Diane Matkowski, the Massage Mentor, has had many revelatory moments in her life: from getting her first massage, to studying under a hands-on mentor, to making the leap of faith to start her own business. She was terrified. But she took comfort in the phrase from one of her clients: “When you see a doorway, Diane, walk through it.” Diane embraces being uncomfortable and, as such, has been successful in her work—she hasn’t taken a paycheck from anything other than her independent massage business since 1996. We discuss her successes (and failures), her COVID protocols that will stick long after the pandemic is over, and what’s it like being audited by the IRS. What’s the art of massage, according to Diane? Patience, persistence, and perseverance.
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0:01:18.1 Darren Buford: Welcome to The ABMP podcast. My name is Darren Buford, I'm editor-in-chief of Massage and Bodywork Magazine and senior director of communications for ABMP.
0:01:26.1 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly, licensed massage therapist and ABMP's director of professional education.
0:01:31.5 DB: Our guest today is Diane Matkowski. Diane was accredited by the Owens Institute of Massage and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and has an Associate's degree in Business Administration. She's been practicing therapeutic massage for more than 25 years, and has been an ABMP member for 23 years. That's incredible. Diane began her business, Freedom Massage, with only six clients. Presently, more than 12,000 clients have received therapeutic massage within the walls of her business. She moderates a closed group for massage therapists only on Facebook called The Massage Mentor Closed Group and is co-founder of the newly launched The Massage Mentor Institute. In 2010, she was the official massage practitioner for the women's professional soccer team, The Philadelphia Independence. Diane is the author of The Massage Therapist's Guide Book and, The Body Is Art. For more information, visit freedommassage.com and themassagementorinstitute.com. Hello, Diane. Hello, Kristin.
0:02:32.1 Diane Matkowski: Hello! ABMP! ABMP! ABMP!
0:02:40.0 KC: I love it. We're so excited, Diane, to talk to you today, so thank you so much for joining us. Let's start by letting the listeners know a little bit more about you and your story. So how and why did you become a massage therapist, or as we like to call it, what's your superhero origin story?
0:02:56.4 DM: Well, I have to say, I owe A lot to my father, I grew up in a wild home, to say the least. I know we all have a wild home, to a degree, it's our story, it's our place. By the time I was 19, my dad was like, "What am I gonna do with this kid? What am I gonna do with this kid? Oh my God, get out of the house. Oh my God, what are we doing with this kid?" So he said, "Listen, you can either get out of the house and go really far away, or we're gonna start to croon in on you, Diane, we're gonna help you get your life together." And so he said, "You can either move away, far away, Diane, get out of here, or you can go see a massage therapist. I think getting in your... " Honest to God, "I think getting into your body and getting some healing work will help you decide what you wanna do and help you move forward." And that is a true story. My dad is not a wealthy man, he's not a guru of holistic medicine, he worked for PICO Electric, and he was dating a woman who was amazing.
0:04:10.9 DM: And just had this sense of... She just had a really... She was really wise, and I think the suggestion came from her, and I'll never forget getting that first massage, and I didn't know... People think this is weird, and maybe... I don't think other massage therapists think it's weird though, I didn't even know I had a body. Once someone's hands were on me, at that... I was like, "Oh my God, what am I doing?" And I got... The first time I got a touch that was no expectations, just someone helping me out, helping me feel my calves, helping me move blood through my body, and that's really the very first... That's kind of how it started for me, and so my dad was a huge part of it, and my step-mom was a huge part of that journey for me, that first massage, and that first massage, honestly, I thought it was like some kind of weird once in a lifetime thing that they figured out, and there was no other massage therapist on the planet. I thought it was like, "Wow, whoa, they took me to this guru medicine woman," but she... That's kind of what it was back in... I was 20, I'm almost 50 now, so it was a long time ago. So it was a huge experience. And it wasn't till later I met another massage therapist and realised that, "Oh my gosh, this is something I could do for people, I could give them that experience. I could maybe help them wake up and feel their bodies." And I just couldn't believe that I could have a job doing what someone did for me, for other people.
0:05:56.7 DB: Diane, what was that leap to go to massage school then?
0:06:01.3 DM: I would... I was in this point in my life where I was like, "What am I doing?" I was selling cars. I was in... I just was, "What am I doing?" And I remembered that massage, but like I said, I didn't really think that people were making a living. I thought she went to some crazy Buddhist Native American, whatever you wanna call it, whatever you see as that, I thought she did that. And then years later, I was in a park and I had gathered a bunch of people together, just put it out there. And I met this guy and he said, "I do massage." And I was like, "You do massage, what does that mean?" Because even then, I didn't know what that meant. What does that mean? He said, "Well, I have three kids and a wife and I go from house to house, and I massage people." That he started massaging in 1981.
