Episode 239

Aug 23, 2019

Michael shares his thoughts on how our identity can be shaped by our business, for better and for worse.

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I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

~ Emily Dickinson

Michael shares his thoughts on how our identity can be shaped by our business, for better and for worse.

Sponsored by: Acuity Scheduling & The Jojoba Company.


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Allissa Haines Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Massage Business Blueprint podcast, where we discuss the business side of massage therapy. I am Allissa Haines.

Michael Reynolds And I am Michael Reynolds.

AH And we are delighted that you are joining us today. Michael, how are you?

MR I’m doing great. I’m delighted because I get to jabber a little bit today.

AH You do. Hey, before we do, I’m stealing something from your podcast.

MR Okay.

AH I want to ask you what you’re reading nowadays?

MR Oh. [Laughing]. What am I reading? You know what? I’m actually not in a book right now. I’m not reading — I take that back. I am very slowly working my way through a financial planning book called The Retainer Fee Model (sic). It’s a really boring, dry title and probably a fairly boring, dry book except for people like me where it’s basically talking about the different models of delivering and charging services as a financial planner. So now that I’ve put you to sleep, that is what I’m reading right now.

AH Holy crap, man. That sounds tough.

MR [Laughing]. But my next book is going to be Stoicism and the Art of Happiness.

AH Uh, good God.

MR Okay. I’m still not getting any points here?

AH (Indiscernible).

MR Uh, let’s see what else is on my shelf that I’m going to — oh, you know what? After that, I’m probably going to read Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller.

AH Okay. When was the last time you read something for funsies that wasn’t business related?

MR Oh, yeah. Yeah. It’s been a while. [Laughing].

AH Okay.

MR It’s been a long time.

AH Okay. Well, I’m reading — not that you asked, but I’m reading —

MR What are you reading?

AH I am reading a book called The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

MR Okay.

AH And I just read — or I read a couple months ago her, I think, newer novel called Circe, and it is so interesting because it is fiction but based in the world of Greek Gods. And — so yeah. This one actually talks about Achilles from the point of view of his companion, and it’s — I did not — it’s lovely, and it’s so beautifully written that it takes you to the beach. It takes you — like, they’re actually about to embark on the war to get Helen of Troy back, and it is so beautifully written and interesting and fantastical that it just takes me right out of myself, and I am really enjoying it. It is Madeline Miller The Song of Achilles. Everyone should read it. And that’s what I’m reading right now, people.

MR Wow. You’re a lot more interesting than I am.

AH I’m not — I’ve also been — I’m reading a lot of — so I might have said this already, like in — I decided for 2019 — I tried it in 2018 and failed because I didn’t read as much as I wanted to. I wanted more than I could manage. But 2019, I decided I’m only reading women authors. So I kind of started the year reading a lot of — and also, I was just tired of reading business books. Like I’m just tired of it. I need a break, so I started reading a lot of memoirs. So it’s been really awesome. I read Michelle Obama’s Becoming. And I read —

MR Oh, I do want to read that.

AH Yeah. It’s really, really good because she’s so like just point-blank about a lot of stuff. And I read a book about a woman who — an Asian woman who was adopted by a white couple and what it was like to grow up in that way. I read an article — or pardon me — I can never remember names. I have to go back and look at my library history — but a lot of memoirs that have been really interesting and an author called Mary Karr who actually teaches memoirists how to write. And right now on my Kindle are two books from Cheryl Strayed, the one who hiked the Pacific — I — Palisades Trail thingamabob. She’s on a podcast I’ve been listening to as well. And anyhow — but like having — I think I’ve only read one book written by a man this year, and it has been so great to immerse myself in women’s writing, and I didn’t realize how much of my reading was male writers. So making this effort has been — it’s introduced — it’s forced me to look around a little bit more and not just go to the first book suggested to me, but to look around for women authors, and it’s really quite lovely, and I’m enjoying a little stint of fiction right now.

MR Nice.

AH There we go.

Michael, you were in charge of today’s topic.

MR I am.

