The ABCs of Practice Retention, by Donald Q. Dillon, MASSAGE MagazineYou may have heard the story of the man who dreamed of riches. He sold his beautiful home and farm, with a pristine river running through it, and took the equity off into the world to make his fortune. He sadly loses it all in failed, get-rich-quick schemes and lives the rest of his life in poverty. The man who buys the farmer’s land finds glistening stones in the pristine river. These stones turn out to be diamonds. Indeed, the man who dreamed of riches and died tragically needed only to look in his own back yard to find wealth.

Do you, like the man in the story, constantly look “out there” for more business, when in fact you may be missing the diamonds? Your diamond mine can be found by cultivating your existing business and adding more value.

A U.S. study found it takes five times the resources-–time, energy and money-–to acquire new business than to retain existing business. It makes more sense to provide more and better care to your existing clients than to constantly try and find new ones.

Try this exercise: Sit down with a printout of your practice database and assign a value to each name. “A” is assigned to people that have referred at least one other person to your business. People who come frequently for treatment-–at least 10 or more times a year—are assigned a “B.” People who come for treatment less than 10 times a year are assigned a “C.” “Q” can be assigned to clients who you haven’t seen in years or are deceased.

Your retention goal is to turn more “Bs” (frequent clients) into “As” (referral sources), and “Cs” (infrequent clients) into “Bs.” As for the “As,” you want to keep them referring, so value them highly and reward them frequently.

Here are strategies on how to accomplish this. First, add value to all your treatment visits. Make people feel well treated, and show that you’re interested in them. Provide a small bag of Epsom salts to every new client on her first visit. Customer relation studies show that receiving a small gift, even an inexpensive pen, establishes a stronger bond with a new or potential customer.

Provide useful information via a quarterly newsletter; for example, when to use hot or cold to treat an injury. List causes and possible remedies of common musculoskeletal problems, such as back pain, TMJ and carpal tunnel syndrome. Your advice will instill confidence in your knowledge and ability, make these conditions seem less frightful and give hope of relief.

Confirm all appointments the day before (almost everyone appreciates a reminder) and follow up if a normally frequent client hasn’t been in for awhile. Pay attention to the interests of your clients, and if you find an article on something they’re interested in, pass it on or refer them to the source.

Send a thank-you card for every referral, and consider more substantial gifts for people who refer often. You might provide a vial of Olbas Oil or muscle liniment, an extra 15 minutes of treatment or some other token of appreciation that says, “Thank you for supporting my business.”

Referral sources save you a tremendous amount of time and money by extending their faith and confidence in you to other people. It pays to appreciate that confidence. However, make sure you do not indicate an expectation of return when giving a gift, or you may be in hot water with your regulatory body!

Don’t forget to ask for more business. Give a business card to everyone following their treatment and say, “I have room for a few new patients. Please pass this card onto someone who might benefit from care as much as you have.” People like to be helpful, so recruit them to help you help more people! Remember the ABCs of retention, and you’ll find a diamond mine right in your own back yard.

Don Dillon, R.M.T. is the author of Better Business Agreements and the self-study workbook Charting Skills for Massage Therapists. More than 60 of his articles have been published in industry publications, including Massage Therapy Canada, Massage Therapy Today, AMTA Journal, MASSAGE Magazine (, AMTWP Connections and various massage school and professional association newsletters. Dillon’s Web site,, provides a variety of resources for massage therapists.