In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren speak with Mindy Totten about how an injury changed her course, why she gravitated toward craniosacral therapy, how massage therapists can make the leap to a solo practice, and why she decided to become a mentor to the massage therapy community.
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0:00:58.7 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.
0:01:04.3 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly.
0:01:06.2 DB: And welcome to the ABMP podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and bodywork profession, I guest today is Mindy Totten, after 18 years as a successful craniosacral therapist, it became Mindy's mission to help other massage and bodywork therapists build profitable businesses so they could serve more people and make a great living doing it through private mentoring group coaching programs, and as host of The Do It With Intention podcast, she teaches body workers how to build practices that they love all without burning out or selling out, her favorite accolades she's ever received is when what of our students called her a humorous version of Yoda. We may have to dive deeper into that listeners. Hello, Mindy. And hello, Kristin, and welcome to the podcast.
0:01:49.4 Mindy Totten: Hey, thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to be here.
0:01:53.2 KC: Mindy, we're so excited to have you here. Yes, we're definitely gonna have to dive deeper into the Yoda reference, but Mindy... Let's start it at the beginning. Let's start with your story, how did Body Work and to your life, and how did you become a practicing body worker?
0:02:09.3 MT: I actually have a background in teaching, Kristin, and I am from the Washington DC area, and I was teaching high school and middle school English and Humanities. And after about four years of doing that, and my husband and I decided we were gonna give away everything that we owned, that was the first time we did that, we've done that a couple of times afterwards. Give away everything that we owned, and then we were going to each apply for jobs and go wherever those jobs took us. So I'm gonna leave out a lot in the story because I know that there is a time limit here, but we ended up going to Berlin, Germany. So I taught in Berlin for two years, and I think the idea was that we were gonna go for a year, sort of get it out of our system in air quotes, and then come back to America and go on doing our thing, but that whole idea backfired, we went to Berlin and we were like, Woah, there is so much more of the world to see.
0:03:04.9 MT: So we ended up in Berlin for two years, Istanbul for three years, and then Singapore for three years. And while I was teaching in Singapore, I had a really, really high stressful job, high stress, a lot of expectations, and long story short, I ended up being sick, right. And this was at a time when I didn't know anything about my body, I didn't know anything about energy, nothing, I was just like, I'm getting sick, so I need to go to the doctor. You need to give me a pill. So I can get back doing what I was doing before. Nothing that Western medicine was doing was helping, and so a friend of mine made what I thought at the time was just the most outrageous suggestion I'd ever heard, which is, "Mindy, you should go to my chiropractor." And I was like, I don't even know what that word means. Like, what is that? So, because she suggested that I went and I had a really good experience with the chiropractor, and she said, "I think what would really help you is craniosacral therapy." And I was like... In my really Zen way, I was like, "That's ridiculous."
0:04:11.4 MT: I don't need a head rub... My issues were in the pelvic floor and I was like, That's crazy. And she said, No, just give it a try. I think it might be something that will help you. So I went, kind of with one eye open. The whole time like, "What are you doing, like I'm not even really feeling anything here." And when I sat up at the end, I knew something had shifted. It wasn't like, Oh, I'm cured or... It was just like, something has changed, I feel different in my body, I need to know what this is, I need to find out more about this. So I continued to go for craniosacral therapy, I started really researching this whole body mind spirit thing, 'cause I was like, Oh, so what I put into my body will affect my energy. Whoa, how about that? So I was just really green and coming at it from absolute zero, and when we left Singapore, I decided because I had had a difficult experience, that last teaching job, I was like, I'm not gonna teach anymore, and it was kind of a dark night of the soul 'cause I was like, If I'm not a teacher, then who am I, because that has always been how I've touched other people, how I have expressed myself, it's just been a really strong...
