Alligator Skin (Part 2): A Second Look at Business Contracts

By Debbie Roberts, LMT
December 4, 2018

Digital Exclusive

Alligator Skin (Part 2): A Second Look at Business Contracts

By Debbie Roberts, LMT
December 4, 2018

Digital Exclusive

I joined as the only female partner in an integrated medicine practice, shared with three other disciplines. Having developed a few scales (the first stages of alligator skin) and some good business sense, I started out with a one-year contract. I thought I had it all figured out this time, but I still had a lot to learn. You see, business is a creative art form. It changes constantly and, if you're not careful, it can take you far from the path you thought you were traveling on.


My lesson with this experience was that written words drafted with the best of intentions can have vastly different meanings to different people. Soon, some of the items that I thought were clearly understood in our contract came into question. I learned to become a critical listener and thinker, but facing three strong male egos on a daily basis soon took its toll.

Eventually, I realized that I was never going to be treated like a true business owner by my "partners." Instead, I was treated as someone they just hired. It didn't matter that I had brought a $100,000+ massage business to their practice. I was left out of meetings and told things after the fact. Nice communication, right?

Know Your Value

It is here that I must stress how absolutely imperative it is that you have a sense of yourself personally, before you begin to enter into contracts with other people. My mistake was that I didn't see myself as a prominent entrepreneur worth every bit as much as my colleagues. I put my partners on a pedestal because they had four and eight-year degrees. And so I overcompensated by putting their needs before my own.

It was only later, after this experience, that I learned that personal study and professional development are every bit as valuable as academic degrees. Make no mistake about it folks, you must know and respect who you are if you are going to own your own business.

So it happened again. I developed the space, built up the business, expanded and added therapists, and then that ugly greed thing got in the way again. Before I knew it the physical therapist there needed more space and started piece by piece taking away from the area I was paying for. The chiropractor sided with him and the rest is history. I left and, finally, opened a space of my own.

Ironically, at the time that I entered those ill-fated rental agreements there was not a bone in my body that was geared toward owning my own spa. I just wanted to do my job, help my clients and make a living. What I hadn't counted on were the unspoken expectations of the other people involved in the arrangements. Mind reading is still beyond most people's capabilities, mine included, yet you'd be surprised how often people expect us to know what they expect from us.

My Best Advice

So, before you enter into any kind of agreement to sublease space, you need to spend some time exploring yourself, your needs and your future goals. Then, make sure those plans are in line with the vision of the person or persons you're renting space from. You can't wait until you're two or three years into the deal and just plop a business plan down right in the middle of someone else's business. It just doesn't work. Why? Because you cannot take and own what was already provided to you under different circumstances.

In other words, if you're being spoon fed clients by your "landlord," regardless of the relationship or successes you've had with them, they are not your clients. Those clients essentially have been assigned to you to take care of. After all, you didn't incur any costs in obtaining these clients, so you can't create a business plan that includes them out of the blue.

Okay, so now you're probably wondering, "Whose side is she on anyway?" To be honest, I am and have been on both sides of the fence. That's how I know it's so important. So if you're even considering opening your own spa, I suggest you put the time in to create a detailed, comprehensive business plan with long and short-terms goals, a marketing plan, and a reasonable timeline for each of your accomplishments.

Know Your Goals

Bottom line—before you go into business for yourself, whether subleasing or going out on your own, know what your business goals are and get things in writing up front. I simply can't stress this enough. Trust me it will save you a world of problems down the road. Yet even with your contract in place, all your i's dotted and t's crossed, you still need to be prepared to deal with greed, self-indulgence, "it's all about me" attitudes and good old-fashioned back stabbing. Don't misunderstand me I'm still a trusting and giving person, but now I'm a trusting and giving person with tougher skin and signed contracts.

So what did I learn from my experiences that could save you?

  • Respect yourself and know exactly what you want from a business.
  • Be willing to say this isn't for me before someone hands you a five year lease and the keys.
  • Do your research and create a feasible business plan to meet your goals. Spend some money for a lawyer and/or business advisor from the very beginning. There are retired executives out there willing to teach you all about the pitfalls of being a business own. It'll be worth every dime you spend on it and could save you big bucks down the road.
  • Don't assume that everyone is on the same page. If you are a woman know that men are very contractual or written word. They are not necessarily good at remembering spoken words. Have meetings, compare written notes and really get to know all of the people you'll be going into business with.
  • Don't undervalue yourself of your gifts. Never settle for less than you deserve. In the words of the past Wayne Dyer, "If it doesn't bring you peace get rid of it."
  • Be bold in asking for a legally binding contract, no matter what.
  • Friends don't always make the best business partners. Partnership is hard and can be emotionally devastating when things don't work out.

If this all sounds like too much work, or you're just not there yet, I beg you to reconsider diving in head first. But if you want this badly enough, if you're willing to do your homework (and take on a few scales), you're already off to a great start. Who says alligator skin isn't beautiful?