marketing promotion illustration

Would you like to see a room full of massage therapists squirm in unison? Tell them they have to do massage marketing or massage promotion.

I’ve been teaching business to massage therapists for 17 years and it never fails. You’ll also quickly hear, “I hate marketing” and “I am terrible at this” and “it’s just so … icky” and “I’m going to rely on word-of-mouth so this doesn’t apply to me.”

The first two may be true. The last two definitely aren’t.

But if that’s how you respond to the idea of marketing, you are in excellent company. Since marketing (which is technically “promotion”) is absolutely necessary to grow a private practice, why do so many of us loathe that word?

It feels impolite. Were you raised that it’s rude to talk about yourself? We can’t shake the deep feeling that we’re being self-centered or incorrect. There may be a ghost of an older relative just out of the corner of our eye looking askance at us for being so impolite.

It feels exposed. I don’t know the official numbers — but based on my years of teaching, more than half of us massage therapists are a little (or a lot) introverted. Introverts can be very uncomfortable with being the center of focus. To be talking about yourself — and we have to because we are our practice — can leave us feeling naked and vulnerable.

So many bad examples. When you think about self-promotion you may have images of ego-driven hucksters with unnaturally white smiles striding back and forth across a stage or screen, loud and aggressive. Even worse, it may bring up images of too many mediocre, or downright bad, first dates. You can’t imagine why you’d want to do that professionally.

You don’t know how. Many of us have little experience in self-promotion in our pre-massage lives. We may have received insufficient education in it in massage school as well. What education we did receive may have been brief. We don’t have the knowledge, or the confidence that comes with knowledge, to do this self-promotion thing.

If any of these reasons rings a bell with you, I don’t blame you for loathing the very idea of self-promotion. But we’ve still got to do it. So what do we do? Let’s start with defining, or re-defining, self-promotion into something more practical, useful, palatable and true.

Marketing Helps People

Marketing is a service you provide to potential clients. Are you rolling your eyes in disbelief? Think about this:

• You have talents and skills that someone needs. You can make someone literally feel better.

• Someone out there needs, specifically, what you have to offer. They need to feel better and you’re the person who can do that.

• But they don’t know you exist unless you promote yourself and your practice. You have to make it possible for them to find you.

When you make it easy for them find you (promotion) you make it possible for them to get the help they need. You are actually helping them. What could be a better use of your time and energy?

First, though, you have to believe you have something valuable to offer. There are a surprising number of massage therapists who have trouble saying, “I think I can help you feel better.” If you don’t have the confidence in your skills to make that simple statement you’re going to have an exceedingly difficult time promoting your work.

When you’re brand-new to massage therapy (is the ink dry on your license yet?) it can be overwhelming to say, “I think I can help.” Starting to practice after graduation is when the real learning starts, and you may be acutely aware of everything you don’t know. You may also be surrounded by massage therapists who’ve been practicing for five, 10 or 15 years or longer. Yikes!

So take a moment to remember all the things you do know how to do and all the things you’ve already done many times. Even as a new grad, you should be able to do a competent Swedish/relaxation massage. If someone needs their nervous system calmed and restored to balance, you are the person they need. If they need comfort, if they need their anxiety brought down a notch, if they need to be treated well, you are the person they need. If they need a quiet space where no one requires anything of them, your massage room is exactly where they need to go.

Which brings me to the second important part of confident self-promotion: knowing what you have to offer.

Technique vs. Results

Most people don’t actually come to us for massage; they come for the results we can deliver using massage as our tool. It may be as simple as “I need a treat on vacation” to as serious as “I need help with chemo nausea.” There is a result they’re looking for. You may think you need to promote manual lymph drainage, but what they really want is legs that aren’t so swollen and uncomfortable, that you can relieve with manual lymph drainage.

Think about your skills, training and experience. What results can you deliver? If you spend a little time at it, I bet you can come up with a good list.

But, third, you have to know who you’re talking to. No single massage therapist is the answer to every client’s needs. Who are you a good fit for? (Hint: It’s not “anyone who will pay me,” tempting as that is.)

Kids? Office workers? People recovering from surgery? People in stress? Athletes (competitive or casual)? The elderly? People living with depression or anxiety? People dealing with body dysmorphia? Someone living with a chronic, incurable condition?

It’s not just about their bodies, though. It’s also about their personalities and temperaments. People come to us for results but they also work best with someone they connect with.

Who have you connected with best in your client base? Quiet people? Upbeat people? Spiritual people? Data-driven people? People who love (shudder) puns?

Yes, this is harder to figure out when you’re just starting out. The longer you practice the more you’ll be able to identify who’s a better fit for you.

You’re not looking for new best friends, but you are thinking about the conditions and situations you especially enjoy working with. You’re also thinking about the kind of personalities you best connect with. Create a profile for your ideal client that makes you happy. It’s a lot easier to get excited about marketing that can fill your schedule with the kinds of clients you enjoy working with.

It’s also easier to create marketing messages when you know who you’re talking to.

Comfort & Consistency

Finally, there is an almost endless variety of ways to promote your practice. Not everyone has to do the same thing. Choose marketing tools — social media, websites, paid advertising, discounts, hot air balloons, whatever) — that make sense for the message you want to deliver, the people you’re trying to reach, and what you can do well.

For example, as an introvert, I squirm uncomfortably at networking events. My brain goes shockingly blank the minute I walk through the door. But as a professional writer, I’m very comfortable with blog posts and website content. Most of my clients are over 45 — and while they may hear about me through word-of-mouth, they are still going to validate that recommendation by checking me out online — which is why owners of word-of-mouth practices still need to think about marketing.

I lean toward marketing tools I can be competent with that also are likely to reach my target market. The more comfortable I am with my marketing tools, the more likely I am to use them consistently and well.

The Takeaway

If you:

• Believe in what you have to offer …

• Know what results you can deliver …

• Know who you want to work with …

• Choose marketing tools you enjoy …

… You will have no problems promoting yourself comfortably.

About the Author:

Kelly Bowers, LMBT (NC 16669), has been writing, teaching and speaking about the business of massage since 2003. Owner of the Healing Arts Business Academy, she is the author of “The Accidental Business Owner” and “Can I Deduct That?” She can be found on most social media platforms and at She lives and practices in Durham, North Carolina.