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A Story And Subliminal Guide To Building A Successful Massage Therapy Business

Giada Labrecque is an enthusiast and advocate for all things holistic and natural. As a massage therapist, she helps people every day with their aches and pains, offering real time help, remedial advice and practical self-care strategies. As a bus accident survivor, Giada has a great understanding of pain and rehabilitation.

Executive Contributor Giada Labrecque

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was in my final semester of Massage Therapy College at Sutherland-Chan in Toronto, taking Ian’s business class, when I really for the first time ever let myself play with the idea of starting my own clinic.

photo of Giada Labrecque

What a notion, I thought, and really, what’s there to stop me?

I considered what I wanted, who I wanted to help and what I was interested in at the time.

At that time I was a part-time bicycle messenger, and I knew firsthand the aches, pains, stresses and strains of the average courier. So I thought to myself, “That’s it! That will be my niche.”

On that day my first ever massage therapy business was born, it would be the Massage Garage, and I, the Body Mechanic.

I started dreaming up where I’d want to work out of, what type of space it would be, and considered what my pricing should be.

I decided I wanted to work in Kensington Market, Toronto’s infamous Bohemian epicentre. What I didn’t even consider was how difficult it might be to set up there, as it was a massively popular spot for anything and everything alternative.

So what I did was I started talking to people. Telling them my idea, and sure enough, one day it all fell into place.

The who, where and how

At that time I also happened to be bartending at a local pub, the Monarch Tavern on Clinton Street.

In a casual conversation with my colleague Mike, I told him what my plans were, and wouldn’t you know it, the next words out of his mouth were:

“My ex Rebecca is a massage therapist, and she has a place in Kensington. I’ll give you her details”.

I rang Rebecca, and low and behold she had a space for rent! It was sitting waiting for me as soon as I graduated and was fully licensed.

At the time I was working many jobs, clearly, and I didn’t drop them all as soon as I opened the clinic. I knew it would take time to build a courier-based clientele, and I knew I would probably have to work in another clinic where I was being given clients as well.

So that’s what I did, I worked as the Body Mechanic for 2 days a week, I worked in a Physio Clinic on Athletes and MVA survivors for another 2, and I worked in a massage therapy clinic in a government office building the other 2 days.

Combined, I was working 6 days, and in a very short time was busy enough and in demand at all 3.

I worked that way for a long time, until the day came where I left the physio clinic, and switched to a local gym that also had a holistic team of practitioners.

There I worked alongside physios, acupuncturists, chiropractors, yoga teachers, osteopaths, nutritionists, personal trainers and running coaches.

What I loved about working in such a great multi-disciplinary environment was that we worked together and on each other. I got to experience all manners of therapies and exercises. I also gained several referral partners. Together, we’d be able to deliver the ultimate care for any person that walked through our doors.

Leaving Toronto

It was around this time that I was finishing paying off my student debts, and decided to save up to leave Toronto.

You see, I am a dual citizen, and I wanted to take full advantage of this while I could. At the time my philosophy was, I fix bodies, and people got bodies everywhere!

While I wasn’t wrong, I wasn’t entirely right either.

You see, Toronto is a very modern city, it is vast and well resourced. This meant that something like massage therapy was well received, even sought after. In a busy city full of stressed out full-timers and up and coming yuppies, massage was in high demand and affordable. Which meant that I could leave one massage therapy job and get another massage therapy job literally the next day.

This isn’t exactly the case for other places. And that’s what I didn’t consider, nevermind prepare for.

I thought I was going to walk into hostels while travelling and be given free room and board while I became the temporary resident physical therapist.

I thought I was going to get people, fellow travellers, begging for the opportunity to get treatment from me.

The truth is, people just didn’t want to spend their money that way.

Travelling is a frugal endeavour when you are hanging around hostels, and while I am sure I could have made more of an effort to offer my services, I also realised how much more vulnerable I was as a solo female in basically random places.

When I was working in Toronto, I had a network, and I was working within established businesses and institutions. I had people looking out for me, and people just outside the door if ever I needed them. That was not the case abroad. So I had to change plans.

If you ever care to read my story and get super personal, here is the link to my About Me page. That is where you will learn about how exactly I got to the next part of this story: Galway, Ireland.

Getting to Galway

I got to Galway basically expecting to find some form of multi-disciplinary practice like I had back home. I figured I would apply to one or two and settle into the same routine.

What I didn’t know was that Galway was a bit too small for something like that, or maybe I just didn’t do enough research. I asked around and no one really knew of a place with many kinds of therapists. Instead, they just knew solo practitioners.

Many people, however, suggested I apply to the local hotels that had spas. So I did.

Shortly after I was hired at a fancy hotel that had a fancy spa. Looking back, I can see how distracted I was by the fanciness of it all, which led to me overlooking some yellowish / red flags.

Four reasons why you shouldn’t work in a spa

For one, the spa taught a couple of very specific massage routines, and you were not encouraged to stray from them.

For two, the spa charged big money for the treatments, but only paid the therapists minimum wage. Coming from Toronto, where I made basically $60 an hour, I should have seen that in the contract, laughed, and walked away. But no, I stayed.

