How It All Began
As far back as I can remember, I had an independent, free-spirited, very determined (aka stubborn) kind of nature. I always knew I was going to do SOMETHING great. I didn't know what, but, something.
As I slogged through my early adult years, I couldn't figure out for the life of me what I wanted to do. So many ideas sounded great, but none of them pulled me or made much sense. I certainly figured out quickly what I didn't want to do: I didn't want to be another cog in the wheel of some corporation, I didn't want to feel like a mindless clone, and I sure as hell didn't want ANYONE telling me what to do!
I found an overarching, and unwanted, theme running through my life. It seemed like everyone, be it bosses or boyfriends, wanted to control me and crush my spirit. That's a funny thing about being an independent minded young woman with a load of untapped potential brimming just below the surface - there are a lot of people that don't want to see you ever do better than them, and they do everything they can to keep you under their thumb.
It's rough when you are at the bottom trying to get a leg up.
In the year 2011, I found myself turning 30, and starting life with a clean slate after divorce with two little ones in tow. I had decided to go to school for massage therapy because I wanted to do something that fulfilled my need to help relieve the suffering of others.
As I was finishing up my internship in September of that year, I continued to toy with ideas about where I would actually work, and whether or not I dared start my own business.
I had gone into school assuming I would be an employee, but somewhere along the way in one of my business classes, in which the instructor talked a lot about being a solo practitioner, a seed was planted. A seed that slowly but steadily grew as I worked my way toward becoming a Licensed Massage Therapist. He told stories of past students who were wildly successful and had hit the ground running, and though I knew they were the exception and not the rule, I thought, Could I do that? After all, if it's possible, it's possible.
So, with a lot of determination and a WHOLE lot of faith, I took the leap and opened my own solo massage practice. Everything just fell into place to make it happen - I found the perfect studio just waiting for me to move in, a good friend gifted me a massage table, and I already had a business name picked out and domain for a website I had purchased before I even knew what I would use it for!
I decided I would not have a backup plan. I knew if I had something to fall back on, it would be too easy to do that when the going was tough. This was it - it was do or die. Or, do or be homeless. And homeless was just not an option, as far as I was concerned.
I'm not gonna lie. I was TERRIFIED. Like, really. I never felt more alone in my life. This was all me. When you decide to create your own job instead of take one someone else already created, it's like suddenly having to build your own ship before you sink instead of just hopping on that perfectly functional ship right next door. But, I didn't want to follow the rules of someone else's ship. I wanted my own ship with my own rules. It was tough, feeling sometimes like a lost child looking frantically around for the hand I was supposed to be holding, only there wasn't one. The only way to overcome the fear and loneliness was to face it head on by pushing forward anyway.
Massage therapy is an art form. And like any art form, when the artist is directed on exactly how things must be done, their skills become stifled and damaged. I didn't want to be held back or have to fit into someone else's box by having to fit my skills into someone else's service menu and price point.
Like any other business, most massage establishments care more about the bottom line than anything else. Their systems are set up to get clients in and out and on to the next one. I wanted to be client-focused and create an environment and system that allowed me to focus on doing the best I could to address the individual needs for each of my clients, and not just treat them like a number.
Starting a new business, right after getting my license and with no clients to start with, took a lot of hustle and a lot of creativity. I managed to stay afloat from the very start, sometimes just barely, but I did it! There was much to learn throughout this process, and still more to learn all the time, and it is a lot of work, but worth every bit of it.
For more information read my About Me page.
Neelou Saleh, LMT
Written May 2016