You’ve achieved a goal: You have your own massage therapy practice in your own space.
You have a few clients—but you’re not booked up.
You’ve sat down with pen and paper and figured out how many massages you are comfortable doing in a week, and you have a clear sense of monthly expenses, both business and personal.
You’ve done the math and come up with a rate for your services that meets your needs—and it’s not $29 an hour like the offer from the spa down the street from your office, or like the Super Foot Massage Spa downtown. Uh oh. How can you compete?
Well, you can’t compete—and you don’t want to compete—with that price.
You wouldn’t expect to choose a doctor, a home service, a home furnishing, your food or most other things based on what is least expensive. You look at your budget, and then you look for the best value you can get for your dollar.
This is the key when you market your massage practice to the public: Show the value of your massage.
Promote Your Assets
There is value in the consistency of the therapeutic relationship, the ongoing discovery of what works and what doesn’t work with a client.
The client does not have to start over explaining his needs and preferences at every appointment to someone new.
He will never show up for an appointment only to be told that the therapist he asked for doesn’t work there anymore or is out sick.
You are there. You are safe. You know your clients and they know you. You know their history—and history is an incredibly valuable asset.
There are many other assets you may possess: How many years of experience do you have?
What kinds of results have you had with clients? How extensive is your training? Do other health or beauty professionals in your region know of you and speak highly of you?
Do former clients speak highly of you? Is your website and marketing literature well-written, up-to-date, and professional?
Is your office well-maintained and attractive and clean? Are you passionate about what you do?
Are these not the first questions you would want answered before paying top dollar for a massage session?
They are—and your marketing literature, including business cards, website, Facebook page, brochures and print ads must answer these questions when you market your massage practice.
Throw Our Your Menu
There is no other service except massage that I can think of that lists modalities and lets the client choose which one they want.
A common mistake that massage therapists make when they first go into private practice is to create a menu of services and describe all those services; usually the same services on the menu at the spa or franchise they formerly worked at.
If you are one of those therapists, then your marketing materials now present an appointment with you as no different than going to the spa.
This is not good, because now you have to compete, and all you have left to compete with is price. Your literature, brochures and website should all focus on you: who you are, your credentials, and your ability to produce results.
Properly expressed, this is how you will attract clients who not only pay your price, but are happy to do so.
Don’t name every modality you do. Instead, give a brief description and then ask the client to decide what she wants.
There may be some room for discussion, but it should be you, the therapist, who tells the client what approach will be taken to meet her expressed needs or goals for the session.
You can use names of modalities, but sparingly. It’s more important to describe what you are going to do and why it is the best thing for your client, when getting consent to work with him.
In private practice, you need to let go of that restaurant-menu approach, and instead see yourself as the expert, as you would see a doctor, physical therapist, lawyer or mechanic as the expert in their respective fields.
Market Yourself First
Another common mistake made by massage therapists who leave the franchise or spa setting is leaving that setting because certain modalities or bodywork approaches feel like home to them.
They know that is the way they want to work with people. They don’t want to do Swedish or deep tissue or aromatherapy anymore; their passion is now craniosacral release work, or structural integration or Trager, and they would like to spend their session hours doing only those styles of work.
There are two potential pitfalls with this approach.
One is the temptation to market the modality you are in love with instead of marketing yourself and the results you can produce.
Since potential clients in your local community have likely never heard of your specialty, they will only be confused by too much information.
The other pitfall is to retain some clients with whom you work “the old way” because, after all, you have to make ends meet, don’t you? And it’s easy, because it’s not different and you don’t have to explain much, and they come back over and over—draining your enthusiasm every time you work on them.
The plan may be to convert them to craniosacral release work, or structural integration or Trager, but that’s your plan, not theirs, and they are rarely interested in change. If you are not careful you can end up with an entire practice doing all the things you left the spa so as not to have to do.
Many schools of bodywork, including those mentioned above, have marketing materials and web pages that market the modality and you, as a practitioner.
These memberships and resources can be quite valuable to you, but they are no substitute for locally marketing yourself and the results you can produce for each and every potential client, and the value of the specific therapeutic relationship you offer. That piece must always come first.
Similar to devotion to a specific way of working, a private-practice structure can grow from a desire to work with a specific population, such as children, athletes, oncology patients or pregnant women.
