Sorry for my Inconsistency

I really want my blog to be directed towards personal finance, but I’m not doing a whole lot of weighty stuff because it’s a little hard to focus when my work patterns have disappeared and taken massive chunks of my income with them. I’m a little freaked out that we’re a year into the financial meltdown, with the news spouting crap about the recession being over and the Dow flirting with 5 figures again – and for the first time ever in my life, I will probably have to hit my savings to meet my expenses this month. It’s also painfully disheartening that over 3/4 of new business inquiries are men looking for some minor prostitution activities – it makes me wonder what I’m really selling here, e.g. a jumped-up lapdance?

So if you’re wondering why most of my posts are about coupon games and donating the stuff I accumulate, just know it’s a $10-a-week hobby that gets me out of the house, connects me with people who think I’m good for something other than fantasy material (I’m old and chubby, wtf!), and distracts me – perhaps to my detriment – from dwelling on the insults and uncertainty. Besides, everyone else is writing about The Latte Factor, credit card grievances, and debt-busting – it’s not like I’ve got anything new to add. Hence my sporadic posting…sorry :(

Back from Florida – Worth Every Penny

Monday afternoon I got back from my trip to the Florida panhandle for a 3-day seminar in Myoskeletal Alignment. Even if I never use the material or just can’t develop a talent for it, it was worth it because ohmygod, I am pain-free. All that Rolfing I had early this year fixed the new acute pain, but not the chronic old pain – I didn’t even think it was possible. However, the last few months I’ve had increasingly persistent daily headaches, and the neck discomfort I was waking up with was getting worse.

To make a short story long, I twittered about registering for this course, and one of the teaching assistants found me and we started “following” each other. I felt a little silly because my Twitter identity is related to this, my hobby, and not my profession. In other words, he gets to read fascinating things like “Delivered 15 boxes of cereal and 15 deodorants to the teen shelter” and “Got $84 worth of stuff at CVS for $1.78″. Anyway, about 2 weeks ago, he sent out a tweet looking for someone local to do some typing in exchange for a 30-minute session with him. I did it, and collected on Sunday morning before class. He got about 15 minutes into it and called over a fellow teaching assistant to take over, because the other guy had moves he didn’t. Well, this bodywork tag team worked what so far appears to be lasting magic.

I honestly did not realize how much discomfort I was in every waking moment. Taking a sip of coffee, opening the microwave door, turning my head, putting on my sneakers…I was constantly expecting pain, bracing against it, moving to avoid it. I could get relief from a chiropractic adjustment, but that only lasts for about 6 hours. I used to get awesome, enduring treatment from my osteopath in Scotland, but not here, and it’s been 9+ years since I’ve had access to him.

My Myoskeletal Alignment treatment was 84 hours ago and is still holding. 84 pain-free hours. Now I’ve got to either find someone local who does this or become a groupie and follow these two pairs of golden hands around the country getting treatment wherever they teach. Because if I’ve learned nothing else from this line of work, I know that 16-year-old problems don’t get solved in 40 minutes. But no matter what, it was worth every penny I spent on course fees, airfare, hotel, etc. just to find this out. Heck, I may even take the course again in November to solidify my knowledge and tweak my technique.

On the business side of all this, I’m trying to line up people with specific problems/joints that I’ve learned to treat so I can practice and get things to the point where I feel comfortable stating that yes, I can fix plantar fasciitis/IT band syndrome/frozen shoulder/neck cricks/etc. I’ve successfully talked my cousin into letting me whale on his hip this Sunday – he’s 38 and in the past 5 years or so has been suffering terribly from pain related to being hit by a car when he was 7. However, I had tentatively lined up a few financially-strapped clients for 30-minute freebies on their major pain centers and no one has replied to my emails in 2 days despite their initial enthusiasm. Just further proof that no one values “free”.

Non-vacation to Florida booked

I’m not a fan of the heat. I’m not a fan of Florida. But since I got myself banned from that massage school in New Jersey, I had to look elsewhere for training in myofascial release and structural integration. It’s not the career solution I’m really looking for, but I watched the instructor’s 4-minute YouTube video where he’s working on one of the more problematic areas to fix (piriformis) , and that will do nicely!

I googled a coupon code for the course tuition ($395), but all I found was a 10% off Tweet from 2 months ago which had sadly expired. The seminar hotel is $105 per night for 4 nights…yuck, so I booked La Quinta for $45 per night and it includes a few things the Holiday Inn doesn’t:  in-room fridge & microwave, free breakfast, and high-speed internet. I checked eBates – La Quinta doesn’t participate. Then I hit up RetailMeNot for a coupon code and got 20% off the $56 price tag. I tried the Orbitz Twitter promo code, but it would have cost me $25-$30 more that way, and if I cancelled, there’d be a $25 penalty. Oh, and La Quinta is about a third of a mile from the HI, so I should be able to scuttle over at 8:30am without getting too sweaty-gross.

Not sure if I can shave any off the $300-310 airfare, but I’m pretty content with my $250 savings on the hotel room. Heck, that’s nearly the full price of the plane ticket! And I’ll get to claw back 1% on my credit card reward program and another 1-3% by booking through eBates. O, the joys of eeking $10 out of everything I can…

Can I make Gift Certificates work for my little biz?

I have never actively offered gift certificates for several reasons, but I’m starting to revisit my conclusions, which you are welcome to debate, since I’m hardly infallible:

  1. I’ve always thought of gift certificates for personal services as “girl” things, and over 80% of my clientele is male.
  2. I’m a person, not an establishment – when giving a gift, most people want some kind of selection.
  3. The kind of massage you get a gift certificate for is generally perceived as a pampering indulgence, and that’s getting frowned upon these days.
  4. I work from home, which is a setting that some people find strange or uncomfortable – which is not something that will occur to most gift-givers who like this environment. And there’s a significant price differential if I do a housecall.

Now, I have actually sold a couple of gift certificates, though I don’t even mention the option on my website. Both were for two massages. The first was purchased by a woman and her mother in Florida for her sister who lives in NYC. One of them had had Thai massage and wanted to introduce her sister to it as a Hannukah gift. I guess her mother didn’t have any good gift ideas and jumped on the idea. The other was quite a cute situation – I have a regular client in a nearby law office who raves about me to his co-workers and tries to convince them to stop wasting their money at the asian rub-and-tugs. A few of them come to see me when they’re in a lot of pain. One Christmas, two of them came over to buy a gift certificate for a 3rd guy (who had been to see me once or twice), and the recipient came in for his first massage within a week of getting the GC. He said it was the best gift he had gotten in several Christmases.

I’ve also had a few clients lately who have said they wish they could come more often, but they can only afford to indulge a few times a year. I really should have piped up about adding me to their wish list when people ask what they want for birthdays, Christmases, etc. but after giving a good session, I’m just not in sales mode. I need to change that just a tiny bit. I mean, I know massage therapists who get a bit heavy handed about scheduling your next appointment at the end of your current one, but that really wouldn’t work with the last-minute nature of how most of my business happens. Besides, most appointments made more than 24 hours in advance tend to get cancelled.

So, I would love to hear from anyone about their experiences -

  • Getting a massage/spa/personal services gift certificate, or
  • Giving a massage/spa/personal services gift certificate, or
  • Incorporating gift certificates into their own small businesses

And then starts the fun of determining Terms & Conditions…

Etiquette Dilemma: Mixing Biz with Non-Biz

I was going to write “mixing business with pleasure”, but given the business I’m in, you might have been expecting something much sleazier than this…

I mentioned that a client of mine offered to optimize my website and web presence for free – she sees it as a hobby of sorts, I suspect because she found it easy to teach herself (a talent I envy no end!). And she has just taken up home cooking as a new hobby, and to my knowledge has yet to fail in her experimentation. So on Monday night, I gave her a massage and we chatted SEO stuff, then she sent me home with leftover beef stew and bean soup. On Wednesday night, she invited me over to join her husband as an extra guinea pig for her cooking (yum!) and then take some initial SEO steps. Then on Friday night, with her husband out of town, we got together for Indian take-out, much yapping, and a little computer stuff. I learned about spiders and keyword tools and how freaking smart the Google geeks are.

