In part one of this two-part article, “Your 5-Step Plan to Get Clients On Your Table” (running in New Practitioner, a special issue published by MASSAGE Magazine), I discussed the inner skills needed for success as a massage therapist, skills that you didn’t learn in your training.
In this article, I’m going to focus on the outer skills needed to thrive: networking, using promotional programs, rewarding client loyalty, creating discount packages, and cultivating physician referrals.
Here we go.
Marketing a Massage Business
1. Network. For far too many massage therapists, network means a channel that provides television programming. Far too few take advantage of the opportunities that networking programs provide.
I’m not a member of Business Networking International (BNI) because it requires you to attend your chapter weekly and I live in two states, so that wasn’t possible for me—but for a massage therapist who lives in one place, a networking program like BNI is a great way to get referrals and grow a massage business.
This global venture features more than 211,000 members, meeting weekly in 7,800 worldwide chapters, in 65 nations, generating some $11.2 billion worth of referrals for members.
You don’t need 11 billion dollars of referrals, but your massage business could use several new clients. If you run the numbers, you’ll discover that the average member receives more than $53,000 worth of referrals.
BNI chapters offer professional exclusivity, which means that if you join a local group you would be the only massage therapist in it.
At each meeting, each member speaks for between 30 and 60 seconds. Depending on the size of your particular chapter, you also get the opportunity to do a 10-minute pitch to members periodically.
If the average massage client referred to you sees you once each month, and pays $80, then the average client is worth $80 per month, or $960 per year. If that same average client remains as a client for, say, two years, then that client will bring in $1,920 to your business.
That doesn’t count, of course, any clients that this referred client refers to you. If he brings in one per year, who also works with you for two years, he will have brought you by referrals, an additional $3,840 over the course of his relationship with you. And that doesn’t count any additional referrals that his referrals bring you.
When you analyze referrals in this manner, you can see how powerful the phenomenon is for a massage business, and how enriching BNI can be for you if you have dozens of members sending the people in their lives to your table.
But BNI is more than just a referral machine. It also empowers you to feel confident speaking about massage, and develop the so-called elevator speech that encapsulates benefits in less than the minute it takes for an elevator to take you to your floor.
Even more importantly, it enlivens your ability to feel comfortable marketing yourself which, to my mind, as a marketing coach for massage therapists, is probably even more important than all those referrals your fellow BNI members send your way.
The reason for this evokes the famous Chinese proverb about fishing: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”
2. Profit from successful promotional programs. There are proven marketing and promotional programs that have been successful for businesses in other industries for years, so they can be successful for your business in your industry, as well.
When I say this in some of my CE workshops, some massage therapists get uncomfortable when I refer to their “practice” as a business, and their “field of healing” as an industry.
But get this: When you receive money for your work, it’s a business, and when your competitors do, as well, you’re all working in an industry.
During the recent deep recession that plagued our economy several years ago, it was hard to visit a retail store that didn’t feature an offer for a BOGO—buy one, get one free. During that same economic downturn, companies came into being through which businesses offer vouchers at a discounted price—even half-price goods and services.
Many massage therapists employ such companies to gain new clients, but I tell the ones who I meet in my classes and private sessions that there’s a down side to using these companies: most of your new customers—and I use that word rather than clients—are people looking for a one-time deal, which can be up to half price.
That means they never pay full price for your session.
The buy-one-massage-get-one-massage-free offer that I believe is superior to voucher companies has newcomers paying you full price for the first session and then getting the second one for free as a bonus.
I recommend booking that bonus session at the same time as they book the paid one, and I suggest that you book it for the week following the first, so that they see what it’s like to get two massages in the space of a week.
The advantages to this type of BOGO program versus a discount voucher are: The customer gets two massages from you, instead of one; the two sessions are separated by just a week; the customer pays full price for your work.
3. Reward client loyalty. Several years ago, my wife and I flew from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Los Angeles, California, then to Melbourne, Australia, and after that to Singapore. On the way back, we headed from Bangkok in Thailand to Melbourne, then back to Los Angeles, and from southern California to southern Florida. All these flights were either first class or business class.
The remarkable thing about this exotic and long-distance itinerary is that these journeys didn’t cost me a penny; they were all paid for by American Airlines, or by one of their partner airlines around the world as part of American’s frequent flyer program.
