Many practitioners lead rather solitary lives. The nature of this field is that while practitioners work with a variety of clients, their focus is, and should be, client-centered. They most likely handle business operations by themselves, if self-employed; or those tasks are done by office staff if the practitioners work at a company. Even practitioners in clinic settings often discover that very little case management occurs. This can lead to a deep sense of isolation.
Humans tend to function better in groups. History demonstrates that people working together create greater results than can be achieved by working apart. A vivid example of this can be related to protests. An individual writing letters to government officials may have some impact, but 1 million people marching in Washington DC is impossible to ignore. Yet, you don’t need quite that magnitude of numbers to have impact, as the synergy created in collaboration is a powerful force.
Collaboration is key to a thriving, fulfilling, long-term career—particularly for those whom are self-employed. Consider partnering with other practitioners on a regular, occasional, or even one-time basis. It’s a lot more fun, productive, and cost-effective to share the load with your colleagues. Some common collaborative activities include supporting each other in business tasks, doing cooperative marketing, sharing office space, purchasing bulk items, and educating the public.
Business support can take on many forms, including joining a Mastermind group; apprenticing with another practitioner; finding or being a mentor; engaging in peer supervision; and sharing office management tasks.
It’s vital to have ongoing support. You might consider developing a mix of formal and informal support systems.
Get together with colleagues on a regular basis to talk about business challenges, brainstorm ideas, and get support. These informal meetings can help ease the stress of running a practice and are usually a lot of fun. Also, you might find that someone in the group really enjoys doing a certain task that you dislike, and you can help that person in return.
For instance, let’s say your office needs to be reorganized, but that’s not one of your talents. Another member of the group loves to organize and decorate. She also wants to be more active online but doesn’t know what to do, and you happen to be a technology wizard. You could set up her social media accounts, update her website, or help her with her e-newsletter, and she could give your office a full make-over.
The support you give each other could also be on a smaller scale, such as two of you might set up a time to work on your own projects, but do it in the same space. For example, I have a friend who was procrastinating about getting several writing projects done. I always have writing projects, so we decided to support each other. For several months, she would bring her laptop to my office once a week and we would both write. We didn’t even talk much, but just knowing that we could ask each other for feedback was comforting. We were focused and got a lot done.
Many practitioners share office space. An office space can range from a location where a group of massage therapists share equal space, to a multi-disciplinary center consisting of several practitioners. Sharing office space can significantly reduce your overhead: You only need one waiting room for everyone, and you can split the cost of a front desk person.
It’s a lot more enjoyable to have colleagues around, and it increases your personal safety. A side benefit is that it can also increase the number of clients you see, as a result of cross-referrals. Of course, complications can arise, so it’s wise to have a very specific written agreement about expectations, responsibilities, and finances.
It’s usually more economical to buy supplies in bulk. The problem is that it could take you a long time to go through a case of products. This is when cooperative purchasing comes in handy.
I remember when I was in college and was part of a food co-op. I could get most of my food for two hours of volunteer time plus less than $50 per month? I know, I’m dating myself here. There were about 100 members and we would buy food directly from wholesalers, divide the food into smaller packages, and have the items for pickup once per week. This included bread, vegetables, fruit, cheese, and chicken. We had high-quality food at a very low cost, and it provided a sense of community. Massage therapists can follow this model when it comes to supplies for their practices.
One of the major categories of bulk purchases is office supplies., which can be easier and less expensive to buy from warehouse stores and online distributors.
Co-operative purchasing can also be very helpful if you sell products in your practice. You get better prices when you buy in bulk, and most distributors require minimum purchases. This can be challenging if you are just starting to retail; are considering a new product but you aren’t sure how well it will sell; the products have a short shelf life; or the products are expensive.
Cooperative marketing often increases the success of marketing activities, reduces the risks and costs, saves time and effort, and makes those tasks more enjoyable. Pooling your resources helps you afford more imaginative, elaborate, expensive, and long-term marketing projects. These projects can include simple activities, such as you and a colleague placing each other’s brochures on your front desks; to more weighty activities, such as joint advertising, co-sponsoring a fundraiser, submitting proposals to corporations for your services, sharing a booth at an expo, and giving presentations to the general public.
The public needs to be continually educated on the benefits, scope, and credibility of touch therapies. The more visible you are in the community, the better. Public speaking is one of the best ways to promote our industry in general, and your practice in particular. I realize many people would rather die than speak in public, but you don’t have to do presentations and demonstrations alone. Public speaking is much less intimidating and more impactful when it’s done by two people. I really enjoy public speaking, yet it’s still much more fun when I co-present.
Estimates gauge the numbers of massage and bodywork practitioners in the United States to be between 250,000 - 300,000. Imagine if every practitioner paired with another practitioner and did 10 presentations each year on the benefits, scope, and credibility of touch therapies. Let’s also imagine that 15 people attend each presentation. That would mean about 20 million people would hear about touch therapy each year! This is just one example that illustrates how truly there is power in numbers.