Gael Wood has more than 20 years of experience in the massage and spa industry, including day spas, resorts and office settings; owning a therapeutic massage office and day spa; and currently, in an outcall practice.
Gael specializes in educating massage and spa therapists in marketing, business start-up, customer service and spa services through her business, Gael Wood Massage and Spa Success.
Gael is also a MASSAGE Magazine All-Star, one of a group of body therapy masters and experts who have dedicated their lives to empowering and informing massage professionals. These innovative therapists and teachers are lined up to educate MASSAGE Magazine’s community of massage therapists in our print magazine, on our social media channels and on massagemag.com.
Karen Menehan: Welcome, Gael.
Gael Wood: Thank you so much for having me here today. I’m excited to speak with you.
KM: I’m excited, too. You know, business and marketing are oftentimes challenges for massage therapists. So, we’re really excited and happy that you’re here to provide some advice and guidance in this area.
GW: Yes. It’s not always a favorite of therapists. We just want to see our clients and, you know, do our magic, but it’s a part of it.
KM: Definitely. So, let’s start off with you telling us how you got into massage therapy as a career.
GW: I would love to. So when I was 18, I finished high school [and] was taking a few college classes. I really had no idea what I wanted to do. The thought of four years of college did not appeal to me at all. I felt like I had been sitting in a classroom for 12 straight years. I didn’t want to do any more of that.
I was working at a bed and breakfast, which I liked very much. I got to do a big variety of different things. But, you know, it was cooking and cleaning and things like that. So, not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And we had a massage therapist who would come to the inn and she would massage the guests. She would massage the owners.
One day, she offered to give me a massage if I would come over and clean her house. So I thought, “You know what? Sure. I’ll try anything.” I had never really thought about massage much. It was kind of something that, you know, I guess I thought wealthy people did or something like that.
So, I cleaned her house. I got the massage, and I knew immediately, I thought, “That is what I want to do. I want to make people feel like this.” You know, it was just such an amazing experience.
KM: I’ve heard that story from so many massage therapists who just knew, you know, when they received a massage that it was something they wanted to provide. So, I didn’t know that about you. That’s interesting. So, then, where did you receive your massage therapy training?
GW: Well, at the same time, I had been doing some reading about Edgar Cayce. Edgar Cayce was a[n] intuitive medical medium. And I was just kind of dabbling in, you know, some different things, learning about some different things.
I went hiking one day. On my way back, an acquaintance of mine that I knew, a friend of a friend offered to give me a ride back to my car. We got to talking. She had just finished massage school at the Edgar Cayce’s Center. So, it was just one of those synchronicities. I got the number from her. This was way back when, you know, we didn’t have websites.
So, I ordered the school catalog. And it came in the mail. And thankfully, my mom was in a position to help me pay for massage school and I also worked while I went to massage school. So I went to the next class that they had starting up.
KM: So, then when you launched your practice, you had to go from a brand-new massage therapist, starting a business, to the level of success that you’re experiencing today.
GW: Through lots of mistakes and trial and error. So when I finished massage school, I went back to the bed and breakfast. You know, I had envisioned myself driving around, going to people’s nice houses, doing massages. And then, when I got home from massage school, I was like, “Gosh. You know, I didn’t have the first idea of how to find these people who wanted appointments.”
So, I went back to my old job and became the therapist there at the inn. And that was really fortunate because I was able to build up my skills, my hands-on skills, without having to worry about building a business right at first. And I think that’s very important.
KM: Just for some context, can you tell us what year this was?
GW: This is in 1995.
KM: You were talking about the benefits of being able to build up those hands-on skills before actually launching a private practice.
GW: Yes. So I didn’t have to worry about rebooking. These people were just in town for the weekend. From there, I went on to work at a day spa in town. And that’s when I started to have to, you know, build up some more business skills. We needed to maintain a certain rate of rebooking and sell a certain amount of retail.
And that’s when I really started thinking about these things. But we didn’t have a lot of training on how to do it and that frustrated me. I thought, “How am I supposed to maintain a certain percentage of rebookings and retail sales if you’re not going to teach me how to do it?” Because I really believed this stuff comes naturally to some people and it didn’t come naturally to me.
KM: So how did you become an expert in marketing and sales if it didn’t come naturally to you?
GW: From there, I ended up with an opportunity to open my own business. I knew what I always wanted to do. And so, I really jumped in and that’s when I started to study business and marketing. I realized, you know, “OK. I don’t know this stuff. I’ve got to learn somewhere.” I started signing up for online classes at that point. Eric Brown was one of the only people putting out information for massage therapists.
And I bought a lot of courses and books designed for hair salons because that’s what was available. So I just really started absorbing all of this information and trying it out in my business. And it was so fun to try something and have it work and [I] realized, “Oh, my gosh. I’ve been making this so hard in my mind.”
KM: Could you maybe point to two or three business or marketing techniques that you feel are most successful for massage therapists right now?
GW: Yeah, definitely. So the one thing I think a lot of therapists overlook is rebooking their clients, we focus on getting clients in the door, which, of course, is important. But once we have that client in the door, getting them to come back is so much easier than getting another new client in the door.
