Ready, Set, Grow!

A Success Story to Inspire You

By Les Sweeney and Kristin Coverly
[Business Side]

Authors’ note: massage therapists Karla Freitag (far left) and Tiesha von Kaenel were two of the therapists featured in last issue’s “Straight Talk from Your Peers” (September/October 2016, page 22). We had the opportunity to have an extended conversation with them and further explore them purchasing, running, and growing their business. Following is their story—including their challenges—with the hope that it will inspire you to take the next step in your own professional journey.

Karla Freitag and Tiesha von Kaenel founded Cornerstone Wellness & Medical Massage Group in 2015 (www.medical It is a comprehensive physical and mental wellness center dedicated to helping clients naturally achieve wellness and live fuller lives. The medical massage offered at Cornerstone focuses on chronic pain, injury, neurological and physical disorder, postsurgical recovery, and stress management.
Freitag and von Kaenel met while working as massage therapists at a medical massage clinic in Littleton, Colorado. When the owners announced they were going to close the clinic, these two therapists and friends decided to take advantage of the opportunity. They purchased the client list and opened their own clinic.
“This opportunity fell into our laps,” von Kaenel says. “When faced with the certainty of losing our jobs and our clients losing their treatment, we said, ‘Nope, it isn’t over.’ Now, every day is a new adventure!”
They found a location with treatment rooms and areas for an office, reception area, and storage. They made sure the new location was close to the original location, so it was an easy transition for existing clients. They rent one room to a counselor full time and another to an acupuncturist part time; the inflow of rental income contributes to their practice’s bottom line.
Unknown Challenges
As you can imagine, taking on such a big endeavor comes with some challenges.
“There have been so many,” Freitag says. “Initially, when we committed to opening this business, we knew all about being massage therapists and very little about business administration. Everything from finding a location and leasing a space, purchasing insurance, managing a business bank account, setting and maintaining a budget, making fiscal year projections, hiring and managing employees, running payroll, doing staff reviews, completing employment paperwork, acquiring office furnishings, technology, computers, social media, ordering business cards, etc. You name it, it was new to us!” She says the two overcame these obstacles through hard work, determination, research, good communication, resources, commitment to their vision, and dedication to their clients and each other.     
Partnership and Outside Help
One of the things both Freitag and von Kaenel say has been incredibly helpful is the strong partnership they’ve created with each other. They complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, brainstorm together, divide the workload, and support each other when they need it. They also know how to ask others for help.
“You can’t know everything,” Freitag says. “When possible, allow trusted experts in their respective fields to assist you with topics that are not your expertise.” That’s why the partners are currently working with a business coach to help them clarify their vision and goals for the business, problem solve, and create strategies to move forward.
Hiring and Pay Structure
Freitag and von Kaenel both continue to see clients, and, in addition, have hired three massage therapists as employees of the business.
When hiring new therapists, von Kaenel offers this advice: “Find therapists who are team-focused, fit your business’s niche, and want to work for you for the right reasons.”
Freitag adds: “When approaching the hiring process, provide specific details regarding criteria that you require for the job, as well as the education, experience, skills, and techniques necessary to meet the needs of the position. Clearly understand your business vision and what you need from a new therapist in order to support this vision. Be confident in your ability to tell someone what they need to improve on in order to fit your business needs.”  
Therapists at Cornerstone are paid a flat rate per hour for bodywork and a lower administrative rate for meetings, no shows, and late cancellations. As owners of the business, Freitag and von Kaenel have just started taking a small owner’s draw on the business profits, in addition to the flat rate they receive for their massage sessions. They will take a larger owner’s draw as profits increase and they don’t need to reinvest as much money back into the business as they initially did for start-up expenses and new initiatives.
Clients—and Now, Members
One of the challenges Freitag and von Kaenel faced was enticing clients of the original clinic to continue their relationship and become clients of the new clinic with its new therapists and new location. They honored existing package plans from the old business and tried a version of prepaid package plans for themselves, but eventually changed to a membership program.
“When we first started, we did a large amount of prepaid package plans, thinking this would ensure that clients would come on an ongoing basis,” von Kaenel says. “What we didn’t think about was the fact that we would potentially have unredeemed services at the end of the year. This caused some issues for us our first tax season, and also put us in a place where we were not seeing as much regular income on a monthly basis.” They resolved the issue by encouraging the clients to use their services before the year’s end, then they removed the prepaid service option and moved to a membership program.
“Now, our clients see our service as a value that expires within the year, and to get the biggest bang for their buck they are incentivized to continue with their massage maintenance regularly. We also no longer have to worry about having unredeemed funds at the end of the year to get double-taxed on. It’s a win-win situation!”
The membership program is structured as follows: for an annual fee of $60, clients receive unlimited $15 discounts on 60-minute sessions and $20 discounts on 90-minute sessions throughout the year. They also receive an additional $10 discount for their birthday and access to member-only offerings and other special perks. About 50 percent of their active clients joined the membership program in its first year.
What they did in this situation is key to running a successful business: evaluate everything you’re doing and proactively change the things that aren’t working.
Business Operations
Freitag and von Kaenel have relied on technology—including online scheduling, accounting software, a website, and social media—to help them market and manage their new business.
“We use MassageBook for our online scheduling and SOAP notes, which has been a very good choice,” von Kaenel says. “We use the autopilot feature for special emails and reminders. It makes caring for our clients very simple and manageable.”
Freitag says the two have embraced technology. “We LOVE technology! In addition to MassageBook, we use QuickBooks for accounting, an online answering system for phone calls, and Google Drive for all our documents and spreadsheets.”
While Freitag enthusiastically endorses their embrace of technology, they didn’t have a lot of experience with it going in. Like most of us, they weren’t tech experts (and still don’t claim to be). But they also realize that technology is a tool to make their practice—and life—easier to manage. Don’t be afraid to shift your mind-set—think of scheduling software like a dishwasher. Makes life a lot easier, doesn’t it? We all use technology constantly—there’s no reason not to in your practice.
Future Goals
How do Freitag and von Kaenel feel about their progress so far and what’s their vision for the clinic?
“I take pride in knowing that my partner and I have created a healing space where our clients can rest and renew, our therapists love to come to work, and we are blessed by each person who walks through our door,” von Kaenel says.
Freitag says their goals include growing the clinic into a holistic wellness center offering medical massage, acupuncture, counseling, exercise, and nutritional coaching.
Bottom Line
After all the ups and downs, the challenges, and ongoing uncertainty about the future, was taking on such a big endeavor worth it? “The risk we took in starting the clinic was worth it. Starting this clinic with my friend and fellow massage therapist has been my most rewarding professional experience,” Freitag says.
“We are therapists first, businesswomen second,” von Kaenel says. “Every day, we learn that we are capable of more than we ever knew possible.”
You know who else is capable of more than you knew possible? You are! We hope you use Freitag and von Kaenel’s story as inspiration to push yourself to try something new in your own career. If you have questions or need support, reach out to us at

Les Sweeney is ABMP’s president. Contact him at and read his occasional blog posts on Kristin Coverly,, is the manager of professional development at ABMP and creates resources and teaches workshops for therapists across the country. Both are massage therapists with business degrees who care about you and your practice.