Ep 166 – Building a Business Around Clarity with Qiana Thompson

A coffee mug with the word "begin."

In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Darren and Kristin sit down with Qiana Thompson to discuss how she cracked the code to a six-figure practice by being herself, becoming a business consultant to help a new generation of massage therapists gain clarity, and how she helps others reimagine their business to reflect their vision and values.

Author Images: 
Massage therapist Qiana Thompson.
Author Bio: 

Qiana Thompson has been a sports and orthopedic massage therapist for over 20 years and has run Body Realm Center Inc., a successful myofascial therapy, sports, and orthopedic massage therapy practice, for the past 10 years. She helps massage therapists, bodyworkers, and wellness professionals restructure their business to be more authentic to the therapist and position them to earn six figures and more through her business coaching. Learn more at www.QianaThompson.com.


This podcast sponsored by:    

Anatomy Trains:  

Anatomy Trains is a global leader in online anatomy education and also provides in-classroom certification programs for structural integration in the US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan, and China, as well as fresh-tissue cadaver dissection labs and weekend courses. The work of Anatomy Trains originated with founder Tom Myers, who mapped the human body into 13 myofascial meridians in his original book, currently in its fourth edition and translated into 12 languages. The principles of Anatomy Trains are used by osteopaths, physical therapists, bodyworkers, massage therapists, personal trainers, yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonics, and other body-minded manual therapists and movement professionals. Anatomy Trains inspires these practitioners to work with holistic anatomy in treating system-wide patterns to provide improved client outcomes in terms of structure and function.  

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CBD Clinic:

CBD Clinic products are the first nonprescription, over-the-counter topical medications that combine authorized active pharmaceutical ingredients and CBD enriching emollients such as hemp extract. Visit cbdclinic.co to get a sample and start feeling the difference for yourself today. Join our private Facebook group and connect with other massage therapists and HCPs using CBD Clinic products already.

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Phone: 303-223-0863

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Elements Massage:

Founded by a massage therapist for massage therapists, the Elements Massage® brand is a network of independently owned and operated studios dedicated to changing lives—including yours! The Elements Massage brand believes massage therapists deserve a supportive team, business and marketing resources, and the chance to learn as much as they want, so many Elements Massage studios offer and reimburse continuing education on an ongoing basis. It’s no surprise Elements Massage therapist and client satisfaction leads the industry. That’s because from day one, the brand has kept an unmatched commitment to deliver the best therapeutic massage experiences possible for both clients and massage therapists. Elements Massage studios expects the best. So should you. If this sounds like a fit, reach out. Studios are hiring! Visit ElementsMassage.com/ABMP for more information.

Website: elementsmassage.com/ABMP

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Each Elements Massage® studio is independently owned and operated. Franchise owners (or their designated hiring managers) are solely responsible for all employment and personnel decisions and matters regarding their independently owned and operated studios, including hiring, direction, training, supervision, discipline, discharge, compensation (e.g., wage practices and tax withholding and reporting requirements), and termination of employment. Elements Therapeutic Massage, LLC (ETM) is not involved in, and is not responsible for, employment and personnel matters and decisions made by any franchise owner. All individuals hired by franchise owners’ studios are their employees, not those of ETM. Benefits vary by independently owned and operated Elements Massage® studios. Elements Massage® and Elements Massage + design are registered trademarks owned by ETM.

Full Transcript: 

0:00:00.0 Speaker 1: The Elements Massage brand believes massage therapists deserve a supportive team, business and marketing resources, linens, lotions, and the chance to learn as much as they want. So many Elements Massage studios offer continuing education too. What's better, they're hiring. To get your foot in the door, let them know we sent you, by visiting elementsmassage.com/ABMP. That's elementsmassage.com/ABMP.

