Embrace Your Inner Entrepreneur

6 Traits of Successful MTs

By Heidi Smith Luedtke

As a bodywork professional, the business part of running your practice may not feel like a natural fit for you, but here’s the good news: you don’t have to turn into a slick salesperson or a frazzled administrator to be successful. The secret ingredients of success are already inside you. Authentic entrepreneurship allows you to express creativity, connect more deeply with others, and build a gratifying professional practice. 


Curiosity is an important part of entrepreneurship. “You may think it’s not necessary to cultivate curiosity because everybody has it,” says Todd Kashdan, PhD, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University and author of Curious? (William Morrow, 2009), but that’s only partially true. Although our attention is naturally drawn to novelty, intriguing ideas may slip by unnoticed when we’re going through the usual motions.

Successful entrepreneurs don’t wait for flashes of insight; they use curiosity in strategic ways. “You’re guaranteed to learn something and refine your understanding when you intentionally search for novelty,” Kashdan says. “In the current economic climate, you won’t get ahead doing the things you’ve always done in the way you’ve always done them.”
A curious approach helps you identify areas for growth. You may find ways to offer better service within a given session or expand your practice in new directions. 

Rachel Hardy, a licensed massage therapist in Los Angeles, California, agrees. “One of the best things for me about being a business owner is the creative challenge of constantly evaluating how I am doing things and looking for newer and better ways to approach every challenge. It’s a daily process, and my brain thrives on it.”

Cultivate curiosity by asking questions to get to know clients better. Most people don’t do this intentionally, Kashdan says, they do it because it’s part of interacting on a human level. The magic happens when you truly listen to clients’ responses and follow up on topics they care most about. Notice the things that make clients’ eyes light up or cause changes in their tone of voice. In the treatment room, tune in to the information that is coming from your own body as you work, as well as direct feedback from the client. Let these cues direct your practice. Interpersonal curiosity builds rapport, enhances the client experience, and makes your work more interesting.

Courage means taking action despite anxiety, and it’s essential for both business and personal growth. Fear is a two-edged sword. “It can save your life and it can also stifle it,” says Margie Warrell, author of Stop Playing Safe (Wiley Press, 2013). “There’s a fine line between courage and foolishness, and business owners have to walk it daily.” 

What scares the socks off one person may be fun and easy for someone else, so courage means different things to different people. Maybe you feel uncomfortable talking up your services to strangers or have heart palpitations when you think about raising your rates. Map out the boundaries of your comfort zone. Are you generally risk-averse, or do you resist making changes only in areas where you feel least competent? A quick self-assessment can identify feelings and beliefs that are holding you back.

 “Business owners can never be 100 percent sure a business move will pay off,” Warrell says, and erring on the side of caution isn’t always bad. But if you wait until you have all the answers before making changes, you’ll get stuck in old, ineffective strategies, and opportunities will pass while you watch and worry. Of course, jumping too quickly can be equally devastating. You may squander your money and energy, and end up with a practice that lacks direction or focus. 

Soul-searching is the best way to find out which risks make sense for you. Create a dream board with words and images that capture experiences and accomplishments you want for yourself, and post it in a place where you’ll see it regularly. Then, write down concrete, measurable goals that will make your vision a reality. Commit to doing one thing each day to move in your desired direction. “Courage is like a muscle,” Warrell says. “Every time you act in the face of fear, you give yourself greater confidence to take on future challenges.” 

Cultivating a positive attitude allows entrepreneurs to see untapped potential and anticipate rewards. “Optimism is the choice we make to look at our challenges, adversities, and even opportunities through a positive lens,” Warrell says. It means you look toward the future with a sense of hope and confidence, rather than doubt or desperation.

A positive outlook allows you to be proactive in making changes and solving problems that come up in your business. The hopeful actions you take create more opportunities for you (and your practice) to grow, which allows you to succeed while pessimists fret about possible failures. Optimism prevents you from sabotaging yourself with negative thoughts or self-defeating actions. 

