Q & A with Jocelyn Stewart: RMT and owner of Sunrae Massage and Wellness
A career in massage therapy called to Jocelyn Stewart. She enrolled in the 2-year program at MH Vicars School of Massage Therapy in Edmonton and graduated in 2013. Jocelyn got a job in a clinic as a student therapist when she was in her second year at MH Vicars, and stayed on after she graduated. During her four years there, she established a loyal client base, developed as a therapist, and learned even more about the business side of massage therapy.
When she was ready to strike out on her own, she opened Sunrae Massage and Wellness in Fort Saskatchewan. Sunrae is now a thriving multi-therapist practice. Jocelyn herself is booking four or five months in advance, and she rents clinic space to other RMTs as well.
She recently sat down with us to talk about how she became the therapist she is today, and what she’s learned along the way.
Tell me about your experiences as a business owner
I had the most wonderful mentor at the first clinic I worked at. She was so open to teaching me or letting me ask any questions, but yet letting me explore my own way. When she decided she was going to work from home, I decided to open Sunrae. I found this beautiful little building – and then I got a lot of life lessons!
Renovating, signing contracts, dealing with leases, accountants, all of that.
Maybe the biggest thing, on the business side of it, is I have learned the importance of a contract. My whole motto in life now is: “To be clear is to be kind.”
When I have new therapists come in, I really try to foster them and say: “You know what, I don’t want to be on a split, I want you to have your own business. I want you to rent the room. I want you to develop, and do what you want to do.”
You’ve been working as an RMT for nearly a decade. How has your client base changed over the years?
I don’t work with a lot of new clients now. Some of my clients are the same ones I’ve had for nearly ten years, and I’ve been so blessed. Right now I’m booking into October and November.
I have one client that I massaged at school outreach event when I was a student—I think it was the Mother’s Day Run. I massaged him for ten minutes, and he asked me for my card. [Laughs] I didn’t have cards! I was just a student! But I gave him the information of the place that I was working, and I’ve been treating him ever since.
When you get a real connection with your clients, it’s so nice. You can build on each massage therapy treatment, and have an idea of where we need to go next. That’s really interesting.
I’m kind of nervous when I do get a new client now. I’m like “Oh my god! I’m going to have to explain myself and what my philosophies are!”
Can you elaborate on that? How have you managed to build a client base that aligns with your outlook and what you’re trying to do?
I think that as a new therapist, you really try to please everybody and in doing so, sometimes you don’t get to find your own gifts or your own qualities.
You have to be OK with the fact that you’re not for everybody. My style may not be for everybody. And, you know, you have to let your ego go and do what’s best for the client.
Communication is so important, with all your clients. You tell them, “This is what we’re going to try, and why.” And at the end, I ask them how they feel and ask for feedback. And to my newer clients, I do say: “I’m not for everybody, and there’s other types of massage that may help you better.”
You really have to communicate and listen to what the client’s saying.
It can be really hard to be open enough to know that you can and even should refer out to other therapists. I will refer out to the other RMTs that work with me sometimes, or to other colleagues. Sometimes I’ll tell them that they should try going to a physio, and so on.
And another thing that sometimes we don’t talk about is when you get a complaint about how you’ve performed, or in my case sometimes I hear a complaint about one of the therapists working for me.
You have to take a step back, take the deep breath and go, “OK, how do I make this better? Is this a learning situation or is it a little bit unreasonable? Is this person just not for us?”
It can be really hard! I mean, I put my heart and soul into this. This is a little piece of me.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your practice?
When it hit, there were three of us working at the clinic. It was difficult because of all the new regulations. I took that very seriously: I went into the clinic, removed the waiting room, put up the signs, got all the new things we needed. And then we were off for what, four months?
I didn’t get a rent break, I still had to pay my lease. I was able to give a rent break to the RMTs who rent rooms from me, because I was able to access some of the financial support.
But you sit at home for four months and you think, “Oh my god, how am I going to keep my clients?”
But I had clients asking to buy gift cards to help me stay in business. I was just so humbled and grateful. And most of my clients came back.
I went right back to my normal schedule, following the new rules. And then we got shut down again [in December 2020]. And again, you worry about how you’re going to pay the bills. But it was ok.
The only thing that I have really struggled with is clients who were anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. I got really tired of having to fight for them to wear a mask. I have a couple of clients that I just didn’t rebook, because I couldn’t deal with it anymore. It’s my safety, you know?
I was following the restrictions, and really trying to do my best with that. The other RMTs and I just sat down and discussed what we want to do now that the government has said that there’s no more restrictions. We’ve decided to keep them going for now, because that’s what we’re comfortable with at this moment.
Those can be tough conversations to have.
I really think it’s great that we just sat down and discussed how this going to look for us. We’ve been pretty much on par, and so supportive of each other. We’ve been there for each other.
I really enjoy that part of the business—trying to empower younger therapists.
It’s hard to find somebody who’s brave enough to go out on their own. It’s hard. So I try to create an environment of support for them.
What advice would you give to someone just beginning their massage therapy career?
It is really important to make sure that, with any place that you go to work, that you have a very good contract. A contract protects both you and the other person—a verbal agreement isn’t good enough. You really do need to have a contract, because then there’s no guesswork and I would really do things.
And take continuing education courses. Get excited about new techniques, and get excited about what you’re doing.
When you go into that massage room, go find what needs to be done—not what you think needs to be done. Really, really try to be open to solving the problem.
It can be really hard to be open because I think massage therapists are, as a rule, fairly sensitive people. So just know that it’s okay to say to yourself, “That didn’t go as well. What can I do to do better?”
And of course, support each other. There’s no need to be cutthroat. Support each other, and let’s make this industry really well respected.
A massage therapy career (and the opportunity to open your own business!) is well within reach. Jocelyn got her start with our massage training program and you can too! Set up your virtual tour today to learn more about how MH Vicars can help set you on a path to a new career as a registered massage therapist.