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Ep 189 - Invest in Yourself and Your Business with Davonna Willis

"Fuel Your Passion" written in neon.

In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren sit down with Davonna Willis to discuss what led her to massage therapy, how she became a business coach and CE provider, lessons learned when expanding her massage practice and coaching business, and how to overcome common roadblocks in your massage business.

Author Images
Davonna Willis, educator, entrepreneur, and wellness practitioner.
Author Bio

As a respected health and wellness practitioner, an acclaimed entrepreneur, and educator, Davonna Willis is a passionate advocate for her clients and students. She has a master’s in health education and bachelor’s in athletic training. Davonna has over 20 years of experience in the health and wellness field. Starting in the Bronx and moving her way west, Davonna is a well-rounded business professional especially accomplished in holistic physical rehabilitation therapy. 

As CEO of two businesses, Blue Skyes Massage & Wellness Center and 4 Nineteen Education & Training, Davonna is committed to establishing and sustaining high quality standards of care in the industry. As the leader of an award-winning practice, Davonna is widely known as someone who cares deeply about client relationships and practitioner integrity.

4 Nineteen Education & Training is a nationally accredited CEU school for massage therapist and athletic trainers through the NCBTMB. Davonna facilitates a variety of massage curricula and offers consulting on marketing and strategy to new business enterprises.


This podcast sponsored by: 

Anatomy Trains:

Anatomy Trains is a global leader in online anatomy educationand alsoprovides in-classroom certification programs forstructuralintegration in the US, Canada, Australia,Europe, Japan, and China, as well as fresh-tissue cadaverdissectionlabs 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 itsfourthedition 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 holisticanatomy in treating system-wide patterns to provide improved client outcomes in terms of structure and function. 


Universal Companies:

Universal Companies has everything the spa professional needs for success, including massage tables and accessories, linens, tools, pain relief products like arnica, and a range of lotions, oils, and gels. The products we offer help the independent practitioner save on their everyday expenses, as well as provide the convenience of shopping across broad categories.

Recognized as the “Favorite Distributor” in the American Spa Professional’s Choice Awards for the past 17 years, we see this as a continuous challenge to provide the best products that pros trust the most.

Beyond our extensive selection of spa products, equipment, and tools, we have an education and marketing site for our customers to develop their skills and promote their business. The UCo Learning Network offers CEU courses, marketing kits, and business tools.







Dr. Ida Rolf Institute:

The Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® (DIRI) is a global leader in optimizing human structure and function through our proprietary method of Rolfing® Structural Integration. It is our mission to provide high quality education and promote research to advance Rolfing® Structural Integration and Rolf Movement® Integration, visioning a world in which this is an integral part of health and well-being. DIRI is the only school worldwide that trains Rolfers® and Rolf Movement® Practitioners, and certified Rolfers are the only professionals who can provide Rolfing Structural Integration to the public. To learn more, please visit or call (303) 449-5903.


Phone: 303-449-5903

Handspring Publishing:

Handspring Publishing specializes in professional-level books for massage therapists, osteopaths, yoga and Pilates teachers, physiotherapists, and other professionals who use touch or movement to help patients achieve wellness. Handspring Publishing’s books are written and produced to serve the professional and educational needs of health and medical professionals, musculoskeletal therapists, and movement teachers. Its list includes bestsellers like Fascial Stretch Therapy by Chris and Ann Frederick, Fascia: What It Is and Why It Matters by David Lesondak, Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy: Third Edition by Carole Osborne, Michele Kolakowski, and David M. Lobenstine, and the recently published Oncology Massage: An Integrative Approach to Cancer Care by Janet Penny and Rebecca Sturgeon. Handspring’s books combine attractive and accessible presentations with an evidence-based approach to writing, including referencing the latest research findings. Authors are drawn from the ranks of highly respected teachers and experts in their area of specialization, including Jim McCormick, Til Luchau, Robert Schleip, Graham Scarr, Gayle MacDonald, and Carolyn Tague, among others. ABMP members save 20% on regular list prices. Visit and use discount code abmp20 to order. Shipping is free to all addresses in the United States and the United Kingdom.







