A long time ago—and I mean a really long time ago—I had a job. I was fresh out of college and just starting my career as a professional graphic designer and illustrator. That job taught me one very important thing about myself: I wasn’t a good fit for the corporate world. So I quit the job and started my own studio, not realizing it took more than just the ability to draw to have a successful business. Eventually I got the hang of it, and for 25 years had a very fun and profitable creative career.
Then technology changed the whole industry, so I jumped ship, went back to school, and became a massage therapist. By that time it had been so long since I’d had an employer, the thought of looking for a job never entered my mind. The question of how to go about getting clients and building a massage practice did.
It’s OK to Want Wealth
Regardless of profession, building a business can be daunting—it’s hard work—but the personal, spiritual and financial rewards are worth it. For some people, the more esoteric rewards are what success means to them: They got into massage to heal, and that’s all they need. But for those of us who depend on massage to pay our bills, it’s got to be more than just a healing profession; it’s got to be a profitable profession, too.
And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Even though money is really just a form of energy to pass around, it sure makes things easier if you have some. One thing I’ve learned is that when I conduct my business in a way that creates win-win situations for both me and my clients, the things I need and want generally become a reality.
All the effort, energy, love and pieces of yourself you put into helping other people feel more comfortable in their bodies or manage their pain are of incredible benefit to them. In turn, their financial support is a benefit to you. Everybody wins.
But just because we’re in the massage business for the right karmic reasons doesn’t mean we can’t help nudge it along a little bit. That’s where a bit of marketing savvy comes in.
Focus on Internal Massage Marketing
For simplicity’s sake, marketing can be divided into two components. One is external: how you get people in your door. External marketing can include advertising, being involved in your community, posting to social media, and other things you do to attract attention to your business. Internal marketing is how you get the client on the massage table to come back for another treatment.
Focus on internal massage marketing, and you’ll find external marketing will become less of an issue. Whether it’s your own or you work as part of a team in a spa or private practice, a successful business is built on the foundation of repeat, loyal clientele, which is formed one person at a time.
This is how it works: You work on a guy, and he comes back to you because you have proven to him, through the efficacy of your work, that consistency is the key to being comfortable in his body. He shares that beneficial experience with his friend and, after she realizes that seeing you on a regular basis helps manage her pain, she becomes a regular client, too. Then she sends her husband, he sends his co-worker, she refers her friend, and eventually you’re booked to the extent that you want to be, have a cancellation list, and are on your way to a long, mutually beneficial career.
Know That Trust Is Key
Effective internal marketing is all about creating situations where everyone benefits. I call this win-win marketing, and mastering it is really quite simple: The secret is trust.
The first thing you need to know about internal marketing of your practice is that if you don’t do really effective work, all the rest of this is useless. There’s absolutely something to be said in favor of a nice, relaxing massage. However, it’s an economic reality that most people nowadays expect more value for their buck than relaxation alone. Many of them can justify spending $80 on dinner, but somehow have a hard time rationalizing spending it on a massage, especially if it’s not effective in addressing their pain issues.
Granted, sometimes the causes of those issues are out of our scope of practice; but when the root issues are myofascial or muscular in origin and massage is able to resolve them, when a client can get out of bed creaking a little less, engage in all the activities she wants to do without paying for it in pain the next day, or live life without constant headaches or back pain or shoulder pain, that’s effective bodywork. That’s value. And it’s the core foundation of how you create your first massage marketing win.
The big but: If you really want to grow your business, it’s not enough to just do good work. You’ve got to turn your valuable skills into a viable commodity, a commodity clients view as an integral part of making their lives better. They must feel your massage is something they absolutely cannot live without, something they want to share with anybody they know who is living with pain. That’s where you start building on the foundation of trust.
Thanks to a lifetime of marketing hype, when someone says, “trust me,” my normal response is to run away as fast as I can. But as a massage therapist, trust is exactly what you want. The effectiveness of your work, the way you assess and discuss the issues your clients are experiencing, the alternative ways of looking at their issues that you offer, all work together to build a feeling of trust that goes far beyond just giving a massage. It creates a win-win relationship that can make them clients for as long as you want to stay in business. And isn’t that the main goal of your internal massage marketing efforts—to get the client on your table to feel that life without you and your work is not an option?