0:00:33.6 S1: As a massage therapist, you know that truly the world's most beautiful machine is in your hands. You help relieve the pain and pressures that hold your clients back from fully enjoying life. The CBD Clinic Massage collection uses ingredients from nature to deliver strong, effective temporary pain relief with aromatic botanicals and natural emollients like CBD. Our tiered pain products let you personalize your massage to meet each client's needs. Be your clients' hero by giving them the massage treatment of their dreams with CBD Clinic. Learn more at CBDclinic.co.


0:01:25.4 Speaker 2: I'm Darren Buford.

0:01:26.5 Speaker 3: And I'm Kristen Coverly.

0:01:27.2 S2: And welcome to The ABMP podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Qiana Thompson. Qiana has been a sports and orthopedic massage therapist for over 20 years, and has run Body Realm Center Incorporated, a successful miofascial therapy, sports and orthopedic massage therapy practice, for the past 10 years. She helps massage therapists, body workers and wellness professionals restructure their business to be more authentic to the therapist, and position them to earn six figures through her business coaching. Learn more at QianaThompson.com. Hello, Kristen, and Hello, Qiana.

0:02:05.1 Speaker 4: Hi, how are you guys doing?

0:02:07.0 S3: We're great, we're so excited that you're here. And listeners, I am really excited to let you know that Qiana is one of our presenters at the upcoming ABMP CE Summit. She's one of our Biz Tips From the Pros presenters. Her presentation is called Six-Figure Money Mindset for MTs, and I can't wait for you to see it. The CE Summit is October 26th and 27th. Six CE hours, 15 presentations, 22 presenters. We can't wait for you to join us. The event is free for ABMP members and just $99 for non-members. Learn more and register at ABMP.com/Summit. Qiana, we have so much to talk to you about, but let's start at the beginning. Tell us your story and how you grew your own massage therapy practice into a six-figure business.

0:02:55.5 S4: Well, it's a story, 'cause I've been a massage therapist for over 20 years. I actually went into massage school at 18 years old, when I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist. At the time I was going to college part-time, working, and it was when I sat down with a counselor and we mapped out my plan that she told me it was gonna take me about 10 years. And I said, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute now. We gotta rethink some things." So I thought at the time the smart thing to do was to try to get my foot in the door with some kind of trade, and massage seemed like the perfect fit. And that's exactly what I did. Once I become a massage therapist, I worked for a boutique gym that had a physical therapy department in it. It's a gym that... I've never seen anything like it since. It was a raquet ball gym, they had a bistro inside, it made no sense. You're trying to lose weight and here comes this guy with stuffed mushrooms. Like, "You want stuffed... " "Of course I want stuffed mushrooms."


0:03:51.8 S4: But the culture, the atmosphere was amazing, and it was a huge learning experience for me to be a massage therapist and to work that closely with physical therapists, and to really see for myself that that is not what I wanted to do. I didn't know that at the time what I was looking at was kind of like a mill. And so I wish I had explored that a little bit more, but at the time I felt like I was being really helpful to my clients, who are also seeing physical therapy, and I can see the difference in their posture, in their attitude. And I liked that, and I also liked the freedom. What I didn't like was I was broke, like broke broke, and I had to step away a couple of times to have a part-time job.

0:04:31.2 S4: It's a typical story for a lot of massage therapists. And so I moved around the country. I was young, like I said, I graduated massage school, I was 19 at that point, and so I tried living in different places. I lived in Bermuda, I lived in LA County, I lived in New York, and when I moved back, 2011, is when I was like, "I don't wanna work these jobs that are just jobs." And I wanted to start my own business, and I was looking for places to work at as a massage therapist, but I didn't find anything that aligned with me. I didn't not wanna do spa work and I didn't want to just be the warm-up for the chiropractor. And so I was, in my search I found another massage therapist that I wanted to... Or that I got inspired by. And I was like, Well, if you could run your practice and you're young and you know, you look like me, and I was like, I could do that too. Why don't I? And then it was like this light, where it was like, "What took me so long to come to this decision, like, why don't I just do what I wanna do?" So I did.

