Everyone says, “Networking is everything,” but few people will provide an easy explanation for how and why networking is so important. Massage professionals may think networking is unnecessary, but I maintain it’s even more critical for people in this field.
I’ll explain why, and we’ll get down to the nitty gritty of successful networking together.
Principles of Successful Networking
Before I launch into the rationale, there are some important principles of networking that should be reviewed so that we all start from the same page.
This is business. This is your professional life—not your social life. Sometimes the two overlap—and that can be a wonderful thing when it happens—but as adults trying to make a living, we need to be mindful and conscious of our words and actions at all times if colleagues and clients are around.
I know, bummer—we can let our hair down only when we are at home, in our sweats, resting and hydrating with our feet up.
I’m giving you straight talk from a business-building and career-satisfaction perspective. If your guilty pleasure is watching reality TV about young adults living in houses with cameras recording their every drama, there is only one thing you need to know about that: There’s zero real-world networking, business or educational value for you in those shows.
Moving on ….
Successful Networking Relationships
Networking is scary for some folks, because of their trust issues. They view networking as potential relationships, with all the attendant risks of happiness, hurt and attachment.
However, this is the reality of the work world: Work friends are not typically lifelong friends. Networking relationships are not the same as non-work, family-and-friend relationships.
This is why networking can be especially difficult for people who are lonely outside of work and who are eager to make new friends.
You have to do some self-examination: Just because someone is networking with you it does not mean she wants to be friends with you. She is acting professional and friendly.
Networking can also be terrifying for folks who are not socially gifted. Let’s face it, you may love your massage career because it’s mostly one-on-one: just you and your client in a quiet room with no interruptions.
Massage therapists fly completely solo in their own silos.
This is probably the best and worse part of the practice: No one sees your work. There are no witnesses to your brilliance. Rarely does anyone know when your clients say, “You saved my life today.” Only you hear the clients who have said, “Ah, this relieved my pain and tension. You’re a miracle worker.”
This means that the quiet, peaceful space where you work can be dreamy—and it can also be an obstacle to success.
Athletic and fitness trainers, for example, have to work in loud, crowded spaces, which could be considered a downside; however, that environment actually fosters free marketing, free advertising and easy networking. A hundred people can observe trainers’ workplace performance all day long with no discussion required.
Networking requires you to play the game.
Successful Networking for Massage Therapists
Allow me to explain the easy rules of thumb for networking as they could apply to massage therapists.
- Engage. Essentially, you want to talk and engage with as many massage therapists as possible, to discover other like-minded, professional therapists who could bring something to your table. Not everyone in your vast network will have an exact value, at a precise moment, nor immediately—but someday they might.
Networking is a form of injury prevention and also provides business solutions. I cannot imagine another field where talking with other professionals would have more medicinal value.
- Stay Neutral. Yes, sometimes this means acting “fake nice.” Sorry, but this is how the game is played as you already know. Avoid topics such as politics, sex, religion and gossip—and never badmouth fellow employees nor management. Always present a professional persona and be a professional.
- Watch Your Manners—and the Clock. Don’t swear, and never be late. You’d be amazed how many people are profoundly offended by both swearing and tardiness but would never, ever tell you.
- Be Friendly. Smile and say hello with both eyes and teeth. This is the easiest and most valuable habit ever—and it’s free. Also talk with other massage therapists in the break room or hallways at work when opportunities arise. It’s OK to be known as friendly, approachable and normal.
- Ask for Feedback. Asking for feedback and improving how we work is always in play. Trade massage with other therapists, especially those with a booked business. If a therapist’s schedule is packed with loyal clients, offer to give that massage therapist a massage just for the feedback on how you can improve your skills.
Don’t be defensive and sensitive; be genuinely grateful. Anytime someone trusts you enough to provide honest input and feedback, all you have to say is, “Thank you, I’ll try that.” Ask questions to learn all you can.
You should be trading sessions for a long list of reasons: It’s a great time to talk, learn, improve and discover how you are potentially hurting yourself slowly but surely.
- Provide Guidance. If you are a veteran expert, share your knowledge and talents. Your colleagues are not your competition. If you mentor and teach newer therapists, you are growing your network.
You may want to present a paper or give a talk someday—but first you have to become the master of your craft, and that only happens by lifting others up. Plus, it just feels great to help someone develop, and they will forever be grateful and in your network.
- Never Stop Learning. Attend continuing education and workshop opportunities when possible. We all need to work on improving, learning new techniques and striving for perfection. This is the spice of career fulfillment and obvious networking avenue.
Professional joy comes from the confidence that only true expertise provides. When you have extensive breadth and depth in your career field, that’s the sweet spot in which you’ve turned your desire to help clients into an art form.
It’s a magical feeling and worth every practical or complimentary service ever provided over the past five, 10, or 15 years. It doesn’t matter how long it takes; never stop learning and growing.
- Ask For Business Advice. Ask questions of other therapists who have a successful business. Once you’ve established rapport with someone, it’s OK to ask:
- Where else do you work?
- What has helped you land and retain so many clients?
- What do you think of ____? (Insert anything you genuinely question or think about often.)
- Do you know how I could get more clients here or anywhere?
Ask questions, and then really listen. Hear the answers with an open mind instead of formulating your response the entire time you’re supposed to be listening. It’s OK to discuss with other professionals your schedule, plans, and desire for more work if that’s one of your goals.
- Be Willing to Let Clients Go. Perhaps you need to hand off a client because the relationship is not working for whatever reason.
We are not always a perfect match with every new client—and this can be an excellent, win-win opportunity to network: Refer the client to another therapist and mention that you think he or she could serve the client better than you can. Make sure the therapist knows you’ve done this by texting or emailing a message such as this:
“Dear Susan Smith, I have referred my client John Brown to you. I think you’ll be an excellent provider for him. Please let me know if you have any questions.”
Or, perhaps you don’t want to drive 20 miles out of your way in traffic for one client. Find a massage therapist in the client’s area, and call her. Ask questions about the therapist’s work, save those notes and her contact information. Boom. Networked.
Why You Need to Network
Successful networking will help you, both personally and professionally, for several reasons.
Networking contributes to career happiness. I’ve heard many times that the number-one skill required of working adults as we forge into the future is coping skills. Your network bolsters you, provides support when needed, and offers the richness of feedback, opportunities and challenges.
Networking provides free education and skills development. Sometimes you will have quick questions or concerns. Or, you might not have time or money for formal continuing education events. This is where your politeness, professionalism and network helps out.
You’ll have people to call if you have a question. You’ll know someone who you could have coffee with while you ask questions and receive answers. You can invite someone to lunch just to brainstorm or bounce an idea around.
If you really want to be a class act, treat for the coffee, lunch or drink if you initiated the get-together, as this shows that person you respect and appreciate her time. A $3 cup of coffee could ultimately lead to an additional $30,000 per year, or land you a more flexible position at your dream location.
Because, remember, we never know what the future holds.
Anne Neubauer Knowler graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1988 with a bachelor’s in engineering mechanics. While on active duty, she earned a master’s in industrial engineering from New Mexico State University. After six years as an Air Force officer, she became a civilian and worked in the semiconductor capital equipment marketing and sales field. In 2004, Anne started building her passion career in the fitness industry, one workshop and certification at a time. Her lifelong love of sports and outdoor adventure helps others move and feel better, and today she is a full-time certified personal fitness trainer, group exercise instructor, Pilates teacher and lifestyle coach.