by Diana Moore

An economic downturn is not the time to give up on growing a massage business or to abandon your marketing plan. Of course, when business is flowing, you can apply your favorite marketing strategies without a lot of soul-searching. And when business is slow, it’s natural to think you should cut back in every area, including marketing. Don’t do it.

Why? Although you may need to work a little harder to get the most from your marketing dollar, ask yourself these questions:

• How will people find me if I cut my marketing?

• How will my current clients, who are also tightening their belts, remember how much they value my services if I don’t remind them?

• If I cut back on the frequency of my communications, will that give my clients time to forget about me—or worse, start wondering whether my business still exists?

When people experience an economic pinch, it’s essential to keep educating and reminding them about the value of massage and bodywork. Remember, people want to stay healthy—they need to stay healthy—even if they are concerned about the rising cost of fuel or can’t expect a raise for a while.

It is entirely possible to continue to market when times are tough, so don’t lose heart. There are free, low-cost and, above all, smarter strategies for marketing to clients who may be feeling the need to economize. Here are some scenarios that demonstrate just how doable it is:

• Good, old-fashioned, word-of-mouth marketing works, no matter what the economy is doing.

• Prepare a tip sheet on easy self-massage techniques. Then, on the back of your business cards, handwrite “Call me for a free 30-minute massage.”

Now hand out business cards with the tip sheets to friends, family and people who work near your office, other health practitioners and whoever else you can think of. Invite those folks to either use them or pass them on to people they know.

When the calls come in, get back to the callers promptly, answer their questions and offer to upgrade to an hour for the cost of a half-hour session.

Other than the cost of the business card, which is perhaps the most economical marketing tool around, you are only investing your time.

• Save dollars with e-mail marketing. Whatever marketing you’re doing, your efforts can be enhanced with e-mail, which is free! Brief e-mail messages to your clients with information that can help them will get their attention quickly and effectively.

Send a relaxation tip, book recommendation or brief synopsis of the latest study on the benefits of massage. At the end, remind clients of a discount you mailed out or the rewards your referral program offers.

• No matter what else you do, market to your regular clients. Marketing experts say it costs six times as much to bring in new clients as it does to keep your existing clients returning. It just makes sense; your regulars already understand what your work means in their lives, and they trust you as a source of help during stressful times. But they need your reminders, your concern and your appreciation.

• It’s important to shift the focus of your marketing message to fit the times. Last year, the great feeling your clients came away with may have been reason enough to schedule their massage. This year they may need to find new justifications to help them feel OK about spending the money.

Remind your clients reducing stress and staying healthy could mean fewer injuries and sick days. If someone does have an injury, getting a massage can mean getting back to work and family activities sooner—and maybe fewer office calls to the doctor.

Going back to basics when caring for clients won’t cost you a dime. Step back and really listen to your clients, your regulars as well as your newbies. Treat them with extra care. Work people into your schedule as soon as you can. And when they get on your table, ask enough questions to understand their needs in that moment, and use your skills to address them. Whether it’s focusing on their neck and shoulder pain, the need for deep, quiet relaxation or something else, resist the temptation to assume you know what they need better than they do.

Take it a step further: If, say, a client’s husband has taken a pay cut, help her strategize how she can save on her massage budget for the time being, scheduling every three weeks instead of every two weeks, or receiving a 45-minute massage rather than an hour.

Your marketing budget is an investment, not an expense. It’s a statement of your belief in your practice, your belief that what you offer is essential to people in your community. Especially when money is tight, people need to recognize the value of your work—and how much benefit they receive from it. In an economic downturn, you may need to work a little harder at making your case. But many people will be glad to spend the $50 or $70 to see you if they feel they are getting something they really need.

You know your work helps people feel better. Make sure your marketing materials clearly reflect that belief, and then continue to spread them around your community. This will express a confidence unshaken by the inevitable ups and downs in life, economic or otherwise.

Diana Moore writes for Natural Touch Marketing for the Healing Arts in Olympia, Washington. To read her free monthly articles, visit