An drawing of men and women holding large puzzle pieces is used to illustrate the concept of "fitting in" to the wellness marketplace.

You are not alone. Specifically, you are probably not the only massage therapist in your area. More importantly, massage therapy is rarely the only place a person can go within the local wellness marketplace to address their needs, whether they need a quieter nervous system, an “un-knotted” muscle, less swelling in their legs and feet, or any of the many other things with which we can help clients.

Depending on the results they’re seeking, a person might try massage therapy. They might also try a different type of business within the wellness marketplace: physical therapy, yoga, a dentist, personal training, acupuncture, a chiropractor, herbalism, meditation, psychotherapy, allopathic medicine or exercise.

Don’t despair. You can look at this in two ways: competition and partnership:

• Who are you in direct competition with? (Other massage therapists? Franchises? Spas?) The more you know about them, the better you can highlight your advantages in your marketing materials.

• Who can you be in partnership with? All those other businesses are an opportunity to build professional connections, a robust referral network, and a stronger practice.

First, though, you have to look at the wellness marketplace from your client’s point of view. They will rarely look at it exactly as you do.

In your experience, what are some of the most common reasons your clients seek out massage therapy and, specifically, your practice? What sort of changes or results do they want? Imagine yourself having those same needs. Where else would you go if you couldn’t or wouldn’t see a massage therapist (or perhaps were unaware massage therapy was an option)?

Even better, listen to your clients. Where did they go before they came to you with their problems? Who else are they working with now? If you don’t know, ask them. If appropriate, you might also see if they’ll tell you what was helpful, what wasn’t and why. They don’t have to name names, but if there are practitioners they’ve had a good experience with, that’s especially worth noting.

When that list starts to grow, it’s time to do some research. Whether you’re thinking of these other businesses as competition or potential partners, you need to know more about them and how they do and don’t align with you. To prepare yourself, reconnect with these facts about your practice:

• Your mission (the purpose, aim and focus of your practice)

• What you deliver, or your specific product (the changes you love to help people achieve and the experience of working with you)

Best-fit client (the kind of client you’d love to fill your practice with)

Stand Out from the Competition

When you look at the other massage therapists in your area, how are you alike and how are you different? Focus on the big-picture things—mission, etc.—and also on the nuts-and-bolts things—hours, location, etc.

Notice I didn’t say prices. Competing on price is not a good way to build a strong, resilient practice that can support you. You want to build relationships based on being the place they love to go because they get the results they want and enjoy the experience.

 If your relationship with your clients is based on being the cheapest option in town, all it would take to lose them is someone offering massage for a few dollars less.

If there are a lot of massage therapists in your area, make sure you are comparing yourself to practices that are like yours. You wouldn’t compare a practice focused on athletes operating out of a gym to a spa focusing on relaxation and luxury. Focus on the practices that will attract the clients you also want to attract because they offer a similar set of results and experiences.

When you have that list, note what you can offer that they don’t. Remember to approach this from the client’s perspective. What do they care about?

• Are you open on days or offering hours other practices aren’t? Weekend and evening hours can make a big difference to a potential client.

• Are you more centrally located, easier to find, closer to public transportation or a major highway, etc.?

• Do you offer the ease of online scheduling when your competition doesn’t?

• Do you offer specialties that are harder to find? For example, manual lymph drainage and craniosacral therapy can be hard to find in some markets.

• Do you have a special focus that isn’t common among the other practices? For example, pregnancy massage, the elderly, people living with chronic conditions, surgical recovery, etc.

• Make sure to highlight your advantages in your marketing. I would never recommend expressing it as “they don’t have it but I do!” Rather, express it in terms of what benefits clients:

We offer convenient evening and weekend hours.

I’m in the heart of downtown with plenty of off-street parking and convenient to public transportation.

I work with many people recovering from surgery to reduce swelling and ease pain.

If you can’t travel to us, we may be able to come to you.

You don’t have to be the only massage therapist who offers Sunday hours, etc. But if there are eight practices and only two of you offer Sunday hours, you should highlight that!


Many of us dream of a practice where our clients find us through “word of mouth.” You may think that means your clients are sending you new clients. Even more valuable is when other professionals recommend you! How do you establish relationships that encourage that?

Once again, ask yourself, where else can your clients go to deal with the issues that bring them to you? If, for example, you enjoy working with people with temporal mandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD), you probably want to have connections with dentists and physical therapists who treat TMJD. If you specialize in working with people with anxiety, are there psychotherapists who also specialize in persons with anxiety?

When you have a list, take a look at their practices (start with their online presence). How well do they seem to align with the way you view health and the body? Can you tell if they are working with the same kind of clients you work with? This is a little like a dating app—you’re not looking for a forever spouse; you’re looking for someone worth meeting at least once to get to know a little better.

And then what? Reach out to them. Stop by their office in person, send them an email or note, or call and introduce yourself. Explain that you’re building your referral network (because you need good referrals for your clients as well) and ask if you might stop by for 10 minutes to introduce yourself and learn a little more about their practice.

This is not a sales pitch! You are not trying to convince them to be a referral partner. This is, honestly, a chance to get to know their business a little better and introduce yourself with no promises or strings attached. Be prepared to both tell them something about your practice and ask questions about theirs. Respect their time and keep within the time you suggested.

Just like dating, not all of these meetings will result in a strong referral relationship. Even a great connection may not yield a lot of referrals, especially quickly. Keep your expectations low but keep looking for other professionals you can get to know and possibly create a referral relationship with.

Yep, a lot like dating.

Create an MT Referral Network

Also look for ways to create referrals with other massage therapists. Who does work you don’t do? Who has hours you don’t have? Who offers some kind of affordable massage option you don’t offer?

We need to refer out to other massage therapists sometimes too, in the best interests of our clients. Are you “throwing business away”? No. You are doing right by your client and they will remember that.

Look at that list of massage practices that are your actual competition. You can reach out to them with something like this:

• If you’ve got a client who desperately needs Sunday hours, I am open on Sundays.

• If you need a place to refer people after surgery, I enjoy working with people post-surgery.

• I see you’ve got a lot of training with TMJD. May I refer clients to you who need that care?

Be sure to make clear that you aren’t trying to draw away their clients. As a professional, you’re trying help the public find the massage therapist they need.

Position Yourself to Thrive

Our work is most satisfying when we build relationships with our clients and our colleagues. The more you understand the wellness marketplace from your client’s point of view, the better you can position yourself to thrive in it—both through highlighting the benefits of your practice and by creating connections with other professionals.

Kelly Bowers

About the Author

Kelly Bowers is the owner of the Healing Arts Business Academy. She is the author of four books: “The Affordable Massage Handbook,” “The Accidental Business Owner,” “Can I Deduct That,” and “Between Doormat and Diva.” She is a regular presenter at national conferences, an instructor in professional training programs, and an NCBTMB-approved provider of continuing education. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. She practices in Durham, North Carolina (NC license 16669).