She always sends me home with a ton of her leftover cooking. I think she makes, like, 8 servings of any recipe and sends me home with 2-3 meals’ worth. Of several things. More than once. The health value of my food intake is soaring (she’s dieting too) while at the same time, I’m spending peanuts on food. Last night she sent me home with half the leftover rice and sauces from two of the 5 dishes we’d shared. This afternoon I cooked up some chicken breasts from the freezer and shredded them into the sauces. This’ll be good for 3-4 medium-sized meals.

Before I headed over on Friday, she emailed me that she really wanted a massage because her back was acting up after her workout, but she didn’t know how to handle mixing business and pleasure. I had no idea either and said as much. Male clients are so much easier — their motivations are fairly obvious, and except for the one that reads this blog, it’s usually One Thing. So mixing ain’t happening. But this one is a girl, and once again I’m finding myself in a tentative friendship where I get the lion’s share of the benefit. She bought the Indian food, I brought brownies for dessert and also some Dawn dish liquid and Nivea shower gel because (a) she had asked if I knew of any dish soap deals because she was running out, and (b) they don’t keep soap in the bathroom and were almost out of shower gel – a problem for a massage therapist with greasy paws. A couple of hours after dinner, I gave her a 45-50 minute Thai massage. On my way home in a taxi, she called to say “I forgot to pay you!” I appreciated sooo much that she wasn’t making assumptions that it felt comfortable saying, “You weren’t allowed to pay – you bought dinner and you’re doing a huge, HUGE thing for my business.” She and I both engage in work where we are pushed for freebies, so we tend to have pretty stringent “No freebie” policies. The significance of this was not lost on her.

I anticipate similar moments of uncertainty and awkwardness in the near future. Any advice would be welcome – the more creative, the better!

It’s a Brave New Craigslist World

This morning, I finally bit the bullet and paid $10 to put an ad on Craigslist Therapeutic Services. I rewrote it in the morning, submitted it for approval at 1pm, and it went live at 3pm.  Within 90 minutes, I had 4 responses – saw one at 4:45pm, was unable to accommodate another due to a previous booking but anticipate he’ll try again tomorrow, and one was looking for a style I’m not trained in. AND it was a rainy day – notoriously bad for business. I haven’t had this kind of quality activity from craigslist in years.

For the past 8 months (when they started charging over on Erotic), the posting rate was such that, at 6 hours after posting, my little ad would be 15 pages back. Now, it’s still on the front page. And it will be for most of tomorrow if you click the tab for Manhattan results only. I’ll repost it on Thursday afternoon for $5.

I always knew that getting most of my business from one source – especially Craigslist – was a flawed situation. So the pricey changes to the system forced me to walk the walk and try other things. Luck conspired to set the stage for this just one day before Craigslist started treating massage like prostitution with their fees: my phone sex client (who might be reading this blog, so I’ll point out that she is the owner, not a phone-moaner) liked to optimize little people like me for search engine traffic and watch things take off.

She gave me my first lesson on Search Engine Optimization last night. Utterly fascinating. Honestly, it’s got me wanting to dust off my old master’s in linguistics and dissertation on writing for the internet, and hang out my cyber shingle for SEO-related writing services. It’s going to be especially easy for me to take advantage of SEO techniques for my NYC massage market because it looks like only one other massage service has made an attempt, leaving an awful lot of juicy material wide open for me. We massage therapists tend not to be terribly business-minded – in fact, that’s something that Bluejay mentioned when she told me about her business networking group. Anyway, upon hearing what kinds of domain names were still available, both my client and her husband just kept shaking their heads, saying I’d be so busy that I’d have to outsource. I don’t know about that, but a MoneyMate like me can dream :)

I’ll share one lesson I learned last night:  If you check the availability of a domain name and it is indeed available, buy it asap. I didn’t quite catch the ins and outs of how, but there are companies/individuals who track what has been searched for and not bought – and then buy it so that you’d have to pay them a premium rather than $8 or whatever to get it. Seriously, it can go within an hour. So if it’s important to you, don’t dither.

