Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"That's* a Business Deduction?

In no particular order, here are things I've claimed as business deductions lately. Just to give you an idea of what can be done (reasonably and legally). I put these out there to show you what you can be done and to get you thinking fully about your business expenses.

A writer's retreat weekend

Food, lodging, and car rental. Since I also write professionally, have published, and will continue to publish I claimed this as a "business retreat". I also claim all income from writing.

BTW, wonderfully productive weekend! Finished 3 (of the 8) books that were on my almost-finished list. One has been sent on to editing, two returned to my co-author for approval. It really does help to just get away from home sometimes.

I will be claiming the cost of editing as a business expense.

Uber and Car2Go

These two rideshare / taxi alternatives are very popular here in DC. Those times I just don't feel like walking home from a gig, I use them. Since I'm travelling from a business location to my home office, they qualify.

Non-monogo-what? workshop

The place I now practice -- Freed Bodyworks -- hosts workshops in all manner of interesting things. This workshop was an introduction to polyamory (non-monogamous relationships). Since Freed Bodyworks specifically includes the poly community in their outreach, I attended this workshop with the "business" intent of understanding the community and learning the vocabulary it uses. It was an educational expense.

Yelp discount

About a year ago I decided to offer a special "75 minutes for the cost of 60" deal on Yelp. I have had two people use it. The difference between what the client paid and what they would have paid was a "discount" expense. I have to claim the would-have-been amount as income before I can claim the discount as an expense.

Membership in (and mileage to) a writing space

There's a neat little biz here in DC called Cove where you can get access to a quiet space for writing and work on an as-needed basis. It's perfect as a place to get away to when I'm not getting any work done at home. More than a coffee house but less than a formal co-working space. I go there to work on my ebooks, my business workshops, etc. Since I joined with a business intent and primarily use it that way, it's a business expense.

Thai, reflexology, hot stone, healing touch, and other bodywork

I joined Freed Bodyworks in March. I have received 1-2 treatments from almost everyone who works there. My intent was to experience their bodywork so I would know how best to refer clients when necessary. Business expense.

Tea with another massage therapist

I met with another local MT to talk about how easy or difficult it was to operate a home-based practice in my part of the city (she's doing research for a business plan). We also talked about e-publishing (and she joined me on the writers retreat weekend!). The cost of the tea and the mileage to/from the meeting was a business discussion.

Note: there are some non-intuitive rules around when you can and can't claim meals. Take a class with Margo Bowman or talk to an accountant to be clear on this.

Lights for my bike

I talked to my accountant about this first. I wanted to ride my bike to/from work more often but didn't have lights. Since my primary purpose in buying the lights was work-related, she said I could take them as a business deduction.

Now I need to find out if I can deduct the cost of the new bike I had to buy last month when that other bike was stolen soon after I bought those lights!

A talk-therapy session

I have an ongoing relationship with a holistic psychotherapist. Every now and then I will use one of the sessions for supervision; that is, to talk about issues specifically related to work or clients. Those sessions (and the associated mileage and meals) are a business deduction.

Friday, April 24, 2015

We've Changed

We are not the profession we were 10 or 20 years ago. For better or for worse and it's because we have won. Here's what I mean:

I started massage school in 1998, graduated in 2000. What did we want and dream about then?
  • The death of the prostitute/wink wink nudge nudge bullshit.
  • Legitimate licensing.
  • Greater visibility in the general public.
  • Being valued for more than a "vacation/birthday rub down".
  • Being noticed (and even being taken seriously) by the medical profession.
  • Opportunities to work with other "complementary" health care providers like acupuncturists and chiropractors as peers.
  • More multi-therapist practices.
  • The ability to bill insurance so more people could get massage therapy.
Simply put, more places to work, greater visibility, and greater legitimacy. While we still want those things, we're dramatically further along than we were 15+ years ago.

But as with everything, there's a price to pay.

As we have gained visibility, we've become a market for non-MTs to make money. Whether it's quickie schools or massage franchises, we are now a legitimate way for those outside our industry to make money from our work.

Along with that, our industry is becoming increasingly "corporatized". How many national school chains and national franchises with a standard business objective -- profit -- are dotting our landscape?

