The CEO of You, Inc.

By Les Sweeney, NCTM, and Kristin Coverly, RMT
[Business Side]

Kristin Coverly: So, Les, something that comes up a lot working with therapists over the years, and now teaching at the ABMP BizFit Live: Successful Practice Workshops, is their fear of stepping into the business manager role and taking on all of the duties of managing and marketing a private practice. They’re bodyworkers because they want to help people, and they have their own practices because they want the flexibility that comes with that. The flip side of having your own practice, though, is someone needs to manage and market that practice on a regular basis.
Les Sweeney: We know many therapists don’t enter the field with a resume full of sales and business expertise. And most people become massage and bodywork professionals because they want to help others. But the rent doesn’t care, Kristin—and neither does your cell phone bill, insurance premium, and car payment. Most of us can’t afford to go without income.
I think the viewpoint we can emphasize—and individual practitioners would benefit from adopting—is that each therapist is a small business, of which they are the chief executive officer (CEO). Now, many therapists would say, “Yes, and I am also the laundry guy, and the cleaning lady, and the receptionist.” To which I would say, “Of course you are.” The most important word in the phrase “be your own boss” is boss. The buck stops with you.
KC: True; and there are pros and cons to being the boss just like there are pros and cons to everything. There are aspects of the role our readers will love (yes, love, I promise) and others they won’t enjoy as much. I think the first step to success, though, is to understand the scope of the CEO job, and then consider the duties and tasks that need to be done. The important thing is that all aspects of your practice get addressed—even if you choose to hire out for tasks you really don’t want to do yourself. What do you think the key responsibilities are that go into being the CEO of a massage and bodywork practice?
LS: I believe the most important tasks are gathering information, making decisions, and following through. These can apply to any leadership role, certainly, but I think they have real meaning for massage and bodywork professionals.
Did you know there are 22 million self-employed individuals in the United States? That means there are 22 million CEOs (and laundry people, cleaning people…). About 1 percent of those are massage professionals. The majority of massage and bodywork practitioners are in charge of their own livelihood.
Especially when first starting out, therapists need to understand the journey they are embarking on. And that can range from understanding the competitive environment to doing the math on renting a space to considering a partnership or working for another professional. Therapists I have talked to always tell me the table time is the easiest and most fulfilling part of their practice. That makes sense; it is what they have trained for, what drew them to the field in the first place, and what they (usually) are most comfortable doing.
It’s all the other stuff that can be challenging and can plague a therapist’s ability to really develop a successful practice. I think it can be broken down like this.
Know your business. You should be a walking encyclopedia about your practice, your profession, your community. Gather information to help you better understand your opportunities and challenges. This also means talking to, and learning from, others. It is your business, but all good CEOs have advisors that help them understand the issues surrounding them.
Make the call. After you gather the information you need, don’t be afraid to spell out a plan. The upside of “the buck stops here” is you call the shots. Don’t make a decision in a vacuum; bounce your ideas off your trusted friends/advisors. But then make the call.
Follow through. No good idea will amount to anything without effort. And it’s all on your shoulders. For an individual practitioner, this is most true when working on marketing.
Decision-making can be an incredible source of stress. Successful professionals will recognize that after the decision comes opportunity.
KC: My recommendation is to tackle the fear of being overwhelmed by scheduling time to run your business just like you schedule time to work with clients. Schedule time every week to tackle the items on your to-do list step by step and your list won’t seem so intimidating. Once you get more comfortable with each of your new tasks, you’ll see they actually give you the opportunity to create the practice you really want and not one that happens by default. You may even start to enjoy stepping into that manager role from time to time. Being in the driver’s seat is a whole lot more empowering than sitting nervously in the back seat waiting to see what happens.
LS: Kristin, I like the schedule-your-time approach you mention here. Part of what the sole proprietor therapist needs to do is determine the amount of time available for her practice (both table and nontable time), and schedule it out separately—plugging in those tasks you mention in the allotted nontable time.
Back to you, and I’ll let you get more specific here. When you teach your workshops, why do you think you hear from therapists that it’s difficult to run their businesses? Do they spell out what specific segments are most challenging?