Kicked out of the massage community

Or perhaps a better title would be “I am incapable of communicating with women”. Thank god I’m heterosexual or I’d really be up a creek, but that’s beside the point of these juicy stories…

ROLFING WORKSHOP

First I was registered. Then I was rejected for not meeting a prerequisite. Then yesterday afternoon, the instructor (who rolfed me back to health 4 months ago) asked me to be the class demo model as a backdoor solution to my dilemma and his (odd number of participants). We arrive at the school, the owner throws a hissy fit and won’t allow me through the door. I was rejected for rudeness, cloaked in a “stricter admissions policy”.

February-March, I tried to contact the school on a weekly basis via email and voicemail. No one ever replied, no on ever answered the phone or returned my calls. This went on for 6 weeks. At the halfway point, my exasperation started to show, culminating in my last voicemail communication that earned me a fairly useless email reply: “Hi, it’s MMK. Again. My number is still XXX. I’ve been trying to get information about your structural integration course for the past six weeks, and no one responds to my emails or messages. Does your school even exist?”  It was a fair question. Their website hadn’t been updated in a year, but last year’s course started in late spring, so I figured this year’s would too and it was important to get the ball rolling. Now, had I not known the instructor, I would have given up at about the point where I got stroppy because I’d have concluded they were out of business. I also let my frustration show because I thought I was dealing with a lazy administrator. I was – but she was also the owner of the school, and a real prima donna as it turns out. Since she’s not interested in the thousands in fees that I’d be paying, I can only guess that she does her own admin because she’s a control freak rather than a cheapskate. Anyway, the “info@” email address is hers, she’s the one who deals with the phones – and therefore she took my rudeness personally and banned me from the premises. Kinda like the way the Bossy Mommy Brigade did when I used a $2-off-$10 coupon on a $9.99 item.

I did not know all this, but the instructor and the student-assistant who rode in the car with us did. I got an inkling of what was in store from the extreme nervousness of the student, who kept saying “I’m staying out of this, I’m staying out of this”. So I began mental preparations for sucking back my usual response to dealing with an inflated ego and its face-saving expectations and rehearsing an apology with a reasonable shot at sounding sincere. We got to the school, the instructor went in to speak with the owner (with whom he used to be in a 3-way partnership, but he and the other guy quit because she was awful to work with), and I could hear her shouting escalate through the door. The instructor came out and said, “She is only becoming more irrational by the minute, so it looks like you won’t be allowed in.” He then took me to the nearest train station to make my way home.

BLUEJAY (Fellow massage therapist / new friend)

Bluejay was contacted by the owner of a gym/wellness center last week about providing Thai massage services. The owner was looking for a few practitioners with 5+ years’ experience. There are only maybe a dozen of us who meet that criteria in the city, so she gives him my contact info. He tells her about a potential client the next day and says he’ll get back to her when he sorts it out. The following morning, he calls me and arranges to meet at my place for an intro and a 15-minute demonstration of my skills because he understandably can’t send someone to his client’s home without making sure they’re on the up-and-up. I pass muster, he gives me the details, and I realize it’s the same client he had told Bluejay about. I started talking her up as the better option, because it’s just not right that she gave him my name and thereby loses out. The client was described as having a huge apartment full of buddha statues, a fan of authentic Thai massage work, and I have to leave out the additional details that make him a lot like Bluejay at the risk of making him too identifiable to anyone who might know him. I actually said, “Bluejay might be a better match because she sticks closer to the way it’s taught and even includes some of the more traditional meditative and calming techniques.” It would appear that he interpreted that as “she doesn’t do deep work and meditates with the client”, which is definitely not the case – the girl can really put you to the pain! But I swear, I really was trying to talk her up and felt that personality-wise they’d be a better match. Gym Guy didn’t buy it.