0:05:25.4 MT: I guess you would use the word archetype, throughout my life, and so I was like, If I'm not a teacher then What am I gonna be... And there was this tiny little voice, and I know you guys can both relate to this too, I call it guidance, like the voice telling me what to do, and I was like, "No, no, no, I don't wanna hear that. What else you got?" And this tiny voice was saying, You need to do this craniosacral therapy. This is something that you could do. You could help other people. And I was like, Oh, god. So we were back in America, we drove across the country. We settled in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks, tiny tiny little town, and I kept getting this guidance and I was like, "Alright, let me look into it." So then I had a whole other list of excuses, I'm too old, I don't know anything about anatomy, I don't, blah, blah... All my training is in English and humanities what... And then I finally was just like sitting at the ocean one day staring at the beach, and I don't know if I can say this on the podcast or not, but you can cut it down if necessary.
0:06:21.5 MT: I was sitting looking at the ocean and I was just like, Screw it, I am gonna do what I'm being called to do, and that meant going to massage therapy school to get my license as a massage therapist, so that I could practice craniosacral therapy.
0:06:35.2 DB: Oh, Mindy, you're absolutely describing so many paths that happened to body workers and massage therapists, so my question with regards to that is, What did you immediately struggle with that listeners can relate to, but what also allowed you to hit your stride after that?
0:06:52.9 MT: Yeah, well, anyone listening who feels like you've done anything wrong in your body work business, I'm here to tell you that I did as well. I was going to say I did first, but I certainly I made all of the mistakes. But the thing that... There's two things that I really struggle with in the beginning, Darren, one is confidence. And I know folks who are listening have heard these voices in their heads too, like, Who am I to think I can do this work? What if people find out I'm a fraud, I need to go to more classes, I gotta take more and more and more and more classes just so I can feel confident that I'm doing this. That was the first piece, and then I had this other thing. I don't know if you can relate or not, but I had this other sense that if I reached out for support, if I asked for help, that I was somehow like a loser, like I needed to be able to do it myself. And that's part of my personality, pull myself up by my bootstraps and go, and I didn't know what to do, I couldn't do it, I was doing all of the things that they told me to do online and stuff, and they weren't working partly 'cause they weren't my personality, they didn't really resonate with me, but I just made myself do them.
0:08:10.9 MT: Disastrous results, and then partly just because I would often learn what to do, but it wasn't explained well, how could I do that, like how could I make that work in my business, so what turned it around for me is when I finally put on my big girl pants and pulled them up and said, "I need some help, I need some support." And I reached out to someone who was actually a practicing acupuncturist at the time who was doing some business work and I was like, I don't know what the heck I'm doing, can you help me with this? And he was able to help me see my blind spots. To help me get support that I needed in other areas, I always say that having your own body work business is like some of the most intensive personal growth work that you'll ever do it, all your crap is gonna come up... It did for me. And so he was able to direct me to other folks who could help me with my own personal stuff so that I could get over myself and put myself out there, and then that's... The tide started shifting and it was just like, Oh okay, not only do I know what to do now, but I know how to do that, how to apply it to my own personal situation.
0:09:22.0 KC: Mindy, let's talk about another aspect of your practice, and this one I think a lot of listeners are gonna be able to relate to, in school we learn several modalities and then often when we graduate, we continue to learn and grow and add to our toolbox, so we have a lot to offer our clients, and many times that feels like the right way to go, we wanna be able to help everyone with any modality that might work for them, but you really had an idea all along that maybe craniosacral therapy was your focus and you wanted to really focus on that, how did you make that shift from offering multiple modalities so you can please everyone to really just focusing on doing the work that you love and wanted to do?