0:05:30.7 S4: So I started my practice. I started very humbly, I was ABMP member, I did all the marketing, I did all the things. And from there is when I started to learn how to kind of shape what was working, what wasn't working. It took me a while to actually take note that I need to document these things on what was working and what wasn't working, and not just go off a feeling. And so once I started to get my footing with my practice, I was in hustle and grind mode. As a massage therapist, to be "successful", to start making money means that you just overwork yourself, which is what I was doing, or what I thought you were supposed to do.

0:06:05.0 S4: And while I was in that hustle and grind mode, I started getting approached from massage students that had gone to the same massage school as me and wanted to do their internship with me. And I was like, how did you find me? I didn't know you could do that. We got assigned when I was in school, but my job was 10 years prior. And they're like, "Oh well I Googled and you're the only person in the area that does sports massage." And I was like, "I am?" So I was just so in my lane that I did not look up. I didn't look at other therapists what they were doing, what they were charging, I just did my thing. And a lot of that was just part of my upbringing. I grew up very different. I'm Black and Filipino. I lived part of my childhood in the Philippines.

0:06:42.4 S4: It's a culture shock to be American and to go to a third world country like the Philippines, and to be so young and to be so tall, you know. We're talking about the Philippines, they're little people, my peoples are little people. So for me to be the same height as the teacher and I'm in the third grade, that's a lot. And so I'm used to standing out, and I was used to moving around and starting over, and I guess not building my persona around other people's ideals. And so once I started getting approached by massage therapists, I was at a point where I was hitting that ceiling, like I can't see any more clients, I'm getting kind of tired. And I thought, hey, I would love to be able to elevate the massage profession. Because one of the questions I was asking when I went to the massage schools was like, "Hey, it's exactly how it was when I attended. How is this so?"

0:07:36.0 S4: I'm looking at students, the class sizes are smaller, you've got students teaching students. And they were looking at me like I was a unicorn because I ran my own practice and I was living my life off this one income, and they couldn't figure out how. And I was like, "Well, where's all the alumni? Like, where's all your mentors?" And then I had to ask myself like, well, what am I doing? And that's when I decided, I was like, you know what? Well, this is what I can do. So I opened up a second location, specifically so I can have more space to mentor more massage therapists who wanted to intern with me, and I thought at the time I was going to franchise and duplicate myself. And I hired more therapists, and that's when I was like, "This is not for me, I cannot be hiring other therapists and run my practice at the same time." It was like burning the candle at two ends, trying to run my practice, set it up, document everything, have everything be duplicate-able, teach them. And that's when I was like, there's a big disconnect with the massage schooling that I felt, where I was like, it wasn't like I could mentor them because I spent so much time teaching them how to massage the way that I did.

0:08:44.7 S4: They wanted to do what I did, and I was like, "Well, this is what I did," and I really had to back pedal and figure out what exactly did I do. And that's when I started to look outside of massage a lot more for mentorship and coaching, and that's when my business started taking off, is I started investing in coaches, I learned that business is business and it doesn't have to be a massage business to learn business, and that's when I got a lot more clarity on who I was, what I was doing, what made me different, how to self-assess and figure out what my strengths were and why my business was working so much compared to others. And that's when I started hitting six figures. Up until then I was getting close, but I really wanted to hit that six-figure mark. Once I started hitting six figures, then the game was how do you maintain.

0:09:29.7 S3: Such an exciting story, and we could ask you 50 follow-up questions, but my first one will be... First of all, congratulations. That's an impressive story.

0:09:36.6 S4: Thank you. Thank you.

0:09:38.6 S3: And then, secondly, you mentioned that when you opened your second location and you were hiring therapists but still trying to maintain your own practice, that's where you started to feel like, "Wait a minute, this isn't for me." What decision did you make then moving forward? Did you keep the second location, did you let that go, or did you not see clients yourself anymore? Where did you shift when you realized that wasn't working?

