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Massage Today
December, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 12

Making the Leap

By Jenn Sommermann, LCMT

How do you know when the right time to jump from employment to private practice is? I have been asked that question a lot lately. Often I consult with massage therapists who have enjoyed the benefits of employment at a variety of venues but somehow think they are missing out on the opportunity to run their own show.

They ask me, "When and how do you know you are ready to make the leap?" It is a question that is not easily answered but I will address some key points to consider before making any moves.

Let me start by saying that not everyone is cut out for self-employment. It seems desirable and in this day and age when any employment situation feels less than secure, being in business for yourself has an allure of self-sufficiency and security. Not so fast. Small businesses are closing at alarming rates for the simple reason of not making it, not being able to pay the bills and not generating enough business. That being said, I am not discouraging you but want to pose a few questions first.

making the leap - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Look Before You Leap: Questions to Consider

  1. Are you a self-starter? Procrastination is set by kindergarten. At least that's what I think. You know who you are. I was the kind of kid who, when asked in September to have a project completed for the end of the school year, had it done by October 1. If you were the kind of kid who waited until June 15, you may not be best suited for private practice.

  2. How are your multi-tasking skills? Being in business for yourself means you are a jack of all trades. Often on Sundays, I could be found at my office tightening tables, fixing leaking faucets and gardening. Mondays through Saturdays I juggled staff, clients, landlords, neighbors, logistics, phone calls, marketing ... and on and on. If you don't handle multi-tasking well and in stride, private practice may not be for you.

  3. Do you have enough money in savings to support you for three to six months? Starting a private practice from scratch will not be easy and times may be lean. There must be a nest egg to fall back on during those times. If you rely 100 percent on yourself for income, perhaps you should consider waiting to start a private practice until you have more reserves in the bank.

  4. How is your health? When you don't work, you don't make money. It is all on you. If you find you are a sickly person, either physically or emotionally and need lots of downtime to recover and heal, self-employment will be challenging.

There are many other factors that bode well for self-employment but in my mind, those are the top four. If the answers to those four questions are less than favorable, do not despair. It might mean that you are better suited for part-time private practice and part-time employment. I would suggest that you not rely 100 percent on self-employment and mix it up with working for someone else.

Is There More Money in Private Practice?

Many people think that private practice means more money. I hate to burst your bubble but not really. If you are one person working in private practice, the amount of money you stand to make is usually close to, if not equal to, what you would make if you worked for someone else. For example, I have a travel business. I charge $100 per hour. Sounds like a lot of money, right? But it takes me almost two hours for every one hour client, with travel time and set-up time. Right away I am down to $50 per hour. Take out expenses and I am knocking on the door of $40 per hour. Gee... I could work for a chiropractor and not have to do any marketing, not have to do any laundry, not make any phone calls, and make about $35 per hour. Why don't I do it then? For me, it's simple. It's about control and the need to be in command of my schedule. So ask yourself, why do you want to be self-employed? If it is for more money, think again. If it is because you want more control, freedom and flexibility, read on.

Knowing When the Time is Right

So when is the right time to make the leap? My suggestion to students is to do both at the same time. If you really know you want private practice and that is the "big" dream, start right out of school, in addition to working for someone else. After all, private practice can mean one client. But that one client turns into two and four and so on. Once you have established a solid base of 10-15 private clients per week and consistently can count on those numbers, it would be safe to consider leaving your employment situation. The problem with those numbers is that often an employment situation means 10-20 clients per week as well. That seems like too much work for the average therapist. The trick is to find the balance.

If you are currently working at Main Street Spa and see 20 clients per week over five days, consider reducing your days to four and taking private clients on two days. That may mean you work six days a week but that is what it takes to build a business. As your two private practice days fill, give up another day at the spa. As your three private practice days fill, give up another day. At this point the spa may catch on that you are working privately and unless you have signed a non-compete agreement, there is no problem. But as a former business owner, I looked for consistency of care for clients and once you are no longer "available", you may want to consider leaving the spa altogether and running with your private practice. If I have the numbers figured right, at this point you are working three days privately and three days at the spa. Your private numbers should be around 12 or so per week, seemingly enough to rely on so that if you quit the spa, you are not destitute. You now have created space for new private clients as well. Remember the universe hates a void and space must be created in order for abundance to fill it.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that I cannot tell you when to make the leap from employment to private practice. Every situation is different. It also depends on how much money you need to make and who else is able to support you, if anyone. This is a case-by-case situation and a large part of my consulting revolves around this very issue. Check your motives, ask yourself the tough questions and be realistic about expectations. Businesses fail every day. The latest statistics suggest it takes two years to build a self-supporting private practice. Having built two massage businesses of my own in two states, I concur with those findings. However, if you do your homework beforehand and don't rush the process, you can enjoy the fruits of self-employment.

Stay focused.

Click here for previous articles by Jenn Sommermann, LCMT.


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