by Dr. Stan Dawson
When a massage therapist finishes massage school, it is time to shift gears from learning to doing. It is time to find work.
Once you get a license to practice massage, the two main questions to ask yourself are: 1) Do I want to work full time or part time? 2) Do I want to get a job or start my own business? How you answer these two questions sets up a number of related issues.
The main factors influencing the first question are: 1) job status 2) job satisfaction 3) availability to work and 4) financial need. Answering this first question takes mostly common sense. If you have a job and you love it, you probably want to keep your job and work only part time. Availability and financial need can dictate whether you can work full or part time. If you take care of children or a family member you may only be able to work part time. If you have money or need money, it will be obvious how much you need to work. All of this is fairly simple and straight forward.
The second question about getting a job or starting your own practice is more complicated. The main factors are: 1) financial resources 2) tolerance for the stress of entrepreneurship 3) ability to build a practice and 4) ability to accept and fulfill professional responsibilities.
A massage therapist who is married may be fortunate enough to have a spouse who makes enough income that the second income is a luxury and not a requirement. If so, that therapist will be able to do whatever s/he wants regarding a job or starting a practice. With sufficient capital backing, s/he can put up with losing money every month for a while and slowly build up a clientele. It is necessary to calculate a monthly business budget and a personal budget when deciding how long you can go before you need to break even or make money. Family support, personal savings or business loans could provide the financial backing required. Even if you have financial backing, it may be wiser to get a job with some sense of expected income than to start your own business. It means less risk.
The issue of risk transitions into the tolerance for the stress of entrepreneurship. It takes a certain type of person to take on the responsibility of owning and running a business. Knowing that your mortgage or rent payment depends solely on your ability to attract enough business is either exhilarating or scary depending on your attitude. Even if you are the entrepreneur type, you may not be ready or able to handle the responsibility until you build up a sufficient case load and income to justify the risk of starting your own business.
Ability to build a practice makes it easier to take the risk of running your own business. If you are gifted at marketing yourself, if you attracted a following of clients while you were in school, it would be easier to take risks. But, you still may prefer to work for someone for a while as your practice grows. When it reaches the point where it can support both your business overhead and your personal expenses, you can gradually drop the job and focus on your own practice. This is a good idea no matter how quickly you build a private clientele. Simply base the timing on when your private practice is big enough. It often takes one to two years to build up enough clients to go out on your own. Knowing that many businesses are struggling and the economy is worse than it has been in 80 years, it still might be smart to work for someone else and keep your risk and investment to a minimum.
The fourth factor – ability to accept and fulfill professional responsibilities – is important for young, new professionals who have not yet faced the responsibility of living on their own and paying their own way. Many graduates of massage programs are not even 21 years old yet. Many others are under 25. Lots of folks these days really aren’t sure what they want to be when they grow up. I’m 63 and I’m still working at it. Until you have a proven track record of success and a certainty that you have a stable commitment to your chosen profession, it might be wise to wait to invest a lot of time and money in your own venture. Get a job; get your hands on a lot of clients; learn to manage cases; learn to build a clientele and learn to maintain a clientele over some time. Then take the leap, if it is what you want and who you are. There are many more seasoned people entering massage schools who already know what they are capable of in the realm of business and entrepreneurship. They are ready to take the leap as soon as it is practical in a financial sense.
When you finish massage school, and it is time to make some money, ask yourself these two questions. Work through to your own answers before you finalize your plans. I hope this helps you and good luck. We need more healthcare practitioners in the world who understand the power of touch and take the time needed to make a difference for their clients.
Stan Dawson, DC is Co-owner and Executive Director of ASHA, School of Massage in suburban Atlanta. Dr. Dawson is a pioneer in the field of holistic health. He started the first holistic health center in the southeast in 1978. He is on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education. He is also on the Education Work Group (EWG) for the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care. The EWG is developing a course to train health care practitioners from both conventional medicine and complementary health care to work as a team. He is passionate about the role of touch, the value of soft tissue work and changing the focus of the health care system from treating illness to creating wellness.