10 Rules to Work By

By William J. Lynott

Some of the rules of successful small business management deserve to be carved in stone. Though easy to ignore in a booming economy, these time-honored rules are acritical component in building a profitable practice when the going gets tough. Here are 10 business rules that can help you and your practice survive and prosper in this—or any—economy.

Rule #1: Get paid
Your bodywork services are valuable and you deserve to be paid appropriately for delivering them. Make sure clients pay at the time of service for their session and any related products they purchase from you. Be proactive and supportive, but persistent. Never allow your accounts receivable to go untended. You’ve worked hard to educate yourself well and earn that money, and you have a right to it—you need it.
Managing late-paying clients may not be your favorite pastime, but close monitoring of your accounts receivable and following through on late payments is as important to your financial success as the quality of the services you offer. If your clients learn that you are casual about collecting money owed to you, they may stretch your patience (and your cash flow) to the limit.

Rule #2: Do not let money lie idle
Doing your work and getting paid is only half the job when it comes to money management. Once you’ve collected your money, it’s important to use it skillfully.
If you don’t already have a money market account at your bank, open one and have it linked to your business checking account for telephone or online transfers. Deposit all daily income into the money market account where it will immediately start drawing interest. Never deposit income directly into your checking account. Keep a minimum balance in the checking account and transfer cash only as needed to cover payments to be made. The banks have made it so easy to transfer money between accounts online or by phone that there is no excuse for not taking advantage of it.
Keeping your money working for you is an important part
of professional practice management.

Rule #3: Hang on to your cash
Pay your bills just before they’re due—not weeks before. Hanging on to cash as long as possible keeps that money available to draw interest or work in the business.
Of course, never jeopardize your credit standing by paying bills late. It’s especially important to avoid late payment on credit card bills because of the oppressive penalties that most banks have put into place.

Rule #4: Do not lose a client
Determine that you will never lose a client to a competitor. Numerous studies have shown that, on average, it costs five times more for a business to find a new customer than to keep an old one. This is one of the most powerful concepts in the world of business.
You (and your employees if you have any) must never lose sight of the fact that finding a new client is a costly and difficult job, and that competitors are standing ready and eager to snatch them away. Once a client visits you the first time, you’ve done the hard part. Your job now is to instill the notion that visiting you will always be a satisfying experience. A major part of your overall marketing plan must center on ways to retain your current clients and make sure they never have reason to leave you.

Rule #5: Have a marketing mentality
If client satisfaction is the mashed potatoes, marketing is the gravy.
But keep in mind: marketing involves far more than an ad in the local newspaper or passing out your business cards. Marketing is a complex challenge, all the more so in a specialized niche business such as bodywork. If you are to achieve optimum success in marketing your practice, you must be willing to spend time studying, reading, and analyzing your market and your competition.
Keeping your practice healthy and profitable requires an ongoing marketing program. There is no other way. Competitive prices alone won’t do it; professional skills alone won’t do it.
Marketing embraces all facets of your practice. To be an effective marketer, you must nurture and promote your business image, sell yourself as well as your practice, and concentrate on making your business the best choice for discriminating clients.

Rule #6: Consider leasing
Most financial advisors agree that leasing cars, appliances, or other expensive items for personal use is usually not financially advantageous. But business is a different animal entirely.
In business accounting, leasing can be the most sensible approach to many types of capital investment. It usually makes sense to lease if you will be able to use the cash in your practice or in your investments to earn a better return than the cost of leasing.
Talk to your tax advisor about this the next time you’re considering a large capital purchase.

Rule #7: Do not fear complaints
Never forget that a complaint from a client can be converted into an asset. Some years ago, a major retail marketing study revealed that clients whose complaints were satisfactorily resolved became more loyal clients of the company than they were before the incident that triggered the complaint.
Some of the most successful companies in the world have been built on the principle that client complaints provide a valuable opportunity to improve the product or service.
When L.L. Bean, founder of one of the world’s most successful catalog order firms, was starting out, he suffered what could have been a disastrous setback. Shortly after he began shipping his first waterproof boots, complaints that the boots leaked started coming in from customers. Determined to fulfill his promise of customer satisfaction, Bean refunded every purchaser’s money. Then, he set out to correct the flaw in the boot’s design. The result was a better product and the beginning of the customer loyalty that helped make L.L. Bean what it is today.
Think of the time you spend resolving a client complaint as an investment in your future: you’re showing why you are the best choice for clients who require the utmost in dependability as well as professional skill. Focus your marketing efforts on ways to promote this dependability to both clients and prospects.

Rule #8: Stand out from the crowd
America’s most successful entrepreneurs, big or small, are those who have carefully developed an identity all their own. Your job is to evaluate your strengths and then combine them to form a unique identity—an identifiable image for you and your practice.
Perhaps you’ve been practicing longer than your nearest competitors, or maybe you have a reputation for a high degree of professionalism. Whatever your strengths, you should write them all down, study them, and then determine how to market those strengths to separate yourself from your competitors—to motivate potential clients to seek you out, and make existing clients feel fortunate to have discovered you.

Rule #9: Respect employees
If you have one or more employees, they form the bedrock of your practice. While adequate wages are a fundamental requirement for employee satisfaction, money isn’t the only motivation for most workers. Recognition for a job well done and respect for individual effort are important contributors to low employee turnover and high productivity, and take on even more importance when circumstances limit your ability to increase wages.

Rule #10: Get to know your banker
Even if your practice is small, it’s a good idea to develop a personal relationship with the manager at the bank where you do business. Discuss your financial picture honestly with the manager of your local branch. You’ll get some good ideas and a favorable ear should you ever need a little financial help.
To some massage professionals, a tight economy means going into hibernation. To others, it’s a time to increase client loyalty, solidify market position, and attract new clients. Following these 10 rules of successful business operations will help you turn any time into good times.

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