Many massage therapists think of marketing simply as a way to obtain new clients, leaving out what may possibly be one of the most crucial parts to building a successful practice: a comprehensive client retention strategy. 

Let’s say you are going to take a road trip and you’re on a tight budget. If you get a few hundred miles into your trip and realize your car isn’t getting anywhere near your normal miles-per-gallon rate due to a leak, what would you do — fix the leak or fill the tank more?

Obviously, you’d fix the leak; that makes more sense for the health of your car and the health of your wallet. It would only be logical to use your money and time wisely to ensure you’re getting the most out of every drop in the tank, right?  

So why do so many massage practice owners keep trying to fill the tank of their business and focus so little on the leaks? All clients who walk into your practice have the potential to become regulars, returning time and again because they love what you do for them.

While getting new clients in the door is obviously an important part of growing a clientele, it is even more crucial that you spend a large part of your marketing efforts on getting your existing clients to come back over and over again. If not, you’ll constantly struggle to overcome a high client turnover rate. Just like in the gas leak example, if you keep trying to fill the tank instead of fixing the leak, you’re throwing money away.  

Know Your Cost Per Client

You should already be tracking your client acquisition costs, but if you’re not, start doing so — because understanding these numbers is just as important as understanding your revenue, overhead costs and other business expenses.

Let’s say you attend a marketing event that, between your time and expenses, costs you $200. If you get a single client from that event, your client acquisition cost was $200. If you charge $50 for that new client’s service, but you don’t have a plan to keep him or her coming back after that first visit, you’ve essentially lost $150.

However, if you have a client retention strategy in place that entices that client to come back to you once a month, that’s $50 per month, adding up to $600 for the year. Subtract your $200 investment, and that leaves you with $400 in pure profit. That’s a 200 percent return on investment.

So, what can you do to increase your client retention? Start by developing a thorough client retention strategy. Marketing can be expensive, so keeping your efforts as cost-efficient as possible is essential. Having a plan in place will also make the entire process easier, eventually weaving into your everyday business practices.

Begin with the following five steps.  

#1: Track Your Retention Rates Regularly.

Your retention rate is the percentage of clients who return for more than one visit in any given period.

Tracking it may mean running your numbers weekly, monthly or quarterly, but you’ll need to stay abreast of what your retention rate is so you can adjust your marketing efforts accordingly. 

Calculating your retention rate is actually pretty simple. You’ll need to know how many new clients you saw during a certain period, and how many of those clients returned at least once during that period.

For example, let’s say you’re looking back at the last three months. If you had 200 appointments in that time, 150 of those were new clients, and only 50 of those new clients returned for a second appointment or beyond, you have a client retention rate of 25 percent. So, for every four clients you’ve worked so hard to get in the door, only one of those is ever returning. For the massage industry, that’s quite low.

Continually low retention rates may also result in a considerable loss of growth in your business over time, meaning it will take you much longer to reach your business goals than if you increased your retention rate, even by as little as 10 percent a year. Plus, the higher your client retention rate, the less you’ll need to spend on client acquisition. 

#2: Pre-Book the Next Visit.

Before any client leaves your establishment, you should attempt to book his or her next session.

If you’re hesitant about this because you don’t like being sales-y, you’re going to have to move out of that mindset. Sales is simply a part of business, and it doesn’t have to feel pushy or sleazy in any way.  

Part of this pre-booking process is educating your clients on the importance of regular massage sessions. Regardless of whether you are a clinical or spa therapist, or anything else on the wide spectrum of the industry, your clients can benefit from regular work and it’s important to explain that to them.

Don’t assume they know they should come in on a regular basis; many clients still view massage as simply a luxury they get to experience just for special occasions. It’s up to us as their therapists to explain the health benefits of making massage therapy part of their regular routine. 

The way you word your suggestion is essential, both for your own comfort and that of your client.

You can opt for a soft-sell approach with “Would you like to go ahead and schedule your next massage while you’re here?” or you can go for more of a hard sell with “Let’s go ahead and get you on the books for the next few weeks so you don’t lose this time slot.”

The choice is yours — but be careful here, because some clients are immediately put off by any sort of hard sales tactic and prefer to have complete control, so asking them the question of what they’d like to do can be far more effective than telling them what they should do.  

#3: Explain Your Client Retention Strategy to Employees.

If you employ others, it’s critical to make them part of your client retention strategy.

Build a team mentality in which all members know their role and exactly what they should be doing every day to increase the company’s client retention rate.

Hold regular staff meetings to discuss what’s working and what’s not, and offer incentives for reaching specific retention rates; these can be great ways to ensure everyone is working toward the same goal. 

#4: Create an Experience Unlike Any Other.

While many therapists may focus on just the quality of their massage, it’s the overall experience that really entices people to come back.

From the ease of booking an appointment to how you check them out and send them on their way, and every step in between, you’ll need to create an incredible experience unlike any other.

Just like selling results instead of techniques, you need to sell an experience instead of a service. Consider every step clients will go through from the time they first interact with your business to the time they leave after a session. In what ways can you enhance that experience?

Here are just a few examples of small changes that can make a big difference to the client experience:

• Offer a foot soak while they fill out paperwork and as you go through their intake. 

• Keep an umbrella by the door so you can walk them in from and out to their car on rainy days. 

• Include hot towels, aromatherapy or other inexpensive luxury touches in every session. 

• Be sure you customize every massage — completely. 

• Offer refreshments such as tea, coffee and snacks before or after a session. 

• Give first-time clients a small goody bag or self-care package. 

• Find ways to celebrate clients’ birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. 

Ensuring your clients feel completely taken care of at every step of their experience with you will enhance their view of your business and build their loyalty. 

#5: Reach Out.

A regular part of your marketing should be to reach out to existing clients who haven’t been in for a while, as well as those who’ve dropped off their normal schedule.

Many therapists don’t do this because they don’t want to appear pushy, but there’s nothing pushy about simply touching base with clients and reminding them to take care of themselves. This could be a brief text message, phone call, email or mailer, depending on how the client prefers to communicate. 

Reaching out like this should be a normal part of your routine, and can work to fill last-minute availabilities and also serve to get some clients back into a normal routine with their massage appointments. 

Build for the Future

While gaining new clients is of vital importance, retaining existing clients with a proactive client retention strategy is what really makes the difference in building a stable, successful massage practice.  

About the Author:

Savanna Bell, LMT, is the owner of My Massage World, a membership company focused on providing marketing content and business education to help massage therapists around the globe build successful businesses as quickly and efficiently as possible.