With increased visibility, our customers have higher expectations. They want a great massage experience -- and now often have the experience themselves to have higher standards -- but they want a smooth business operation too. They want the same kind of benefits they get from the local pizza place, hair dresser, and clothing store: credit card processing, long hours of operation, online scheduling, etc. They have higher expectations of us as massage therapy practitioners and massage therapy businesses.

We are actually showing up in hospitals! My business partner / partner in crime Kitty Southworth is training with Healwell this week to provide massage (for pay!) in local hospitals. There is a growing demand for this program locally, enough that the massage therapists who designed and run the program are having some trouble keeping up.

With the growth of that kind of demand, however, is a commensurate rise in expectations: we are expected to be able to function in a clinical setting. We can't even agree on how to define "medical massage"! The standards for what we need to know and what we need to be competent at are rising. "Just" knowing the basics about muscles and massage strokes isn't really enough any more.

Which means rising standards for education and for licensing. Which we are bitching and moaning about as well.

Which leads to a growing segregation between and segmentation into spa, medical, "wellness", sports, etc. specialties. Will there be a time, not so far away, where an MT has to choose their area of specialization early in their career to be competitive?

Will schools need to offer specialized tracks that MTs have to commit to, like declaring a major in college, to be able to graduate?

Now that more than half the states / quasi-governmental-jurisdictions (forgive me, I live in DC, the capitol of quasi-governmental jurisdict'ing) have licensing there's going to be more and deeper legislation. It's just how governments work. We still have to fight the "no, we're not prostitutes / human traffickers / etc." but now we face fights about the value of also having a college education, the need for more classroom hours, continuing education (hands-on, online, etc.), and who governs whom.

Finally, wonder of wonders, more and more of us are able to bill insurance and/or be included in insurance networks! But that also means that insurance companies are getting involved in the licensing decisions because they've got money involved now. What insurance companies ultimately always want to do is control / manage / at least affect how a profession does their work since the insurance companies are helping to pay for it.

How long till we do our work officially in 15-minute segments so we can bill for it?

Now, I want to tell you how we avoid all the bad parts of "winning" the dreams we had.....we don't. These things are the price of success. We won. This is what it looks like and what it will continue to look like.

It means we, individually, need to change too.
  • We need to step up our game as business owners.
  • We need to push ourselves to be smarter about the body and try to keep up with changes in our knowledge of how the body works.
  • We need to find the time and energy to speak for ourselves to legislative bodies and insurance companies.
  • We need to broaden our vision about what's possible and gather the knowledge and skill to get there (including learning how to run smart group practices if we don't want to all be working for franchises).
I really wish I could tell you we can all sit back and relax now that we've won many of the fights we had 20 years ago. Just like in the rest of life, it isn't going to work like that. It's like being a parent -- surviving the Terrible Two's doesn't mean you're done, it just means you now get to meet the next challenge.

My simplest piece of advice? Join hands with the other MTs around you whether that's through formal channels like a local AMTA chapter, through an alumni group, through Facebook, or just through a semi-regular happy hour. We grow best when we grow together.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Are You More "Uber" or More "Taxicab"?

I had a stupid-early flight recently. 6-am-stupid-early. Which meant being at the airport at 5 am. Which meant leaving home at 4:45 am (not a lot of traffic at that hour of the day).

I didn't want to ask my husband to drive me that early. So I called.....not a taxi. I called the car service, Uber. In fact, I haven't called a taxi in years. I either use Uber or a local guy who runs an informal but super-reliable car service.