How do I know all this? Because she was supposed to interview with him on Friday, but called to cancel because she didn’t want to deal with someone who operated like that. Gym Guy called her to see what was up, explained he felt I was a better match for the client. Since he’d never met her, he was going by my assessment of her style, and I think he told her that. I know all this because he told me about the call on Friday. I had texted her earlier to remind her to register for free M&Ms (a Friday freebie deal), no response but then none was necessary. Then I shot off a quick text about the odd conversation with Gym Guy, expressing my worries about our friendship. It’s been 48 hours, still no word from her.

The truth of the matter is that he decided before we met which one of us he wanted to try out on his client first. After all, he could have met with her even more easily than he met with me on Wednesday – I made him travel to my place, she was willing to go to his gym. I think I have two important things that tipped the balance in my favor:  I actually trained in Thailand, and I live 1.5 miles due north of the client’s apartment – 30 min walk or 8 min subway ride. She has “only” trained here in the States and lives at least 1 connection, probably two from the client’s location, which poses a lot of potential for delays.

In the past 7 days, she has been responsible for $550 of my income, turning a couple of “just made my expenses” weeks into solid earnings. All I did was lend her my massage supplies for an appointment and help her unpack a couple of lousy boxes at her new apartment. She took me to a Memorial Day barbecue, invited me to join her book club, gave me a little bag of fun make-uppy things for the teen shelter. I introduced her to CVSing. I definitely got way more out of our brief friendship than I’ll ever have a chance to give back, and that really bothers me. I’ve been taken advantage of an awful lot in the last 10 years, and I just wouldn’t deliberately visit that feeling on anyone else.

ADVERTISING

Craigslist has decided to treat the Therapeutic Services board like the Erotic Services board and charge $10 per post, coming down to $5 if we repost the same ad unchanged. This involves an approval process, though after looking at what gets approved as Therapeutic, I’d say it’s a pretty useless one. I haven’t put up an ad since they instituted this fee, waiting to see how it all shakes out. It looks like the posting rate is about 200 ads (2 pages) per day, and if you filter for Manhattan only, it’s about half that. If that doesn’t change too much, then it’s worth putting an ad up 3x a week.

SOLUTIONS?

Rolfing:  The instructor said he’d contact me about exchanging bodywork again and teach me a few myofascial techniques (the basis of rolfing). Then he gave me the name of someone in Boston who runs structural integration programs. Less convenient than New Jersey, but way more doable than Colorado. I’ve yet to google it up.

Bluejay:  I can only come up with one way to redress the imbalance, though I hold out little hope that the friendship can be salvaged. I think it would be perceived as an insult if I sent her a check to thank her for the referrals, but…well, you know all those donations I make? I could start collecting a few receipts and have her name put on them, then mail a bundle of $500-$1000 worth. She had mentioned claiming it as a tax deduction when we talked about CVSing for charity, so I can’t imagine she’d throw it out. From one angle, that looks cheap because it costs me nothing. From another angle, it’s face-saving because it’s not cold hard cash (well, it is, but indirectly).

Advertising:  I’ve been putting my ad in the Beauty Services section along with a bunch of shady massage parlors while I figure this out. I actually got a new client that way, much to my surprise. This week I’ll be taking up a client’s offer to do some search engine optimization stuff for my website. And I really should look into how Google advertising works.

This week has been weird in all directions, but I mostly mean that every day, something very out-of-the-ordinary and even bizarre happened. Like the truck driver did his “paid sleepover” thing again. And I took the tramway to Roosevelt Island for the first time and felt like a wet-behind-the-ears tourist. And I met my brother’s new boyfriend, with whom I have an inexplicable number of life experiences in common even though he’s all of 22 years old. And a few of my readers have contacted me about helping Ayten the Working Poor Mom in ways that suit their giving style and their resources (you all rock!!! – I’d mention your names, but most have expressed an interest in some degree of anonymity). And the only reason I’m going to a friend’s Tony Awards party tonight is that he lives near all three drug stores, and it’s Sunday – the day of New Stuff For Free. What can I say, I live in the theater district but I don’t like the theater…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.