0:10:00.2 S4: I shift when... It wasn't working when the pipeline that I had built from massage students to employees wasn't playing out the way I thought it was going to, and it ended up being a lot more work for me. Where it was like they're pretty much getting one on-one coaching for free, and then really what they wanted was they wanted not to duplicate me as a therapist, they wanted to duplicate my business. And so once I learned that, I was like, "Well, that's a different thing." And so that got clear on, I'm like, well, then I don't need two locations. The other thing that happened was the massage school that I went to, I was actually in the last class that was under the original owner. After I graduated that school franchise, and they have multiple locations all throughout California, they had one location in San Francisco, and that's where I was getting most of my massage students. And so when that location closed, that meant I was getting students from further away who pretty much didn't have an interest to commute all the way over here. And once I realized I didn't really need the extra space for massage therapy students and I also didn't need the space for my practice, because I was already at a place where I just kept hitting ceilings, where it's like that first year you're building your business to get busy and then you don't think past that.

0:11:14.8 S4: It's like, "Well, now that I'm busy, now what, right?" I've raised the rates over and over. I've raised the rate 60% and still packed. That's when I was like I need to pivot, and so I scaled back and started to re-imagine my business as a solo practice again, and how do I want to now play that role to help elevate the profession, but not in a mentorship position, as mentoring students. But how do I elevate the profession and give the therapists what is that they want, and that's when I started going into coaching.

0:11:45.9 S2: For a lot of massage therapists, they're gonna hear your story and they're gonna think that that path is viable. And what I mean by that is, do you think... You did the things a lot of massage therapists think they're supposed to do. You worked for a chiropractor, you worked at a gym, right? Spas, those types of things that massage therapists think they're supposed to do. Do you think that that was an important step in your progress and would you encourage others to do that, because oftentimes we hear right when they first start practicing to get more bodies under their hands, to get more experience.

0:12:18.0 S4: I'm gonna go with yes, just because that's my experience. And I've also found like there's no way to... There's no cutting corners when it comes to experience. Experience is experience. You gotta put skin in the game. And a lot of the times it just really comes down to, you don't know what you need to know until you need to know it. You don't know who your clients are until you come across them. You don't know what type of therapist you are until you go through different models and you see what you like, what you don't like, you see what makes sense to you, what doesn't make sense to you, and you see what you align with with your values and with your personality, with your beliefs. And then you create something that is truly yours, and that's what you present to clients. And that's, once you get clear on that, you're able to communicate that a lot more effectively, and that's how you start to attract the kind of clients who are looking for what you want. But I can't say if there's a fast track to it.

0:13:06.1 S4: I think when you get out of massage school, it's less likely that you're gonna be this hot success right from massage school to running your business. And that's what I was seeing a lot of is this false idea where there was this thin line between being confident as a therapist, but also being humble enough to know that you don't know everything. And as a recent graduate, you sure as hell don't know enough. And there's always room to grow, and that was the other thing I learned too. I was like, I have always been a student this entire time, I haven't stopped learning. There's always so much to learn and there's always so much to improve. And so I think if you go in it, if you start with the humbleness and with a student mentality still, that is what's gonna set you up to run a successful practice.

0:13:53.2 S2: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.

0:13:56.0 Speaker 5: Anatomy Trains is delighted to announce a brand new dissection live stream specialty class in September 18th: Lumbopelvic Stability, a one-day layer dissection with Anatomy Trains author Tom Myers and master dissector Todd Garcia. The early bird price of $150 is held until September 10th. After September 10th, the price is $250. Come see the body's actual core for yourself. This course will be provided over Zoom webinar with multiple camera views, live chat, and Q and A. Visit AnatomyTrains.com to sign up.

0:14:30.4 S2: Now, let's get back to the podcast.

0:14:32.4 S3: Qiana, you talk about service versus servitude. Tell us about that.