AH And I’m delighted that you’re sharing it with us, and I know I’m going to have some points to add, but for now I’m going to be quiet and have you tell us what we’re talking about.

MR All right. I’d like to talk about finding identity outside your massage business. I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week and writing about it and actually did an interview on an online radio show this week that’s coming out as well. So I’ve been talking a lot about it lately, and it’s kind of been on my mind, which kind of lead us to talk about it today.

So I’ve been thinking about this because, like, some of us listening may have also kind of gone through — I’ve gone to –gone through an evolution in my business/personal life. And I kind of been starting out thinking about this in the way that — so as entrepreneurs, we’re really often very predictable, and I say that in kind of a loving way because I am one, and I can be very predictable. So when I first started my business, I was basically wrapped up in making my business my identity. And when I say “my business,” this is specifically my marketing agency that I started in 1996, which is forever ago, and wow, I’m old.

So it was in 1996 I started my marketing agency, and I was in college at the time and young, stupid, totally ridiculous, like, didn’t know anything, you know — oh, those were the days. So I started my business, and it was my whole identity. I was like, okay, wow, I’m in college, I’m starting this business to build websites and do marketing work and technical work, and it was really, really exciting, and it was my whole identity. I — every little detail was wrapped up in my business. And one example is I didn’t have a personal email account for many years because my business email account was the only one I needed. That was me. That was who I was. I — my calendar was all, basically, my business calendar. And basically my whole attitude toward life was my life was my business, and then I fit everything else into it if it would fit. And that sounds not very healthy, and it probably wasn’t super healthy, but I made it work. But everything was revolving around my identity as my business. It was an extension of me. It felt like it was part of my soul, my heart. Like, it was all just the same, basically.

So that’s what I did for a long time, and I think that’s what a lot of business owners, including massage therapists, do when we own our massage practices. We launch a practice, we pour our heart into it, rightly so, and we end up in a place where it consumes us to the point where it is our identity, and that can have some disadvantages and some ramifications. And one example of that would be if you receive negative feedback from a client or there’s a business conflict or something happens negative in the business or there is cash-flow issues or there is some issue in the business, we often take that so personally that it really affects us more than is likely healthy. And I experienced this a lot of different times throughout my business.

I still experience this. I’m not saying I’m immune to it. But for example, when a client would complain, oh, I would take it personally, and I’m a failure, and this is attacking me personally, or if something was going wrong with a particular aspect of my business, it really got me down to the point I was really sinking into periods of depression as a result of that. And I’ve talked to other business owners, and a lot of people experience this. This is actually fairly common among business owners to experience really, really great joy and incredible satisfaction, incredible happiness when times are good, and then crushing depression when times are bad because we are so attached. And so it’s kind of, I wouldn’t say nice, but it’s validating to know that it’s very common among business owners, and that was very validating to me.

So anyway — so that’s kind of what I’ve been evaluating and reviewing and looking back on my life and kind of seeing where I was at that point and where I am today, and I’ve learned a lot of things related to how to think about your business as a separate identity. So I began — so again, a lot of this was kind of related to my marketing agency days, and I’ll kind of pause there before I kind of tell the rest of the story, but I want to kind of pause and — is this something you’ve ever experienced, Allissa?

AH Oh, my God. Yeah. I was super codependent on my massage practice for a long time. Like, I graduated from massage school when I was 30, and like three years later left my husband. And I all of a sudden stopped being a wife and stopped being a stepmother, a — my stepdaughter lived with us, so I raised her from 10 to 18, and when we split, I lost that part of who I was as a person and, you know, that’s very sudden and very painful. And I threw — because I had no other identity, I threw myself into my massage business and into growing it and also because I needed to make the money because I was supporting myself entirely. And for years, for five or six years, that was who I was. And you and I met each other when we were still in these stages.

MR Right. Right.

AH Like, we were very good friends because we were able to bond over like our ridiculous passion for business building. And great. It’s gotten us where we are, but I’m glad that we both have managed to evolve and grow and work out of that and also cultivate the other parts of us — of our identities that make us whole people.