0:10:01.7 MT: Yeah, I think it's a very, very common mistake and it's really counterintuitive, like you're saying, we think if we offer more things that's going to help more people and more people are going to come into our practice, but it's a paradox because I've seen it time and time again, not only in my own practice, but in other therapists, when you narrow your focus, that is when things take off, when you are actually doing the work that you're called to do, that you love to do, that your heart is telling you to do, that energy shifts and people are drawn to work with you. And you become like I became... Well, if you want craniosacral therapy go to Mindy, that's what she does. She's the one in town who does that. When I started off, I was offering girlfriend everything under the sun. I've taken one class in something, I was like, "Yeah, I'll put that on the menu." And then it is just... And I didn't do a very good job of it because my passion was for craniosacral therapy. So if you're listening and you're thinking, "Gosh, I have a modality I really want to focus on, but I don't know how to make the shift."
0:11:08.1 MT: I've got three things for you that I think will help, and these are things that I did. So number one is make the decision, right, I'm going to do this thing and give yourself a date, not one day I'm going to do... We'll use my example, craniosacral therapy. But as of January 1st, 2007, which is when it was for me, I'm no longer going to take new massage clients. So that's the first thing. The second thing that you can do, and this was very helpful for me, is I told my current clients that I would be there for them as long as they needed me, so I would continue to do massage for the clients I already had who were coming from massage, but I send everyone a letter and I explained the pivot that I was making, why it was so important to me and what craniosacral therapy was, and then I offered them a 30-minute free sessions so that they could experience the work.
0:12:02.9 MT: And that was really helpful because I would say probably half of my clients from then on off just wanted to do craniosacral therapy, and the key is not to be attached to that outcome 'cause there were some who were like, Yeah, no. Let's keep doing in the massage. And I was like, Okay. I didn't... I wasn't trying to convince them otherwise, I was just showing them what it was, and then the last thing that I did, and I think this is so, so important, and it's a mistake a lot of people make is I kept the pricing the same for craniosacral therapy and from massage therapy, so the mistake that folks make is... In a more subtle touch or I don't wanna say advanced, more intensive type of therapy when you have gone on and you've done additional training and perhaps gotten certifications, what people do is charge more for that modality, rather than charging the same across the board, so what would happen if I raised my rates? I don't know. Let's make up some numbers. If I was charging $75 for massage, and I said, I'm doing this new thing. It's called craniosacral therapy, and it's $100 an hour.
0:13:13.1 MT: A lot of people would be like, Okay cool, I'm gonna stay with that $75 massage, right? But I said, Here's the price, it's $100 for massage, it's $100 for craniosacral therapy. So then people were like, Oh, okay, well, I'll give that a try. I did have people who are like, I'm gonna come one week and do massage and the next week and do craniosacral, and I consistently raised my rates over the years, and then those folks who are then paying whatever, $150 for a massage, they were like, "You know, Mindy that's a lot." And I was like, it is a lot, and you can get a better message across town from my friends, such and so... Do you wanna try it? Yeah, I think I do. So the practice ended up with the folks doing massage gently sort of going off in other directions, and so it allowed space for the craniosacral part of the practice to really grow.
0:14:04.3 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.
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0:15:23.2 DB: Now, let's get back to the podcast. Mindy and Kristin, let me ask you a question. I am aware that many practitioners default to offering as many techniques and offerings modalities as they can, and that they kinda get in that continuing education bubble, right. Where it's just learn more make the tool box bigger. It reminds me of going to a restaurant... You ever been to a restaurant that has got a menu that's like five pages deep?
0:15:47.4 KC: Yeah, right.
0:15:48.3 DB: And another one only has eight offerings, it's almost like they've made the decision for you. Is that a fair comparison? 'cause Kristin, we've been doing the podcast for a couple of years now, and we time and again, here everybody keeps saying, to reduce the number of offerings really specialize, really hone in on your heart work.
0:16:06.5 MT: Yeah, I think that is absolutely a great metaphor Darren. It's like, I had a friend, I was at a business conference, and she was not a massage therapist, and she was listening to me were like a mastermind thing together, and she said, You know the problem with massage therapists... And I said, What's that? What do you think the problem is with massage... And she said, I was in town, I want... My neck was hurting, I wanted a massage. I got on a website, this gal looked great, I went to make an appointment, and she said... There were like 28 different options. I was like, I don't know which one of these things I need, I just want my neck to feel better, so she ended up going to somebody else, so that's an example. This is a perfect example of how narrowing what you offer is really going to help the people, it's gonna attract the people who are gonna be help by the work that you do, rather than just being like trying to be the one-size-fits-all or the five page menu.