Full Transcript

0:00:00.6 Kristin Coverly: ABMP members get 20% off the list price on all Hand Spring publishing titles, including Functional Exercise Prescription, supporting rehabilitation in movement and sport, and Oncology Massage, and integrative approach to cancer care. Visit to learn about other books to grow your practice. ABMP members visit to access your discount code to save 20% on all list prices with free shipping to US and UK addresses. Find your next favorite book at

0:00:43.3 Darren Buford: What better time to reflect on your career and future than now. The Dr. Ida Rolf Institute based in Boulder, Colorado with training centers around the world offers the highest quality education and training for body workers looking to become Rolfers. You can have a rewarding career helping people feel better and move more fluidly in their bodies. A career in rolfing pays more and allows maximum flexibility and freedom, be your own boss, help people build your career. Call the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute today at 303-449-5903 or visit to get started.


0:01:32.9 DB: I'm Darren Buford.

0:01:33.0 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly.

0:01:33.8 DB: And welcome to The ABMP podcast, a podcast where we speak with a massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Davonna Willis. Davonna is a health and wellness practitioner, entrepreneur and advocate for her clients and students. She owns 4 Nineteen Education and Training, where she teaches massage courses and is a marketing and strategy consultant to new business owners. Learn more at, that's the number 4, nineteen spelled out, Hello, Davonna? Hello, Kristin?

0:02:05.4 Davonna Willis: Hi, Darren, hi Kristin.

0:02:07.5 KC: Hi, welcome to the ABMP podcast. We're so excited to have you here, looking forward to our conversation, but let's start by letting our listeners know a little bit more about you. So tell us what led you to massage therapy and then to becoming a business coach and CE provider. Tell us about the journey.

0:02:24.5 DW: Sure, so first and foremost, I am from New York, so I'm a New York City girl from the Bronx, born and raised, not too far from Yankee stadium, and my journey to massage is a little bit different, so my background is in sports medicine and athletic training, and so we used to have a sports massage therapist come to our school to work on our athletes, and so when she would come in, I was like, "What are you doing differently than what we're doing?" And so she would talk to me about their flexibility and breaking up some scar tissue, because if you don't know what an athletic trainer is, it's pretty much a physical therapist for the athletes. So we're their first responders, if you will, their providers, we take care of them. And so we do the typical physical therapy type function. So once I graduated Xavier and I went back home to New York, I looked up massage schools in Europe, and I have found the Swedish Institute is one of the longest standing massage schools, and so I attended, so I was... It's so funny. So, at the time, I think it was 1800 hours, so I received an Associate's degree.

0:03:45.8 DB: Wow.

0:03:47.6 DW: I already had my Bachelor's, and then I received an Associate's degree because it was almost like a two-year program. And that's how I ended up becoming a massage therapist by way of athletic training, but I knew I wanted to combine both of my modalities together. And so once I finished massage school, I was studying for my national certification to become an athletic trainer. I started working at Columbia University in their sports medicine department and working with their athletes. So I was working with the soccer team, I had a couple of teams I was working with, so sometimes other teams that weren't my teams were like, "Hey Davonna, can you kinda rub my hamstrings out a little bit, do some spot treatment." Because everyone knew that I had those skill sets. So that was my roundabout way of getting into massage.

0:04:44.3 DB: Davonna, let's dive a little deeper into your business coaching and helping practitioners, is there a common piece of advice, or action step that you find most practitioners need, or where do you start?

0:04:57.2 DW: I usually start knowing what your target market is, so that's really... Because as massage therapists, we're known to be empaths, and "I wanna help everyone, and I wanna love everybody and... " But what I really talk about is, know your numbers. If you really wanna be a business owner, know your numbers, and what do I mean by that? Know how many clients you need a week, a day, a week a month, knowing how your retention numbers, knowing your budget, your finances, you're having your P&L, profit and loss, knowing your numbers, that's something, and I just... Two weeks ago, we went through that, maybe three weeks ago, I went through that with my... We have a 4 Nineteen coach counsel that my Peer to Peer Coaching Group, and we were digging in on their numbers and sometimes it could be disheartening. You think you're doing good, till you see, you were strong in September, and in October you're down, what happened? So you know somebody or a couple of people didn't come back, but you didn't really know the impact it was on your finances. And so knowing your numbers is really important.

0:06:10.2 DB: Do you find that it's the most common roadblock to people when they're first starting out, is that the biggest hurdle?