In addition to the business benefits, optimism pays off personally. Optimists experience less physical distress in challenging situations and have stronger immune systems than pessimists, according to research conducted over the last three decades by psychologist Michael Scheier, PhD, and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University. Optimists are also more likely to volunteer in their communities. Plus, they live longer and happier lives.

“Neuroscience research has found that we are wired to overestimate risk and underestimate our ability to handle it,” Warrell says. Coach yourself to look at the bright side of any situation. Make two columns on a sheet of paper and assess things from both positive and negative points of view. Identify potential gains at the personal, interpersonal, business, and community levels. Write down concrete ways you can increase your odds of success. An authentically optimistic view comes more easily when you’ve done your homework. 

Improving your skill set also increases optimism. There is a big difference between being a massage therapist and running a massage business, says business and personal coach Scott Graham of Fairlee, Vermont. Figure out which skills you lack, such as bookkeeping, marketing, or time management, and take steps to learn them. If you don’t want to learn something like accounting or web design, hire an expert. Outsourcing may allow you to stay focused on what you do best.







Building a thriving practice is difficult work, and there will be times when you put in long hours with little rest, but that’s not necessarily bad. “The building blocks for a satisfying, happy life are moments,” Kashdan says. Moments when we connect with other people and feel we are making a difference are the ones that stick out and get bookmarked in our brains. Consider this: you listen to a client vent about the challenges she is having in her marriage; she seems relieved to have shared her struggles, and you’ve worked the tension out of her body, so you may think to yourself, “I do good work. I impact people’s lives.” That feeling is intensely gratifying. 

Enjoyment isn’t just about pleasure; it’s also about meaningfulness. A sense of enjoyment and fulfillment protects against frustration and resentment, and renews your energy so you have deeper reserves for doing less-enjoyable tasks. Clients also notice when you enjoy your work because your good mood establishes a warm and welcoming climate.

Schedule work tasks thoughtfully, interspersing enjoyable tasks between less satisfying ones so you aren’t drained by days filled with tasks you dislike. Also, be mindful of meaningful moments. When a client says yours was the best massage she’s had in years, “Just take 10 seconds to breathe and savor that comment before you move on,” Kashdan says. Focusing on these moments fills your storehouse with good memories you can retrieve when times are tough. 


Entrepreneurs can get into trouble when they don’t maintain a healthy equilibrium between focusing on business and focusing on themselves. Your personal needs don’t disappear because you have a business to run, Graham says, and your business won’t thrive if you treat it like a hobby. Adopt work strategies that allow you to meet clients’ needs and the needs of your family. That may require you to get family members more involved in your business or refer clients to another therapist when you just can’t fit them in.

Your sense of balance will be repeatedly tested, and the personal qualities that make you an amazing MT can make it difficult to set limits. “Many therapists are, by nature, very empathic,” Hardy says. “It’s important to realize that we cannot take care of the whole world.” You may feel pressured to say “yes” to every would-be client who wants to book a last-minute appointment and every charitable request for service donations. There is no one right way to keep the balance. “For me, it’s been an ongoing process of developing confidence in my decisions,” Hardy says. “I try to make sure I am making strong choices for myself, not making decisions based on fear.” Your choices should enable you to give excellent service without sacrificing your own well-being.

Strong business practices can help MTs maintain a healthy balance. Massage therapist and certified life coach Brianne Krupsaw of Concord, Massachusetts, says it’s helpful to have a detailed fee structure, as well as clear policies about late arrivals and cancellations; that way you are not forced to make every decision on a case-by-case basis. “Setting boundaries affirms your value,” Krupsaw says, and there’s less chance that one exception—such as an extended session at no charge—becomes the rule. Over time, you’ll come to trust your own intuition without fear of losing your balance. 


