history and list of life experiences may be, I suggest that you do the same. But in addition to drawing on your own past experiences in other jobs and industries, I also can’t understate the importance of looking to industries with which you have no experience, and which also may have no apparent relevance to massage therapy, and harvesting those industries for insight that will help you grow your business. Shane and I have found ourselves investigating and analyzing the intricacies of all manner of previously unfamiliar industries in order to optimize our own massage therapy practice. Reading massage industry magazines is, no doubt, important and can be tremendously helpful. Reading “how-to” books by Massage Therapists that are intended to help you build your business can, indeed, provide beneficial insight. But don’t stop there. Don’t take those authors’ words as The Gospel. Be sure to expand your business acumen by reading articles, books, and blogs that have been written with all types of entrepreneurs in mind, and think creatively about how the lessons offered by thought leaders in other industries can be applied to your own situation. Don’t take only classes that will provide you with continuing education credit. See if your city has a small business development group that offers classes. Take business classes at your local community college, whether you’ll get CE credit for it or not. Don’t do it out of obligation. Do it out of a desire to excel as a business person. Doing so will not only help you create an exceptionally successful practice, but may also lead you to becoming a well-informed thought leader in your own industry.
So there you have them: a few bread crumbs that I hope will make your journey a little easier. Thanks, Linda, for asking me to toss them out.
Susan Epperly and her husband, Shane Epperly, have been practicing massage since 2006 and have a private Clinical Massage Therapy practice in the fabulously funky “SoCo” District of Austin, Texas. They specialize in pain relief through Clinical Massage Therapy. They are also both Licensed Massage Therapy Instructors, and Co-Owners of Tiger Lily Studios, through which they produce and distribute top-notch educational products for health & wellness practitioners. Their collection currently includes instructional videos on Spray & Stretch muscular release techniques and Chinese Negative Pressure Facial Cupping, as well as an audio book on using “daily deal” sites such as Groupon to promote one’s massage therapy or other wellness practice. More information on Susan & Shane’s practice and products can be obtained at http://www.TigerLilyStudios.com.