0:06:15.8 DW: Money is the biggest hurdle.


0:06:19.0 DW: Cash flow, that's one of the biggest hurdles, because they don't even know about that number is cause they're like, "Well, I don't have any money. I don't have money to even get a website going or scheduling program." So I find that cash flow's the first hurdle.

0:06:41.2 KC: And if someone is just starting out and they do have a cash flow problem, there's a zero in that column in there, on there spreadsheet. What's the first thing you recommend that they do to shift that to start getting clients in the door?

0:06:53.0 DW: I would say start with first... Everyone says start with your friends and family. Sometimes that's not always the best, because sometimes they're used to getting things for free. "Remember when you was in school, you was just coming to my house and just doing it in for free and... But now you want me to pay for it, and it's what? You want to charge $80? That's too much." Right? So I wouldn't always say friends and family, that, in my experience. Let's just put that out there. But I would say social media, right, and... So we... We all have a Facebook page and just say, "Hey, you guys, I'm starting my business, and for the first 30 days, 60 minutes for $60." And so just putting it out there. Is it directly to your friends and family? Yes and no, but then you're really making it an announcement like, "This is for real, for real. Here's my business name, here's what I... " And then starting a Facebook page, Instagram page, getting your social media out there. I think that would be a really great place to start, and having a free scheduling program. A lot of the scheduling programs nowadays do start with a basic, basic, basic, so you can at least have a scheduling program, so the people who are interested, you give them a link so they can click to that website for them to schedule on your schedule.

0:08:28.2 KC: Davonna, what was one of the biggest lessons you learned along the way as you were starting and expanding your own massage practice and your coaching CE business?

0:08:38.1 DW: I would say one of the biggest lessons is really knowing your market. So when I started, my son was only three months old, and the reason why I started my own business is because I had got laid off when I was on maternity leave. And that's another story for another day, and that was in the sports medicine world. And so I was like, "What can I do?" And I haven't really done a full... I hadn't done a full massage in years, like a 60-minute... I didn't even know where to start. I had to pull out all my old paperwork from the Swedish Institute, like, "What is the protocol? Like, how do I do it?" So anyway, so when I... One of the biggest things was I was sub-letting from a esthetician and she was like a... She was a peer coach to me. She was like, "Girl, you need a rack card, you need a business card, and you need this." And so she would let me come in like one day or two days a week, and I was there for probably three months, and it was in one of these salon spots. We have a lot of those places where everyone has their own individual room, and it was a lot of head dresses, it was a couple of ESTI's, and about one or two massage therapists.

0:09:49.0 DW: I realized real quickly that that wasn't my market. So even though I had my rack card out, I would get... I'm a sports... I'm a sports med, I'm a medical massage therapist. So I would get some, but I noticed the guys who would come and get a hair cut, they would get there... They would get my card and come in, and then they would realize that I was more than just a spa then they would stay and then refer out. And then they were giving me some of their athletic people, 'cause that's what I specialize in. So I quickly learned who my target market was. And then I shift really quickly, I took out all the spine stuff. So knowing who your target market is, and how you're going to work within that target market. So I feel like I am... I know that I'm a expert in my field. No one can tell me I'm not, because I have the education, I have the years, I have the knowledge and the wisdom that comes with that. So being an expert in your field. If you wanna try different things, great, you should, to know what works for you and what didn't.

0:10:56.2 DW: I took a hot stones CE class to know if that was something I wanted to use and learn to place a ____. No, I don't really wanna put stones in the middle of the toes. Does it feel great? Absolutely, when I get it done on myself? Sure. Is that me? No, right. So just knowing, "Oh, well, I can use this to warm up the tissue, so I don't have to do 20 strokes to get deep rides, you're like, "Five with the hot stone, boom!" And I get right... So I would use a little bit to my... Add it in my tool box as a technique, but not do the full hot stone protocol.

0:11:33.2 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.

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0:12:48.8 DB: Now, let's get back to the podcast. Davonna, what tips do you have for practitioners who want to expand their practice, but don't really know where to start? How do they make that leap?

0:12:57.8 DW: Know your numbers.