Third, the spa encouraged selling high-ticket products to make commissions from sales.

And fourth, if you had a cancellation of an appointment, the spa would send you home early, instead of paying you the bare minimum wage of the hours you were promised to have work.

All these things combined make for a not-so-great place to work, when you are someone like me.

Pretty quickly I was being pulled aside and given grief about treating clients differently. See I was actually asking them about their aches and pains, and giving them tailored treatments to properly address their concerns.

Apparently, this was a big NAY OKAY, as it was not repeatable and meant the clientele was unsatisfied with follow up treatments from other therapists.

Fair enough.

Again, with that I should have known to walk away. But out of basic needs being met and Luke warm comforts, I didn’t.

The big lesson

The big lesson came another week or two after, when I was given a client with special needs who did not have a personal care worker with her.

This person was a lovely lady with Downs Syndrome, we had a perfectly fine time together, but the issue was that without a carer, I was the one helping her undress and get onto and off of the table. All of which were out of my responsibility and huge liabilities.

Might I also mention, I am not a particularly big or strong person.

What ended up happening was that as she slid off the table with my help, she leaned all her weight into me and I ended up herniating a disc in my lower spine.

For 3 weeks following that treatment, I was unable to walk.

I was in so much pain I was bedridden, my partner helped me dress, carried me up and down the stairs, and even had to help me into and out of the bathroom. I felt completely disabled.

I contacted the Human Resources to ask for help. Wondering if they had some insurance for me so I could seek help via physical therapy. Their response to me was essentially,

“No, but when you feel better we are happy to have you back.”

At that point I knew there was no going back, I’d have to do it on my own if I wanted to be as successful as I was back home. So I basically said,

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

Going solo again

It was while I sat there in bed, unable to walk and in unrelenting pain that I asked myself again, if I could open my very own practice, what would it be? Who would I want to work with, and this time, who DON’T I want to work with?

The answers all came very quickly. I wanted to only work with women in the traditional, private-practice massage therapy space.

Then I questioned myself about what that meant for any men that I knew and needed help. What I came up with was an on-site (fully clothed) chair massage service that I would be able to do in offices, and at events.

Once I had the who, what, why and how figured out, then it was the fun part. Coming up with a name.

I wrote a number of massage-related words down and eventually came to: She Kneads and Office Kneads.

I’d like to say the rest was history, but unfortunately with these things, it just isn’t always so simple.

The next steps included things like, getting my physical health restored and in check.

They included getting the right equipment, and the permission of my housemates to work temporarily out of the living room while I figured something else out.

It meant sending out emails to companies around town, and joining a business network.

It meant spreading the word, and drawing up business cards and flyers.

I say these things like they were work, they were, but it was fun and motivating and inspiring.

I registered the businesses in November of 2018. By December of 2019 things were really starting to happen.

I found a place to rent part time for my She Kneads clients. And I had networked enough to start getting some major contracts with big businesses around the city.

It got to the point where I was pinching myself, somehow knowing it was all too good to be true. And sure, only a few months later the first lockdown happened.

Pivoting the business

If I was a cautious type, I would have probably known to put everything on pause and just wait it out. But that’s obviously not me, I was stubborn and truly believed that in 2 to 3 months everything would be back to normal.

I kept on networking, I pivoted my business and wrote a book called “Self-Care Solutions @ Work” which you can find here or on Amazon. I then went on to teach the content of said book in webinar format.

This story could be much longer if I really get into the details of how I branched out, but I will summarise with this: I came up with a whole new persona. I became an author, a natural solutions enthusiast and advocate who spoke confidently, passionately and candidly to vast audiences across the internet.

Since coming back to “normal”, my businesses have taken off to the point where I am self-sufficient and thriving.

I have learned many lessons and went down some strange detours, but I have learned so much from all the experiences and have developed such resilience and savvy in business.

This year, I was a top 3 finalist in Galway’s Solo-Business Woman of the Year awards, and I was named Ireland’s Remedial Therapist of the Year.

Now that I’ve done it not once, not twice, but really 3 times, I think I could do it a thousand times if I had to. I have all the pieces, all the tricks, I know the blindspots and I see the way forward.

So that’s it! That’s how I went from student to business owner!

How can I help your massage business?

Having said this, if you’re a holistic therapist, of any kind, and you are just starting out or need some help getting your practice to that next level, I can help you!

I have the map, the tools, and the know how.

If you’d like to book a discovery call to see if we can work together, just go to this link.

If not and you’re still reading, thanks for sticking around! Maybe check out my About Me page, or send me a message to let me know what you think!


Giada Labrecque, Holistic Needs Consultant & Solopreneur

Giada Labrecque is an enthusiast and advocate for all things holistic and natural. As a massage therapist, she helps people every day with their aches and pains, offering real time help, remedial advice and practical self-care strategies. As a bus accident survivor, Giada has a great understanding of pain and rehabilitation. She has a great interest in natural pain relief, as well as natural immunity and stress relief solutions. Giada is the owner and operator of two massage based businesses in Galway Ireland, named She Kneads and Office Kneads. She is also the author of "Self-Care Solutions @ Work" and a public speaker.



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