Why did I give up on taxicabs, a long-established service that's supposed to provide exactly this service? Because....
  • They are unreliable. I got tired of waiting for cabs that never showed up.
  • It could be physically uncomfortable. I've been in cabs that haven't been cleaned in far too long, where the upholstery is ripped, or where clearly the driver all-but lives in the cab, which just gets weird at some point.
  • It can be interpersonally uncomfortable. I've had cabbies wax eloquent about "those" foreigners, about Allah, about Jesus, about how they shouldn't have to take credit cards "just"  because it's convenient for the customer (hello, customer in the back seat here!), about how their cab companies are ripping them off, etc. etc. etc. I never initiated any of these conversations.
  • They don't always know their way around the city. I live a whopping 1.5 miles from the US Capitol and I've had cabbies meander through the neighborhood because they didn't know how to get where I needed to go.
  • I've been insulted for where I live. I've had cabbies bitch and moan and sigh dramatically about how they'll never get a "return" fare from this neighborhood.
Uber drivers, on the other hand, always have clean cars, the driver is always quiet unless I initiate a conversation, always has an up-to-date GPS system, and the driver is always cleanly and neatly dressed.

I can request an Uber car from my phone through an app. The app tells me how long the car will take to get to me, keeps me apprised of their progress, and gives me the car's license number and the driver's name and photo. I have a credit card on file with Uber so payment is automatically withdrawn from my account and tips are not accepted or expected.

In short, I gave up on cabs not because of their ability to drive, which is their primary responsibility. I gave up on cabs and chose Uber because they are an easier business to deal with and give me a more pleasant professional experience.

Why am I going on and on about this? My decision -- ditch cabs, embrace Uber -- is the same kind of decision a lot of our customers or potential customers make. Are we a good business to deal with?

When we panic about competition, it's not uncommon for us to start flailing around for that next modality that will save us or start offering crazy deep discounts in a desperate effort to lure people in.

How about, instead, we take a long hard look at the full customer experience?

  • How easy is it to schedule an appointment with you?
  • Is it possible to schedule an appointment last-minute with you?
  • Is it easy to find your office?
  • Is your website up-to-date and complete?
  • Are your marketing materials (business cards, etc.) professional looking?
  • Do you present a professional demeanor?
  • Is your massage room professional and comfortable?
  • Is it easy to get a receipt from you? How about invoices if that's appropriate for your business?
  • Are you easy to reach by phone, text, and email?
  • Is it easy to pay you (PayPal, credit/debit, invoice, cash, checks, etc.)?
  • Do you offer to book the next appointment at this appointment?
  • Do you have a referral for common needs, such as chiropractors, acupuncturists, PTs, orthopedists, etc.?
  • Do you send appointment reminders?
  • Do you offer sensible (not panic-driven) discounts or rewards for regular clients?
  • Do you stay in contact with clients throughout the year?
  • Do you raise your rates in a reasonable matter on a reasonable schedule, without apologizing all over yourself?

You don't necessarily have to offer last-minute appointments or accept credit cards but it is wise to ask if you are providing a good full experience for your clients? This is one of the big differences between a lot of us who are one-person operations and the bigger spas or massage chains. We'd like to think it's allllllllll about what happens on the massage table. What happens on the table is important but you're fooling yourself if you think that's all that matters.

Our clients feel happy or not happy with us based on the total experience. They don't make as sharp a distinction as we do between our "massage" side and our "business" side. It's all us to them.

Another example: I had a hair dresser I liked. But I gave up on her for the following reasons:
  • My hair takes about 20 minutes to cut. She could take up to 90 minutes depending on how lost she got in the stories she told (she apparently couldn't cut and talk at the same time).
  • It was a pain in the glutes to schedule an appointment. She wasn't good at returning calls. The other people in the salon wouldn't take appointments for each other. No one checked the voicemail.
  • I usually got to the salon before she did for my appointments even though I had further to drive.
  • She bitched and moaned about her (admittedly) crappy working conditions to me at every appointment. But she refused to move to another salon or strike out on her own.
  • She always laughed, uncomfortably, when she told me how much I owed her. As though it were shameful for her to be taking money from me. Which made me uncomfortable.
I got a good haircut but I had a terrible business experience and I just couldn't take it any more. One of the things I love about the new place is how efficient and professional they are and how easy it is to work with them.

Maybe you can't do all of these all at once. You are allowed to grow in your professionalism over time. But what I want to always be creating is the best full experience for my clients, on the table and off. Which means taking my business practices as seriously as I do my massage practices.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Brand You!

Have you ever heard anyone tell you that you need to work on your "brand"? It's quite the buzz in marketing circles. It can also be a tricky concept to truly "get".

