Sunday, March 22, 2009

The New Biz: A Year and a Half In

I've had three appointments this week that came from a year ago. A gift certificate I gave in payment for services, which was given to someone else, last April. A person I knew in massage school who called for a massage. And a repeat client whose last appointment was a year ago, in March.

Massage is a chancy business, if you want to be your own boss: it's a little like opening a restaurant. Lots of people go out of business. Not, usually, because they're bad therapists. Most often it's simply -- as with restaurants -- cash flow. Everything takes longer than you expect it to. I'm just now getting results from marketing I did a year ago. Potential clients that I exchanged email with months ago, but never quite clinched an appointment with, suddenly resume the conversation, quite unaware that the hiatus was more than a couple days long. Being the sort of person who keeps things in spreadsheets and graphs them, I can see that my business growth has been quite good, year over year. I'm now getting about two thirds the number of appointments I'd like to have, even though recently I raised my prices by 20%. Next year I should be full. The economy doesn't seem to have cut into my business at all. Au contraire: one thing the country has in abundance, just now, is stress.

The rule of thumb is that it takes three or four years to build a good massage business. My experience is bearing that out. Most of it is, that you need to find the people you have a deep heart-connection with. Those are going to be your regulars. And it's a chemistry as mysterious as the chemistry of love. They're not necessarily people I'd choose as friends. They're not necessarily people I'm attracted to sexually. They're people whose body rhythms seem to synchronize with mine. I find myself breathing along with them: I know when to lean down on their ribs with the outbreath because it's my outbreath too. Their bodies are peculiarly legible, to me. I love it, of course, if people tell me I'm a gifted, marvelous therapist, but that's not what it is. My technical skills are getting better all the time -- I work hard at it -- but they're just middling, still. The gift isn't in me: it's in the connection. I could spoil it, by failing to listen with my hands, but I can't create it. I'm not the right therapist for everyone. That doesn't trouble me. I'm the right therapist for some people, which makes me deeply happy.

I worried, back when I was first contemplating this career change, that I might tire of it, that I just wanted something new. "Hospital patients wishing to change their beds," that sort of thing. Nope. I love it more than ever. It's becoming more satisfying, not less. I end each session -- usually resting my hands on the shoulders, or the forehead -- by saying "thank you." It's a formal part of some modalities, thanking the client at the end, but for me it's generally the most heartfelt "thank you" of the day. I'm so grateful to be let in, this way.

I've always been peculiarly attuned to touch. I want to touch everything. I see a painting in a museum and I have some difficulty not reaching to explore the stipples and curves with my fingers. I reach down to touch the water in sidewalk puddles. I have to touch base with my favorite trees by resting my fingertips against their bark, feeling the light swooping through them. I want to touch people the same way a baby wants to pop things in its mouth: because I want to know them.

For most of my life, I've been distressed by wanting to touch, and not being able to. Something that has always been wrong, in my life, is now wonderfully, radiantly right.

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