For some, the idea of owning a business is persuasive and powerful. It's easy to imagine what working for yourself will be like: setting your own hours, developing a schedule that allows for flexibility, keeping all the profits for yourself. When you first start thinking about opening a practice, your natural inclination might be to focus primarily on the positive aspects of business ownership. And there's nothing wrong with letting the potential obstacles fade into the background—for a time.
But when you begin getting serious about this endeavor, you must be realistic about both the good that will come from opening your own practice, as well as the challenges you might need to overcome. The best way to success is on a road paved not only with a passion for massage therapy, but also sound business skills.
Think This Through
One of the simplest questions is also the one not many people ask themselves before jumping in and opening their own practice: Am I cut out to be a business owner? “It’s not unusual to choose self employment for the wrong reasons,”explains Nancy E. Schmitt, owner of Visionary Continuing Education Courses in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “They assume they’ll make more money, have more free time or simply won’t have to answer to anyone else.”
When you start thinking about opening your own practice, Schmitt suggests doing a thorough self-assessment that includes being honest about if you have some of the common characteristics of successful self employment. “Strong leadership skills are important,” Schmitt says. “Along with interpersonal skills, self-confidence, the ability to problem-solve and focus on achieving your goals.”
One practice that will force you to consider your business acumen, as well as how you plan for your practice’s success, is writing a business plan. “It’s so sensible to write a business plan,” Schmitt encourages, “but is a rare undertaking.”
Some people hesitate because the task is tedious, Schmitt posits, but pushing yourself to develop a thorough business plan can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. “You’re forced to examine all aspects of running a business, and you assess your commitment and capability to get the job done,” she says. “If you apply yourself to this process, you will have thoroughly examined the potential of your business idea with a detailed game plan for running the key components of the business, such as public relations, product and service, advertising and promotion, and staffing and finance.”
Know Your Business
Schmitt also suggests that massage therapists need to be educated in business, as well as massage therapy. “Simply stated, we should have at least as much education and experience with business skills as hand-son skills,” she says. “We work hard getting the best massage education possible, and yet are willing to take a leap of faith in the business arena with little or no know-how.”
Some things to think about from a business perspective include ensuring you have enough capital when starting your practice. “You should have sufficient capital to get through the first year,” Schmitt encourages, “with additional money tucked away for an effective marketing and promotion plan of action.”
Another part of business you need to familiarize yourself with if you’re going to hire other massage therapists in your practice is management. Schmitt believes there should be a clear distinction between managers and employees, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly. “You need to position yourself to manage staff, not be a friend,” she explains. “This is not to say that you don’t encourage a warm, friendly and close relationship with your associates, but it’s different than being buddies.”
Think carefully when you hire staff, Schmitt recommends, and be sure you act as you want your employees to behave. “It’s your job to raise the standard of performance and to respond if someone doesn’t measure up,” she continues.“People love to work for firm and fair management, and that pride transcends to a positive client experience.”
Put It In Writing
Writing a business plan takes time, but the exercise should give you a very good idea of whether or not your business is set up for success. You’ll be able to define your goals and realistically assess if you can achieve these goals. Following are some key aspects of a business plan you need to fully consider when developing your ideas for building a practice.
Basic Goals and Objectives. Here, you might want to think of a mission statement for your practice. Think about what you want to achieve and then write a few lines that describe the practice you are hoping to build in concise, clear language. This statement can also encompass your philosophy of massage therapy. For example: [Name of Practice] provides therapeutic massage to help people maintain a healthy lifestyle and deal with low-back pain in an environment built on trust and professionalism.
Consumer Demand. You won’t be able to get exact numbers concerning consumer demand in your area, but it’s worthwhile to try to estimate what demand might be. A good place to start is looking at what national averages are for massage therapy use. AMTA reports on this information annually. Here’s one formula you might use: 1. Estimate your local adult population (total a) 2. Then, estimate the percentage of local consumers who might get a massage during one year. If you believe your area may mirror national averages, for example, use 22 percent. 3. Multiply total (a) and total (b), giving you the total number of potential clients in your area. 4. Multiplying the total number of potential clients by the number of visits each potential client might make in one year will give you the total demand by potential clients.
Of course, numbers aren’t the entire story. You need to think anecdotally, as well. Think about how many people you know in the community who might become your clients. Do you have an idea of how receptive people in your local area are to complementary and alternative health approaches? You also need to be sure you account for the number of practicing massage therapists in your area.
Estimate Start-up Expenses. Knowing what opening a practice is going to cost is essential to understanding if your goal is realistic. Think about the money you’re going to need for both one-time and ongoing expenses. Some common expense categories include:
Occupancy: Are you going to rent space? If so, how much can you afford monthly? Here, you might also include the smaller monthly expense, such as the cost of a phone line and any portion of the utilities you might have to pay. Also, be sure you find out if you need a business license, and how much you can expect to pay for one if needed.
Operating Costs: These expenses include anything you need to open and maintain your practice, from any outside professionals you hire to create promotional material to the oils and lotions you use during a massage session. When thinking of these items, include everything that comes to mind, no matter how small. You want to have a good idea of everything you’ll be spending money on to keep your practice open.
Capital Expenses: You’re going to need things like furniture for the waiting room, a massage table and lighting—to name a few—that won’t be ongoing monthly expenses but are instead one-time investments. Even though you won’t need to budget monthly for these expenses, you need to know, and prepare for, the cost of these items up front. Don't forget to include a computer, printer and fax equipment, too.
Marketing: The cost of getting the word out, not just when you first open your practice but in ongoing efforts, needs to be accounted for when writing your business plan. Think seriously about what marketing initiatives you might want to pursue, and then get some estimates about what these efforts might cost. Are you going to advertise? Design and print brochures? Calculate what you might expect to spend, from hiring a graphic designer to buying ad space to printing business cards.
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