Yeah. So I’ve totally experienced this. And I think that like you said, many, many — I would dare say most small business owners fall into this same category of being so wholly invested in your business that it is who you are. It is the defining thing when people are like, oh, have you met Allissa? And they go, oh, yeah, that massage therapist and teacher or whatever. And when people are like, do you know Michael Reynolds? Oh, yeah, the SpinWeb guy. Like, it’s — that is who you are. And it — I forgot what my point was before I started that sentence.

MR [Laughing].

AH I’m sorry. I got really distracted by thinking about it. [Laughing].

MR Yeah. Yeah.

AH But that — oh, like, that’s who we were. And — so and most business owners, I think, are like that. I think the trick to success long-term and to — I’m not going to say the key to happiness, but to business happiness in some ways, long-term, is growing to the point where you can detach from that. So I was so invested and in my business that when I did my expansion and took on another space and started offering yoga classes and working with yoga teachers and stuff like that, when it didn’t work, I took it as a personal failure. It was — it affected who I was as a human and not just a bad business decision or —

MR Yeah.

AH — a failed business idea. And that took a long time. And it’s — I mean, again, it’s actually not unlike when you get a divorce. Like, you say you’re going to do this thing and be married to this person forever, and then it doesn’t work and you feel like an epic failure because you are failing to keep this promise that you made or do this thing that you did or maintain this relationship that you said you would make work forever.

So I think in a lot of ways my business failure was a lot easier because I had already handled a divorce, which is a very public failure, which you kind of — helps you get over yourself a little bit. But it’s these things, these failures, these bad decisions like — or just a downturn in the marketplace, they, like you said, affect you very deeply as a human. And I think the really successful and happy long-time business owners are the ones who can detach from any particular incident or downturn or decision and make future decisions based not on emotion of wanting everyone to think you’re the best business owner but on what is actually best for this business and my happiness.

So that ability to detach the emotions from any particular business up or down is key. People who don’t do that are the small business owners who eventually run their business into the ground, who don’t retire until there’s nothing left to sell and they’ve been sucked dry and covering payroll with their own savings for 10 years, you know? That is not happiness in any way.

MR Yeah. That’s a rather dystopian — [Laughing].

AH Yeah. But it happens.

MR Yeah. It does.

AH I mean, it happens all the time.

MR All the time. All the time.

Yeah. That’s a — well, thank you for sharing that. Even just hearing that from you is additional validation that helps, and it helps us all to talk about this I think, so I appreciate you sharing that.

So I want to talk about kind of where I ended up in the triggering event, halftime, and then after halftime I want talk about some of the — I guess the reasons to think about why to keep that separation and what the outcomes are. So for me, it was a triggering event. The triggering event for me was deciding to sell my marketing agency. I decided to sell the business about, probably, two or three years before I sold it. I shouldn’t say “decided.” I was thinking about it, I was realizing there were other things I wanted to do, I was ready for a change, and it took me a while to get there.

And side note, Allissa, I still don’t think you know how instrumental and helpful you were in helping me with the decision. Maybe you do, but you were —

AH Oh, I totally do because I’m super self-absorbed.

MR Okay.

AH And I think I’m your best advisor.

MR There you go. Okay. So you do know, so. [Laughing]. So for the record, Allissa, you were extremely helpful in helping me work through that decision. So side note, thank you for that.

And the triggering event for me was deciding to sell. So when I was making that decision, I had to force myself to separate myself from the business both emotionally and logistically because there’s kind of two angles here. So emotionally, I had to decide, okay, I’m going to move forward in life no longer as Michael the SpinWeb guy — my marketing agency was named SpinWeb at the time — so Michael the SpinWeb guy, I am no longer that guy. Okay. Well, crap. Who am I? I had to kind of figure out how to live that way and how to move forward without that identity. So emotionally, that was very difficult.

