Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, December/January 2003.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
If you are considering making a leap into the spa world to see how green the grass is on the other side of the employment fence, there are a few things you want to consider when comparing the differences between working for yourself, working for a day spa or working for a resort spa.
What are the benefits and disadvantages of these three choices? If you are a private practitioner, you already know the pros and cons of the first choice. As a self-employed practitioner myself, I found early on that my personality and professional preference is to be totally in command of my own career. That is a benefit for me. However, one disadvantage is the isolation I sometimes feel after a full day of working with clients. I have no one to bounce my concerns off. But benefits and disadvantages are going to be different for everyone. You might feel that being in business for yourself is too much responsibility; someone else might think being part of a team and not wondering if they can pay the rent is more viable.
So you already know there are differences. It is these you must examine, study and play out with others who've made the change. Then, think it out, feel it emotionally and consider your personal preferences, likes and dislikes for each possible choice. Here are some observations to delve into before you make the "change."Private Practice
Being in practice for yourself forces you to consider one essential fact -- the absolute total responsibility of this business lies on you as the business owner. You do all the laundry, all the marketing and all the phone calls. You find all the ways to bring new clients and referrals to your door. It is solely up to you to identify who exactly is your potential client and your potential competition. And, as a sole business owner, it is fundamental you maintain firm financial management with a good budget, exact bookkeeping and accounting, and sound judgment when it comes to expenses. We've talked extensively about this particular scenario before, so I'll move on to the other areas. Independent Contractor versus Employee
In general, at a resort spa you would most likely be an employee; at a day spa, your employee status depends largely on the facility itself. In some, you could be a renter, while others only want to have employees.
According to Joy Marie, an esthetician who had her own business, but is now an employee, as a day spa employee you are part of a team and can be called upon to help with the laundry or even the phones, and clients are typically assigned to therapists. However, as a renter at a day spa, you would be expected to bring in your own clients and do what you can to market yourself. If you are in a day spa as an independent contractor, you would most likely pay rent on your work space, do your own laundry, book your own appointments, retail your own products, pay for your own advertising and marketing, bring in your own clientele, make your own schedule and pay for your own insurance just as if it's your own business. There is very little difference between a "renter" in a day spa and being a self-employed therapist, except for the visibility you would have in a day spa.
For employees at a day spa, the owner supplies the professional products used during treatments, pays the advertising fees and business insurance, takes charge of the marketing, and may or may not be required to provide a health insurance plan to employees. In most states, the day and resort spas keep an employee's clients when you leave - whether you brought them in or not. Employees are expected, but not required, to sell products in some facilities. However, there are spas that do call for salesmanship and even mandate an average percentage of sales to be obtained. A number of spas will even let a therapist go if they don't meet their quota, while others have meetings and pep talks to increase product revenue.
Employees must negotiate with the owner for vacations and schedules, as they are part of a team and the spa is trying to meet the demand of the clientele. Renters control their time more, but also have to buy and sell their own inventory (you need to keep in mind you are basically a small business owner within the walls of the spa), so your profit margin depends on what it costs you and what your market will accept.
As an employee of a day or resort spa there is no specific standard. Every owner is different in what they feel they can afford to offer their employees...from 3 percent to start, on up to 20 percent for aggressive employees that sell lots of products.
One difference between a day and resort spa is not only the type of client but also the longevity of their stay. People go to a resort spa as a sort of vacation, a getaway to relax and wash away the stresses. The emphasis is on the treatment and the quality of the service. The client may never come back to the spa again. In a day spa, the most important way to maintain profit is to retain clients and to get their referrals. So not only is the quality of the service vital, the quality of the relationship is just as, if not more, important.
"What surprised me after so many years of owning my own salon was that the salon's clients assumed since I was a new employee, I must be inexperienced," said Marie. "I had to put my ego in check. I'm an employee now, not the owner/expert. My clients have had difficulties adjusting because they don't have the same liberties with my time now. I can't come to the phone every time they want to call me. I can't sit at the front desk and chat after their facial. There's usually a traffic jam at the front desk with stylists and manicurists trying to get their clients in line to pay their tab. Plus, the receptionist isn't booking any extra time between clients, which is how the owner wants it: turnover is everything in a large spa."
