Interview with Hannah Ford – LMT, MTI, Sole Practitioner of Belly Love Massage Therapy

HannahHeadshot-2Tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.

It’s still very much in progress! I never saw myself as an entrepreneur until I began imagining life as a mom. One of the main reasons I chose to enter the massage therapy profession is the opportunity to create my own schedule, to better fit work into my family life. In order to minimize my time away, maximize income, and do the kind of work I find most effective, I chose to build a private practice.

What did you do before launching your own business?

Straight out of college, I spent a couple years teaching English in Japan, then worked odd temp jobs until I landed in Austin, where I worked in a legal office until I finished massage school. My husband and I also have worked together for 9+ years on another venture that has taken on a life of its own (the Karaoke Underground, punk and indie karaoke). That one’s mostly his entrepreneurial baby now, but the project got us in the habit of using each other as sounding boards for all kinds of large and small decisions, which I think is so important in the beginning stages.

How did you fund your business?

Something beautiful about a service business like massage therapy is that the value is not based on physical goods, so overhead is limited to the cost of a space and minimal supplies. My biggest expense in the beginning was training. I rented a space with a family-centered clinic for my first couple years in practice, which was great for getting connected in the community, but the rent was just not feasible for the long term working part -time. So we remodeled our home to include a massage studio, with a separate entrance and bathroom, and it’s been absolutely perfect to be able to work from home. I love my studio! It’s like a little healing oasis.

How many hours do you work a week and how much is spent in your home office?

I’m right in the middle of expanding my availability, so this is somewhat in flux at the moment, but now I spend about 8-12 hours massaging and 5-10 hours on marketing and office tasks. All of that is done in my home studio, unless I get antsy and have to escape to a coffee shop for the writing stuff. I also teach part-time at The Lauterstein-Conway Massage School.

How would you rate your success?

I feel pretty successful at this stage. I’ve been a massage therapist for 6 years, working mostly from word-of-mouth and professional referrals, and have a solid client base for a part-time therapist. I’ve also been able to find some great specialized training in areas I’m passionate about. That makes the work so much more satisfying, which for me is a big part of feeling successful. I’m certified in prenatal/postnatal massage as well as the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy for women’s health, fertility, and the perinatal period. Last year I began teaching prenatal massage workshops to other licensed massage therapists. I’m excited to see what develops in the coming years!

What has been your biggest business struggle as an entrepreneur?

To be honest, I didn’t really go into massage therapy with a business mind. I think that’s fairly common among those in healing professions. My biggest struggle has been recognizing the value of the marketing/business aspect of my work, and integrating that with the hands-on part of my job. Because if I don’t reach the clients who need this work, how effective can I be?

What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?

Ask for help with the little things. People are usually more than happy to help out a newbie with advice about what worked for them and why. And for the big things, pay someone to help you! Hire someone to do a website, to set up your accounting system, to advise you on marketing. This took me years to work up to, because I really felt I should be able to do it all on my own. I finally admitted the obvious, that my most valuable skill is massage therapy, and in the same way you wouldn’t expect an accountant to do her own massaging, it doesn’t make sense for me to do all my own accounting.

Also, it’s so important to network. It sounds intimidating, but really networking is just about having conversations and making connections. I’ve been facilitating a networking group for birth professionals in Austin for about a year and a half, and that experience has been amazing. It gives me a framework for interacting with other people in the community, and a regular reminder to focus on how I’m communicating about my work. Having trusted professionals to refer clients to when they have needs outside of my scope of practice is incredibly valuable, too.

How do you manage all of your personal and business activities?

I’ve developed my juggling skills over time. As a woman and a mom, it has been hard to carve out the time that I need to build my business. It works best when I just schedule it and disappear! The same for personal time, I just have to declare my need for a girls’ night or a TV marathon or whatever, and make it happen. Because if it doesn’t, mama ain’t happy, and we all know where that goes.

Connect with Hannah Ford and Belly Love Massage…

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