Then I had to logistically kind of make some other changes. Like, I started using my personal email account as my primary email for things. I get — I got a personal calendar set up in Gmail or G Suite, and then I attached my other business calendars into it, but it was my master personal calendar. So I began to start doing logistical things and emotional shifts in my mind to get to the point where I could see myself as I am Michael Reynolds, I have friends, family, a life, and I also have businesses; as opposed to I am Michael Reynolds, I am the SpinWeb guy. Like, there’s a subtle difference, but it’s a significant difference emotionally and mentally, at least for me it was.

So I want to stop there and do halftime, and then I kind of want to talk about some of the details around this as well.

So Allissa, I know you’re excited to announce who our halftime sponsor is. It is —

AH Jojoba.

MR [Laughing].

Sponsor message So this episode is sponsored by The Jojoba Company. And you all know that I believe massage therapists should only be using the highest-quality products because our clients deserve it and our bodies are soaking in it for 20 hours a week, so it really matters. I like that jojoba is nonallergenic. I can use it on every client without fear of a reaction. I really like it in the summer because it’s light, and it doesn’t clog pores, and clients don’t leave here feeling greasy when it’s already hot and humid outside. I like that it doesn’t go rancid. It can get hot and cold and hot and cold and not get gross. It’ll last forever. The Jojoba Company is the only company in the world that carries 100% pure first-pressed quality jojoba. This means that they do a light pressing called a first press on the seed. And they don’t get as much by — in quantity as other companies that squeeze the heck out of that seed, but they get a higher quality jojoba. It is indeed the best that you can get on the market — in the marketplace, pardon me. You, my friends, can get 10% off orders of $35 or more when you shop through our link at massagebusinessblueprint.com/jojoba, and it’s J-O-J-O-B-A.

MR Jojoba. Sorry.

AH Jojoba.

MR I couldn’t resist. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t resist. I just had to.

AH All right. Go back to your thing.

MR Okay. My thing.

AH [Laughing].

MR So let’s talk a little bit about why I feel that having a separation in your identity from your business can make a lot of sense and have some advantages. So for one thing, it’s — as I’ve talked about already, it’s emotionally healthier. As entrepreneurs, we tend to hustle and work and be busy and just get caught up in the grind, and we’re oblivious to the fact that we get lost inside this business identity. So for me just emotionally, since getting a kind of a new perspective on it and being able to create and embrace an identity outside of business and businesses, I’ve been a lot happier. I just generally don’t get as depressed, I don’t get as stressed, I don’t get as codependent on my businesses as I used to, and it’s been very much healthier for me.

And so what I do is I think of my businesses — I say “businesses” because as you probably know I have multiple businesses and so does Allissa; we’re both parallel entrepreneurs. And so I think of my businesses as assets — like a house or investments or a vehicle or a piece of art or whatever — something that has value — piece of jewelry, whatever it is, stuff in your bank account — these are all assets. So if you think of your business as an asset on your balance sheet, which is kind of your statement of what stuff is worth in your life that you own, then you’re going to think about it differently. You’re going to think about it in a more detached, healthy way because, you know, if something breaks in your house, okay, it’s a bummer, it sucks, you fix it, but you don’t take it personally. It’s an asset that needs to be maintained. So if you think of your business as an asset, then that can be a lot healthier emotionally.

So again, I still get stressed out. I still find myself attaching emotions to business issues. It still happens, but I generally say, hey, if — on a scale of 1 to 10, if my previous codependence was a like a 9 or a 10, it’s probably about a 3 or less now. So I’m making a lot of progress there, so that’s been good.

So next, if you think of your business as an asset and you separate your identity in a more structured way, it can increase the value of your business, which increases your net worth. So when I say it can increase, obviously there’s a ton of variables here around this. But when you’re sucked inside your business to the point where it is your soul and your heart and you’re just kind of one in the same, it’s really hard to understand the true value of your business, and it’s hard to understand how to make your business more valuable because all you can see is what’s in front of you.

