stepping-stones to success

Picture this: You have just finished a great massage session in your own cozy office, quiet music is playing, your client says it’s the best massage he’s ever had, and he rebooks for a weekly time slot. Then you clean up, relax with a cup of tea, and complete your client notes in plenty of time for your next session. You are helping people, taking care of yourself and earning a great income. Thank goodness you made a plan and took the needed steps to get there.

So many therapists burn out or leave the profession after just a few years—is this the direction you are headed in? Or are you headed toward your dream day?

According to various surveys of the massage field and anecdotal comments, the average massage career lasts around six years. Most of us go into massage therapy with dreams of helping people, getting out of the rat race and earning a good living. And then reality hits.

Massage is hard work; and many jobs don’t pay what we were expecting; or we just aren’t busy enough to make ends meet. We might end up working longer hours to pay the bills, which takes a toll on the body. Many of us leave the profession altogether.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With some planning and business savvy, you can have the long, healthy massage career you have dreamed of.


Let’s Go!

All good things start with a plan, including your massage career. Some of us are natural-born planners. Even if you aren’t a natural planner, this is one area where you will want to make yourself take the time to do some careful planning.

Not everyone can—or wants to—open a massage business right out of massage school; however, it’s a good idea to consider your future from the beginning of your career, even when you are still in school or job hunting. Each decision you make is a stepping-stone in a direction, so make sure that stone is placed in the direction you want to go.

For example, if you would one day like to own a therapeutic massage center and bill insurance, look for jobs with chiropractors or physicians, as a day spa job probably won’t help you build as many of the skills and professional connections you will need down the road.

In this article I’ll explain why you need not just one plan, but three: a one-year, five-year and 10-year plan. Each plan should be viewed as a living document that you continuously add to and update, which will help keep your path straight and clear before you.


One Year Out

When we are clear on what we want, then we can figure out how to get there. Think about where you are right now, and where you would like to be in one year. Ask yourself: Would I like to be at a different job? Seeing more or fewer clients per week? Doing more or less of certain modalities or treatments?

Determine the action steps you can take to start moving toward where you want to be in one year. Maybe it’s time to update your résumé and keep an eye on job listings, or call around and see if anyone is hiring. Maybe you can learn some new techniques for rebooking clients, and build up your repeat business.

Make a commitment to yourself to learn the skills you need to advance in your career. Continuing education classes are necessary, whether in-person or online, and you can also continually learn by reading books and trade publications, and watching videos on YouTube. You can start learning business and massage skills that will take you where you want to go, at any time.

 more stepping-stones

Five Years Out

Once your one-year plan is in place, start thinking about where you would like to be in your career in five years. Perhaps that is in your own private practice, at a spa, or in a hospital.

Consider the type of clientele you most enjoy working with, and how you might expand, for example, a clientele of physically fit clients into a sports-massage practice. Look at where you anticipate you’ll be after one year, based on your one-year plan, and then add what you need to take yourself another four years into the future. Determine, for example, the advanced training you would need to obtain to specialize.

Also consider the amount of money you want to be making five years into your career. Don’t just write down a number that sounds good; instead, really think about your monthly budget, as well as the money you want to have available for vacations, health care and retirement. This number will help you plan, set goals and set your prices.


10 Years Out

Now let’s look 10 years into the future. Do you want your practice to look the same as it did at five years from now, or do you want it to be different, or bigger?

You might want to be working for a professional sports team by then, or employing a team of massage therapists in a private practice. Again, look at where you anticipate you’ll be after five years, based on your five-year plan, and then add what you need to take yourself another five years into the future.

Because it’s important to stay on top of current trends and research, you may not know every detail of your 10-year plan, now; however, it’s still a good idea to begin creating one. As a living document, your plan can be updated as your life or goals shift, or as new training and opportunities are made available in the massage field.

Only you can envision what your practice will look like and the additional stepping-stones needed to get there.


stone path

Create Your Plans

In your planning sessions, put attention on how you can diversify and add new services or streams of income that aren’t all about hands-on massage therapy. Many therapists invest in additional education and credentials in areas such as skin care, personal training or yoga-teacher training, for example.

Because we are limited—both physically and time-wise—in the number of massages we can perform per day, considering additional revenue streams is a smart thing to begin doing from the beginning of a massage career.

Teaching—whether at a local school, infant massage courses or continuing education classes, as examples—is another way to earn money in the massage field without solely performing massage therapy, and can add both income and years to your career.

Think of your plan as a map that will take you in the direction you want to go, and guide you onto each of your stepping-stones. Your plan can also help you make better business decisions.

