There are many ways to build your massage business; in fact, your marketing options are limited only by your own imagination.

But before you even begin to develop a marketing strategy, you need to ensure that the basics are firmly in place.

When I say the basics, I am talking about the Holy Grail of growing your massage practice: repeat business and referrals.

Build Repeat Massage Business

Let’s start with repeat business. In a perfect world, every person you work on would return for massage on a regular basis. Obviously this is not a perfect world, and your work is not exactly right for every person — but when you do find your ideal client, how do you encourage them to continue to return on a regular basis?

First, in one word, benefits. If people don’t believe in the benefits of your massage, no discount you offer them will make them a regular client. Once people do agree that regular, ongoing massage will benefit them, then you can effectively offer them incentives.

Incentives are a way for you to reward people for making good choices. When someone chooses to get a massage once a month, every month, you can reward them by offering a lower member rate. This isn’t a deal; you aren’t making a one-time special offer. It’s actually a reward for making a positive choice to add massage to their health-and-wellness program — and it’s mutually beneficial. It’s good for you and it’s good for your client.

Deals are discounts, basically a blatant way to entice anyone to come in and try out your business. Sometimes a deal works. The downside is that deals tend to attract deal-seekers rather than regular clients.

When you first open your business and you just want to get traffic through your front door, deals might be a way to hold you over until you start filling your schedule, but unless you are marketing your business as the discount massage place, I suggest you use deals sparingly.

The best part about incentives is they only cost money if you are making money. Take this referral incentive, for example:

If you offer someone $10 off their next massage for sending in a new client, it costs you $10. Is it worth taking $10 off every time someone sends you a new client? Yes, it is. Do the math.

Let’s say your massage costs $80 per 60-minute session. Your current client sends you a new client, so you have now made $80 that you wouldn’t have made otherwise. In order to redeem that $10 your original client will schedule another appointment at $70. You have made $150. Are you willing to give up $10 to make $150? I am happy to do that, especially knowing that the new client will likely become a repeat client.

This is the perfect time to segue from repeat business to the second half of the Holy Grail of growing your massage practice: referrals.

Build Massage Referrals

Your best-quality new clients will be referrals from your existing ideal clients. Think about that. People know other people like themselves. In fact, it has been my experience that people who come in as referrals are more likely to send in referrals of their own.

Keep in mind that these newly referred clients will become repeat business and send in referrals, who also become repeat business and send in even more referrals.

Here is an idea for a referral incentive that I call the 30-day challenge:

You are never more excited about finding a great new massage therapist than you are after your very first appointment. It’s like when you buy a new car. What’s the first thing you do? You show all your friends, right? Even if it’s a pre-owned vehicle, it’s still new to you, and you want to share the experience with your friends.

It’s the same with massage. My ongoing referral incentive is to offer $10 off the client’s next massage for referring a new client. But as a first-time client, there is an added incentive: If you refer five new clients within 30 days of your first appointment, you get a free massage.

Yes, free. Let’s do the math.

If your new client sends you five new clients at $80 per session, that’s $400. Is it worth one hour of your time to make $400 that you never would have made, if not for your motivated client? Yes, it is.

Normally, at $10 per referral, it would take eight referrals to earn a free massage. But for 30 days only, I’m sweetening the incentive. People love a good challenge. And the bottom line is, even if they send in just three new clients, they still get $30 off their next massage while you have made $240. That’s what I call win/win/win. You win. The referring client wins. The referred client wins.

So, when is the right time to ask for referrals? It is important to ask for referrals, but it is more important to know when to ask for referrals.

Obviously, after your first appointment is a great time to ask. Let your new client know that you don’t spend a lot of money on advertising and you would rather invest the money back into your clients in the form of referral incentives. Then send them out with a handful of business cards.

Also, any time your specialty comes up in conversation is an acceptable time to promote yourself. If someone says, “My sister is more stressed than I have ever seen her” and your specialty is relaxation or stress relief, feel free to hand out your card.

Word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising. Word-of-mouth leads to referrals. Referrals plus incentives lead to repeat business. And when you have repeat business, you will have a successful massage practice.

About the Author:

After a long career training athletes and dancers, Nick Repoli transitioned to massage, graduating from Palmer Institute of Massage & Bodywork in 1999. He teaches massage at Spirit Wellness Institute, and is the author of How To Grow Your Massage Practice With Repeat Business And Referrals.