KC: It seems like the most stress-inducing aspects of the job are marketing and finances. Big, potentially scary topics for sure, but each can be broken down into smaller steps that make them easier to tackle. Let’s talk about some ways to make marketing digestible and fun:
• Get clear about who you want to work with and what type of work you want to do.
• Most therapists have a limited amount of time and money to spend marketing their practice. Spend that time wisely by actively working to attract the specific groups of clients you want to work with—maybe pregnant women, athletes, women in their 50s, people who live within five miles of your office, etc. Take time to figure out who those groups are.
• Create a marketing plan for each of these groups. How will you reach them to tell them who you are, what you have to offer, and how your work will benefit them specifically?
• Find opportunities to meet these potential clients in person, if you can, and offer hands-on demonstrations of your work on the table or massage chair.
• Use benefits-centered language when describing your work. It’s much more compelling to tell clients what your work will increase (range of motion, sleep) or decrease (pain, stress, headaches) than to list names of the techniques you use.
• Marketing isn’t a one-and-done thing; it’s an ongoing process and I think this aspect is what derails a lot of therapists. Schedule time to market your practice each week to keep the momentum going.
• Write your marketing ideas on a calendar. How many fantastic ideas have you had that you’ve never followed up on because the rest of your life got busy (as it always does)? Writing them down will help you stay on track and ensure you have a variety of marketing activities scheduled over time.
• Once you start looking at marketing in this way—as an opportunity to attract the kinds of clients you really enjoy working with—you’ll find it becomes a fun opportunity to create a practice you truly enjoy.
LS: I like the saying, “How do you eat a pizza? One bite at a time.” It’s the same with marketing. It feels foreboding, but when you break it down, it becomes so much more manageable. Same with finances, but we’ll save that one for next
time, Kristin. That topic deserves its own column!
One word we haven’t mentioned yet is entrepreneur. Being a successful CEO of You, Inc. in the massage and bodywork field means you are an effective entrepreneur. A key trait of successful entrepreneurs is restless energy to improve and succeed. The first tool therapists should employ to become successful is a mirror: Take a good look at yourself, and have an honest conversation with yourself about what you do well, and what you don’t. Think about what you like to do, and what you might need help with—either help to improve or a way to outsource the things you don’t do well. However, there are some things you can’t outsource—like client relations and recruiting. As I like to tell massage students, “Congratulations on your new sales career.”
KC: Right, but sales in a good way, not in a sleazy, fake way. What it boils down to is you’re simply letting people know who you are and what you have to offer, in language they’ll understand and be compelled by. Your message is honest and genuine about who you are as a person and as a therapist. It’s letting people get to meet you and understand who they’ll be working with as part of their wellness team. When you have a moment of doubt about selling your work, or fear when you’re putting yourself out there, remember what you’re selling—your hands-on work will actually help them. You’re not asking them to spend money on something they don’t need. In the end, they’ll want what you’re selling, so speak up!
LS: Kristin, I get to be the boss of a big organization (bigger than a practice), but you’re the boss of a practice. Some might say my role is harder, but I would argue my role has oodles of support—from 50 colleagues who really do all the work, to a management team I can rely on and get guidance from, to a board to help shape decisions and directions. We’ve talked about the nitty-gritty of managing a practice, but what about the burden of being a practice? For therapists who say, “I’m not sure if I can manage my own business,” what are some bits of advice you’d share?
KC: For me, the key to being a successful and happy practice owner is to let yourself fully step into and embrace the role of managing your practice. Choose to be excited about the opportunity you have to actively create the practice you want, instead of being intimidated by the amount of work it takes. Create the vision for what you want your practice to be—how big or small, what kinds of clients, what types of modalities—and then realize that vision by taking ownership, making appropriate decisions, and doing the work. Write down all the reasons you love being a therapist and the benefits of having your own practice. Revisit your list for a dose of inspiration when things feel tough. Having a thriving practice you enjoy is worth every single minute you spend creating it.
LS: There you have it—from the mouth of a successful practitioner, practice owner, and instructor. Until next time, as Ty Webb says in Caddyshack, “be the ball.”

Les Sweeney is ABMP’s president and resident blogger. Contact him at and read his blog on Kristin Coverly,, is an ABMP education facilitator who teaches workshops for therapists and instructors across the country. Both are massage therapists with business degrees who care about you and
your practice. Want more? Check out their ABMP BizFit video tips on

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