April, 1991: I had arrived in San Francisco from Seattle in December, 1990. I knew no one but my boyfriend, who I had come to SF to be with. I built my first practice while I was still a student. I was working as a waitress in an excellent Italian restaurant in San Francisco.
The food was great, but the owner was nuts. One night I just couldn’t take it anymore. I called the chef’s wife after I left for the night and told her I wasn’t coming back. Sad to say, she wasn’t even upset at me! I guess it had happened a few times…
Anyway, I had to pay the bills. I got busy. Two and a half months later, I graduated from my massage therapy curriculum and had 12 clients booked for the week. It was an excellent start, and I proved for myself right from the beginning that I could do it.
July, 1991: I graduated from the National Holistic Institute with an adequate practice, still growing. The day I graduated, my rates went up because I was no longer a student.
January, 1992: I was invited to join the faculty at the National Holistic Institute. This was a perfect blend for me. In those days, teachers worked part time and had practices. I moved from San Francisco to Berkeley and started a new practice from scratch. I decided that I would stay until I had taught everything on the curriculum.
1993: Promoted to a full time management position. I thought I would enjoy helping teachers do their thing, thereby positively impacting more people. I let my practice dwindle to a few, but I didn’t give it up completely. I knew that private clients were my best security, and it paid better than my “real” job!
1995: I accepted that I hated being an administrator. Went back to the classroom and to my practice. I began teaching Reiki on the weekends. Got too busy, and convinced the administration to bend the rules and let me teach 8 hours per week instead of the required 20. Met my children’s father and moved to the SF Bay Peninsula. Started another practice from scratch.
May, 1997: Taught my last class at nhi. I was too big with my first child to get in and out of the car for the commute, and I had met my goal for teaching every class on the curriculum.
June, 1997: Martin Gabriel arrived, and I lost my heart. I took a little time off and decided to just have a practice for awhile.
July, 1997: We heard from an insider that Mills-Peninsula Health Center was starting an outpatient massage therapy program. I couldn’t resist. My spouse, who was also a massage therapist, and I applied. I was one of three therapists hired to get the program off the ground. We met with our manager weekly for several weeks and opened our doors in September.
1997-1999: The program grew. It was a good job, and therapists were eager to work there. We grew to 9 therapists with nearly full time schedules. Good pay, excellent benefits. I was the top therapist on staff, with my schedule booked out two months in advance. I still kept some private clients. My spouse joined the team on the second round of hiring.
1999-2002: My Maltese husband wanted to introduce our work to his native country. We packed up and moved to Malta. Our manager at Mills-Peninsula assured us that we could come back at any time, and we would always find a job waiting for us. I was expecting our second child.
We introduced sports massage and on-site massage to the Islands. We became the official therapists for the Maltese Triathlon team, and got the first ever on-site contract on the Island with a bank. We built a busy practice. We bought a nice home near the sea. We had a beautiful massage therapy facility. I taught yoga in addition to doing massages.
Unfortunately, our business model wasn’t suited to the culture. As soon as therapists learned anything from us, they left and tried to take our clients. We discovered that we were chained to our business. We were wealthy, but bone tired.
August, 1999: Felicia Grace arrived. I lost my heart a second time. I didn’t want her to grow up in Malta, where gender roles were a few decades behind the United States.
May, 2002: We sold our business and returned to the U.S. We resumed our positions at the hospital. There were now 15 therapists there. Mills had just become part of the Institute for Health and Healing at California Pacific Medical Center. I had the opportunity to go through a one year certificate program on Integrative Medicine and Spirituality, with a focus on Inpatient Massage. By this time I was working on the Medical and Surgery unit at Peninsula Hospital, and in the Acute Rehab department at Mills. I worked almost full time, and still had private clients. I had stopped teaching Reiki when Papa got tired of being Mom on the weekends. I got my teaching fix at the Wellness Center, teaching classes for the community on managing neck pain, and acupressure self treatment. I got private clients from this exposure.
December, 2003: Spouse and I split up. I became a single mother. Unbelievable stress, but I kept it together. Glad that we were both earning enough. Two households are much more costly than one.
December, 2006: Economic pressure and internal changes at the hospital threatened the department. The department downsized. From 15 therapists we reduced to 5, with stricter schedules. I was glad I had my own clients, in case I got squeezed out. Who stayed was based on seniority, which I had lost by going to Malta. I had to wait to see who would be able to conform to the new requirements. I stayed.
February, 2007: Thanked my lucky stars that I had remained, because I had excellent medical benefits, which I now would need. I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I left work on a Friday afternoon for an ultrasound, and didn’t go back for a year. The treatments were grueling. If you want more on that story, you can read it on my cancer resource website, here.
May, 2008: I was ready to ease back into work, but the department fell to the recession and hospital politics. I was now a cancer survivor and uninsurable unless I had an employer to insure me. I was appalled. I had to take a secretarial job to keep my family in benefits. It was 20 hours a week and I detested it. I developed lymphedema from computer use and with some effort, managed to get it under control. I started growing another practice. I had started dating the nicest man in the world.
Early 2009: The department I was working in also fell due to economic pressure within the hospital. I was elated to get out of that job and horrified about health insurance. Got on COBRA and crossed my fingers. Heard from a friend that Lucille Packard was looking for another inpatient therapist, and I secured that position. It was less than one day a week, but I loved being in a hospital again. I was still receiving disability insurance as I recovered from the treatments I received. I knew it would end. I started building a practice that would work for my needs as they were now.
August, 2010: Married the nicest man in the world. Stopped worrying about health insurance. Continued to build my practice. Went off Disability.
Current: I now have a busy practice that is part in studio and part outcall. I can’t do back-to-back massages as I did before I had cancer, because my left arm might object and swell up. I pace myself. and spread my sessions out. I work one day per week for four hours at Lucille Packard at El Camino hospital. I work with pediatric patients, and being there is the highlight of my week. This balance works very well.
My outcall business is based in several affluent communities where clients are happy to pay me well, as my skill and experience warrants. Outcall costs more, so I am paid well for less of the kind of work that will stress my body. At this point it doesn’t matter. My lymphedema has become a non-issue with consistent self care. My business continues to grow steadily on its own, because the business habits I have developed over the years makes it happen automatically.
I only practice massage at home when my offspring are absent, because hordes of teenagers do not create a peaceful environment! My current business model also includes some passive income from product sales and writing on the internet. I also do some wellness coaching by phone, which I can do at home when my offspring are there. My business model has been created based on my own personal needs and goals. No two therapists are alike, and what works for one may not be right for another. Everything I do feeds into everything else, for a congruent whole business.
My particular temperament thrives on a mix of social and one-one one environments. I am too outgoing to be happy with just individual sessions, so in order to be fully present for my clients I make sure I have other outlets. Teaching is part of it, and artistic pursuits. I sing with a quartet, participate in musical theater with my daughter, and write. This is the right mix for me.
There is a right mix for every skilled massage therapist who has the audacity to create exactly that. That’s pillar #4 of my six pillars, the right business model. It’s also pillar #5, self care. Self care is multidimensional, and affects every part of your business.
I hope you will find resources here on this site that will help you create or fine tune your perfect business!