Lots to Learn from Laura Allen; Successful Massage Therapist, Business Owner, Continuing Education Provider & Published Author

Laura-Allen1. Tell us a bit more about you and your practice as it is today? i.e. are you a solo practitioner or a business owner? If solo, what kind of an establishment do you work for, how large is it, what is the clientele like, what is the specialty offered? If it is a business that you own, kindly include the same time of relevant information that will give the reader a good idea about your establishment/practice. Please also include where you live and work?

I opened my massage business in 2003, so we’re going on 11 years. I have a chiropractor and 6 massage therapists including myself, and an RN who is trained in aesthetics and MLD. We’re in a small rural town of about 4000 people in Western North Carolina. We primarily focus on medical massage, but we’re always glad to help people who just want to relax.

2. Tell us why you chose to go into massage and at what point in your life did you decide to do so? What were you doing at the time? Where did you first hear about the massage career? What factors influenced your decision? What were you looking to get out of this decision?

In my first life, I was a chef and restaurant owner. I owned four restaurants over a 20+ year period and had a few years here and there working as a chef, mainly in resort settings. When I opened my last restaurant in 1993, I told my partner I was going to cook for 5 more years and then get out, and that’s exactly what I did.

The owner of the massage school that I ended up attending used to eat in my place, and her school was only about two miles away from my house. I told her I was selling out and asked her for a job. I told her I could type, file, and sweep the floor! I was really tired of working 100 hours a week!

She hired me to be the school administrator, and just a few days later I decided to enter a weekend program she had for people who worked through the week. I entered massage school because I saw people coming into the clinic looking in pain and stressed out, and an hour later walking out looking so much better, I figured it had to be the best job in the world to get to help people feel better.

3. What were some of your questions and concerns before further pursuing your massage therapy goals? Talk about concerns with school and the profession itself.

Frankly, back then, I didn’t have any real concerns, and I suppose I didn’t have any major goals, either, other than learning to do massage. I was just so burned out on the restaurant business—I got my first job in one at the age of 13, and opened the first one of my own when I was 19—and I was just tired and ready for a change. I really didn’t care if it paid minimum wage at the time. It wasn’t about money. I just say it was my mid-life crisis! I was about 40 years old when I made the switch.

4. What is your specialty and what are the top three contributing factors to your success today?

My personal specialty is treating TMJ Dysfunction with massage. The other people in my office do it all, but I usually limit myself to the TMJ work. I have been receiving dentist referrals since I was a student, and worked on my own dentist for it, and have been blessed to keep on receiving them from many of the dentists in our town.

I will attribute the success of my clinic to my staff members. I’m just the ringleader and I am actually the office manager whenever I’m in town. I scrub the toilet and do the laundry just like everyone else!

I have also been successful as an author; I have had three textbooks published by Lippincott, written dozens of magazine articles for the trade publications, and written more than 300 blogs since I started blogging on Massage Magazine’s website over 7 years ago.

I primarily blog about the politics and regulation of massage therapy, so that has raised my profile over the years. I have also been very fortunate to be in demand as a CE instructor, and have traveled all over the country and to Europe and Canada to teach.

5. What do you like about your specialty? What do you like about what you do in general as a career? Why?

TMJ work is something that people see instant results with, even if they have suffered with it for years. We have one dentist in town who actually tells people to visit us first, and if we don’t resolve it, to call him back. It’s very gratifying to be able to help someone in that way. Massage is very gratifying in general. Just to hear people say they feel better is a reward in itself, every single day.

6. What do you not like about what you do? Why?

Being an employer is not a picnic! The buck stops here if anyone isn’t satisfied. I’ve been fortunate to not have very many staff or service problems over the years, but there are occasional times when I’d like to pull my hair out.

When you’re the owner, you are responsible for every single thing, all the bills, all the employees, all the customers. Ultimately, everything that happens there is a reflection on you. It’s a big responsibility.

7. If there were three things you could change about your work or the industry as a whole what would they be? Why would you change them? What would you change them to?

a) Medicare would pay for massage.

b) Veterans’ insurance would pay for massage.

c) ALL insurance would pay for massage, but I’d especially like to see veterans, disabled people, and the elderly all in the position of being able to get their massage paid for.

8. How long do you plan to practice and what do you plan to do after?

I’m really waffling about how long I personally want to continue running a clinic. Sometimes I think I’ll do it until retirement, and sometimes I think I’d sell it today if someone offered me enough money!

I’d like to focus more time on writing and teaching, and I’m pretty sure I have one more career left in me. I’d like to own a dog kennel and board pets for people when they’re away. I love dogs and I’ve got two of my own, both rescue dogs, and I’ve had this pipe dream for a while that I’d like to do that for my “retirement career.”

9. Do you currently have another job or business whether full time or part time? Tell us a bit more about it and how you are able to juggle that with your massage career?