0:06:50.7 DM: So he was like, "You should think about it." So he was my first mentor. I spent time with him at his home. He helped me with so many things prior to even going to massage school, because again, remember when we're talking, we're talking like 1995, 1996? There was No... No, no, no, no licensing, there was no school, there was no franchise, there was barely chiropractors in... Barely massage therapists in chiropractor's offices, there was no massage... I remember when Rick told me, he's like, "Hey, maybe we should go to airports and set up a massage chair," that's how long ago it was. He wanted to charge me to come to his house and learn massage from him. It started to get to that point, and I'm like, "What?" And he's like, "I want $1500," and I'm like, "$1500!" That to me was like $15 million. So I remember his wife looked at me and she goes, "What? Are you gonna sell cars for the rest of your life or are you gonna take a chance? Are you gonna take a chance?" And I said, "I'm gonna take a chance."
0:08:07.2 DM: Everyone thought I was such an idiot 'cause I wasn't even... That wasn't even school yet. I wasn't even getting... That was just a mentor, that was my first mentor, as you would call it now, before I even went to school, I had a mentor, and I gave him 1500 bucks, and I spent three months with him and he taught me everything more than I've learned from most people in my lifetime.
0:08:30.6 DB: Like you mentioned, I think so many of us are accustomed to going the traditional massage school route, and I don't know if Kristin and I have spoken to anyone yet on the podcast who's gone the mentor route. That's fantastic, I love this.
0:08:43.7 DM: And like I said, he taught me everything, helped me do business cards, helped me do brochures and because there wasn't licensing yet, I did even go out on a couple of house calls with him, and when I got $50 cash for doing a house call and being able to express and talk to people with my hands and have them tell me how great I was? And they give me money? I was ecstatic, I was like, "This is it. I have arrived. I love my life and I'm gonna do this... I'm just gonna keep doing this and growing with this." I did though, I hit a road block with that mentoring, it could only take me so far, and I wanted to do more, so I knew I had to go to massage school, complete a program. And then of course, I had to get some ABMP. I had to get the ABMP, I had to become a part of the association. And just so you guys know, Rick, back in the '80s, early '90s, he was like, "You gotta go with ABMP, ABMP. Don't even think about anybody else but ABMP."
0:09:48.1 KC: Thanks Rick.
0:09:51.3 DB: I think we owe him a little stipend or something, that's incredible.
0:09:53.1 KC: A $1500.
0:09:56.5 DM: So that's been my... You guys have been my go-to and my recommendation for all these years as well.
0:10:03.9 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors. Anatomy Trains is excited to invite you to another exciting two-day dissection livestream specialty class, deep dive into joints, April 24th and 25th. This advanced dissection live stream education experience is presented by Tom Myers and master dissector, Todd Garcia. In this two-day event, we will examine the blended nature of support for each of the joint areas. This special dissection livestream format allows us to explore more deeply subjects and areas of interest. Visit anatomytrains.com for details. Now, let's get back to the podcast.
0:10:40.0 DB: Okay, so Diane, you are an independent business owner, so tell us about what was that leap of faith to not only you practicing, but then bringing on employees?
0:10:55.4 DM: I'm still not sure about that. [chuckle] Like I said, being a massage therapist and being a business owner are two completely different things. I remember I was at my house, and I was seeing clients at my house, I was doing house calls, I was doing all this stuff, and one of my clients, I was massaging him, and he said, "You know what Diane, I think it's time to sink or swim." I'm like, "What do you mean?" He's like, "How long can you massage out of your house, Diane? Aren't you lone... What are you doing?" And I really felt lonely, and I felt like I wasn't growing as a massage therapist being by myself. Sure, I was making money and it was easy, and I didn't have to travel, 'cause I was in my house, except for when I was doing house calls, but he said, "Sink or swim." And I just decided I was gonna swim and give it a whirl, and I went and I was terrified. I had an Associate's degree, I never had a business. So the thought of going and renting a place, I was terrified, but one of the things that another client said to me, 'cause I listen to people, see, I listen, I loved listening to people.
0:12:09.3 DM: He said, "Diane, I've built my business because when I see a doorway, I walk through it. You gotta walk through the door. If the door's there, you gotta walk through it," and I have been walking through doors for 25 years and I am uncomfortable, but I keep walking through it anyway, and even here being with you guys, I had to walk through a door to get on this podcast, and I'm thankful for it. So yeah, I am an independent business owner, I have not taken a pay check from any other business other than the massage business since 1996.