The December 2014 issue of More magazine had a nice set of articles about your business brand. Some of it was clearly geared to more traditional corporate / big businesses but it did have a nice wrap-up of what "brand" is.

"10 Things Your Personal Brand Is Not:

  1. Your job
  2. Your resume
  3. Your elevator pitch
  4. Your network
  5. Your LinkedIn profile
  6. Your leadership roles
  7. Your Google-search results
  8. Your style of dress
  9. Your way of relating to others
  10. Your office d├ęcor
Your Personal Brand IS:

What you stand for and your reputation -- what others say about you when you leave the room. That doesn't boil down to any one of the things on the list [above]. But put them all together and these elements communicate to the outside world who you are and how you see yourself."

Brand is definitely about more than our education, our modalities, or our professional society. It's about who we are in our essence, how we communicate that in everything, and how the public perceives us.

More than one MT has pointed out, for example, that you should never assume your clients will never see your Facebook posts in massage therapy groups. If you are  all "sunshine and light" in the massage room but all "bitch and moan" in other forums, you run the risk of cross-contamination as it were.

Yet we all need places to vent, to let our hair down, and occasionally to complain about some of the aggravations of our work. That's why it's good to be connected to your local MT community, an alumni association, a supervising therapist, or just some MT buddies. A place you can relax and share the realities of our work (though probably not the local coffee shop because you your clients probably go there too).

AND it's good to sit back every now and then and ponder (or even do a little research) about how clients and potential clients think of us, what they think our highest values are, what they learn about our core essence from our resume / elevator pitch / FB profile / etc. If you are brave and strong you will ask a good and trusted friend to help you with this and you will listen carefully and be grateful for their help.

Then you will either (1) relax knowing that your "brand" is just what you want or (2) start working on that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I've Changed

There have been many changes in the last 6 weeks. The biggest change is that I have closed my practice.

I also had another body part removed -- the gall bladder this time -- which always takes more out of me than I expect. But things are going well now and I'm cautiously optimistic about that.

Closing my practice was a bigger deal.

No, I haven't quit massage therapy. What I've done is close my home-based private practice and joined a local group practice.

Why would I do that (you may be asking yourself)???  Isn't the low-overhead, all the profits all the time, home-based private practice the holy grail of massage therapy????

It wasn't for me.

There are two sides to this move (almost 2 years in the making) for me: leaving private practice + joining a group practice.

Leaving private practice

Yes, in private practice you are the Boss Of (Your) Universe. You get to make all the decisions, control the schedule, and pocket all the income. Woo hoo!

You also have 100% of the responsibility for everything. Every. Thing. It was all on my taut shoulders. Attracting clients, booking clients, processing payments, laundry, replenishing supplies, etc. etc. etc. It's a lot of work.

In practical terms, I never ever stopped thinking about my business. Not when I was working, not when I was taking a shower, not when I was watching a movie, not when I was on a date night with my husband, not when I was on vacation. Never.

That's draining.

Private practice is also isolating. I worked alone. Especially since I worked out of my home I spent a lot of time by myself. I'm an introvert but even introverts have their limits. I was too often at risk of relying on my clients for my social contact. That's dangerous.

The reality of running a home-based private practice had become too much for me.

I also need more energy to develop my classes and write my books. The energy for it has to come from somewhere. That "somewhere" was the administration of a private practice.

Joining a group practice

On March 1, I joined Freed Bodyworks. It's been not-quite 6 weeks (with a week out for that pesky gall bladder) but so far it's meeting my (high) expectations.

I've been practicing massage therapy for 15 years and have worked in a broad selection of settings: yoga centers, gyms, outcall services, private practice, group practices, etc. I've learned some things that governed my criteria for where I wanted to land. These were my 5 non-negotiable requirements:

1. It must be run well as a business.  Given my particular passion for the business of massage this probably isn't surprising but how many of us put it in the #1 spot on our requirements list? I've seen (and experienced) the effects of working in a haphazardly-run business. Far too many of the businesses in our industry are run haphazardly.