If someone asks you to participate in an event for athletes, for example, and your plan is to open a high-end spa, you can, with a plan in place, check in with yourself: Will this event introduce my business to my ideal client? If the answer is no, you can pass without second-guessing yourself.

Your plan can also help you seek out the best opportunities. You have an idea of who you want to work with, so find out where they are. Your marketing just got a lot easier.

For example, my ideal clientele is women who earn an income that allows them to easily pay for my massage and skin-care services. So when I hear about the opportunity to do a presentation to local teachers, I know this is an event that fits in with my plan. It’s a stepping-stone on my planned path.

Now we’ll look at two of the most important stepping-stones, which I’ve mentioned briefly already: defining a clientele and reaching people with your massage.


Your Ideal Clientele

I used to think that defining a target clientele meant limiting my options. I wanted to massage everybody—after all, who doesn’t need a massage? But figuring out who your ideal clients are isn’t about limitations; it’s about matching your unique skills, desires and goals with clients who will get the most benefit from those qualities and become your biggest fans.

Defining clientele also doesn’t mean you need to turn someone away if she isn’t your target client. It’s simply that there are certain people who will respond to your certain skills and specialty.

Lining up all your stepping-stones—intention, personal preference, training and education, and ideal clientele—will result in a practice the therapist loves, and in repeat bookings.

For example, if you garner the most professional satisfaction from working with injuries, you might network with physicians, chiropractors, fitness centers, running clubs and physical therapists. If you love doing prenatal massage, you might network with obstetricians, local moms’ groups, maternity stores, baby-supply stores, and doulas or childbirth instructors.

 stone path

Connect with Clients

How we find our clients, and how they find us, is changing faster than most of us can keep up with. When I started my massage business, it was imperative to be in the Yellow Pages. Now most people don’t even have a phone book.

Today, it’s important to stay in tune with where your target clients are hanging out online, and where they go to look for services. You can usually find this information with a quick Google search.

For example, to find out where your ideal local clients are hanging out online, search for your ideal client plus your town or area. You might search for Ashland, Oregon, triathletes. You will be able to find event pages, Facebook pages and even clubs you could contact to offer your services to their members. With Facebook ads you can target people who are involved with the local triathlete page. Try different search terms, and see what you come up with. Some sites might even have a recommended resources section.

If someone hears about you from a friend or picks up your business card, she will almost always check out your website before calling. A professional website is a must-have for any massage therapist today. There are lots of good choices for do-it-yourself websites, or you can pay someone to get you set up. Make sure you have a client-centered site, with professional pictures, and easy-to-find booking information.

Social media, such as Facebook, is necessary to use as well. Did you know, according to the Pew Research Center, that 80 percent of Americans ages 18 to 50 and 65 percent of those ages 51 to 65 are on social media every day? There’s more than a pretty good chance that your ideal clients are hanging out on Facebook, LinkedIn or other social sites.

You might need to invest in a class to learn how to best use social media for business. It’s free to join social media sites; it costs money to advertise to their clients. Stay open-minded about spending money to advertise on social media, because the ability to target your ideal client is unmatched. Most sites have free training to help you get started.

Clients today expect conveniences like online booking, online gift certificate sales and text message reminders. These services don’t just help our clients; they help us make money, and save time too.

There are a lot of choices, and it can seem overwhelming to do it all, so just pick one new marketing technique to work on at a time, and when you are comfortable move on to the next.

Connect with your colleagues in a Facebook group or two and ask how they are staying current. It can be helpful to sign up for a few marketing websites or blogs. There’s a lot of information out there, and it doesn’t all work for every business or every marketplace. What works in Los Angeles might not work in Ann Arbor, for example, so track your results and do more of what is working.


Step On

Today’s successful massage therapist needs to stay open to new ideas. Most people spend many hours a day on screens—whether computers, tablets or smartphones—so a lack of human connection is a real problem.

Massage therapy is a vital health care service. You help your clients stay grounded and less stressed, and you provide needed human touch and connection.

By creating and updating a one-year, five-year and 10-year plan, you will be on your way, leaping from one stepping-stone to another, toward a long, lucrative and helpful massage career.


Gael WoodAbout the Author

Gael Wood has worked for more than 20 years in the massage and spa industry, and now concentrates her energy into educating and training massage-and-spa therapists in the areas of marketing, business start-up, customer service and spa services. Read more and enjoy free business-building resources at Look for her feature article, “Get Out of Your Comfort Zone,” in the August print issue of MASSAGE Magazine.