There is a story I would like to share that served as my inspiration for becoming a massage therapist. It is the story of Anna, a young woman who emigrated from Norway to the United States in 1923.
After paying for her transportation, Anna had just enough money to pay for one week’s lodging. Speaking no English, she found work as a cook at the Norwegian Seamen’s Home in New York City. Within two years she saved enough money to enroll in massage school and, in 1927, graduated from a grueling two-year program which included not only classes in massage, but all aspects of physiotherapy, including what Per Henrik Ling called Swedish Gymnastic techniques, and a year long hospital internship.
What the classes did not cover were instructions on marketing, how to find a job or setting up a private practice. Anna would learn this on her own. After graduation, she approached local physicians informing them of her skills and asking for patient referrals. Within a short time she was working for several doctors and making enough of an income with a private practice to rent an apartment in Manhattan.
In 1929 the stock market crashed. Anna was now married and pregnant. She and her husband William lost all their savings. What work William could find paid very little, 30 cents an hour at best. Anna’s practice, though, was doing fairly well, and at $2 to 3 per hour-long session, she was able to provide for the family. Between 1929 and 1934 her family grew to include not only her husband, but two children as well. The national economy was in crisis and there was little work to be found.
Anna knew she still had to make a living and never wavered from her work as a massage therapist. She never turned down a client, even after working a ten-hour day, for she never knew if or when there would be a time when there would be no more. A ground floor apartment provided her with an extra room to use as an office, which meant she was able to work from home. She offered special coupon books, paid for in advance, where clients paid the equivalent of nine sessions, but got ten coupons. At times she bartered her services for food and clothing, even furniture, knowing that clients relying on her had no money. Her family not only survived, yet in many ways prospered during the Great Depression, at a time when others were in dire straits.
Anna became a massage therapist because she wanted to help people. Her motivation was not to become rich, but simply to be of service to others. She knew if her intentions were good, honest and pure that she would in turn be given the means to provide for her family. She was not only determined, yet also assertive in seeking out and maintaining clients. Many of them remained with her for more than 20 years.
At the age of 75, after 50 years of working as a massage therapist, Anna finally retired. She still had several elderly clients that she worked on in their own homes and visited weekly.
Anna was my grandmother. At 75 she moved in with her daughter, my mother. Still holding true to her belief that massage was the answer to good health, and wanting to keep up her skills, she continued to give massages once a week to my mother for the next 25 years!
There are many messages for us in her story, messages about perseverance, determination and creativity.
Having a massage practice is not much different now and some of her ideas can be converted to a twenty-first century practice:
- Use down time to learn a new skill or technique. Have you been too busy in the past to take a course in hot stone massage? Now is the time to get in some CE Hours needed for re-certification.
- Get together with other massage therapists and contract for providing chair massage to local businesses. This may not only supplement your current income, but also provide you with potential future clients.
- Partner with local retail establishments to provide chair massage for busy holiday shoppers. Make sure to hand out business cards or fliers with special holiday offers for future massage sessions.
- Offer special pricing, such as buying a gift certificate for a massage at full price and getting another at a discount, or for the price of four massages the client gets five.
- Consider the feasibility of working out of your home, rather than a rented office. Do you have a room you could use as an office that would be convenient for clients and meets zoning requirements?
- Consider offering classes. You might provide instruction on infant massage to new mothers, classes in meditation, tai chi or stress reduction.
- Volunteer. Whether it is as a massage therapist, or serving meals at a homeless shelter, volunteering is a way to help others who are having an even harder time than you are. It also helps put things in perspective.
- Barter your services. Maybe there is a yoga class you would like to take but can’t afford. You can do this on a one-to-one basis with someone you know, or join a bartering club where services and goods are banked with a third party.
- For the winter holidays look into taking on a second part-time job. Retailers are often looking for temporary help. You’ll have opportunities to let more people know about your practice, earn extra income and perhaps get a substantial discount on items you need for your office or home.
Surviving a depressed economy is not easy. Instead of sitting at home or in an empty office worrying about what will happen next, use the time to approach your business in a new way, to expand your knowledge of the profession and to reflect on how you can reach out and be of service to others. What you give to them will come back to you in ways you could never imagine.