A drawing of a man with a megaphone blurting out stars and thumbs-up emoticons is used to illustrate the concept of getting referral business from clients.

Running a successful massage business requires you to have positive habits in place that perpetuate your business for you, habits you consistently maintain to keep the health of your practice elevated. But what about the opposite of these positive habits—habits that negatively impact your business and your new-client referrals?

Here are three habits you should quit immediately for the sake of getting those referrals:

1. Frequently Cancel Massage Appointments

This is the number-one rule of a service business that is often broken and impacts past, present and future clients. Clients will understand the need for occasional cancelling and rescheduling for personal reasons, such as illness or having sick children. However, if you find yourself rescheduling frequently for any variety of personal reasons or simple whim, clients will stop scheduling and referring.

While working for yourself means you can have more control over your time, it does not mean you can move or cancel appointments on a regular basis. Having control over your time means you can plan time off in advance. It does not mean that if you wake up in the morning and simply don’t feel like working today, you can just cancel your appointments. No business can thrive on inconsistency.

Setting an appointment is like making an individual time contract between you and your client. You reserve the time specifically for them and they are committed to arriving and paying for that time.

It is also difficult to hold clients accountable to pay for appointments they miss if you are frequently missing your appointments with them. Clients can begin to feel that appointments with you are optional to attend because they are options for you to keep.

I also have observed that once a business owner starts cancelling appointments frequently, it simply becomes a bad habit, one that can eventually shut down your business for good.

To keep your practice healthy and get the referrals you need, set your hours and commit to your schedule. Clients will not continue with your service or refer to you if you are inconsistent.

2. Don’t Tell Clients You Appreciate Their Referrals

A well-placed word-of-mouth referral, even if it’s a written testimonial on social media, is a golden opportunity; you can’t buy any kind of ad that matches it. So when a client gives you one, thank them personally.

Referrals are about a collaboration between your service and clients who want you to help the people they care about. In some ways, it is an extension of the client’s emotional connection to their friends and family. That’s why a personal thank you goes so far.

Referrals are not just about building your business and what you can gain. They are more about building all kinds of professional relationships and showing true appreciation for efforts on your behalf.

If a client refers someone to you and you don’t say or do anything to thank that client for their efforts, they may not continue to refer. But even more importantly, they may feel undervalued, which can impact their relationship with you. A simple thank-you text or note to express gratitude for a referral can go a long way to inspiring clients to refer more people to you.

With referrals being such a beneficial and lucrative thing for your business, let me ask you two questions:

• What systems do you have in place to inspire your current clients to refer more?

• Do you thank or reward a person who refers a new client to your business?

Having a reward system in place that provides a way for you to promptly thank a client for their referral creates potential for more referrals. Some ideas include a handwritten thank-you note or text message, gift cards to dinner, half-hour free sessions with you, free products or add-on services for their next appointment; these are all appropriate ways to say thank you.

Along with your note and reward, create more referral opportunities by letting the client know you would be happy to work with more of their friends, family and associates and hand them a few business cards they can give out.

3. Don’t Follow Through on Referrals

When you own a service-based business, there can be unspoken or assumed business and social etiquette expectations with referring client relationships. When followed, these create more opportunity; when not followed, they can decrease your overall business success:

• If you say you are going to do something, make sure it gets done. People pay attention to what you say and do, especially when it’s not completed.

• If a client is taking care of your business, then you need to be taking care of that client and their efforts on your behalf. This isn’t about special treatment; this is about prompt reciprocation.

• The day a referral completes a session in your business is the day you thank or reward the referring client.

• If you are offering free time for the referral, then there is an unspoken agreement that this time will be scheduled as soon as possible to show appreciation. Delaying the reward time creates lost value the longer it is unfulfilled.

• If you are offering a free product for a referral, apply extra effort to get the product to the client quickly.

• Do not offer a gift, reward or incentive you can’t or don’t want to fulfill. Make sure you only offer what you can give. For example, donating gift certificates to an event and then not giving them priority to schedule when redeemed because they are less profitable than scheduling a regular client. This behavior negatively impacts the person or organization that gave it as much as it does your practice.

Do Nurture Your Network

Building a referral network requires that your actions and behaviors foster genuine relationships with those who refer to you. When you focus on integrity, service and commitment, your business will blossom into the fully booked, successful massage practice you dream of achieving.

Amy Bradley Radford

About the Author

Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 30 years. She is the owner of Massage Business Methods and the developer of PPS (Pain Patterns and Solutions) Seminars CE courses and an NCBTMB Approved CE Provider.