Mix Your Own Modality
The effectiveness of our work is pretty easily measured; if the client is consistently more comfortable in his body—living with less pain and moving more easily—then what you’re doing is working. And, in my opinion, the more “you” that becomes part of how you work, the more effective your work and the more valuable of a marketing commodity it will be.
I’d venture to say that therapists whose work, and thereby their internal massage marketing, is most effective are those who have figured out how to take all the things they’ve learned—in school, through other teachers and through their life experiences—and refine them into a style that becomes their own modality.
For example, I learned all the basic fundamentals of massage in school, but I’ve also gained a different perspective from studying Traditional Chinese Medicine. I’ve learned a lot about how the body works from almost 25 years of doing triathlons and marathons. I’ve gone through cancer, personal crisis and loss, and come out of it a stronger, more spiritual human. I’ve studied reiki and, most recently, huna, a traditional Hawaiian energy system, and learned there are tools available I might not completely understand but can tap into nonetheless. Put them all together, add my own personality on top of it, and I’ve created a very effective modality, which translates into a very successful practice that now markets itself.
All the things that make us “us” are integral parts of creating our own modality, and the more unique and effective the modality, the larger marketing potential it has. Learning how to purposefully share your knowledge and experience with clients, in a way that affects them directly and specifically, can build a bond between therapist and client that many clients have never experienced before. That bond builds trust; and that trust creates a client who will become a loyal regular. The client wins and you win.
Communicate Like a Pro
The ability to make appropriate assessments, intelligently discuss clients’ issues, speak like an experienced professional, explain what you are doing and why—including the use of appropriate terminology or explaining unfamiliar anatomical or physiological situations in easy-to-understand language—are valuable commodities that, when applied with conscious intent, become invaluable marketing tools.
Even if you don’t know an answer, especially when you recognize something that is out of your scope of practice, admitting it and referring the client to someone who does demonstrates that you are a professional who is more concerned with clients’ well-being than with being right. It also establishes you as a therapist who knows his stuff—one who can be unequivocally trusted. That leads clients to the decision that it’s safe to send friends and loved ones to you. They win and you win.
Strengthen Your Bonds
Being able to offer a perspective your client may not have seen or considered is another way to make the bond of client-therapist trust even more secure. Listening to what clients say is a little different than really hearing what they are saying. Sometimes a statement is just a statement. But sometimes, when your intuition and intent are tuned in to the win-win channel, you may be able to hear something deeper. Most of us aren’t trained psychologists, but when a client is experiencing a physical release there may be a deep emotional component to it.
For example, imagine you’re working on a client with upper back, neck and shoulder pain. She is grieving over her mother’s death, and as you work to release her tightness and trigger points she slowly falls apart, telling you that now that she has no one to care for she feels she has no real reason to live. That’s some pretty heavy stuff. The combination of your knowledge, compassion, life experiences and perhaps your spiritual beliefs, gives you the insight to offer her a different point of view that not only allows room to grieve but also a glimmer of light that may help her heal on more than just a musculoskeletal level. That’s another win-win.
Show You Care
Marketing your practice doesn’t require hard-sell tactics. In fact, when I’m spreading the work about bodywork, I stress that it’s not an advertisement for me and my services; I just want people to get the care their bodies crave.
The knowledge, compassion and experience you innately express through your work are, in themselves, your most powerful marketing tool. My own experience has shown that when you use this collective tool wisely, consciously and with intent, you can change your life—professionally, spiritually, personally and financially.
George Davis is the director of Hawaii Bodyworkers Retreat, a 30-hour, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-certified continuing education program that teaches Integrated Modalities Technique, a blend of Western, Eastern and Energetic modalities. The program focuses on an effective technique for helping clients manage myofascial pain, and also on the business aspects of creating and sustaining a successful practice.