Marie said she has a skin care professional client, who, after 12 years of working for others, now wants to open her own medi-spa. "She hopes to negotiate with a hotel. However, she is not sure if she wants to be a renter who has to build her rooms from the ground up, or be the general manager and let the hotel do all the ground work."
Another client of Marie's, a massage therapist, has been working from her home but now wants to go out into the work force. She is finding the amount of money a spa wants to pay her is about half of what she has been making from her home. She is still wondering what to do. Making the DecisionOpen Your Perspective
It is important you not stereotype any of your possible choices. Think outside the box. Expand your creative juices and give yourself time to dream. One client thought he wanted to own his own spa and have lots of staff with lots of clients. That didn't happen. He eventually realized his greatest satisfaction was helping people to really heal. He instead went to work for a doctor who specializes in arthritis, fibromyalgia and spinal stenosis. Seeing his clients get better was his greatest professional joy.Check Out Your Expectations
In your search for the answer as to which direction to go, visit a number of different facilities and ask questions. See if what they say is in line with your principles. This way, you not only are forewarned, you are forearmed.Be Clear About Your Preferences
What kind of massage therapist are you? It can be difficult for you to go to a day or resort spa and have them dictate the type of massage you will be allowed to do. Or, if you are a skin care professional who is experienced in dermabrasion and chemical peels, it might be difficult to be employed at a resort spa which specializes in "fluff and buff" and relaxation work.Make a Commitment When You Are Ready
It is wise to take your time in coming to your decision. It is irresponsible to procrastinate when you know what you want, but fear making the change.Respond, Don't React to the Reality
I had a client who, for years, lost every chance at being a success because she could never find the "right" place for herself. However, during her therapy she discovered she was caught between reacting to authority and reacting to her own fear of being on her own.Raise Your Awareness
You can't make a good decision for yourself with tunnel vision, or with your head stuck in the sand. However, some of us find it painful to know the truth. It took "Carol" a couple of years to become aware she was not making good choices for herself. Finally, she was able to face the truth that at every place she worked, she had sabotaged her chances to excel.List The Pros and Cons
This doesn't work for everyone, however, if you like to make lists, this is a good way to weed out the places that wouldn't work for you even if you tried to bend over backwards.Seek Suggestions
There are times in your life when you not only can't, but shouldn't, try to find the answers by yourself. If you have lost your objectivity and your creativity is hiding underground, this is a good time to look for assistance. This can take different forms, like a totally accepting friend who knows you and has been a source of strength and support. If you have a colleague or someone you know who has done what you are considering, you may gain from their experience. Or you can go the professional career counselor route.Can You Change?
Change can be both exciting and frightening. The wise business professionals often do it and are happier for it. Still, it is wise to know when to hold them, when to fold them and when to move on. If the thought of change seems like an adventure, you are on the way. It means focusing your energy on what you can do to be the most successful person ever, whether your decision is private practice, renter or employee. And, it means you are happy with yourself, your passion and purpose. No one can take that away from you, no matter where you end up. Arlene Alpert, MS, LMHC, is president/CEO of Jupiter Consulting & Training Institute, a licensed psychotherapist, business relationships consultant and coach, educator and author with more than 26 years of education, experience and expertise. She has presented her workshops and retreats in the United States and abroad, and is a Florida CE provider and a NCBMTB provider with both a workshop and home study course titled, "Client-Centered Communication." In addition, Alpert offers The Self-Renewal Intensive at her Florida location and TEL-TALKâ¢ - 1⁄2-hour telephone consulting/coaching sessions. Alpert will be a keynote speaker at EsthÃ©tique Spa International April 27-28, 2003. Her topics will specifically address massage therapists: The Challenge of Being a Medical Massage Therapist in a Medi-Spa; Self-Care for Massage Therapists; Creating Client Compliance With Knowledge and Skills; and Letting Go of The Fear of Selling. For information, call 866/772-7469, fax 450/434-5722, e-mail email@example.com, or visit www.spa-show.com.You can purchase her latest book, Traveling Beyond Life's Roadblocks: Creating A Life Of Choice and her latest manual for massage therapists, "Helping Clients To Heal," by calling 561/744-4988 or e-mail ALPERT10@aol.com. Preview these learning resources and more at www.ArleneAlpert.com.