Often it's simply because the business owner has never received any useful education or direction about how to run an actual business. Sometimes it's because they are consumed by their passion for the healing work and let the business side run amok due to inattention. There are also business owners who, frankly, shouldn't be. They don't have the temperament or personality to be the boss.

2. It must have a mission I can get excited about. Lots of businesses have a "sense" of their mission but they couldn't state it clearly and simply if their life depended on it. I know what mine is: helping you live comfortably in and peacefully with your body.

A fundamental piece of that is that everyone -- everyone -- is welcome regardless of size, shape, color, health, self-care habits, etc. I make it a point to never try to "help" someone with their weight, fluid consumption, stretching regimen, etc. unless specifically asked. Even then I often demur if it isn't something I know I have practical and professional experience with (which always rules out any "advice" about weight).

Freed Bodywork's mission is stated clearly on their website, in all their marketing efforts, and in every detail of how they run their business: radical inclusion for all bodies. They live that mission every day in a way that has impressed me for a long time.

Their second chief mission I suspect is shared by most of the well-run group practices: provide a good space where good therapists can do good work. They take care of their therapists as well as they take care of their clients.

3. It must be convenient to my existing client base. I've been focusing my marketing on the Capitol Hill area of Washington DC for several years now. "Geographic desirability" is a serious issue here because of traffic. If I chose one of the other great group practices in the DC area, I ran the risk of losing most of my clients because most of them are not convenient to my current client base.

Admittedly, that limited my choices. Freed Bodyworks was the only one that met this requirement easily. If that hadn't worked, I'd have had to look further afield and risk losing a chunk of my clients.

4. I must like them. What's the point of closing a private practice so I could have co-workers again if I didn't like any of them?

5. The contract terms must be attractive. The "split" needed to make sense. Theirs does. Given the spirit of generosity and support that goes into their relationship with their therapists, I feel well-supported and well-appreciated.

I'm an independent contractor so I'm still self-employed. I still actively market myself as a massage therapist (thought not as feverishly as I needed to before). But now, at the end of my shift, I can go home and quit worrying about it. Plus, my schedule when I'm working is more full than it was when it was just me. I like both of those things.

It's hard to critically evaluate our options when we want or need to work for someone else (which is why I teach a workshop on it called Where We Work and am writing an ebook with the same name). Years of experience have taught me -- the hard way, which is always the best teacher -- what my true criteria need to be.

If you are in the same position I was, spend some time thinking deeply about what you need beyond "income". A high-paying position in a place you hate is never as sweet a deal as it may look like from the outside.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tears and Taxes

I'm (finally) pulling together all my tax paperwork to send to the accountant. I've been good at getting that done in February but this has been an unusually busy year so far.

I didn't expect it to make me cry (and no, not for the reason you think!)

Looking at all those entries reminds me of the details of last year and last year was one of the personally most difficult years I've had as an adult. My mom's long decline to death through dementia. My close friend's insanely rapid decline to death through cancer.

It took a huge toll on me and one of the things that suffered was my bookkeeping. I did not keep up with it and I know I'm missing all kinds of deductions.

Gotta forgive myself for that. Life trumps sometimes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What A Pleasant Surprise!

I received a gift certificate to a local restaurant worth more than $100 from another MT last week. Why did he do that? To say "thank you".

When I moved to Australia 4.5 years ago (which is also when I started this blog) I referred out all of my clients to other local MTs. I thought long and hard about what clients came to me for and chose a couple of MTs that I thought could "fill in" for me while I was gone.

If you've read this blog for a while you'll know that I did such a good job of picking those "fill in" MTs that very few of my clients returned to me when I came back! Turns out, being closed for a year may mean you get to start over from scratch when you come back.

One of those MTs ended up with one of my favorite weekly clients. In addition to forming a great relationship, it's been profitable for him. Which is why he sent the gift certificate (later than he'd wanted to he said).

I definitely wasn't expecting that. But, wow, what a lovely gesture!

There are those who think you should get paid for every client you refer to another MT. Some think you should be paid in perpetuity. I'm not one of those people. It stung to have very few of my clients return but I was genuinely happy that I'd chosen my successors well.

I'm also genuinely touched that this MT sent this gift. It's much appreciated and I'll do the same if the situation arises for me.