It might feel a little weird at first to say, “I need a script or a system to rebook my clients.” Like, “This should just come to me naturally.” But if it doesn’t, create a system for yourself. I made forms that I filled out where I would write down my recommendations and then I’d go over it with the client.
That way, I wouldn’t forget to tell them, you know, when I thought they should come back. I wouldn’t get tripped up and stumble over my words. So, some kind of system, just something that you know you’re going to do at the end of each appointment.
KM: Did you find that that really increased the number of bookings that you received, or rebookings?
GW: Oh, yeah. I would say it increased it by 50 percent, at least. You know, for me, if I was just waiting for a client to, you know, say, “Hey, when can I come back? I want to come back.” I think that was maybe one out of every 10 to 12 clients that would say that.
But when I started asking them and explaining, you know, “Here’s why I think you should come back,” inviting them to come back, it went up to anywhere, you know, depending on the week to between 25 percent and 50 percent of clients would rebook.
KM: That’s great. And then how important is it today, do you think, for a massage therapist to have an online booking system setup and, you know, to be fully digital for people to just book online?
GW: I think it’s incredibly important. I know, just myself personally, when I think of, “Oh, yeah. I should get in. I should go book a service,” it’s usually not during business hours. And people are very used to having those conveniences.
KM: Yes, and increasingly so. That’s true.
GW: There’s all different kinds of ways to set those systems up. I know some therapists are like, “I don’t want new clients I’ve never talked to before booking through my system.” But you can set it up to where they have to already be a client to book through your online booking system. So you can really use it as just an added benefit for your clients.
So, I think as long as you set it up in a way that feels good to you, it can work. You know, you can set up the timing. You don’t want people booking at the last minute. Well, you can put a 24-hour limit on it. So don’t let things like that hold you back from implementing something that’s really going to help your business.
KM: And so, the purpose of having that available to people who have already established themselves as customers will be a way of screening out any potential problems and just, you know, creating that extra level of safety in a practice. Correct?
GW: Yes. You know, there’s just so many different ways to do it. New clients can book online but then, they have to be confirmed. So there are so many different ways to do that to where I think any therapist out there could implement online booking in a way that they feel comfortable with.
KM: We’ve talked about the benefits to a massage practice of rebooking clients, and then, also, making those digital booking services available to clients. Is there another really top marketing or business technique that you think that massage therapists should be implementing right now?
GW: Just having a marketing plan in place—and one that you’ve thought through. You know, “Who is my ideal client?” “Who do I want to work with?” “Well, where are these people?” You know, I think that being too general in your marketing is going to take you a lot longer to build up your clientele.
KM: So, when you say someone’s too general in marketing, what does that look like?
GW: I’ll just use myself for an example. That would look like me having a lot of clients call [for a] medical massage, which I don’t do. I don’t care for [medical massage], so it would be a lot easier for me just to find the people that want the relaxation massage in the first place than to be trying to do something that is not in my wheelhouse, that I’m not that good at.
You know, vice versa, if you have a medical massage practice and you want those people to come in, you’re going to be frustrated if you have people come in for relaxation massage.
KM: So, it sounds like the therapist would need to really create those marketing materials and efforts that target a specific type of clientele. Is that correct?
GW: That’s definitely what I would recommend. So that’s probably number three on our list of important things, is to get really clear about what it is that you do, who you want to work with, what types of services you want to do so that you can build a business that ultimately you like and you want to run for a long time, not one that’s kind of wearing you down.
KM: And when you talk about creating an effective marketing plan, is that something that just runs the course of a 365-day year, or is that something where people should look at a longer time timeframe? Can you kind of speak to that, just how people can plan for a certain amount of time and then check to see if their plan is effective or not?
GW: When I say creative marketing plan, in general, I mean, I think everyone should cover four different areas. So I’m not really looking at the timeline as much as, you know, what you should be getting out there and doing consistently. So, I would say you’ve got your printed marketing materials that are speaking to your ideal clients. Do you want to put those out in your area? Then, you’re going to want to be out networking and doing some sort of in-person [activities], meeting people, going to events.
Of course, you want to have your website look really nice and have the online booking that we were just talking about. And hopefully, it’s also being found by people that are searching for your services. And then, you want your social media presence.
So, I kind of look at all four of those areas as working together to create your marketing plan. But, like you were saying, certainly over time, as your clientele builds, you don’t have to keep going full-on with all of those things forever.
KM: So, say more about that. I mean, at what point would a therapist not have to continue putting effort into any of those areas?
GW: I think you would continue to put effort. I think the amount of effort would decrease in certain areas. If you have a beautiful, gorgeous website that’s working for you … you might visit that every six months.
KM: That makes sense.
GW: If you don’t enjoy being on social media and you really enjoy getting out in your community and doing events, then I would probably feel OK with cutting back on the social media once my clientele was built up more.
KM: Do you recommend that a massage therapist have a social media presence separate from personal social media?
GW: I do. I recommend that you use a business page for Facebook. And there can certainly be some overlap depending on how you use your personal page. So, although I think there can be some overlap, I think your business page should be where clients connect with you, where they send you messages.
