I will often get asked why I decided to become a massage therapist and my answer is usually a confusing amalgam of desires to be active and engaged, but caring and therapeutic, with a focus on health, but in a way that was flexible and adaptable, and would allow me to work with a wide variety of people, but with the opportunity for a targeted focus, and so on. The more simple answer, though, is that I wanted to work for myself and this seemed like a good way to make that happen.
I am in my seventh year of being self-employed and I have found that, like all things, really, it has its ups and downs. For anyone who is considering making a shift to being your own boss, or has just started out on the self-employment path, I have a few insights to share that I hope will help you in your planning, and in creating a new direction for your career.
Your personal schedule is not as flexible as you may have hoped, or as other people think it is.
My friends and family often assume that I can take as much time off as I want, whenever I want, since I set my own schedule. While I may not work a standard 9-5, 40 hours a week schedule, being self-employed has not afforded me an unlimited wealth of free time and flexibility. When I was first starting out I would take any and all clients I could get, and would often bend over backwards to accommodate their schedules. In the first few years of my practice, I had very few free evenings to spend with friends, because evenings are when everyone else is done with work and wanting to come in for a massage. I was afraid to take any vacations beyond a couple of days, because I didn’t want to miss too many opportunities to schedule new clients. Nowadays, my schedule is so busy that I am often booked up about a month in advance, which means that if vacations, time-off and social gatherings aren’t planned well in advance, or don’t happen to fall on one of my off days, odds are I won’t be able to join in. I can’t duck out of the office an hour early like a lot of people can. If you want to see me on short notice, you need to be free around 1o in the morning.
The struggle for work-life balance doesn’t go away when you’re your own boss. In a lot of ways, I’ve found that it becomes even more difficult. Try to establish clear boundaries for your time and your energy from the start. Set a time when your work day will begin and when it will end, and try to stick to those times and avoid engaging in any business-related activities outside of that range. It can be hard to do, but if you get in the habit of separating your work life from the rest of your life early on, you’ll be happier in the long run.
Your successes and failures are your own, which is wonderful, and terrifying.
During the first three years of my practice, I would get waves of new clients out of the blue and I would feel wonderfully successful and excited. It’s all happening, I would think. I have arrived! But then the next month would be stunningly, impossibly slow and my mood would come crashing down and I believed that surely this meant I was doomed to fail completely and no one would ever come back again, and I would have to return to working for someone else, because clearly I wasn’t cut out for running my own practice. I know now that this is just how these things often work. It takes time to establish a steady, reliable business. It takes time to build up a regular, faithful clientele. Even though my practice is well established at this point, I still have some weeks, or even some months that are slower than I would have liked or expected.
You need patience and resolve, and a healthy does of faith to run your own business. Accept that things will ebb and flow for a while, and that’s natural and to be expected. Celebrate those periods where you’re really busy and feeling super successful, but try not to beat yourself up or get too gloomy about those times when the work isn’t coming in. It doesn’t mean that everything is falling apart.
It helps to make connections, get creative, and build a network of support around you.
Make friends with other self-employed people. Connect with people who run businesses that are similar to yours. It has never been my experience that separating yourself from your competition will make you more successful. It is helpful to connect with people who understand how your particular business and market works. You can get ideas from each other, learn from each other’s mistakes, get insider tips that will help you save money and make better financial and marketing decisions. I have several friends who are massage therapists. If I can’t fit someone into my schedule, I will refer them to one of my friends, and I have had several clients who have found me on the recommendation of another therapist who either couldn’t fit them in, or wasn’t the right style for their needs. The more people who know you and know about your work, and can help spread your name, the better. Don’t make yourself an island.
It’s also helpful to connect with people who are in entirely different fields. You can get a lot of great ideas just from talking to other people about their businesses, and I have found that it is really helpful to get an outside perspective about marketing efforts, services, or events that you are planning. Sometimes when building up your business, your focus can really narrow and it becomes hard to see beyond your specific target market and your established way of practicing. Plus, you would be surprised how often these connections can lead to interesting and unexpected collaborations. I am all about sharing ideas and advice with people who are just starting out with their own businesses. I don’t assume that I have all of the answers, or that what worked for me will work for everyone, but I think it’s nice to have someone to turn to with questions, someone to bounce ideas off of, someone who has been there before in the early days of self-employment who can say, “hang in there. It gets easier. You’re doing great.” It’s not easy being your own boss, but if you can create a network of support around you, it makes it a lot more fun.