Massage Therapy Canada

Features Research
Practice Management: Summer 2004

The word “discipline” is often burdened with negative connotations. Perhaps it is because one of the definitions of discipline is “control or order exercised over people or animals; punishment.” However, other definitions include “mental, moral or physical training; a branch of instruction or learning.” Discipline has the same root as “disciple” from the Latin discere ‘to learn.’

September 25, 2009  By Donald Dillon

The word “discipline” is often burdened with negative connotations. Perhaps it is because one of the definitions of discipline is “control or order exercised over people or animals; punishment.” However, other definitions include “mental, moral or physical training; a branch of instruction or learning.” Discipline has the same root as “disciple” from the Latin discere ‘to learn.’1

Discipline is a required characteristic of a small business owner, because there are many aspects of business that need regular attention and cultivation. The Japanese have a word for the discipline of continuous improvement – Kaizen. It means to awaken everyday and seek to do the essential things in your life a little better than the day before. This is mastery, and it takes time … and discipline.

This article deals with the discipline of continuous evaluation and refinement of your practice, and identifying some external influences on the way you do business.

climb.jpgStudy and Integrate Effective Systems
In his book, “Customers For Life,” Carl Sewell states, “Good systems provide 80 per cent of customer service.”2 In other words, if we have good systems in place, good business practices happen rather automatically. The body emulates this beautifully, with all the organ systems that work together harmoniously in a complex and fantastic symphony. Do you need to remind your heart to beat? Do you ask your spine to align itself? Do you call for your pituitary gland to co-ordinate endocrine functions for you?


Thankfully not, because various receptors and initiators ensure the body maintains delicate homeostatic balances.

For your business to effectively serve the needs of customers, it requires functional and adaptive systems in place monitored by the master system … you.

These systems include planning and evaluation, retaining business and generating new business, recognizing referral sources, marketing your services, improving existing treatment methods, financial accounting, charting, reception, and clinic maintenance.

You also need systems to incorporate business agreements with associates and leaseholders, and to ensure your compliance with standards of practice and other regulatory requirements. As we can see, to provide massage therapy services requires much more than the hands-on treatment.3

Once you have business systems in place, it is worthwhile reflecting on, reviewing and revising these systems as an on-going process. It may be helpful to study the systems of other successful therapists, and I highly recommend studying the discipline of business concepts if you want to run your business successfully. There are many business books in the marketplace, many of which offer more holistic viewpoints, in keeping with the general predilections of massage therapists.

Seek competent advisors and mentors
I’ve never read a business book that said: “When starting and managing a business, you must create all the solutions yourself and do your best while going it alone.”

You probably have at least 20 people in your immediate circle of friends and family who are small business owners, senior massage therapists, consultants, business executives, clergy – all with experience in managing a business or serving people. These people can be excellent sources of information and reflection for you – use their talents and experience to augment your business development.

You can best invest in this discipline of business-cultivation by setting regular meetings with advisors. This may be a group of massage therapists or a group of like-minded small business owners that you can meet for breakfast once a month. You will also identify individuals in your life who you consider mentors.4

You will also have a team of advisors that provide professional services for a fee, such as your accountant, your lawyer, your business coach, your investment broker. I encourage you not to wait for a business problem before seeking advice, but build long-term relationships with these key people on a consistent basis. Then, when problems arise, some good advice is but a phone call away.

One caveat around advisors – use your critical skills to determine if their advice suits your situation. For example, before seeking an investment broker, study the basics of investing and learn about various types of investments, levels of risk, and fees associated with investing.

Weigh all the information you receive from your advisors carefully, and be prepared to reflect and to do some research. Part of discipline is honouring one’s own path and choices. Ensure that the advice you seek serves you, not the person providing the advice.

Know the tax laws & legislation affecting your business
This third discipline speaks to understanding how external forces can affect the financial and general well-being of your business. Income and associated taxes will be your largest expense over your lifetime.

Understanding how to legally keep more of your money, determining in-house therapists as employees or self-employed, as well as what business-type is right for you all affect your tax rate. Revenue Canada, banks, financial periodicals, your accountant and many other sources can assist you in determining how to best position yourself to keep more of your money.

Zoning by-laws can affect the size of your signage and other aspects of your business – ask me how I know this! You also want to be compliant with policies and guidelines provided by your professional regulatory body. There are many levels of legislation that affect the daily running of your business – be conscious of them, or beware.

May the disciplines of studying and integrating effective business systems, seeking and utilizing competent advisors and mentors, and knowing the tax laws and legislation affecting your business move you towards Kaizen – the spirit of continuous improvement

• Successful Therapists! We are launching a series on massage therapists who have become successful while doing what they love. Join us to see real people, real businesses – Watch for this in future issues!


  1. Dorling Kindersley Illustrated Oxford Dictionary.  Oxford University Press,1998
  2. Sewell, C: Customers For Life.  Simon & Schuster Inc., New York. 1990
  3. Dillon, D: Create Intelligent Customers.  Massage Therapy Canada, May 2002, pp 25 – 26
  4. Dillon, D: Relationships Make the World, and Your Business Go ‘Round.  Massage Therapy Canada, Fall 2003, pp 34 -35

Donald Quinn Dillon, MT, is a therapist, writer, seminar presenter and practice management coach. He can be reached via or through Massage Therapy Canada at

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