by Jean Shea

Jean Shea, MASSAGE MagazineThe other day I heard someone say the best way to deal with the recession is to “be nice to your customers and wait it out.” Recession or not, good customer service is a necessity for any successful business; however, I’d be the last person to suggest you just wait out this recession.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from navigating BIOTONE over its nearly 30-year history, running a business is like riding a roller coaster. You don’t get to the top and stay there. To succeed, you need to learn how to ride the ups and downs of changes in the market—not to mention the day-to-day problems that challenge your best-laid plans.
While this current recession is unnerving, it’s not the first—and it won’t be the last.

If the economists are right, we’ll begin to see light at the end of this economic tunnel by early next year. Issues of duration aside, we all know some businesses will survive and some will not. I’d bet my bottom dollar the ones that survive—and, more importantly, come out stronger—are not just waiting the recession out.

By the same token, I’m not recommending you throw caution to the wind with a let’s-spend-lots-more-on-marketing-and-new-services-now-to-gain-share strategy. Some people may succeed while doing so, but the vast majority will end up throwing their money into this economic hurricane.

The fact is, when times get tough, consumers—including your clients—constantly evaluate where and how to spend their money. They base their decisions on what in their lives is or isn’t necessary. Making more noise is unlikely to impact consumers’ budget constraints.

It’s better to be disciplined with your spending, make sure your current marketing program is working and keep your eye on the bottom line.

That said, I’ve learned from my own experiences there are other ways to expand your business that don’t require assuming more additional financial burden.

It may be a cliché to say you need to reinvent yourself, but it’s true. Times like we are in now call for taking a hard look at your service offering and figuring out if there are other ways to become even more valuable to your customers. That was my intention for BIOTONE when we moved into the spa-treatment marketplace. After many years of focusing strictly on professional massage-therapy products, I entered the spa market with our body treatment, facial care and pedi products in order to become a full-service supplier.

As a massage therapist, adding extra spa treatment options to basic massages increases your service offering and, in turn, your income. Even though customers may be budget-conscious now, they will be ready for new offerings when the market turns around. If you have more time available because business is slow, use it to enhance your skills.

You should also think about building your market presence through partnerships. Partnerships are a major source of referrals, and they also enable you to provide a more comprehensive service offering. I value that BIOTONE has a range of partners, including distributors, schools, professional associations and research organizations. Our partners are part of the BIOTONE family and help us extend our brand to professionals and the public we might not otherwise reach.

Think about who you can partner with to complement your offering and help expand your marketing efforts. As a massage therapist, you might want to partner with an esthetician or health-service provider for referrals and promotions, including open houses. Work closely on pricing and conveying value to clients through your marketing materials and sales messages. Choose someone who shares your philosophy about customer service and professionalism, and you might stand to double your client roster.

Be visible and get involved in your community. As a business owner, you are always in a get-new-customers mode, and now more than ever you want as many people as possible to know about you and your services.

Volunteer your services to individuals who otherwise might never be able to afford the kinds of services you offer, and in the process showcase to other community members the skills you have. Become a board member of an organization you support. Board membership is a wonderful way to meet other influential members of the business community. Your local chamber of commerce probably hosts networking events for local businesses. Attend some of these events.

Be visible online, too, with social networking. BIOTONE is on Facebook and Twitter. I find these new channels fascinating in their potential to communicate directly with customers. Social networking lets you engage directly with your customers about issues of mutual importance, trends and new ways to use products and services. Social media also keeps you in front of your customers on a regular basis, and costs you only your time. If you are shy about social media, there are many professionals available who can help you negotiate these new online worlds.

These suggestions are meant to get you thinking about how to stay in the game while the recession takes its course. Waiting it out might sound comforting at times—but to survive and thrive, you need to get out of your comfort zone.

Jean Shea is the founder and CEO of BIOTONE, a manufacturer of professional massage oils, crèmes, lotions and gels, as well as spa body-and-facial treatment products. Shea founded the company in 1980 and today continues to help create and manufacture all of the company’s formulas.