So if you start to think of your business as an asset that you’re managing, then you tend to start to focus on ways to make it more valuable. And what that means is you can — you start to look at ways to be more ruthless about lowering expenses, for example, or you tend to be more ruthless about outsourcing the things you should be outsourcing so that you can increase your operational efficiency in the business. You tend to be more ruthless about, okay, updating my prices means more revenue, and I want to make this asset grow. So these things are all decisions we struggle with every day, but I find them to be easier when you think of your business as an asset as opposed to part of your identity.

Now, you still do inject warmth and personality in your business. You still enjoy it, and you still want to very much pour energy into it, but I think it’s in a more constructive way when you don’t let it own you. It’s something that you actively own as part of your personal financial statement. It’s also, as a side effect, easier to sell. Now, I’m not saying that most of our listeners are going to want to sell their massage practice. I’m not saying that’s the case, but honestly, it — we’ve seen a handful of people come to us recently and tell us stories of how they did sell their massage practice, so having it as an option is not a terrible thing. And even if you never sell or never want to sell your massage practice, the act of making it more valuable increases the value to you. It can make you more money. It can make more of a long-term, stable source of income. It can help you grow. It can help you enjoy your business better. So all these things are really interesting and beneficial side effects to me of separating your identity from your business.

So that’s kind of why I advocate shifting your perspective, if possible, and moving in the direction of saying, you know what? I — at least for me — I’m going to talk about kind of my experience because everyone is different, but for me, I really enjoy having an identity that is me. You know, I am no longer Michael the SpinWeb guy or Michael the — this guy or whatever. I now think of myself as me, and I have aspects of my life that I enjoy. I have, you know, my friends, my family, the things that make me happy, and my businesses and my business relationships are among those things that make me happy, but it’s a different view.

So I don’t know if I’ve described that very clearly, but if not or if you have feedback, Allissa, I’d love to hear kind of your perspective or things that could be clarified.

AH No. I think you covered that really well. [Laughing].

MR [Laughing].

AH Like, it was pretty clear.

MR Kind of my soapbox. Yeah.

AH Yeah. I just — you know, there’s certain personalities like ours that just tend to go all in on something, and it’s great. We should do that sometimes. But the — again, that ability to learn to detach from it is huge. I also — it’s kind of a little side note that I thought of when I was reading your article about this a while back is that there’s this notion in the past, I don’t know, 10 or 15 years that everyone should be, like, living their dream and living their passion and be spending all their time on work that fulfills them in every way. And you know, what’s your passion project? And how can I monetize my passion and do the work I’m supposed to do in this world? And I’d like to just note that 90 percent of that is crap.

MR [Laughing].

AH Like — okay. And I say this like — and I — because I think this idea that we should all be living our dream work, you know, like, doing work that fulfills us in every possible way, I think it does us a disservice. I think it sets an expectation that is unrealistic and makes us feel like a failure if we don’t leave — you know, begin and end every work day feeling so deeply invested in our client’s care and our own fulfillment and providing the best possible care and blah, blah, blah. Like, it’s a job. It’s a business that we love that we built that is the thing — the — with the space we want and the clients we want and niche we want. And yes, our work should be fulfilling; yes, we should enjoy our work; and yes, our work should be something that we are good at. And our focus is combining work you’re good at that you enjoy and all the business skills you need to make it sustainable so you can live off of that work. However, it’s work. Like — and sometimes I hear people say, like, when you love your job, it’s not work. It’s still work. I’m still folding fitted sheets —

MR Yeah. There’s plenty of work.

AH — for 15 minutes every morning. And the notion that you’re going to love every part of your job is ridiculous, and the notion that your job is so — that you find it such a source of passion and happiness that it will fulfill you entirely is crap. And I just want to point out that work is work. And you should enjoy it. You should be good at it. You should be able to make a living at it. That — those are goals. But massage is certainly not the only time I’ve had work that did that for me. Yes. Some of you may live and breathe your niche and your business and parts of that are great. It’s what makes you the best therapist in the region for people coming out of knee-rehab surgery. But it’s also okay if some days you don’t give a crap about knees and — but you do your job well anyway — and ethically and well [laughing] and in a way that serves your clients.