0:17:05.3 KC: Absolutely, and I think something... Referring back to something you said earlier, Mindy, it helps that therapist get clear too, if they say, Okay, I can only list three things on their services page, their page on their website. Okay, what three things do I really want to focus on? It really helps everyone get clearer. Darren question for you as a client, if you were looking at different websites and having to pick someone to book a session with... Which menu do you prefer?
0:17:35.1 DB: I agree with what Mindy said. I think if I look at too many options, I'm gonna... First of all, I might not know what all those are and I may not have time to then go look and do a little online search to figure out what that is, and if it even aligns with what I need... Yeah, it's gonna be more specific, and most of those things, honestly, Kristin, come from referrals, where somebody says something to me like, Hey, I know you've gone and you've received deep tissue work, hey, have you ever thought about receiving X, Y and Z and... No, I don't know what that is. And now I'm honed on that, right, but if I went to that new site and then I saw 20 more modalities, I might be like, I'm so lost, I just want this.
0:18:16.3 KC: Right, and it makes you worry that maybe how great can they be at all of those 20 things... Right. What is that old phrase?
0:18:24.0 DB: Jack of all trades, master of none.
0:18:25.9 KC: That's it. Yeah. [chuckle]
0:18:28.3 DB: Definitely. Mindy, I was wondering, we've talked about this, of possibly studying too many things and not honing in. We also know that massage therapists often don't get a lot of business training in school, which can be problematic too. Is there another thing that leaps out with regards to... At the beginning that MT struggled with with business?
0:18:48.8 MT: The first thing that popped into my head is knowing what the heck to do, knowing even where to start. But what I've seen through the years, there are two things that massage therapists really, really struggle with. One is pricing, because we are big-hearted people who... Nobody gets into massage therapy or body work therapy and says, "I'm gonna make a fortune. I can't wait to jump into the business and market myself, and I'm just gonna make so much money." That's not our motivation. That's not our intention. So when it comes to pricing, that can be a really kind of tricky area, particularly raising prices. Folks are like, "Oh, hell to the no. I can't do it. I can't. I'm gonna lose all of my clients." That's one thing, and then the second thing is attracting new clients, and Darren, I'm so glad that you said that you... As a client, you really depend upon referrals, because that is the number one way to get quality clients who are gonna resonate with you, with work, who are gonna be helped by the work that you do. And I think that we make the mistake of body workers of trying everything else besides one-on-one connections, asking people for referrals, inviting people to work with us, because we have to put ourselves out there, right?
0:20:07.1 MT: We have to say, "Hello, I'm doing this thing. And do you wanna come in?" So it's difficult. I shouldn't say it's difficult. It can be done with ease, but it's not easy. It's not simple. Right? So we revert back to like, "Oh, I know. I'll do some Facebook ads, or I'll put something on social media," because we're not actually then connecting one-on-one and having to interact with people, and having to hear what they say, so...
0:20:31.7 KC: It feels less vulnerable. Right?
0:20:34.1 MT: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
0:20:37.1 KC: Another question along those same lines, Mindy. So say we've got a listener out there who maybe is just graduating from school, or they've been working as an employee or independent contractor somewhere for a while, and all the while in the back of their mind, it's been bubbling that they're ready and they wanna do their own practice, become a sole proprietor. What are the first few things that they should think about or do to make that transition?
