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In this Post: Working in a massage co-op can be a beautiful thing when clear boundaries are established upfront. Learn the good, the bad, and the ugly about this type of a massage practice.
What is a massage co-op you may be wondering? It is a group of individual practitioners. They work for themselves, yet share space and some responsibilities. While there are many similarities to working in private practice, there is a bit of a twist with this type of practice.
Working in a massage co-op can mean a reduced workload, while still maintaining autonomy. Of course, you want to make sure you are with a group of practitioners who share responsibilities equally.
Ericka Strodtman of Steamboat Massage Group says, “Operating a co-op can be a bit like herding cats. You learn that different people value different things and that can be challenging at times.”
It is true that logistically it can be hard to navigate the roles and responsibilities of operating such a practice. However, when it is done with thought and intention it can greatly ease the burden of being a solopreneur.
Pros of Working in a Massage Co-op
Group Website –
Having a group website not only helps reduce the burden of maintaining a site, it also helps drive more traffic to your massage practice. Anything you can do to bring in organic searches will help your bottom line.
Maybe you love the ideas of running your own business and doing your own thing, but you also like people. Working in a co-op gives you a chance to socialize and bounce ideas off of other people while not having to answer to them. You can have lunch with a fellow practitioner where you discuss business strategies, treatment plans, or simply talk about your upcoming weekend adventures. Then you can go back to your own business seamlessly.
Reduced rent –
When a large group comes together to rent a space, you typically will end up with a bit more amenities without the burden of increased rent. You may be able to share a waiting room, or even split the cost of your treatment room to save a few bucks.
Instant referrals –
When you work so closely with other practitioners it is only natural that you will refer to them if you are booked up, or if there is a condition outside of your scope. The reciprocal nature of these referrals is something you will be hard pressed to find in other types of practices.
Large groups –
With added practitioners there is the chance to accommodate larger parties than if you worked alone. This can increase the number of clients you are able to see. This is also great when one of your regular clients has friends or family in town who would like to receive treatments at the same time as them. No need to send them to the spa down the street.
Because you are often being referred to by your fellow co-op members, it can be a fun change of pace to work on a the different population of clients your co-op members attract. We all have different populations of people that gravitate towards us. In co-op’s this distinction is quite evident.
Learning through observation –
It can be a great learning experience to see how others structure and run their business. You can really dial in what are effective methods versus what aren’t. And the great thing is, you don’t always have to be the one making the colossal mistakes to benefit from the knowledge gleaned. Learn from their blunders!
Cons of Working in a Massage Co-op
It seems in co-ops that the leadership responsibilities either fall on one or two people, or everyone is competing for top-dog. Finding a group that functions well in this regard can be a tricky task. You may consider doing personality assessments before forming your group. This way you have a clear idea of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses from the beginning.
Communication can be extremely difficult at times. While one person may be good at communicating via email, another might be way better in person. Figuring out each person’s preferred method of communication can be a timely, painful process.
Coming up with a cleaning schedule may be tricky. Again, people value different things. While you may feel strongly about a spotless bathroom, your co-op neighbor may feel more strongly about having the snow meticulously shoveled. It helps when you can identify everyone’s strengths and then leverage those to help the group. For instance, if I am the only practitioner who knows how to update the website, it would make more sense for me to contribute to the group by taking care of this than cleaning the bathrooms.
Unfair advantage –
Speaking of websites, whoever runs the site may end getting preferential treatment. One of the ways this may happen is if you have an email associated with the website, the person handling inquiries may find that it is easier to book themselves than reach out to the other practitioners involved.
Conflicting visions –
We as therapists and humans can have extremely varied points of view! While one co-op member may envision a decedent space with frequent client appreciation parties and community events, another may not be able to afford these type of extras. If these differences aren’t addressed and rectified, resentment may creeps in.
Advice for Working in a Massage Co-op
Be open –
Don’t be so closed off that you aren’t willing to explore new ideas. I promise there are amazing ideas out there that have never crossed your mind!
Set boundaries –
Don’t be afraid to set and enforce boundaries. Extra bonus if you actually sit down to write out these boundaries. Be clear about what you and your cohorts envision. Make sure to do this process from the start, it is much easier to re-evaluate roles and responsibilities than to start from scratch after problems have been brewing and festering for a while.
Find equal partners –
Seek out people with the same level of ambition as yourself when looking for people to join your co-op. There is nothing more frustrating than being part of a group that won’t commit with the same level of enthusiasm you have for a project.
My Cautionary Tale
When I first became a therapist, I joined what I thought was a co-op. I spearheaded a project to network the practice before our busy season hit. Enthusiastically I spent hours compiling information to pass out to concierge, doctors, and networking groups. I was so excited to promote my new business as part of this existing co-op.
When we began to hit the pavement introducing ourselves and passing out the material I had compiled, this is when the big misunderstanding occurred. I was under the impression I would be promoting my own business as part of the larger co-op, only to discover that this was not the intention of the women who had established the co-op. She wanted all inquiries to go through the co-op. I was too new to the field and intimidated to suggest otherwise and so went along with her vision.
Resentment Crept In
This created a lot of resentment for me. I had been the one to come up with the idea. I had been the one to design, print, and compile the information. Why was I now not the one to receive the credit? The answer, we had never sat down to establish a clear set of boundaries and visions for what and how we saw our roles. We could have eliminated a lot of hard feelings if we had simply come together with a prepared statement of how we saw things from the get-go.
My story is not intended to discourage you from establishing or joining a co-op, it is more a cautionary tale. I hope that you can learn from my mistake, and do better for yourself.
Co-op’s can be a wonderful thing when they are approached with the right amount of planning and preparation. When you find practitioners with the same mindset, work ethic, and level of ambition you will find yourself in a beautifully symbiotic relationship. It’s a win-win when your marketing efforts are compounded, costs are reduced, and referrals are prevalent occurrences. Now go out there and get your co-op on!
- Boulder College of Massage Therapy Graduate
- Nationally Certified through NCBTMB
- Colorado Licensed Massage Therapist
- Certified CranialSacral Level 1 through Upledger
- Certified Herbal Therapist through Nutrition Therapy Institute
- Certified Fujian Massage through Barefoot Masters
- Fort Lewis College - Majored in Art, Minored in Business Administration
- 6 Year Winner of Best Massage Therapist for "Best of The Boat" Competition
- Massage Business Owner Since 2008