Business ownership has its ups and downs. “One of the most difficult things to get comfortable with is the ebb and flow of clients,” Krupsaw says. “It’s both a money issue and a confidence issue.” It’s easy to get anxious when you have five clients cancel in the same week or when a client doesn’t come back for a repeat visit after a fantastic first session, but it’s important to stay flexible and focused. Successful entrepreneurs bounce back quickly when setbacks occur, and a resilient attitude allows you to be resourceful. 

Krupsaw encourages massage entrepreneurs to take a long view. “Business development is a learn-as-you-go kind of process,” she says. It’s crucial that you believe in yourself and in what you’re doing, and trust that things will work out. “It helps to know exactly where you are financially so you can put challenges in perspective.” An increase in your rent may feel overwhelming until you break it down and see it takes only two additional sessions per week to make up the difference. 

You can increase your capacity for resilience through consistent, compassionate self-care. That means eating well, exercising, and making time for spiritual practice. Most MTs recognize self-care is important, but often have trouble squeezing it into their schedules. “Working for yourself, there is always something more to do,” Hardy says. “I’ve learned that I absolutely have to make it a priority to rest and recoup or my work suffers, and so do I.” Hardy nurtures herself through hiking, meditation, yoga, and trading massages with another therapist on a regular basis. 

Social support boosts resilience, too. Find a mentor, coach, or mastermind group (see Mastermind Groups, page 67) who want the best for you and your business, Krupsaw says. Let them serve as both a sounding board and a cheering section, and avoid cynics and naysayers whose fear and negativity drain your motivation. Nurturing relationships raise each of us to a higher level. 

Fostering these attitudes of successful entrepreneurs, which are already within you, can help you embrace the business of building your practice so you can focus on what you love—providing nurturing, healing bodywork sessions for your clients. 


Facts & Figures 

According to the article “5 Benefits of Curiosity”
on Care2.com, adults who were curious by nature
showed greater analytic ability, intelligence, and problem-solving skills than those who were
not curious. 


Do This Today! 

Use curiosity in every client session as you peel back the layers to discover the client’s pain culprit. Curiosity might also inspire you to write a case report about a particular client file. Check out ABMP’s five-part Writing a Case Report webinar series, archived on www.abmp.com, in the Online Education Center.


Ask Yourself 

What’s keeping you from making that next step in your practice? Aristotle said, “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” 


Do This Today!

Muster your courage to go talk to the owners of businesses that surround yours. Introduce yourself, if you haven’t already, and invite them to try a special discounted service. They have clients and customers, too, and might just be the reciprocal referral partnership you’ve been looking for.


Survey Says 

In a study of 99 Harvard University students, those who were optimists at age 25 were significantly healthier at ages 45 and 60 than those who were pessimists. Other studies have linked pessimism to higher rates of infectious disease, poor health, and earlier mortality.


Do This Today!

Put your optimism to work and set out business goals for the next two years. Where do you want your business to be? How will you get there? Optimism tinged with realism can create success.



“You’ve got to find what you love. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” —Steve Jobs


Do This Today! 

List five things you like most about your practice. List five things you like least. Which list was easier to write? Now, what can you do to change just one of those things on the latter list? 


Can You Do It?

Stand up, lift your foot up, and move it in a clockwise circle. Now, try to draw the number six in the air with your finger. What happens?


Do This Today!

Reestablish your sense of balance. Schedule your next massage, and then plan your next vacation, even if it’s just a weekend to yourself.

Did You Know? 

Wim Hof, nicknamed “Iceman,” has run a marathon in 20-degree weather while shirtless, been immersed in ice for 1 hour and 44 minutes, and stood in shorts for 72 minutes at the North Pole. 


Do This Today! 

Establish habits that will build your resilience. Use social media to fill last-minute appointments and keep the books full, or  reconnect with past clients and invite them back.

Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD, is a personality psychologist, mom, and author of Detachment Parenting (Heidi Luedtke Media, 2012). Her work helps others discover their unique strengths and build skills that enhance well-being and professional development. Learn more at www.heidiluedtke.com.
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