It’s surprising that there’s so little in the way of client loyalty in the massage industry. American was the pioneer in this rewards program; its program took off—pun intended—in 1981; now similar programs are industry-wide.
Carriers realize that you have many choices when you book a flight, and they want you to book with them, so they give you an incentive: fly enough with them and they’ll comp you a flight. So why doesn’t that happen in the massage industry?
It can, easily enough, with the adoption of the Frequent Massage Program. For clients who pay at the end of each treatment, such a program in your massage business could comp them a free massage after 10 paid sessions.
4. Create discount packages. Retailers from all walks of industry give discounts to customers who purchase in volume. That’s the model behind Sam’s Club and Costco.
Buy cans of tuna in a package of eight, for instance, and you’ll pay less per can than if you bought a single can at your nearby supermarket. They’re essentially rewarding you for giving them a bigger piece of business. (See section 3 above.)
Using a $70 per treatment model in your massage business, you could give about a 15 percent discount to clients for a five-session package. (That’s five sessions for $300, not $350, a saving of $50, or $10 per session.)
A 10-massage program might reap a 25 percent discount ($525, not $700, saving $175, or $17.50 per massage). As you can see, there’s much to be gained for clients of yours in such discount packages.
While you’re definitely losing either $50 or $175, as in the scenarios described above, your client is gaining valued savings. That creates a happy client.
There’s nothing better for your business than creating happy clients because happy clients refer their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and colleagues to you.
Happy clients who refer clients to you make you happier and more successful. After all, where do you get most of your new clients from anyway?
If a client buys, say, a 10-session package, and comes in monthly for sessions, you’d be paid in full for services that you might not render for 10 months. You can’t beat cash flow like that.
For a business like massage, great cash flow is invaluable. Your client wins, as do you.
Advertising in a Massage Business
5. Cultivate physicians as referral streams. Many successful massage therapists have become so, in part, through the referrals of health care professionals like medical doctors.
These referrals are hardly accidents. Contacting MDs so that they know who you are doesn’t guarantee referrals; but one thing is a guarantee: if they don’t know who you are, you won’t be getting any referrals from them.
So how do they find out about you? Use Google and Yellow Pages to locate medical practices in the zip codes you service. Then call each to make sure their contact information is correct, find out the names and specialties of each doctor, and get the name of the office manager, as well. This person often controls access to the doctors.
Next, compose a letter—no more than a page—introducing yourself and your massage business, and generally describing your experience and your modalities. Doctors aren’t familiar with the intricacies of massage, so don’t mention every bodywork class you’ve taken.
Next, inform the doctor that you’d be happy to offer a complimentary massage at the doctor’s office, home, or at your office, so that he or she can see first hand how effective massage therapy is for reducing pain and stress. (Many physicians are happy to help patients reduce pain and stress without medication’s harmful side effects.)
In the second paragraph, describe a case history of yours or refer to a study showing the efficacy of massage in treating a particular condition. If you find a study related to the MD’s specialty, all the better. Keep this material concise.
Finally, sum up by informing the doctor that if you don’t hear from hi or her within a week (include your phone number here) that you’ll follow up with a call. Include your business card and brochure if you have one, and sign off with your contact information.
This letter is going to be snail mailed, not emailed, as doctors won’t open the attachment needed to read your brochure.
Next, make a note to follow up. If you don’t reach the physician directly, leave a message identifying yourself and remind the MD that you’re offering a complimentary massage so that her or she can see first hand the effectiveness of massage for reducing pain and stress.
If you don’t hear back within three business days, call again and leave the same message.
Finally, make a third call, three business days after that, letting the doctor know that this is the last call you’ll make to set up that complimentary massage to demonstrate how massage can help his or her patients reduce their pain and stress.
If you don’t hear back, drop this MD from your list. Don’t despair if some doctors don’t respond; some will, and will refer patients to you. Focus on these, and your business will grow.
Part One of this series, “Your 5-Step Plan to Get Clients On Your Table,” is running in New Practitioner, a special issue published by MASSAGE Magazine.
About the Author
Coach Cary Bayer is an American Massage Therapy Association keynote speaker and marketing coach. He has worked with Quality Inns; Oscar-winning actors Alan Arkin and Pietro Scalia; comedian David Steinberg and director Judy Henderson, both Emmy winners; and 300 massage therapists. He has created 14 National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-accredited workshops, as well as two DVDs for massage therapists. He also authored the three-book Grow a Rich Massage Business series.
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