0:12:43.1 KC: So Diane, a lot of therapists listening to the podcast also have that really strong desire to expand, but they are nervous, they're still in the shell, hasn't cracked open yet, so what advice do you have for them based on what you learned about hiring that first person and then the second and how that kept growing, what did you learn through that whole experience?
0:13:04.3 DM: I learned that you... It's an inside job, that in order to be a leader or a boss, you are constantly working on yourself, constantly becoming more and more humble, constantly trying to become a better listener and a better person, and less critical, less judgmental, open, honest, willing as my... How? I always go, "How? I'm honest, I'm open, I'm willing." And I try... That, for me has been the greatest thing, and some people would give you a business plan or tell you, "You gotta do this, or first you gotta do this, you gotta do this." It's an inside job, and not everyone's built for it either, and there's nothing wrong with that. I loved working for another company. It was fun, we had a great time. And I think... Again, I think that there are some people who are born to do what I'm doing, and then there's some people that don't wanna do it too. I have amazing staff and it fits their lifestyle.
0:14:10.9 DB: Diane, you said... Pre-pod we had a little conversation on the side, but pre-pod you mentioned that someone told you you are an amazing massage therapist, but terrible at business, so how did you get good at business?
0:14:28.1 DM: Experience, making tons of mistakes, doing things wrong, wiping the dirt off and doing them again. Saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, hiring the wrong people, letting the wrong people go, all of it. Every mistake that I've made is what made me a better business person and not giving up, not feeling defeated, realising... You learn by experience. Time takes time. There's no such thing as messing up, if you learn from it and you keep going, keep going, don't give up, there's no messing up, there's no... The more I do this, the more I realise there's not a black and white, there's a grey and everyone is on their own journey, and I get to be a part of that for a year, cool. If I get to be a part of that for 10 years, cool. No matter what it is, I'm just happy to be doing what I'm doing and be a part of people's lives.
0:15:24.7 DB: The phrase I've always tried to follow is fail fast. Fail fast.
0:15:29.5 DM: It really is a great thing. Without challenges, you don't learn how to have solutions. If everything was easy, it would be weird.
0:15:38.7 KC: Okay, Diane, because you're a business owner, and we are in the times that we're in, we have to, of course, talk about COVID. So tell us about the COVID protocols that you enacted in your business and your whole opening, closing journey during the past year.
0:15:56.1 DM: COVID took everybody by surprise and it's something that I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. You watch TV and you watch some of the crazy shows about the world coming to an end, and they're serious, and then you go through something like this as a business owner, and there's no way to prepare for it almost. There's nothing you can do to prepare for this. We don't have a lot of resources to go back and look at to find out how to handle this, so we were all a little bewildered and as the leader of the tribe, I decided we need to get together on this. I think that my staff... You gotta believe in your staff, you gotta believe in their ideas, they're on the front lines, so we decided to get together and they came to my house, we sat around the picnic table and we talked it out. We found the resource of Ann Williams who does a lot of COVID stuff. So we created a COVID team, team COVID, that was Eugenia and Alicia were nominated. So they were team COVID, so they did a lot of the research.
0:17:01.3 DM: And then once we got the research, we put together our own protocol, we put it together. We typed it up, we put it together, we used some stuff from Ann Williams. We did this mix and match and that was a little bit of a process. It was more of a process than I thought. It was something I couldn't do alone, which is why I have a team of people, and then we created the procedures and then we did videos. So we did videos for staff. So Eugenia, Molly, Alicia and I went to the office and we did videos: How you wash your hands, how you change the tables. Some people are very visual. I personally would not sit there... I'm gonna say this out loud, and read a long list of procedures, that's why I had Alicia and Eugenia do it, 'cause they love to read. I know my lesser strengths, I'm willing to admit it, the beauty of... That's how you move forward. If you're not great at something, that's okay, just admit it and ask for help. So we did these awesome videos, and then the staff got to watch them before they even got in the office, so they felt like they could see and know what was going on.
0:18:11.8 DM: Then, we made videos for the clients. So when the clients were coming, they would know what to expect. They got to see us in a mask, they got to understand that they would be remaining in their cars until we call them in, the door was locked, we would let them in, they would sanitise their hands, we would take their temperature, they would go upstairs and we even showed them what to do with their mask when they went face down and then when they turned over and then when they were done with the session. So we did a step-by-step video for the staff and then for the clients, and everyone was so accommodating and thrilled that they could just sit and watch a video, and I think some clients were like, "What am I gonna do with my mask?" Everyone was very nervous. So I feel like that was a really great way to kind of meet it and make sure everybody was comfortable.
