Imagine you’re on a massage-business reality TV show. Your competition is stiff: Erik Dalton, PhD (Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques) and Judith DeLany (Neuromuscular Therapy), along with several less-renowned massage therapists. You’re all flown to a beautiful island with a thriving downtown and lots of tourists.
To win, you have to build a successful massage business in three months. Specifically, you must generate a monthly income of $4,500 (after paying rent) for the last (third) month you’re on the island.
Massage Business Reality TV Show Rules
1. You can’t spend any money on advertising.
2. You start at zero dollars at the beginning of each month. In other words, earnings from one month don’t carry over into the next month.
3. You’re not allowed to supplement your income by being a subcontractor or employee. So, no getting a job at a fancy spa and raking in big tips.
4. You must rent a massage room.
5. You must make $1,500 your first month on the island or you get sent home.
Month 1: Make $1,500 or Go Home
The immediate challenge with making $1,500 the first month on the island is that you have to rent a massage room without having any money to spend on a massage room. How do you do that? It’s actually fairly simple: You pay per massage. A client comes in and pays you. From that money you pay the room rental fee. In this scenario, you always have the rent money because there’s no rent due until you actually do a massage.
How much should you pay per massage? The least amount you can. You need to make $1,500 by the end of month one and that’s not a small order when you’re starting from scratch. When negotiating a pay-per-massage room-rental fee, my suggestion is to shoot for $10 or less.
Let’s do the math to see how many massages you need to do during the first month to stay on the island. Nineteen one-hour massages at $80/hour makes you $1,520 (19 x $80). But now you owe $190 for your rent (19 massages x $10). So, now you need to do three more massages (for a total of 22 massages) to cover your rent.
The final math looks like this: 22 massages at $80/hour = $1,760. Your rent is $220 (22 massages x $10/per massage). $1,760 – $220 = $1,540. Boom. Month one hurdle cleared.
Where do you find someone who’s willing to do a pay-per-massage room-rental deal? Think outside the box. Maybe there’s a chiropractor on the island who has an extra treatment room that doesn’t get used a lot. Granted, that may not be the most relaxing environment, but as long as the room is presentable, your skilled hands can carry the day.
As you’re looking for that inexpensive room you also need to assess your competition.
Assess the Competition
Could it be any worse? You are up against two giants in the rehabilitative massage world. How are you going to compete against them? Answer: You’re not. They own rehabilitative massage. Let them duke it out for rehab clients on the island.
What’s left for you? Everything else. But everything else is too broad. My suggestion would be to narrow your focus to people who want to relax or get out of pain. These customers are everywhere—cities, suburbs, towns, countries and beautiful islands.
This strategy steers you away from a head-to-head competition with DeLany and Dalton, but lands you in an all-out brawl with massage therapists on the island who do relaxation and pain-relief massage. How do you compete with them?
Do relaxation and pain-relief massage better than they do.
Stand Out from Other MTs
To make your relaxation and pain-relief massage stand out from the other massage therapists on the island, try this:
• During the intake, palpate to find the pain areas the client wants you to work before the client actually gets on the table. That way you’ll know exactly where to go.
• Deliver the pressure that is best for the client and be consistent with that pressure throughout the massage.
• After the massage explain your findings and treatment. “Your right trap (grab your own trap) was really tight. I did some focused pressure work there. How does it feel now?”
• If you were working on a pain condition, follow up after the massage to see how the client is doing.
If you brand yourself as a caring massage therapist who is spot-on with her pressure, your name will spread across the island—but it will take a while—and you only have one month to make $1,500 or you’ll get the boot. You need to accelerate this word-of-mouth process without spending any money. There’s one surefire way you can do that: free massage.
Free Massage “Advertising”
Hands sell better than mouths. Period. And wouldn’t you rather sell with your hands? After all, massage is second nature to you; being a salesperson, not so much.
However, free comes with a built-in challenge: How do you go from free to paying? You have rules.
Rule #1: Fifteen-minute free massages for potential clients and 30-minute free massages for potential referral sources.
On the island, potential referral sources are shop owners/managers/employees—the people who come in contact with tourists and make recommendations. In real life, referral sources will be professionals who align with your relaxation and pain-relief massage service, like personal trainers, chiropractors, PTs, wellness doctors, acupuncturists and nutritionists.
Rule #2: Only one free massage.
That’s right—only one. Say it from the get-go. When you do, everyone will get it. Of course, if you have an exceptional referral source and you think a free massage here and there might help with more referrals, then it makes sense to break this rule.
The last thing to do in month one is to start a Facebook business page. A Facebook business page will give you an online presence and boost your credibility. Ask clients to like your page and follow you. The more your name is out there, the better it is for your business.
