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NHI Graduate, James Girard, Founder of James Girard Bodyworks Shares his Story of Running his own Massage Therapy Private Practice
At NHI, our alumni are constantly impressing us with the work they do after they graduate. We wanted to start highlighting our graduates’ accomplishments and success in the massage therapy field on our blog to give our current students an idea of what they have to look forward to after graduation. We sat down with James Girard, an NHI alum who completed the Massage Therapy Training Program in 2010 and is currently 100% self-employed with his full-time private practice. Girard shares about how he discovered his passion for massage therapy, his journey creating his private practice and his advice for those interested in running their own massage therapy private practice.
Q1: We always love hearing about how people became interested in massage therapy. Some say massage has been their calling from the start while others talk about how a friend suggested that their back rubs were too good to give away for free and that they had to go to massage school. What’s your story on how you became interested in massage therapy?
Girard: I have been providing people with healing touch my whole life. My mother will tell stories of the back rubs I was giving at seven years old. In college, I gave my friends shoulder and hand massages during study groups. The death of my partner and my subsequent willingness to confront my dissatisfaction with my then-current work path allowed me to break through the self-imposed barriers that had blocked me from following what is clearly my calling. My career as a massage therapist feeds me and stimulates me like nothing ever has.
Q2: It sounds like you truly have found work you love! Where are you currently working?
Girard: I am currently 100% self-employed with my full-time private practice since June of this year. My career path has taken a number of good turns, which has provided me with experience in a variety of settings. I initially started working at my internship at a wonderful chiropractic clinic, which hired me as soon as I got my CA license (2 months before I graduated NHI). My next career move was to work at a day spa. Working at the day spa helped me hone my skills and find my own voice and touch. After a few years of working at the spa, I decided to begin my small private practice. Leaving the spa was difficult because it allowed me to continue learning, and I worked with three fantastic chiropractors and an acupuncturist who all valued my work and respected me. I found myself knowing it was time to start my own private practice and my former co-workers completely supported my decision.
Q3: Your background is extensive. How did you learn about all of these opportunities?
Girard: The chiropractic clinic was managed by a friend of mine from college. She was thrilled to have me as in intern after learning that I was attending National Holistic Institute. I discovered the job opening at the day spa by doing a quick search on Craigslist. Lastly, I provided myself with the opportunity of starting my own private practice. Finding an affordable work space while I built my practice and my skills was key, and with a lot of searching and networking, I was able to find a great location.
Q4: Making the switch from doing massage therapy at a day spa to running, your own private practice is a major decision. What is one of the highlights of having your own massage therapy private practice?
Girard: I love being in charge of my own schedule. I love being able to create the entire experience of my work and my client’s experience. I love that so many of my clients are eager to refer me to their friends, their family, their associates; I find it to be a deep honor. And I love that I’ve learned to ask for help for the things in running my business that are either not my strength or my interest. I work with an amazing marketing specialist, Shelly Simpson (who is also my client) who has built my website, manages my social media marketing, and monthly newsletter. Shelly focuses on website development and social media presence for small businesses, which is why she is perfect for me and would be great for other CMTs. Together we come up with all kinds of ideas to create more growth for my private practice. I know that my business has significantly increased due to her work with me. My bookkeeper (who is also my client) helps keep me on track with finances and taxes, while also giving me the skills and knowledge to take care of as much as I can and she ties up the loose ends. I also have a house-cleaner to keep up with the daily work so that I can focus on my clients.
Q5: That’s a smart move to reach out for additional support to help you with your marketing goals and finances – and it’s so cool that they are your massage therapy clients! What do you think has been the most challenging aspect of running your private practice?
Girard: The biggest challenge I’ve had is thinking outside of my own self-imposed boxes. Sometimes when you run your own private practice you’re faced with things that you wouldn’t have realized until you’re facing it. I realized that I didn’t need to follow any preconceived formats for my schedule. I didn’t have to work Monday through Friday from 10 am to 7 pm. I could make my own decisions based on what worked for me. Having the ability to take control of my schedule empowered me.
Q6: Being able to choose your own schedule and have that freedom sounds amazing. How has your training at NHI prepared you to run your own a private practice?
Girard: NHI gave me such a thorough grounding in so many aspects of this work, from all the different modalities to the sciences and the business side. All of the information I learned during the massage therapy training program was applicable and necessary to learn. The program encouraged me to dive deeper into specific modalities. I still have my binder with all the handouts and notes and I refer to it regularly. There’s so much more information about massage therapy that I’ll be mining for years to come!
Q7: We are glad to hear that you are still interested in continuing your massage therapy education. What advice would you give to someone who wants to run their own private practice?
Girard: For someone wanting to have a private practice, I’d recommend building slowly. My path was perfect for me – I had a range of experiences as well as the freedom to discover who I was in the massage therapy industry. I got to pursue how my touch and massage therapy training could best help my clients and patients. I built my clientele and a reputation gradually. I found other therapists to work with and had several more experienced massage therapists mentor me and show me what was possible. I experimented with various opportunities, renting different spaces in different circumstances to see what worked for me. When I found the right space (and I lucked out, for sure) I jumped on it and am super grateful that it’s given me the chance to build my business from small to solid.
Q8: Having more experienced massage therapists mentor you while you’re still figuring things out is a great idea. Tell us about what goals or plans do you have for the future with your private practice?
Girard: Currently, I am running booked solidly about 2-3 weeks in advance. I have the model from one of my best friends and mentors who is booked 3 months in advance. So, I’d like to get to that level of practice, exposure, and clientele. I feel I’m definitely on my way. I am also working to incorporate travel and work, to allow me to enjoy both and to bring my work to a greater variety of people. This is also in the budding stages and is an exciting development for me.
From a marketing standpoint, my marketing specialist wants me to do a series of videos and create my own channel to be accessed via my website. As she puts it, “There are a lot of good massage therapists in this City. I come to you because of YOU and that gets translated in a video.” So, my next task is to carve out the time for that.
I’m also in the midst of a major remodel of my work space, which is a major project but I am excited about making my work space a haven of creative healing.
James Girard, CMT
Owner, Practitioner, Transformational Agent
James Girard Bodyworks
“Pain is the Body’s way of saying, ‘please pay attention’.”
If you’re interested in helping others and are looking for a rewarding career that allows you the freedom and flexibility to set your hours and balance your life, you owe it to yourself to explore your potential as a skilled massage therapist. Fill out the form on the following page to get more info on how you can get started on your career as a professional massage therapist.