And then certainly, if you make a nice post on your business page, you can share that over to your personal page because some of your friends might say, “Oh, yeah. You should go … you know, go see my sister-in-law. She’s a great massage therapist.” So it all kind of works together.
KM: One of the areas that you’ve written about and talked about is retail sales in the massage practice. And, you know, so many therapists really don’t like the idea of retail sales or offering products to clients. At MASSAGE Magazine, we try to remind them that it’s a way of educating clients about self-care. And also, creating lots of income stream that doesn’t put wear and tear in the therapist’s body.
KM: I’m wondering if you could talk about the benefits of offering appropriate products in a practice.
GW: Well, one benefit for your clients is that they can get something that you’re recommending for their home care right there. They don’t have to drive to CVS or the health food store or Walmart. Personally, I find it frustrating to be recommended something … and then have to go find it myself.
It’s just a convenience for your clients. And then, the way I think about it is a way for my clients to continue taking care of themselves at home. So, you know, I would have products that I felt enhanced our services, whether that was more of a neck wrap that would help keep their muscles relaxed and loose or some nice bath salts so they would remember to take a relaxing bath throughout the week and detox and loosen their muscles that way.
I just thought of it as, “What can I sell that will help my clients continue to receive the benefits of seeing me, at home?” I think you’re 100 percent right that, you know, if you’re not comfortable with selling a product, you’re not going to sell it. So, you have to find things that you really love, that you really believe in.
KM: Well, all of that makes sense and I know that when I see my massage therapist, she doesn’t sell products and sometimes I really wished that she did. So, you know, I have a hope that that’s something will take off in the massage field just to help benefit massage therapists’ income and client care.
GW: Yeah. And you have to remember, when somebody is coming in, when they’re investing in a service, they are in the mood of, “Okay. I’m ready to take care of myself. This is me time.” So having something, you know, to enhance that is just going to make them feel even more special.KM: It’s a way of making available to clients the opportunity to take advantage of some of the benefits of products and services that a massage therapist might know about but the general public doesn’t.
GW: And you know, on a personal note, again, I like to support small businesses. And I would imagine a lot of the therapists out there that their clients would, too. You know, they’re probably buying similar products anyway. And if they know, “Oh, my goodness, my therapist hand selected these products because she thinks they’re the best quality.”
Not only do I get to take home a great quality product I’m going to love, I get to support my therapist even more, make sure she stays in business to keep helping me, right?
KM: I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to be a health care provider, also a small-business person to have to handle business and marketing and client care all at the same time. And I know that there’s an increased number of marketing products that people can choose from.
KM: I’m wondering if you could talk about the benefits of a small business person outsourcing some of those marketing efforts.
GW: I would love to. So, I have a marketing content club called the Massage Marketing Content Club. And it’s a way for therapists to be able to get some of the content that they need to put on social media, to send out regular newsletters, to start writing their brochures and their marketing materials already done for them.
I think this is one of the things that will stop us in our tracks when it comes to marketing. If you say, “OK, I know I want to post three times a week on my Facebook page,” but then that turns into, “I have to create three graphics and I’m not a graphic designer and I’m not sure what they should say,” it turns something that could take five minutes … into something that could take several hours to try to create those graphics to use in your business.
So, I have my content club. There are other resources out there and available for getting content that you can customize and use in your business. It takes a lot of time and effort out of doing your marketing and gets you doing what’s important, which is really getting yourself out there in front of people so they know you exist, so they know that you can help them and they can give you a call. Is that what you were asking?
KM: Absolutely. I think that being able to just download content for a social media campaign is absolutely brilliant.
GW: Yes. And then, you know, I know I view all different content for seasonal content, holiday content. So, really, I try to give a complete package that somebody could just take, customize and implement.
And then there’s other areas where you can save money by outsourcing too. Like getting a system like Hootsuite or something where you can preschedule your post, where they’ll go out to multiple places at once. So, there’s a bit of a learning curve to using software like that or even using the Content Club. But it’s worth the time and effort to learn how to use it because of how much it’ll save you once you do that.
KM: We’re getting toward the end of this MASSAGE Magazine interview. And so, I just like to ask if there’s anything else at all at this point that you’d like to tell our audience.
GW: I would just like to say, don’t be shy. You know you’re good at what you do. You have a heart for helping people. And don’t be shy about sharing that, whether it’s through writing on your blog or sharing on social media or making a video.
It’s OK to, you know, toot your own horn, and be proud of what you do and put your stuff out there. I know that as an introvert and a massage therapist, sometimes, that can be daunting to do. But you’ll get used to it. You’ll get better at it every day. So, just keep going and keep putting one foot in front of the other and you will be able to build up your business.
KM: This has been the MASSAGE Magazine Interview with All-Star Gael Wood. Visit gaelwood.com to explore her ebooks, Content Club, classes and webinars.
Thank you, Gael.
[OEx] Read, and listen to, the complete MASSAGE Magazine Interview with Gael Wood at massagemag.com/current-issue.