We tend to idealize things.
At least, this seems to be a trend. Maybe because being a massage therapist (or other health and wellness practitioner) makes you think a lot about helping people get closer to their ideal selves – healthier, stronger, fitter.
We then apply this to our businesses. We think the ‘healthier, stronger, fitter’ situation would be working for ourselves out of our own rented space, calling all the shots and making our own rules.
But here’s the thing.
We also tend to get blinders on about this. We end up suffering from a good old dose of ‘the grass is always greener’ syndrome. And we don’t take a real – and by real I mean super realistic and honest – look at what it really means to open our own private practice.
I see and hear a lot of advice given to health care folks who are either thinking of going out on their own or who are happily working at a clinic with other people. And a lot of that advice is, well, unrealistic. So let’s talk about a few of the things I hear people saying.
“You’ll make more money if you work for yourself!”
Hands up, who has heard this from colleagues or friends?
Or something similar: ‘You need to stop helping someone else pay their mortgage and start paying your own!’
You know, this seems to be a common misconception about running a business. It’s assumed that if you have full control, you’re going to make more money, because you can do things the way you want to. And if you’re a clinic owner, you must be making a lot of money off the therapists who work with you.
That might be true in some situations! Maybe you’re working at a place where you only take home a small percentage of what you make, and if you opened your own space, you’d get to keep a lot more. Even after you factor in the costs of doing business, you’re still retaining more of what you make.
And yes, there are some clinics where the owners are charging their therapists a large amount of money in order to line their own pockets. That is also true.
But in the vast majority of situations, this simply isn’t the case. At all. Most clinic owners are barely covering their costs with what they charge their sub-contractors. Most sub-contractors who go solo because they think they’ll make more suddenly discover what it’s really like running their own treatment space or clinic. There are so many costs when running a business, and you don’t really ‘get it’ until you’re in it.
Speaking of costs and the whole money thing: there isn’t some magical thing that happens when you decide to open your own clinic. We assume that if we do this, most of our previous clients and connections will simply follow us to our new location, and the bookings (and money!) will flow.
Now yes, it’s quite likely some clients will follow you, especially if your new location isn’t far from your previous one. But you need to also realize that some people will prefer your old clinic. It’s not that they didn’t like you… they just have a relationship with that clinic they want to maintain.
Often we have to work twice as hard to get clients booked. Both previous and new clients may be hesitant. The previous ones because they were used to your old space. The new ones because you don’t have much ‘track record’ to give them confidence in booking with you. This will improve over time, but it is something to be aware of. Many new businesses fail in the first year, and this is part of the reason.
Even once we’re rolling, we STILL need to work hard to keep the bookings coming in. I used to work with a massage therapist who was booked solid most weeks. She once told me that even after her many years of hard work, she found that if she let her marketing and client retention practices slip, she’d start to see it negatively affect her schedule.
The reality of all of this? There really is no guarantee you’re going to ‘make more’ if you go solo. You need to work twice as hard if you run your own show, and you honestly might be better off if you worked for someone else instead of opening your own clinic. It’s not as cut and dried as we like to think it is.
“Going solo means you’ll have so much more free time!”
If you open your own space you’ll be able to call all the shots on when you’re working or not working and will have more freedom, right?
That may be true, but the choices you make will have an impact on your business. Remember what I said above about having to do the work to be successful?
So yes, we do have more flexibility with our time as solo practitioners. We can go to a daytime yoga class, take an afternoon break to do some gardening, or go for a long walk to clear our heads without having a boss tell us to get back to work. It is true, you will have more control over your schedule, and that’s pretty great.
But that flexibility can be a curse. It can mean that you don’t sit down and do the things you need to do for your business because you don’t have a boss telling you to do them. Be honest: do you avoid doing your paperwork, marketing, emails or other things because they’re not your favourite tasks?
Let’s be real: all of us have moments like that! But if you want your business to be successful, you need to do those things, whether you like it or not! The yoga class or garden will have to wait sometimes while you return those calls, send that email newsletter, or deal with the mountain of laundry.
The other side of this issue is many of us who run our own businesses tend to work odd hours. For the most part, we need to work when our clients are available. This means working evenings or weekends sometimes (or, all the time!). This can mean missing out on things our ‘normal office hours’ working friends can go to without a second thought. That concert on Wednesday night, or that birthday party on Saturday afternoon? Yeah, we often have to miss that, because we have to work.
“Being your own boss is the only true way to run your practice!”
Well, maybe for some. Maybe you have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and have always wanted to run your own business. If that’s the case, and you’re aware of the pros and cons and hard work, go forward and do it!
But let’s be realistic here.
We already talked a lot about the work that needs to be done if you want to run a successful practice. But there’s another side to ‘being the boss’ I haven’t covered yet.
If you work for a clinic or company and something goes wrong, who is responsible? Often, it’s not you, or at least, you share the blame with other people.
Being your own boss? That means you get to call the shots! But it also means you are responsible for every single one of them. There’s no one else to help deal with upset clients, or people who don’t pay, or the broken computer, or the fact that you’ve run out of toilet paper. It’s all on you.
So that’s my honest take on what it’s really like to run a solo practice. It’s not all roses! We need to take a critical look whenever someone claims that ‘going solo’ is the only possible goal for any practitioner. You can be very successful in working for someone else, and you can be very successful in working out of your own space.
You just have to decide what is best for you and your lifestyle.
If running an independent massage practice does feel like it’s right for you, I have some tips for you right over in this post.
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