So I just want to point out that your work doesn’t have to be the most passionate thing in your life, and you can have a full and robust fulfilling life even if your work isn’t the thing that you think about in the morning, noon, and night. Like, I love my clients, I love my job, but when I was working in pharmacy, I also was really — I enjoyed my work in pharmacy. I was very good at it, and I made good money when I did it until I didn’t — until it stopped — the environment stopped being great and I didn’t enjoy it anymore and the raises weren’t enough to keep me. And that’s when I sought out massage, which when I started was — I was like, yeah, this is a job I’m going to really like. I don’t know that this will be the last thing I ever do, and I sometimes still feel that way. [Laughing]. I’m probably 10 years out of closing my practice. I’ll probably close my practice around the 25-year mark, God willing. Who knows? But I — it is not necessarily the best and only thing I will ever do that brings me joy and earns a living.

So if you feel like your work isn’t satisfying enough because it’s not filling every need that you have, it — then it — just a reminder that we’re not all living Oprah’s best life every day, and that’s okay. That’s my side bar.

MR I love it.

AH Sorry.

MR I love it.

AH I think reasonable expectations is important. I think being pragmatic is helpful in this regard.

MR Yeah. Yeah, I love that. I know we’re almost out of time. Can I leave our listeners with one quick exercise?

AH Yes.

MR All right. So as an exercise, just something you might want to try if you want to work on this a little bit, I would suggest a couple things. One is start to look at little details in your communication and your systems and start to separate things. So for example, if you use your massage practice email account for everything, make sure you set up a personal email account if you don’t have one and start using that for personal life stuff. Same thing, maybe, with your calendar or other things where you separate business from personal and really start to create that line.

And then as a visual exercise, take a sheet of paper — it’s really easy to create just a simple statement of net worth. This is the financial planning part of my brain coming out, so bear with me. So get a sheet of paper, put a line down the middle for two columns, on the left side put liabilities or — yeah. Liabilities is what it’s called, so we’ll say liabilities. On the right side, put assets. Assets are things you own; liabilities are things you owe. So in the left-hand column, put any debts you have in there, you know, credit cards, home, car, desk, whatever. Put everything you owe; on the right side, put everything that you own and what it’s worth. So put — if you own a house, put the house there. If you own a car, put the car there. Whatever money is in your bank accounts, put that there. If you have any retirement money, put the retirement balance there. Make a little box for each one. And then in a box, put your business there. Place a box for your business — write the name of your massage business, put it in the box, and then assign a value to that.

Now, you may have no idea how to value your business. Just take a guess. One quick way is to take one times your annual revenue or maybe three to four times your annual profit margin. Those are a couple examples of napkin-mathing it. But write a value down for your business and just look at it. Just stick it there and look at it. Don’t do anything else. No homework for you. Just look at it, and just start to digest what it looks like to have your business on your statement of net worth along with all the other assets you have and just kind of look at it and see how it feels. That’s all I’m suggesting as an exercise. I’d love to hear feedback, if any of you do this, on how it made you feel. So that’s kind of my little exercise to leave you with.

AH That is very interesting, Michael.

All right. I think that wraps us up. If you have a question or topic you would like us to explore on a podcast, you can email us at podcast@massagebusinessblueprint.com. If you want to see all of the free resources and advice and stuff that we have for you, a massage therapist running their own private practice or considering starting their own private practice, you can go to massagebusinessblueprint.com and browse around, man. Click the free stuff button. You’re going to love it. And if you’re interested in becoming a member, we would love to have you. You can click the premium stuff button, and you can click — I don’t know, click some other buttons [laughing] and see all about what our premium membership includes. It’s a whole bunch of stuff. And if you’re an ABMP member, a certified member of ABMP, you can access us through your benefits — your ABMP benefits portal, and you get a little discount, so that’s nice.

And that’s all I’ve got to say. Everyone, have a wonderful, prosperous, exciting day.

MR Thanks, everyone.