0:21:00.5 MT: That's very similar to making a pivot in your business too. So it's similar from going to offering everything to offering really what you want to do. The first thing... I worked at a spa right out of massage school, and the first thing I would say to anybody working for anyone else, whether you're having a terrific experience or not such a great experience, is make notes of what you would do differently. So if something is not going the way that you think it should, what is that? How would you do it differently? How can you improve upon this situation, if you were to go out on your own? Second thing is absolutely do this pivot, this change, with integrity. So you check your contract, you see if there's a no-compete clause, you do everything by the book so that you don't burn bridges, and...
0:21:55.9 MT: It's a small industry. It's a small world, and I think that we often think it's a zero-sum game, like "If someone else does great, then I'm not gonna do so well." But I disagree with that completely. I think that in our industry, doing professional, beautiful, excellent work is going to lift... What is... Now there's another saying, "A rising tide lifts all boats." I think that's it. It's gonna lift us all up. So if you're thinking of leaving an employer, make sure that you're above board and that you're doing everything that you need to be doing to make that break clean. And then very similar to what I was saying before, Joseph Campbell says, "Jump and the parachute will open," and I love that phrase. But I'm also... I'm a Virgo, a double Virgo actually. I'm also making sure that parachute is attached and there's nothing that's tangled up or anything. So I don't say just one day up and quit. So do your homework, make sure your parachute is attached, but then go ahead and set a date. Stick to the date. Communicate that.
0:23:01.8 MT: When you're starting off in your own business, there's a couple of things you can do just to reach out to people you already know, your family, your friends, "Hey, I'm doing this thing. I'm really excited about it. If you know anyone who... " Whatever, be specific. "Suffers from migraine headaches, this work I'm doing might be really helpful for them. I would love for you to give them my information, or have them call me," or whatever it is. So really being clear about why you're making the change, what you want to do differently, and then starting off your business with integrity. And if you can get support around the business side of your practice when you're doing that... I just can't tell you how many times in my own work, inside the Body Work Project, people come and they've never had a practice before, and they're like, "Oh, thank goodness I did this because now I know what to do. I can do it right." As opposed to other folks who are like, "I've been doing this for years and I've been doing it all wrong. I haven't gotten good results, and now I'm changing a bunch of stuff."
0:24:00.2 MT: So if you're working for somebody else and you want to go out on your own, it's a great time to, like you said, Kristin, to ask for support, to reach out and get support around that.
0:24:09.7 DB: Mindy, in that same vein on your site, I'm so drawn to a phrase that you use on there, which is, "How can MTs be the pro and the CEO of their own practices?" Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
0:24:19.9 MT: Oh yeah. And so this is a framework that I came up with, Darren, 'cause I was like, "What is it about some therapists that you're just like, 'Oh man, she is spot on. She's got it,' and others you're just like, 'Well... '" And what I noticed is that it's not the body work. It's not the actual hands-on skills. There are other pieces of it. So as I was thinking about it and reflecting, I came up with this framework about being both a pro and a CEO. So a pro has two parts of it, the way that I look at it. The first part is working toward mastery. So as I said, it's not just one continuing education class a year or whatever. You're actively working toward mastery. So you're getting your own body work. You are continuing to take classes, maybe not for breadth, but maybe for depth. Maybe you have found the one modality you really love, and you are gonna go deep. And it's about actually reviewing your anatomy more than once every five years or whatever. It's about actually working toward mastery.
0:25:25.1 MT: And in addition to that, for being a pro is also the piece that I call creating a safe container for your business. So we all know what it is to create a safe container therapeutically for folks to be able to come into your office and feel safe enough to allow the body work to... That you are facilitating to help the person get the results that they're looking for. But I have found there's also this idea of creating a safe container for the business side of your practice as well, and this is a piece that a lot of folks are like, "What the heck are you talking about? What do you mean?" So there are a couple of things that I can give examples of right now. Creating a safe container means having healthy, strong boundaries. So around boundaries, what I always ask myself is, "Am I doing what I said I was going to do?" So if I say that I work until 5 o'clock on Thursday, and somebody calls and says, "Can you see me at 7:00 PM on Thursday?" Back in the olden days, I'd be, "Yeah, I can make that work. Later, the better." I was just so afraid that I would never have clients. But it's actually... Again, it's counter-intuitive. To create a safe container for your business, you need to stick to those boundaries.