0:19:05.3 KC: Diane, I'm curious, will you keep any of the protocols that you enacted during COVID into the future? Yes?
0:19:13.8 DM: Yes. It's like a dream come true. The way that I have run my businesses, it's old school, we don't have a receptionist. Therapists are with clients through the whole process. Now, we lock the door. Before people would just come in, go wait in the lobby, door locked. I love the locked door, the door will always be locked, you get in the door when you have an appointment. Masks, I have to say, I don't necessarily love them trying to talk in the back office, but in the therapy room, I think the masks are brilliant. I don't mind the mask at all. In fact, I'm like, "Wow, I really made it a long time, not getting sick," and I love the air purifiers in the room. Oh my God! That is so genius. Why didn't I think of that? The universe thought of that. The universe made us do it. So why didn't I do that?
0:20:07.6 KC: And I think you took it a step further and did something with your whole HVAC.
0:20:13.2 DM: We have the whole HVAC, the HVAC has an ultra-violet light in it, so it's called an air scrubber, so it actually cleans the air going out, so now you're breathing the freshest air that you could have possibly breathed in your entire life at Freedom Massage, and then another thing that I love is people aren't coming in sick. I massaged so many people blowing their nose during my sessions, and I didn't have the courage to say, "No, no, go to the doctor, I'm not your doctor." So for me, this empowerment of, no, if you're sick, you can't come in and no. I don't mean to dismiss all the heartache, pain and suffering, but for our industry, I have not seen this as a detrimental thing, I've seen it as a thing that is causing us to be more professional, more sanitised. Everything's so clean now, I won't talk about the '90s. And I'm just thrilled with a lot of things.
0:21:20.4 KC: A lot of learning happened.
0:21:22.7 DM: A lot of learning.
0:21:24.3 DB: Diane, on your site, I also saw that you mentioned on the site, purposely limiting communication in the therapy room.
0:21:30.7 DM: Yes.
0:21:31.3 DB: That's huge. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
0:21:33.9 DM: I have to say, that's another thing that actually has been nice, because what we do is we ask the clients to email us if they have any specific concerns, which as I had reflected on that further. So when a client comes in, then to present and tell you everything that's going on, right in the moment, it's just like if you prepare a little for a podcast, you reflect a little on the questions, maybe you reflect a little. So now the client, if they're giving you their intake ahead of time a little and they're sending it over, they're not on the spot, some people get nervous, some people don't wanna... So they type it in, then they get the ride over too, they get the ride over a couple of days and be like, "Is anything else... " Then maybe put some in their body a little bit more even. We see it on our end, and then we can go, "Hmm, here are some... " Maybe I can Google what is so-and-so doing with the shoulder, so I can even have more information 'cause this person wants their shoulder... So I think it just gives a little more time and allows the therapist to be a little more prepared and also gives the client, they can be a little bit more reflective themselves.
0:22:45.3 KC: Absolutely. And all of us, I think, have had that experience where after the session, we think to ourselves, "Oh, shoot, I forgot to even mention this thing that I've been thinking about for weeks, and then it left my head and my body while I was in there in the moment."
0:23:00.6 DM: Exactly, I agree.
0:23:02.6 DB: Kristin and I spoke yesterday because I was so excited because today, I'm two weeks post second vaccination. Hello world, hello freedom. So here is my mistake, I didn't pre-book a massage, so when I went yesterday thinking, "Oh yeah, I'm just gonna book a massage." Nope, I couldn't find anybody. I was just literally just going around, whatever, a 10 mile radius, all of them were in May, I was like, "Oh my gosh," this is sad for me a little bit, but good for the profession and good for all those practicing MTs out there. It's awesome.
0:23:41.9 DM: It really is. I think it's a great time to be a massage therapist.
0:23:46.9 DB: Alright, Diane, we have a hard shift right now. Let's talk about tax season. Yikes. Tell us about an experience you had surviving an audit, 'cause I know for a lot of people, that sounds like one of the greatest fears or one of the most terrible things that can happen. Tell us a little bit about that experience.