Month #2: Build
In month two you’re in a good position to transition from pay per massage to monthly rent. Why? Because you just handed your “landlord” $220 for 22 massages and that makes you a viable monthly renter. Also, you’ll need to double your massage total this month. Do you really want to pay $440 in rent?
It’s time to strike a monthly deal. Offer an amount that is more than what you just paid, but not a whole lot more. In this case, I’d offer $250 a month.
Renting a room (having a physical location where your business is) earns you a dot on Google maps, which in turn allows you to appear in the local search. The local search appears at the top of a search page. (Search for “pizza” and all those pizza shops that show up at the top of the first Google page are in the local search.)
To get in the local search you must claim your business on Google My Business (GMB). Once you go through that process, follow GMB’s suggestion to optimize your GMB page. It’s all free and can improve your GMB ranking (move you up on the page).
Below the local search results on a Google page are the organic search results. You’re more likely to improve your rank in an organic search if you have a website that is engaging and draws in visitors. You know what that means: Time to build a website—for free.
Some companies, like Weebly, offer a free website builder that provides a basic website that is passable until you can afford to pay for a website builder. As you’re building your website, ask existing customers to review your service on your GMB page. Positive reviews on your GMB page can only help your ranking.
Next, take those positive reviews from your GMB page and post them on your website. That will help with converting website viewers into appointment callers.
If you have a favorite social media platform, create a business handle and start engaging potential customers by providing them with massage information that is helpful, not sales-y, like how to do self-massage with a tennis ball.
Tie in your physical world to your online world by making sure all your clients and potential clients know how to connect with you and follow you on social media.
One more thing to do in month two: Go back and re-evaluate what you did in month one with free massage. Pull back from the referral sources that are meh and double down on the referral sources that are crushing it for you.
Now you’re rolling and ready for the grand finale—month three.
Month Three: Earn $4,500 (After Paying Rent) and Win
Professional colleagues on the island are spreading your name. Clients on the island are spreading your name. Reviews on your GMB and website are spreading your name. And posts and pictures on your Facebook business page and your other favorite social media platforms are spreading your name.
In essence, you have built a free-advertising machine and it’s sending you a steady stream of new clients. But this month is the most challenging of all the months because you need to do 59.5 massages to win. The math is 56.25 massages ($4,500) + 3.125 ($250) = 59.5 massages (rounded up). Is there something you can tweak on your free-advertising machine to bring a few more clients in?
For example, did you offer free massage to the employees at the tourism center? Did you offer free massage to the island tour bus drivers in town? Are you nurturing the free massage referral sources enough for them to come up with even more potential referral sources for you?
Make the tweaks to your free-advertising machine and massage away.
The great thing about this reality show is, like in real life, there can be more than one winner. Certainly, Dalton and Delany will be in the winners’ circle, but you can be there too—if you follow a plan like the one I just laid out. Let’s recap:
• Use free massage to bring in clients and create referral sources.
• Provide excellent massage therapy.
• Negotiate a room-rental rate that benefits your bottom line.
• Create a GMB page and optimize it.
• Build a website for free and add GMB reviews to it.
• Create a Facebook page for your business.
• Establish a presence on your favorite social media platform and engage potential clients.
• Re-evaluate and tweak as needed.
Create Urgency for Yourself
We shouldn’t overlook the fact that life is not a reality TV show. To build a massage practice that can provide you with full-time income will likely take longer than three months. Why? A reality show has a steady state of urgency baked in, and that urgency produces results. For example, on the reality TV show, you’re going to fight like hell not to get kicked off the island so that you’re not embarrassed in front of millions of viewers. In real life, no one but you will know if you missed a goal.
The trick to staying on track and getting results in real life is to create urgency. You can do that by setting and meeting deadlines. Having a free massage event on your calendar is a deadline. Announcing on your Facebook business page that your website will be up and running with a special offering on a certain date is a deadline. Telling a client that you’ll follow up in two days is a deadline.
The right number of deadlines will create just enough urgency to push you along, but not overwhelm you. I can’t tell you what the right number of deadlines is for you; you have to figure that out as you go along. Adhere to those deadlines as you execute the free advertising strategies I just talked about—and you won’t need to be in a reality TV show to make sure your massage business dream comes true.
About the Author
Mark Liskey is a massage therapist, massage CE provider and author of “The Pain-Free Massage Therapist,” a body-mechanics strategies and techniques book for eliminating pain in the massage room and extending massage careers. You can access free, instructional body-mechanics videos at painfreemassagetherapist.com. His articles for massagemag.com include “Stacked Vs. Unstacked Joints: The Body Mechanics Study That Matters.”