Where to Turn for Expert Advice

By Laura Allen
[Business Side]

Chances are, if you were self-employed a generation or two ago, you would have done business with a network of personal connections: a banker who knew you by name, an attorney who helped you with the closing on your property, and a local accountant who helped with your taxes and financial planning. They would all be knowledgeable about your business and able to give you qualified advice based on your circumstances.

It’s a different time. Progress has taken the personalization out of business, and communications in general. People bank online now. They hire attorneys they’ll never meet by way of a prepaid plan on the Internet. Financial software companies have online payroll processing, tax preparation, and virtually any other money-related service you require, so the neighborhood accountant is a lot less busy these days.

While that’s convenient for the consumer, it’s also opened up a can of worms that didn’t exist a few short decades ago. When your only interaction with someone has been to visit their website, chat online, or talk on the phone, you’re missing out on that eye contact, the handshake, and the gut feeling you get when you meet—the humanity, if you will, of business.

“I’m So Much Cooler Online”

I stole that line from a country song about a short, dumpy, 30-something guy with no life who still lives with his parents and drives a Ford Pinto to his job as a pizza deliveryman. He has convinced the women he interacts with in Internet chat rooms that he’s tall with perfect abs, practices martial arts, models for Calvin Klein, drives a Maserati … you get the picture. He’s created an Internet persona, and it couldn’t be further removed from reality.

I’m personally a big fan of social media. For me, it’s part business networking, part fun to check in with other therapists on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and ABMP’s site, Massageprofessionals.com. There are a lot of opportunities for networking out there, and you can find anything you could possibly want on the Internet.

One thing in particular that jumps out at me is the number of self-proclaimed experts in the massage profession, and it isn’t limited to just business. There are also many massage therapists and others in the holistic arts presenting themselves as health experts, nutrition experts, and life and/or business coaches. They’re all wildly successful experts in their field (well, they must be, because Yelp said they were), and just waiting to help you make a million bucks—for a fee.

How do you know if that person claiming to be an expert actually is one, or just someone who wants your hard-earned cash and will end up giving you worthless advice? Just like the guy in the country song, it’s relatively easy to set up an Internet persona that makes a person appear to be the financial advisor to Donald Trump.

The Internet Advantage

It’s ironic that the same thing that has depersonalized many services these days is also the key tool for investigating anyone who offers services you’re thinking about using, companies you’re thinking about doing business with, or products you’re thinking about buying. You can do a Google search for someone’s name and come up with all kinds of information, including (if you’re willing to pay for it) criminal record reports, where he has lived for the past 20 years, and who handles his phone service. Websites exist just for the purpose of the public giving reviews on people and companies with which they’ve dealt. According to the top market-research companies, such review sites have a huge influence on consumer behavior and shopping habits.

One caveat is that most of these review websites allow people to post anything without any kind of verification of the facts, leaving open the possibility of false negative reviews posted by competitors or disgruntled former employees. If your research on review sites reveals mostly positive reviews with just a few negatives, that’s a good sign that the person or company is reputable. The Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) is also a good resource.

Established Expertise

The Service Core of Retired Executives (SCORE; www.score.org) has been around for more than 40 years. Available online and through seminars, workshops, and face-to-face meetings, they offer free mentoring to small business owners and those considering going into business for themselves. SCORE has more than 13,000 volunteers who are successful entrepreneurs. They even have specialized mentoring and services for entrepreneurs who are 50 and older and just starting out, people who are young, veterans, minorities, and people who live in rural areas. A visit to the website shows that you can choose a mentor based on expertise in the areas of finance and budgeting, legal issues, technology, marketing, and much more. SCORE also partners with the Small Business Administration (www.sba.org), which has many resources available to any small business owner (or would-be owner) at no charge.

In most locales, the chamber of commerce is also a good go-to source for business advice. Chambers usually collect local demographics, so, for example, if you’re considering moving to a certain community, the chamber can tell you its population, where that population is concentrated, the average income of the residents, what goods and services are available (or lacking) in the area, and more. Most chambers also sponsor free educational seminars. In my own rural town in North Carolina, our chamber offers a “Lunch and Learn” program almost every week on different business topics. It’s held at a rotating list of local restaurants; everyone pays for their own lunch, and expert speakers give presentations on topics ranging from using social media to finding tax deductions to how to manage time. With all that available for free, it’s rather surprising that any business owner would actually have to pay for advice.


I confess that the very word coaching rubs me the wrong way. It’s my own issue, stemming from a time when I worked in an office with a woman who had appointed herself the Official Office Coach—no one was safe when she was around. Her standard greeting was, “May I offer you some coaching?” and without waiting for the answer she would proceed to tell you what was wrong with your attire, demeanor, makeup, or the way your office was arranged (she was also a self-proclaimed feng shui expert). Everyone hated to see her coming. Ms. Busybody aside, many massage therapists are supplementing their income by offering personal coaching services—and many more are availing themselves of the services—judging by what I see happening in my social networks.

One coaching organization offers a 125-hour online program that costs $9,190 to become accredited. Whew! You may need a coach to tell you how to come up with that kind of money. The same company offers a live, six-day course for less than $3,000 in various cities across the country. In just six days, you’ll know everything you need to know about how to advise people on how to conduct their personal and professional lives. I’m not sure that’s valid.

Many of the people offering coaching services have had no such training. Even more importantly, many have no real qualifications for offering such services, or no real measure of success and experience from which to draw.

My bottom-line advice: if you’re in the market for a coach, hire one based on the personal recommendation of someone you know and trust. Barring that, check the previously mentioned review sites and Google. A little investigation can go a long way. Hire one who has successfully run a real business and not just a coaching business—someone who has been through the school of hard knocks. There’s not a coaching class in the world that can touch that.

Who’s Your Expert?

I have mentors (I guess that’s the old-fashioned word for coach). The person I turn to for relationship advice is the one who has been in a happy relationship for more than 30 years and who has loyal friends and family who think well of him. The people I turn to for business advice are the people I’ve seen running their own successful businesses for 10 years or more. That’s not to say that they haven’t ever had a failure; we all have failures, but they have bounced back from failure and come away better and stronger than before.

I regularly take advantage of the seminars and services offered by our chamber of commerce, SCORE, and the Small Business Administration. I network with other massage therapists and other small business owners, and I also have what I call “distance mentors.” They’re successful massage therapists I admire, and I follow their careers on social networks. I see what they’re doing and read what they’re writing, and they all seem to have a common thread: they never get tired of learning. They’re constantly on a mission of self-improvement, no matter how far at the top they may be. I notice that even those who have been practicing for decades still make reference to their own mentors and their own continuing education.

Bear in mind that success is a relative term. And remember that whatever it is that you need in order to reach your personal definition of success, there is expert help available. 

Laura Allen is the author of A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Business (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011), Plain & Simple Guide to Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Examinations (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009), and One Year to a Successful Massage Therapy Practice (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008). Allen is the owner of THERA-SSAGE, a continuing education facility and alternative wellness clinic with more than a dozen practitioners. Contact her at therassage@bellsouth.net.