Again, your experience, understanding and results working with your chosen population should be the emphasis of marketing your massage practice.
Share Good Feedback
Second only to personal referrals, testimonials and ratings pages are your best friend in private practice, because someone who has interacted with you in your practice has had personal results.
Testimonials and ratings don’t extol the value of Thai massage or deep tissue work; they are about the client’s experience of you and what you have done for them.
Yelp is one popular system you can sign up for that has very good statistics in online search engines, often coming up in the first page of a search in Google. There is also an option for ratings on a business Facebook page.
Testimonials from clients should be on your website and in your literature; you could even post a few on your office door or hallway.
Everyone likes to see their words in print, so be sure to point out to clients when and where their remarks are posted. Be careful not to give rewards for testimonials or ratings, because that can be perceived as a bribe. A sincere thank-you note is sufficient.
Its fine to ask your clients to post ratings and write or record testimonials for you, but don’t bug them. That’s a turn-off. And know that once your practice is up and running, referrals alone can sustain you.
Sample Script: Connect with Clients
Every interaction with a client or potential client provides an opportunity to connect with that person, or alienate him. Here is a sampling of questions a person might ask you, and questions that hold the potential for either landing the person as a repeat client—or not.
Client: “Why does it cost so much here when it’s only $29 at Super-Duper Day Spa one block down?”
Alienate: “Most of the people working there are fresh out of school and don’t know what they are doing. But, tell you what—I will give you a session for $29 today to show you how good I am right now.” (Demeaning another business just makes you look small and mean and angry. The discount makes you look desperate, too.)
Connect: “Here you are not paying for time, but rather paying for my expertise. You said you are dealing with low-back pain. I am going to fully evaluate your situation and, with your input, design a plan that is going to solve your problem over a period of time. I’ll be working with you until the results I’ve promised are achieved.” (Here, you are pointing out the value of what you have to offer.)
Client: “I’ve heard massage is good for low-back pain, and I have trouble with my back. I usually get some massage when I go for a haircut or a facial, but it hasn’t helped so far.”
Alienate: “Studies show that specific back pains have different causes. Specific modalities in massage that address back pain are myofascial release of the lumbosacral fascial sector. Has your massage therapist been addressing that area using myofascial release as she should be?” (Big words do not impress; they confuse. More than likely, the client has no idea what her therapist has been doing, at least in massage lingo.)
Alienate: “You should always go to the doctor first, and then get massage after the doctor has diagnosed you.” (We cannot know if the client needs to see a doctor until we have assessed her—but there is no need to chase her away, afraid to be touched.)
Connect: “If you’d like to try a series of sessions with me, I can evaluate your situation and, with your input, design a plan that is going to solve your problem over a period of time. You and I will be working together for a predetermined number of sessions, and then, if the results I’ve determined are possible have not been achieved, decide the next step for you.” (Here, you don’t set yourself against another therapist whom she knows; you offer something else. And you don’t offer a quick fix.)
Client: “My friend suggested I come see you, but the average price for massage around here is less than half what you are asking for! I think I could just go somewhere else, cheaper.”
Alienate: “I can work with you on the price if you can’t afford it—I have a sliding scale.” (Maybe you will land the client with this response, but how will you make up the lost income?)
Connect: “I have some packages you can purchase for a series of sessions. That would work best in order to get results. Once we get you a certain point, you may be able to come less often and still feel good. Your friend sent you to me because he thought I could help you—why not invest in yourself, your health, and well-being, and buy a starter series?” (Get her to invest in a series so you can produce results and establish a relationship.)
Client: “Sunday is the only day I can come for massage.”
Alienate: “Sorry. I got into private practice so I wouldn’t have to work Sundays.” (This comes across as whining.)
Alienate: If that’s the only day, maybe I could come in some Sundays since its clear you really need the work. (This might work, for two appointments at most, before you start resenting the situation.)
Connect: Sunday is a day I reserve for my family. If you came on a different day, you could have all Sunday free with your family, also. Do you have another day off from work? (Look for a workaround; get the client on your side.)
About the Author
Nancy Toner Weinberger, LMT, a licensed massage therapist since 1975 and a certified Trager Practitioner since 1985, has been an adult educator and professional speaker for more than 35 years. Recently retired from private practice, she continues to teach classes for aspiring continuing education instructors.