Allison Rapp

Can You Afford to Earn Your Living as a Hands-On Practitioner or Movement Educator?

Lots of people have taken a training program, know they can help lots of people, yet struggle to make ends meet... Maybe it's because so many people stumble at the very first step in building a successful practice -- deciding whether or not you can afford to earn your living as a Feldenkrais Practitioner®.

So many people have taken a training program to learn hands-on skills. Practitioners want to help lots of people — yet struggle to make ends meet.

Why? Our work is incredible. It’s portable. It’s body-healing and mind-bending. It’s got something for everyone. People feel great when they do it! Why should it be so hard to make a living at it?

Maybe it’s because so many people stumble at the very first step in building a successful practice. So here’s the question: have you figured out whether or not you can actually afford to earn your living as a hands-on practitioner or movement educator?

I know most of us just want to get on with the “helping people” part, but in the long run, the little bit of time it takes to get the answer to this question will be well spent. Let’s begin by taking a look at a few of the different ways people go about building a practice after graduation.

  • Some people are really sure they want to practice and don’t want to do anything else. If they’ve been successfully self-employed prior to their training, they’re likely to jump in with both feet and make it work because it has to work or they don’t eat. Chances are, by the time they have their certificates in hand, they’ve already got venues lined up for their classes, or a plan for putting together a private practice. Within a year or two, they’re fully booked and earning a living.
  • Some people are supported by a partner’s income and don’t have to worry about how much money they earn, or how quickly they build a practice. If this describes your situation, maybe you teach an 8-week series of classes a few times a year and see a few people each week for private sessions. And if you’re really lucky, you spend lots of time on vacation in wonderful places with the partner whose income is more than enough for two people or the whole family, to live on comfortably.
  • Some people make a gradual transition from a paid job to self-employment as a practitioner. It can be daunting to know how much to work, because working for yourself is really different from working for someone else. If this is your situation, you may be pretty unsettled about how many clients you need to see, and just where you’re going to find them!
  • Some people have only one occupation — their practice — but it doesn’t seem like enough. If you’re in this group, you may be accidentally self-employed, and finding out about a whole new world filled with surprises like making estimated tax payments, being responsible for the entire amount of social security tax, and finding your own health insurance… not to mention finding and keeping the clients who will give you the money you need to live on.

No matter how you come to it, you may be among the many practitioners who have no real idea of how much money they need to earn from their practice. If so, the title of today’s post is not really so off-the-wall as it might first appear — because if you don’t know how much money you need to live on, you really don’t know if you can afford to earn that money as a hands-on practitioner.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a rocket-scientist to figure it out!

Step 1: Find out how much money you need to earn.

You’ll need to gather some information about your expenses.

  • Pull together the figures that tell you how much you spend on living expenses — rent or mortgage, food and utilities, insurance, entertainment, clothes, car expenses, etc.
  • Have a look at last year’s tax return, or your bank information to remind yourself of things you might not remember so easily. Sometimes, the big expenses, like health insurance, aren’t on our radar because they’re scary!
  • Add up your business expenses – not only rent on your studio and advertising costs, but also advanced trainings and your travel costs, books, tapes, other educational materials and guild dues.
  • Don’t forget taxes and a contingency fund!

What part of that number is YOUR responsibility? It can range all the way from 100% if you’re the sole support of your family, to “enough for vacations” if you’re earning the family’s “extra” money.

When you have your best guess, divide the number by 12 to find out your monthly requirement, or by 50 to get a weekly requirement. Actually, it’s a good idea to divide by a smaller number, because you need time off, and if you get sick, you may have to cancel lessons… decide on what’s comfortable for you.

Step 2: Decide how many hours a week you want to work

Obviously, you need to take into account what other obligations you have. If you are a single mother with children, you probably want to work while they’re in school. How many hours does that give you?

I’ve spoken with single people whose idea is to work 40 hours a week… and why not? Without other commitments, they feel fine devoting to their own business the same number of hours that many people spend working for someone else… in fact, often, self-employed people work MORE hours per week than those employed by others.

Don’t forget to include the preparation time you need for your classes and workshops, your own self-development, and working on your practice.

How much you want to work is up to you. The main thing is that you have to have to be able to earn the amount of money you determined in Step 1 during those hours, and that’s where Steps 3 and 4 come in.

Step 3 and Step 4 go hand-in-hand. One is about how you apportion your time, and the other is about how much you charge for it. When you look at the variables together, you can begin to get a sense of how to maximize your time to get the most out of it.

Step 3: Decide how much to charge

Typically, what you charge is contingent on what other people who offer similar services charge, how skilled you are, and what you feel comfortable asking for.

Obviously, the combination of what you charge and how many hours you work every week determines the limit of your income. However, you may find that classes and workshops are more profitable than private lessons, especially if you have or can find a reasonably priced space that allows you to leverage your time and work with more people at once.

Step 4: Choose your ideal combination of private sessions, classes and workshops

I’ve talked to a lot of practitioners who want to have 20 clients sessions each week. Some people want to teach classes, some want to give regular or occasional workshops. For the most part, I think that people just pick numbers that feel comfortable to them, but they don’t really know whether they’re doing enough work to “make it work.”

Take some time to consider how you like to teach. Do you spend 45 minutes in a private session — or 90 minutes? Obviously if you spend an hour and a half, you need to devote a lot more time to work than you do it you give a lesson in 45 or 60 minutes.

Step 5: Play with your numbers

When you’re self-employed, giving a service in trade for money, you have only three ways to increase your income – you can

  1. Increase the number of hours you work, so that you see more clients.
  2. Charge more for your time.
  3. Teach more classes or larger classes to make those hours worth more than private-lesson hours.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I worked 22 hours a week. In that time, I had 24 private sessions, and spent about an hour preparing one class that I taught 3 times each week. My private sessions were 45 minutes long, so I gave 4 in 3 hours on 3 mornings a week, and the same on 3 afternoons.

My classes had upwards of 15 or 16 students, the limit of my space. Every month or so, I gave a full day workshop, again with a limit of about 16 people. Working through the numbers makes it easy to see where to look if I need more income — it’s simple to see that adding another class would be more profitable than another private session to my week. In fact, knowing the numbers makes it possible to decide that I might want to replace a private session with a class in some circumstances.

So play with these variables with your own numbers, and see if you can find a combination of hours, services and fees that feels right to you and gives you the amount of money you need on a weekly basis.

If you find that no matter what you do, you can’t make the numbers work to give you the income you need, then you’ve reached that happy moment of clarity, in which you finally know that you really cannot afford to make your living as a hands-on practitioner… And you also know what salary you’re looking for when you’re job hunting.

If you find that you CAN make the numbers work, then all you have to do is build your practice to the point where it sustains you!

If you need help with that, The Heart-to-Heart Program might be just what you’re looking for — check it out here.
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