0:26:40.8 MT: So someone calls and says, "Can you see me at 7:00?" "I can't, I only work until 5:00 on Thursdays. But I've got an opening tomorrow at 3:00. Can you make it then?" That non-consciously helps that client to feel safe. They say, "Oh, this person knows what she's doing. She's got a container. I will re-schedule or fit my stuff around her container."
0:27:06.0 DB: Mindy, also subconsciously as a client, now I know you're booked. Now I know other people are seeing you. And now I know you're in desire, which means people are looking for you, and it makes me think, "Oh, I need to be a part of that too." It's a simple kind of psychological thing, twist going on there. It's subconscious thing, but it's also like, "Oh, they're doing so well that I wanna be a part of that too, and I will reframe and schedule that."
0:27:32.5 MT: Yeah, exactly. It's like an energetic shift. It goes from that grasping feeling that we've all had, "Please come and sign up for a massage," right? And it shifts, just like you're saying, to, "Okay, I've got it. This is my container. This is what I've set up." And it helps folks who are trying to interact with you, it feels safe. The word is... I know you're not feeling physically unsafe, but it makes you feel like... Just like you said, "Oh, she's got it going on. Other people are coming in. Okay, I'll do that." Another way to create a safe container is consistency, so consistently do what you say you're going to do. So if you decide that you wanna send an email newsletter to your clients and you're gonna do it once a month, do it once a month. Don't do it eight times once a day for eight days, and then they don't hear from you for six months again. So consistently do what you say you're gonna do. Another area for creating a safe container is your pricing. Is your pricing consistent? Or do you have, "Well, if you're a teacher, you get this much off. If you come to see me for eight years, it's this much. If it says... " That creates, again, that sense of, "Wait, what's happening here? What's going on?"
0:28:46.7 MT: So those are a couple of ideas around creating a safe container. So that's being a pro, and then you move to being a CEO, which is on the business side of your practice, and the three parts of that are to reflect and to build and to sustain. And so very briefly, reflecting is just gaining clarity, taking a moment to gain clarity and say, "What do I want my business to look like? When do I wanna work? What days do I wanna work? Who do I want to work with?" I was talking with a massage therapist a couple of weeks ago, and she was like, "You know, I just opened up and I'm basically full. I can't believe it. It just, all these people came." And I was like, "That's fantastic." And she said, "But I'm not really doing the massages that I wanna do. I'm doing sports and I'm doing deep tissue, but I really wanna do this other kind." So having clarity around your business is not just how much money you wanna make or how you're gonna make it, but being really intentional and really clear about the kind of business that you want to have.
0:29:45.2 MT: And then you go into the build phase, which is all the stuff that we all hear about all the time: The marketing, the promoting yourself, the accounting, the bookkeeping, all of that stuff. And that's where people tend to get stuck instead of going to these other places. And then there's the sustain phase. So if you're listening and you think, "I'm never gonna have a full practice," I'm here to tell you that there will come a day when you cannot possibly see one more hands-on client without just working your fingers to the bone. Literally, right? [chuckle] There will come a time when your practice is full and then... And that's great. That might be exactly where you want to be. But you might find, and I've seen this time and time again, that when you get to that point, you may want to be of service in other ways to folks. So instead of working one-to-one, you may wanna work one-to-many, and that can be things like presenting workshops or writing a book or doing group work, or whatever it is. So that's the type of sustainability piece for the pro and CEO.
0:30:54.9 DB: I wanna thank our guest today, Mindy Totten. For more information about Mindy and her work, visit mindytotten.com. Thanks, Mindy. And thanks, Kristin.
0:31:03.6 MT: Thank you so much. I really had a great time.
0:31:04.6 KC: Oh, that was such fantastic information. Thanks, Mindy.