0:14:38.1 S4: With service and servitude I feel like there's a blurred line in the service industry, in general, about the difference in being of service to someone and being in service to someone. There's helping them and then there's appeasing them. With any service provider, even if you were a hairstylist, I get so much more benefit if a hairstylist was to consult with me and let me know within their expertise what styles work best for me and my lifestyle. Like maybe I don't wanna spend all this time, maybe I want... I want a Beyonce, I want a "I woke up like this" hairstyle. Which is what I got, right? And so, but I would take that any day over someone who just gives me what I ask for simply because I ask for it, knowing damn well it doesn't suit my face. You know? And so that's where the difference comes into play. And going back to massage and that servitude, we're so conditioned to be like, "How's the pressure? What else do you want me to work on?" Instead of positioning ourselves as the expert, like, "Listen, you came to me because, what, my messaging or how I represented myself you were aligned with, and let me help you."

0:15:47.1 S4: "This is how I can help you, and let me explain that." And that's where you start to work with them instead of for them.

0:15:54.2 S3: I'm curious, when you're coaching practitioners, do you find that some people lack confidence to do just what you said, where you can jump in and say, "I'm the expert, here's what I think, here's what I know." What holds practitioners back from doing that? What do you see most?

0:16:10.2 S4: What I see most is a lot of times massage therapists get caught up in not charging their worth. And to me, it's not so much about not charging your worth, it's more so that they don't know how to assign value to what they provide. And they have a hard time finding clarity on who they are as a therapist and how they wanna practice in this profession, and then building their business around that. It has a lot to do with underlying belief systems, following a status quo because you don't know what you're supposed to do, and instead of acknowledging like, "Hey, I don't know what I'm supposed to do in business, let me look up business stuff," they just said, "Well, I got this, I just gotta just work on some clients, you've gotta find some clients." And there's no strategy behind it. So they're just constantly shooting in the dark, you know.? And so that's what I end up seeing is that they're just shooting their shot and they're just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.

0:17:03.1 S4: And what happens is you're spending a lot of time, energy and losing a lot of money by doing it that way. And so I think it's hard for massage therapists to slow down and think strategically about a business and how they wanna maneuver in that space first.

0:17:19.5 S3: Okay, Qiana. So I've been on your website, and I saw one of the things that you wrote about, and there was being your authentic self versus being salesy. Tell me a little bit about that, 'cause that's pretty important here at this stage of what you're talking about.

0:17:34.7 S4: When it comes to a building authenticity or building upon your authenticity, we as massage therapists, or being healers in general, we're naturally going to wanna put other people first. And so we put ourselves last, and that's in every aspect. In family and friend situations, like I have... There was years I missed all kinds of events, important events, because I had clients. I gotta work the weekends. I didn't have Sundays off for almost way more than half a decade, just because I thought that's what I needed to do. And so building a business, people have to understand, especially as a solo practitioner, that you and your business are one. There is no separating it.

0:18:18.4 S4: Your business has to work for you just as much as it does for the clients that you wanna attract and for the clients that you have. We need to focus on understanding that our business and ourselves are one, especially as a solo practice, you are your business and your business is you. That's why it's so important that you are authentic and you feel safe and comfortable to be yourself in your business. I mean, I am a biracial, Black and Filipino, tall, masculine-presenting lesbian. I was like," Oh, there's no way. There's no way people are just gonna wanna come see me." And so I had to put things in place to support my authenticity, that's why I put my pictures on my website. This is what I look like, you have a problem with it don't come to me. You know? These are the sports I'm involved in. If you connect with that, perfect. You know, hey, we can have a chat before your session. All kinds of things to make sure that like, hey, I need to be comfortable in here too, 'cause I'm not trying to tiptoe around somebody because of who knows what your beliefs are.

