A daisy plant pushes through dry earth, exemplifying personal strength.

Massage school teaches you all about anatomy and physiology, pathology, massage techniques, and even marketing strategies.

But when it comes to actually knocking on doors to establish or grow your business, confidence and the emotional fortitude needed to put yourself out there takes dedication.

I have known many gifted massage practitioners who provide excellent care, but haven’t got the self-possession and chutzpah needed to build their own practices.

1. Develop Backbone. I am not faulting anyone for being who they are. I respect those who know their limitations and manage to find satisfactory work situations that don’t test or stress them. But for those of you who want to create successful practices, you have to develop a certain amount of emotional strength and backbone to compete and succeed in business.

A sole practitioner wears many hats. You have to be your own advocate, business manager, bookkeeper, receptionist, creative advertising director, and, of course, professional massage therapist.

That’s a lot of juggling and organizing that needs to be done. And it’s not for the faint of heart. It takes inner strength to take the initiative to build a successful business.

To begin, have faith in yourself and the work you do. The feedback you receive from clients who keep coming back tells you that your efforts are worthwhile and valued. That is a very powerful affirmation of your skills. Let the evidence of your talents give you the self-acknowledgement you need.

Confidence begets welcomed results and what you put out matters. Conversely, if you send out negative energy, you’re most likely to fail in your efforts.

You need to change your way of thinking and develop better habits to achieve your goals. Regardless of the size of your current practice, your attitude when reaching out to clients or potential colleagues is important. Don’t approach anyone for business in a needy manner, as this only works to make you seem unqualified and desperate.

2. Present Powerfully. You need to present a positive, strong attitude which will make people more responsive. Believe in yourself and the talents you possess and others will too.

When meeting someone, offer a firm handshake, look them in the eyes, smile, prepare succinct but targeted talking points that explain your services, and listen to what they say and what their needs are.

3. Get Educated. Many complementary health professionals respond to evidence-based information. There is a great deal of valuable information and scientific studies about massage therapy available that can enlighten someone and convince them to partner with you.

Provide helpful suggestions and solutions to encourage them to work with you by referring clients to you. And make sure that you let them know that you will be referring business to them as well. It’s not a one-way street.

4. Make the First Impression Count. Dressing the part also says you are serious about your work and gives you an additional emotional/psychological boost.

Your attitude changes when you don a professional look. It becomes empowering. So, dress for success and you will be well on the road to achieving it. (Read “Make More Money in 2020: The MT’s Comprehensive Client-Retention Strategy.”)

5. Prove Yourself on Paper (and Screen). Bring your CV and be ready to point out any highlights you may want to emphasize. Describe the details of your massage education, the advanced modalities you have studied and provide proof that you have taken high quality continuing education courses in your field.

Other health professionals may not understand the differences and nuances between different modalities. Prepare a brief explanation of what you do _ what your specialty is — and how it can enhance the work they do.

Develop a creative website and internet presence that lets people know what you do. You can reach a rich trove of potential clients this way. You can even set up an appointment link to make scheduling easy for your clients.

6. Be Thankful. Remember to write hand-written thank-you notes for every referral that comes your way. That’s an acceptable way of being assertive without being annoyingly aggressive.

You can include a few business cards — and ask for theirs to give to your clients — so they will be readily available when one of their patients or clients needs bodywork. Being polite and appreciative, and showing it, can win you lots of points in establishing a solid synergistic relationship with other health professionals.

7. Don’t Take Rejection Personally. When approaching other health professionals, remember that you are on a level playing field. This is a difficult concept for many massage practitioners who want to work within the medical community.

But truly, there is no hierarchy in health care.

Remember, no one offers what you do and no one is better than you in spite of their diplomas and successes or their areas of expertise. We all need to work together and complement each other’s work.

When clients of yours get the help they need from you to feel better or relieve pain, it reflects well on you and on the person who referred you. Don’t lose sight of that. You’re supporting their business by providing excellent care. This prompts them to continue referring clients to you.

However, there undoubtedly will be people who are not receptive to your overtures. Even the most successful salesperson doesn’t seal the deal all the time. Don’t let these potential clients or health professionals undermine your determination to spread your message and grow your business.

In most cases, it’s nothing personal. It could be that these people don’t understand the value of massage therapy, or perhaps they are already working with another massage practitioner. Whatever their reasons are, this is not a personal rejection.

Nothing to Lose

My attitude has always been that I can only gain, I can’t lose. If I start out with a client list of 20 people, and by the end of the day, after knocking on doors I still have the same number, I haven’t lost anything. I might not have made headway in growing my practice, but I didn’t lose.

Keep the positive attitude that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Besides, every time you approach someone, it’s a learning experience. The feedback you get can help you sharpen or focus your message for the next time — and maybe that’s exactly what your presentation needed.

The work we do is important. It helps people and changes their lives. How many careers can boast of that? Believe in the power of touch and this will sustain you and give you the confidence you need to build a meaningful and successful practice.

Author Elaine Stillerman's face, smiling.

About the Author: Elaine Stillerman, LMT, has been a licensed New York-state massage therapist since 1978 and began her prenatal massage practice in 1980. She developed the professional certification and online courses “MotherMassage: Massage during Pregnancy.” She is the author of MotherMassage, Prenatal massage: a textbook of pregnancy, labor, and postpartum bodywork and Modalities for massage and bodywork. In 2013 Stillerman was inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame.