There is a very important mental shift occurring in the massage industry: to continue to be independent but to work together as a community—such as in professional networking—in approaches to client care.
This approach to care goes beyond traditional professional networking. It involves referring clients to other therapists, both when it benefits the client and when as therapists we need a temporary resource for our clients; reframing competitors as collaborators; and stepping outside the oftentimes isolating session room to connect with colleagues.
Recently, I was teaching a workshop and I observed this shift in action. Toward the end of class, there were massage therapists exchanging phone numbers and setting up appointments to work on each other. There was a study group of four or five people wanting to get together to practice what they had learned. Some therapists said they wanted to refer clients to other therapists for treatment options. This sort of collaboration reflects a sea change taking place in the massage industry.
Let’s dispel some of the concerns regarding competition versus collaboration and how you can ride this tide of change—choosing a heart-based approach over a fear-based approach to business—in your own practice.
“Referring a Client Means Losing a Client”
The biggest concern most therapists have when contemplating referring a client to a colleague is the client will prefer the massage treatment from that colleague and begin to schedule with them.
Ultimately, massage is about the health of our clients’ bodies. We should strive for that professional attitude. If seeking a different therapy or seeing a different therapist will benefit the client the greatest, and they choose to go to the person you referred them to, then they are choosing what is best for their own health—and we should support that choice.
This is how I want to be treated, as do most of you reading this article.
The consumer feels the same way about your massage services. While massage therapists want a full schedule and to maximize their earning potential, we still must keep the clients’ best interest in mind.
“In my massage business, we have a team of nine massage therapists,” says Jane Olsen, LMT, who practices in Buhl, Idaho, and employs massage therapists. “Because we all have different specialties and styles, it is not uncommon for us to refer clients to one another. I feel it supports both the client and the professionalism of our field.
If many of your clients seek out other therapists, it may be time to self-evaluate your massage and professional demeanor, looking for positive changes you can make to create a better massage experience for your clients.
“I Have to be a Rock for My Clients”
I know firsthand that being a massage therapist can be a very lonely career—especially if you work by yourself and do not share office space with anyone. You are by yourself all day with only your clients to talk to.
Massage therapy career burnout can happen from working too many hours, and can also be rooted in not having someone to talk to or another person you can trust to fall back on when you are ill or need to refer clients for another reason. When you feel like you are the only person a client can rely on, the weight of responsibility for your clients’ well-being and their dependency on you can be overwhelming. The desire to unburden yourself could lead you down the path of closing your practice, if you are not careful.
Being part of a community that shares common ground can be rewarding and healthy, not only to your body and mind but your business as well. When we collaborate as a group with a common purpose, we lift up that group of people collectively. This collaboration is about a community of like-minded people supporting one another. Even if you work by yourself, you will no longer feel alone.
“I Don’t Know About Professional Networking with Colleagues”
I was recently invited to join a group of therapists that meet once a week for lunch and discussion. Several massage therapists work together to create a positive experience for members.
The meeting takes place five hours away from where I live—but there is the option to join the group remotely via video on social media. This has been an amazing way for me to connect with colleagues.
“Being able to have a select group of therapists I trust to refer my clients to as needed or help problem-solve issues has aided me to provide more adept care for my clients,” says Maryanne Maughan, LMT, a Sugar City, Idaho, massage therapist. “I feel this opportunity makes me a better massage therapist”
I challenge you to seek out local opportunities where massage therapists meet weekly, monthly or quarterly. This is a great way to network and build richer partnerships in the massage community.
Collaborating professionally can be a positive way to expand your awareness and start learning from others in a noncompetitive way. If you do not have any groups in your area, ask if the people you know would like to meet and start getting to know one another better. It all starts with one person asking.
“Clients Should Appreciate My Training”
If you are going to refer within a group of people, make sure you trust your group and the individuals in it. Get to know these people and what their massage beliefs are. Then trade with several people so you understand one another’s massage approach and styles. This will prepare you in advance to better know to whom you would refer your clients.
This is not about taking an opportunity to copy another therapist’s flow or signature style. This is about understanding how this therapist meets their clients’ expectations with massage. It is also about understanding what another professional’s approach is so you know what to offer if that therapist refers clients to you.
I believe successful massage therapy application and business are all about meeting a client’s expectations, regardless of what skill you trained in. When you understand what the client expects and you meet that expectation, the skills and techniques you used were successful. Likewise, if a client you referred to another therapist stays with that therapist, that change isn’t necessarily all about technique; it could be how the other therapist more effectively met the client’s expectations.
“I Have to Keep the Competition Away”
The old way of thinking behind independent business ownership is you don’t go to your competition or let them come to you. That reasoning was you are allowing someone to discover what your signature techniques are—and because they are the competition, they will steal your ideas, your amazing little techniques, and your hard-won clients.
No matter what business you go into, there will be competition. How you approach it is up to you, but I think you can build many positive relationships that benefit massage therapists and consumers in the community by getting to know your competition in a healthy way. They may turn out to be some of your greatest teachers and friends.
“The energy of competition is completely different than that of massage therapy,” says Briana Low, LMT, a Twin Falls, Idaho, massage instructor. “Collaboration, however, is a beautiful match to the essence and heart of massage therapy.”
Choosing a heart-based approach to business over a fear-based approach is where massage culture is heading. The differences we can see and feel in the industry are dynamic and peaceful at the same time. It is a beautiful shift to observe and participate in.
About the author
Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB (ppsseminars.com), has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 25 years. She is the owner of Massage Business Methods and developer of PPS (Pain Patterns and Solutions) Seminars CE courses, and a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Approved CE Provider. Her articles for this publication include “The Client’s Body Does the Healing (The MT Provides the Opportunity),” “3 Ways You Can Contribute to a Healthy Workplace,” and “Trade Massage Sessions: 5 Potential Problems Solved.” (both, massagemag.com).