0:13:00.7 DW: Have a budget. You have to have a budget. When I did that in 2017, that's when I sat down with a business coach, 'cause I said, "Listen, I know I just don't wanna do massage, my background is in sports medicine, so I wanna grow that part. I want to add both to it. I wanna do my corrective therapy, and my stretch therapy in my sessions and in my business. And I grew a team of five. And so, knowing what that looks like, knowing how much it is, and I knew I didn't wanna have contractors. For the longest... I did build-in contractors, but I'm Type A and I then I have a brand. Before I sold my massage practice. I had a brand and I know what that is. When anybody comes into Blue Skies, whether they get me or John, or Julie, or whatever. It's consistent. It's not like they skipped a beat. Julie is sick, but they gotta go to John. They're gonna get that same consistency. And so obviously, and this is where people make mistakes, they wanna build or they wanna add a team member, but they wanna go to a contractor route, but then they wanna determine their hours and how they want them to practice and all that stuff. You can't.

0:14:32.6 DW: But as an employee, you can. But then with employee, it comes employment taxes, it comes worker's comp, it comes... And so then you have to budget for that. One of the biggest things I will always contact my accountant and bookkeeper, I'm like, "But why is the employer taxes... " You know, she's like, Well, Devan... " That was like a constant... 'Cause the employer taxes is a killer. I'm gonna be really upfront with you, because that's something you really need to budget for. But then knowing my business model, I really still couldn't do the contractor thing because I wanted the consistency. And so, I'll give you an example. The lymphatic drainage massage that I learned years ago from Marsha, Marsha retired, she developed it. It's called, Free the Flow Lymphatic Drainage massage work. I love it. I've gotten great results. We had a big contract with a cancer treatment center. Used that on the cancer patients. And not to knock any other lymphatic, 'cause I had to learn the basics. I learned about Vodder and all that stuff. But this is something I teach, and this is something that we used in my practice. All the therapists learned this technique for consistency.

0:15:58.9 DW: I told you, this is why it was ____, too. I had a young lady who came in, she was certified already in the Vodder technique, and I was like, "That's great, you can use some of that, but you still have to use our technique. Are you open to that?" And I make sure I ask that because if somebody's been doing whatever technique they've been doing, and she's been in the game for a while, so it's kind of hard to change. And I was like, "Are you open to it? 'Cause we have the need for another lymphatic therapist." And they have to be certified. And so, she said, "Yes." And we trained her, I had some of the girls train her. And then, I had them work with her and then she had to show. Well come to find out, she was out one day and she had to go to one of our other girls, a client had to go to one of our other girls, and then the client never wanted to leave the other girl because she saw more results as she liked the flow better. And she's like, "Well, how come such and such didn't do that." And I didn't know, so I hear from my admin in the front and I'm like, "Well, what's going on?" And then, you know, clients, they'll tell you, they're not happy.

0:17:18.7 DW: And she wanted to stay with the other. And I'm not gonna tell them not to. Well, obviously she enjoyed her work. But when it came out to be, we found out she wasn't using, not even a little bit, 'cause I was like, "You can use yours but still add some of ours in the technique." And she wasn't. And then, you know what? And it was very apparent with her numbers.

0:17:45.5 DB: Back to the numbers, always back to the numbers.

0:17:50.0 DB: It goes back to the numbers.

0:17:50.8 DW: Alright, Davonna, another tip you have for practitioners is to develop a business calendar, What type of activities do you recommend they schedule?

0:17:57.6 KC: Social media. The time of day. There's a lot of different articles when it's the perfect time of day to have your social media presence. So instead of sitting there and doing it manually every day, you can schedule it out. And, so having a calendar. Okay, so December is coming, and in November, probably November 25th, I'mma schedule my whole December calendar. The time of day that you want to actually check emails. And so, doing that back office things. If you don't have it in your budget to have someone do your accounting, you working on your own accounting, whether it's QuickBooks or using one of the scheduling programs. Some of them now have reporting for you going through that, looking at your numbers. So really, being a business owner. These are the things that you have to do. You have to separate. And this was a conversation I recently just had, too. Separate the business from when you working on people. And so sometimes, going back to a little bit of what they need to know, is having a policy and procedures. Because what I was finding, one of my clients was getting frustrated because she wasn't sticking to her policies and procedures or wasn't enforcing those. So then, when someone wants to no-show or last minute cancel, and that money you was waiting for, and then they're not...