0:24:06.1 DM: Look, I can barely talk just thinking about it, cause there's... You just never think it'll happen to you, you don't think it'll happen to you. It's like I got this entity that you never think you're gonna come in contact with, and back when I first started doing massage, I got my taxes done by a woman who also sold wigs so it was a much different time in my life. So I've really grown up in that business. So here's what happened, was I got a letter, I was like... It said, "Diane Matkowski, audit," and I almost had a heart attack. I googled it, I was like, is that real? Is this real? So I called my accountant and he said, "It's real, this is real, this is how... The IRS won't call you, they'll still send you a paper letter." So I remember when the guy came in the office, he came to my office 'cause they wanna come and see if you have things that you say you have, that you have a business, where the business is, what's in the business. So this guy walks in with a little briefcase, I'm sweating bullets, and he puts down his briefcase on my desk, my desk, and he says, "I want you to know that your chances of being audited are about the same as winning the lottery."
0:25:23.2 DM: So what happens is they do what's called random audits, so they go through and they pick random social security numbers of small businesses, and the reason they do this is not to cause harm, it's to make sure that... At the time, this is how long ago it was, the PalmPilot was hot. Remember PalmPilots?
0:25:45.0 DB: Yes.
0:25:45.5 DM: So he was like, "Yeah, for instance, PalmPilots, we have to... The newest trends and what's being written off by small businesses, we have to get in and kind of do updates on what we're looking for." So that's the reason for the random audits, I didn't do anything that raised a red flag, it was literally just the luck of the draw, so I don't know if people realise that that can happen. I certainly didn't until it was happening.
0:26:15.9 DB: Now, did you feel like your business was up to par, or did you learn things from the audit that you've implemented since?
0:26:22.1 DM: First I was like crying. Like, "Why me? Why?" I just got started, it was 2004 and they were auditing me for 2001. And I was like, "Why? Why?" But then I was like, "Yes! I love the IRS! I love my audit man! I love my... " And I'm not kidding. This is how my brain works. By the end, I was like, "Yes, audit man!" Because I realised that I was gonna learn how to set up my business so perfectly, so perfectly, that not even the IRS... I was free from the IRS, free, because all the little things they look for, I now knew. So I knew what they look for, I knew what I had to do, and I knew that one day... I do some classes on surviving an audit, I knew one day I'd be able to pass that information on other people. So again, the challenges, the feeling defeated, the victim, the poor me, you can do that, or you can say, "Yes, yes, I was audited by the IRS and I'm gonna learn." It's better than any college course I ever took.
0:27:37.9 KC: Absolutely, and it comes back to exactly what you've been saying the whole pod is listen and learn.
0:27:45.1 DM: Listen and learn. And sometimes you might not hear it the first time or the second time, so the lesson will just keep coming at you. And then eventually you'll surrender or you won't.
0:27:55.0 KC: Diane, we hate to end the podcast, but we have to at some point, so let's end it by having you share some of your wisdom and passion with our listeners. Some more of, I should say, since you've been sharing so much great content already. What does it take to be an exceptional massage therapist who practices the art of massage?
0:28:16.0 DM: I love the word art, 'cause for me, I always saw the client's back as a piece of canvas, and I saw my hands as paint brushes, and I got to do whatever I kind of wanted within reason, you know? So for me, it was like an art. I got to express myself with my hands, I could explain to someone that their shoulder was tight without saying a word, that was my art, my hands were my art, and I think to be a great massage therapist, one of the things I always share with people is the three P's: Patience, persistence and perseverance. Time takes time. You gotta hang in there. You don't just go, "Boom! Yay! I'm an awesome massage therapist." It takes thousands of hours, it takes doing the wrong thing, it takes making mistakes, it takes challenges. And one of the big myths, I thought when I did my first couple of massages, when I came out, that there would be people going, "Diane! Diane! Diane! Diane!" If you're waiting for that, you might get it once in a while and that makes it worth it, but most of the time it's, again, an inside job, and you just gotta know that every day you're helping change people's lives, whether you see it or you don't, you are.
0:29:34.8 DB: I don't know about you, but I do have a chanting crowd outside my front door every morning, "Darren! Darren! Darren!" I wanna thank our guest today, Diane Matkowski for joining us. To find out more information about Diane, visit freedommassage.com and themassagementorinstitute.com. Listeners, the ABMP podcast is produced by the team at Associated Body Work and Massage Professionals, a professional membership organisation supporting massage therapists and body workers. Membership includes liability insurance, free continuing education, helpful reference apps like five-minute muscles, and the award-winning Massage and Bodywork magazine. I work on that magazine. Go to abmp.com to learn more about becoming a member. Thanks Diane, thanks Kristin.
0:30:20.2 KC: Thanks so much for joining us Diane.
0:30:22.3 DM: Thank you.
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