I travel a lot teaching, and I also have a classroom here at my clinic where we offer classes, some taught by me, some taught by other CE providers. I also write nearly every single day. I am working on a textbook revision for my publisher, a book written by another author who has passed away and they hired me to update it.

I also create custom lesson plans and curriculum for massage schools, and I usually do one or two of those every year. In addition to my textbooks, I have also authored a cookbook and several other books that are self-published, and I’m working on another one right now. I always have something to do!

My “other job” is that I’m a musician. I am currently playing in two bands and I feel like I’m in my second childhood. I started playing in bands when I was a teenager, and I had taken about a decade hiatus of playing in public during my 40s. I got back out there a few years ago and I play about 4-6 times a month between the two bands. I play the guitar, the harmonica, and occasionally keyboards and the dulcimer, and I write music. So I’m having a good time!

10. What are some mistakes you made in your career pursuit that you’d like to warn other students about so they can learn from your experience and avoid it?

The biggest mistake I ever made was back in massage school. I didn’t raise my hand and say “Excuse me, exactly how does that work?” In fact, I just published a book by that title. There are a lot of myths of massage floating around out there, and people tend to blindly accept whatever the instructor says.

No one wants to think they’re spending time and money to learn false or outdated information, but it happens every single day. There are also a lot of worthless products that are heavily marketed to massage therapists, that they fall for hook, line, and sinker, and then proceed to sell them to their clients. If I had to do it over again, I’d ask a lot more questions instead of just believing the teacher.

11. What would you advice someone who is looking at massage therapy schools? What do you recommend they look for and how? How do you recommend they determine whether the school is the right one for them?

A COMTA-accredited school is always a good thing. They have very thorough standards that a school must adhere to in order to get that approval, and it says “I have done more than the state requires in the interest of providing quality education.” Investigate the curriculum and see if it is in line with your vision.

If you want to be a medically-oriented massage therapist, you shouldn’t attend a school that is focused on energy work, and vice-versa. Investigate the teachers, too. If a school is using last year’s students as this year’s teachers, that’s not a good thing. They may be a great massage therapist, but they haven’t had any time to gain any experience in the real world.

In the sciences, look for instructors who have a college degree. You want to get the best education possible. Personally, I would also avoid a school where only one or two people are teaching the whole curriculum.

You can’t be an expert in everything, and if you’re only getting one person’s perspective, that’s shortchanging yourself. And if a school is making promises that you’re going to be making $60 an hour as soon as you graduate, run, do not walk, in the other direction!

12. What do you recommend for someone who wants to go to massage school but cannot afford it?

Community colleges usually are very affordable. Financial aid is available, but be sure you know what you’re getting into before you sign your name on the dotted line. Paying back student loans can be financially crippling and you really don’t want to start out your career thousands of dollars in debt. Some people may qualify for grants or scholarships. Investigate every possible avenue.

13. What are your three biggest points of advice for an aspiring massage therapist today? What should they do/not do? What should they think about and consider?

a) Your communication skills are just as important, if not more so, than your ability to give a good massage. LISTENING to the client is the best skill to cultivate.

b) This goes back to the first one as well, but give GOOD SERVICE. Be on time. Be dressed modestly. Keep your office spotless. Give the client what they want, not what you have decided they need. If someone requests relaxation massage, then avoid that urge to go to the bone just because you think they need it. You can discuss that with them, but don’t just get the idea that you are the sage on the stage with people. Don’t take up their time doing energy work on people who haven’t asked for it and don’t believe in it. That is totally out of integrity. If they asked for massage, then give them massage.

c) Become an expert in anatomy and physiology — not so you can pass an exam—but so you can perform a proper assessment and an effective massage.

14. Any open thoughts / comments – anything else that you’d like to share about yourself, the massage industry, profession, future, etc? If nothing, make one prediction for the future of massage?

Massage is going through a lot of growing pains right now. We don’t even have a common language that everyone agrees on. We have a mish-mash of regulations that make it hard for people to move from one state to another. We have organizations that are at odds with each other. We have a lot of pseudoscience that has infiltrated massage.

We have outdated laws in some places. We still have some public perception of massage being about sex. We have a different environment these days with the proliferation of massage franchises. We have a lot of problems to address. My prediction: it’s not all going to be straightened out in my lifetime. Progress is being made, but it’s slow going, especially if it requires legislative changes.

15. What is your passion outside of massage? What are your hobbies and interests which you pursue when you are not working? Tell us why you enjoy what you enjoy.

Music is my passion. In addition to the public gigs I play, I also just play a lot for my own enjoyment. And my dogs, Fido and Queenie, keep me and my husband busy and entertained. They’re both still at the chewing stage where you have to watch them or they’ll destroy everything in sight! I also read a lot, usually at least a book a week. I read a lot of American history and Irish history, and English lit. I read a lot of classics. It’s my escape from reality!

Laura Allen, BA, BCTMB is a successful massage therapist, business owner, continuing education provider and a publisher of several massage books. You can reach her on her website here.

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

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