0:19:34.6 DW: The money is not there, then you get mad and now you don't wanna work with that person and now because you let that person go too many times so they're like, "Oh, she's cool, I'll be fine." No, you have to stick to your policies, so if you don't have one scheduled day when you're gonna sit down and go through your policies and making sure your clients know scheduling newsletters, different things of that nature.

0:19:58.9 KC: Davonna, let's talk about business management software, I'm getting excited because I love organization and spreadsheets, but, you say that a customer relationship management or CRM software program can really help practitioners with client acquisition and retention, so tell us a little bit more about how investing in a software program and an actual CRM software program is better than what most therapists might be using in the form of just an Excel spreadsheet to track their clients.

0:20:29.9 DW: So I'm all about streamlining, so having creeping on one software is easy, so for me, there's different ones. I... When we first started, I started with Full Slate, and Full Slate was a great program, and then as I started getting busier, I was on the ____ when MassageBook started, and I didn't transfer over because they took a long time to get the text message, and Full Slate had texting to the clients. And once MassageBook transitioned and did the Texas, 'cause they had... It was crazy, they had this, Full Slate had the texting, but they didn't have the SOAP notes. MassageBook, had the SOAP notes, but not the texting. And I'm like, "I'm not transferring", 'cause it's a lot when you transfer into your whole client list 'cause it's a different program and learning it. Anyway, so once they transfered over, I transfered over to MassageBook, I'm not a sponsor of MassageBook, I'm just telling about my experience and why it was great for me and then my team.

0:21:37.9 DW: So for me, it's really important because MassageBook had not only the scheduling program, I can have each team have their own schedule, have access to their own schedule, don't have to look at the full schedule. It also has... My admin had some privileges that the team didn't have because I had her doing certain things, and then my accountant was able to see everything because he was able to run a report and see the numbers, and when I was having our monthly meaning about retention, it had everyone's name, the clients they saw, the services they had, the number. So reporting is really important when you're running a business, as a real business owner, you really wanna take your business to the next level, is knowing your numbers, and so that's why I love CRMS 'cause everything is right there, you don't need additional software when you can... You find the one that works for you and all your needs. But that one was the best for me.

0:22:44.4 KC: That's great. So really looking for one program that does it all, the scheduling, the customer client management...

0:22:50.7 DW: The newsletters, promotion...

0:22:53.7 KC: Finances, everything combined, yeah.

0:22:54.5 DW: Yeah, gift certificates, and all the reporting is right there for you. How many gift certificates did you sell this holiday? Sees it, right? And so that number's there and you can compare it to last holiday season. So that, those numbers and having everything in one software was really important for me for streamlining.

0:23:16.4 KC: And Davonna, for our listeners who might not yet have invested in an online scheduling or CRM software program, about how much does it cost per month? What's the range that they might be looking at investing?

0:23:27.6 DW: Between probably, on a lower and maybe 14, 15 to about 50. There are more, there's ones that are higher, but to get at least the basic necessities, it's just you're finding the one that works well for you, what are your business... What are your business needs?

0:23:46.8 KC: And I'm guessing you're gonna say, It's worth every penny, yes?

0:23:52.4 DB: 100%, 100%.

0:23:54.6 KC: Davonna, you've already shared a lot of great information with us today. But I'd love to ask, what piece of advice would you like to share with listeners today? What's most important for you that our listeners hear?

0:24:07.9 DW: I would say, find a mentor or a business consultant that you can really talk to, it would be a great expense because you, it won't even look like an expense, because of all the growth that you would receive from that, and so, investing in you and your business is very important. Taking many different business certifications, courses, as well as regular courses to learn more, 'cause that's how I was able to grow and eventually sell my business. So really investing yourself, in your business, to take yourself to another level.

0:24:49.6 KC: I want to thank our guest today, Davonna Willis. For more information about Davonna, visit ABMP podcast listeners, ABMP members have access to more than 50 discounts through their membership services include discounts on continuing education, home utilities and cell phone service, legal fees, office equipment and more, go to to learn. Thanks Davonna, thanks, Kristin.

0:25:15.2 DW: Thank you for having me today.

0:25:16.1 KC: Thanks for being with us, Davonna, and congratulations on everything you've built and also for taking the time to be a business coach and help other practitioners grow and to expand as well, that's really important work, we thank you for it.

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