0:19:17.5 S4: I don't want either one of us to be surprised. And so your business needs to be built around making sure that you feel that you can perform and be your best. And so that is the time of days that you're available to see clients, the days of week that you're available to see clients, making sure that your schedule actually allots for time for you and the things you wanna do, so that you can be your best. And also that it supports you financially, that it's making the type of money that you need it to make and want it to make so that you can live that freedom life. So that you have that time, freedom, and you feel like successful in your business. You have to ask, what would make me feel successful? If I'm working six days a week, seeing six to eight clients a day, I just feel burned. I don't feel successful. It doesn't matter how much money was coming, at some point I wanted to hit six figures so bad that when I hit it I didn't even realize I hit it. And then once I hit it it wasn't enough to justify what I was putting myself through.

0:20:17.7 S4: You know? And so now I work, especially after Covid and all that reflecting, I work two and a half days a week, and I'm loving it. And I realize, I'm like, I don't have to make six figures just doing body work. I can supplement that with other verticals in my business, because that's authentic to me. I'm great at coaching, I'm great at mentoring, I'm great at helping people figure out and get clarity about what is their brand, what is their style, and how to create a whole business around that, their strength. I'm really good at that and I like to do that. So why not make space for that and allow that income to add towards my "six figures". It doesn't have to be one way.

0:20:56.4 S3: I love that, and I love too that you're taking all the experiences that you've gathered and you're helping other practitioners and the profession with that. I've got a question. I am sure that a lot of listeners are resonating with so much of what you're saying today. Question for you on their behalf. What if I've got a listener who is thinking to themselves, you know what? The practice I've built is not reflecting my values, it's not authentic to who I am. What is your advice for them? What's step one? What do they do to start making a shift?

0:21:29.4 S4: You need to evaluate your client experience, and understand that your client experience starts long before you actually meet your client face-to-face. That is how they find you, that is what's on your website, that is your messaging, that is your services, the names of your services, the descriptions of your services. That's your style of customer service, how you connect with people. I think a lot of times, because we're so regimented and we think business is business, sometimes it can be a little cold. When you have that massage therapist and they're like, "Okay, well, you know, drink some water, stretch." It's just very generic. It's not like, hey, how's that new position working. Oh they put you on and now you have to fire half the company, like that's gotta be a lot. How's that playing out in your body, how you sleeping?

0:22:19.4 S4: There's more of a connection there. The class that I've had, I've had for a minimum of six, seven years plus. I see them and I see their entire families, I see their entire network of friends and families, and associates, and that's because I focus on building deep instead of wide. Because I like that person, I want more of them. And so I focused on that, I focused on client retention over client acquisition, but the reality is you need an influx of client acquisition to start being picky. I always say I'm like, You can't make demands if you're not in demand, so focus on getting in demand.

0:22:53.3 S2: Listeners, there is a lot to unpack in this 30 minutes, and I hope that you take the time to listen and re-listen to everything that Qiana has said. I wanna thank our guest today, Qiana Thompson. And learn more at qianathompson.com. Thanks, Qiana and thanks, Kristen.

0:23:10.6 S4: Thank you.

0:23:10.8 S3: Thank you so much for all that great information. I know for sure that it's gonna help a lot of practitioners.

0:23:17.1 S4: I hope so, I hope so. Thank you guys so much for the opportunity and for sharing your platform with me today.


0:23:45.0 S3: Members are loving ABMP Five Minute Muscles and ABMP Pocket Pathology, two quick reference web apps included with ABMP membership. ABMP Five-Minute Muscles delivers muscle-specific palpation and technique videos, plus origins, insertions and actions for the 83 muscles most commonly addressed by body workers. ABMP Pocket Pathology, created in conjunction with Ruth Warner, puts key information for nearly 200 common pathologies at your fingertips and provides the knowledge you need to help you make informed treatment decisions. Start learning today. ABMP members, log in at ABMP.com and look for the links in the featured benefits section of your member home page. Not a member? Learn about these exciting member benefits at ABMP.com/more.


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