In this article, I’m going to outline four core principles that I feel are necessary ingredients to building a smoothly running, profitable massage practice.
Adhering to these principles will ensure that the practice you’re creating runs efficiently, provides your clients with a positive experience, grows your income, and does so while minimizing stress along the way.
I used these same principles to grow my individual massage practice and a group practice in the ’90s, Massage Warehouse in the 2000s, and now MassageBook, a practice-management software solution for massage therapists.
As you’ll see, it’s not rocket science, but does require self-discipline and a consistent, methodical approach. Pro tip: It’s never as easy as you think it should be.
Principle #1: It’s all about the customer experience
Without customers, you don’t have a business. That fact is painfully obvious when you first start a practice, but many tend to forget this as their practice grows. For most, the ideal client is the regular who gets their massage consistently—so let’s break down the journey a person needs to go through to become a regular customer:
Awareness: How a person learns that you and your practice even exist.
Attraction: What makes you and your services uniquely appealing to a person.
Engagement: How you move a person to interact with you and your business. (Anything from a call, to interacting with your website, an email or a social media post.)
Conversion: This is how you move someone from engagement to “Yep—I’m interested” and then to “I’d love to book an appointment with you.”
Retention: Keep that client coming back more frequently until they’re a regular.
Take the time to make sure your business has a plan in place to address each step of a customer’s journey to becoming a regular client. The mature businessperson recognizes the need to guide people along this journey and has implemented specific solutions for each stage.
Principle #2: Success = Incremental Process Improvements
Don’t let the word “process” turn you off. All it means is that you have certain ways of doing things, in a certain order, to accomplish a goal.
Examples of processes in your practice would be things like the steps you go through—wash your hands, check your messages, check out client, reschedule, change sheets, prep for next client—to transition your treatment room from one client to the next; or the steps involved in getting a new client on your table the first time, such as greeting, intake form completion and review, and an explanation of their first session.
Every process can be improved and made simpler and more efficient over time. My standing question is, “How can we improve this process or experience by 1%?” The results of repeatedly finding multiple 1% improvements over time are nothing less than staggering.
Where most people get stuck is trying to do too much too quickly. Here’s an example: Let’s continue with the example above, where you’re spending more time than you like between sessions getting everything done that you need to. How can you reduce the amount of time you need to do everything by 1%?
Wash hands: Refill soap and paper towels first thing in the morning to ensure you don’t need to refill during the day.
Check messages: Only respond to urgent messages. Save all other responses for when you have longer breaks. (Perhaps build additional breaks into your day.)
Check out client: Encourage clients to book online and pre-pay so they can simply get off the table and go.
Change sheets: Organize your sheets so everything’s close to your table. Choose one color for everything so you never have to look for a match.
As you think about 1% improvements, don’t forget to ask the question, “What would make my client’s experience 1% better?” Process improvement is very much related to #1 above: “It’s all about the customer experience.”
Someone once told me that “structure doesn’t constrain—it sets you free.” They were right.
Keep in mind this is coming from someone who has a happy-go-lucky, make-it-up-as-I-go-along personality. I fought structure for a long time—until the growth of my businesses forced me to adapt.
Now I’m a believer.
Having clear routines that are always open to being nudged in a more optimal direction is a path that will allow you to grow your practice, stay efficient and not lose (too much of) your sanity along the way. And the time you save? That’s yours to do with whatever you like!
Principle #3: Good Habits Matter
When we talk about process improvement, most of the time we’re really talking about changing our habits. It’s simple. Good habits are ones that get us closer to our goals. Bad habits lead us away from our goals.
Let’s say your goal is to increase your level of guaranteed monthly income from massage to $3,000 a month. That’s important to you, as this would let you know with certainty that you could pay all your bills for rent, food and other basic expenses.
You decide that managing your own monthly massage membership program would be the perfect way to achieve this goal. You calculate that you would need to sell just 40 monthly memberships based on a $75 charge per session.
Now you just need to determine what good habits will move you closer to your goal. When coming up with your list, be specific. Always use “I will” and make sure you define when you will perform the habitual action. This list of actions is your daily checklist, and it’s how you measure your success. As strange as it may sound, don’t measure your success by the goal. If you consistently perform good habits, the goal will take care of itself.
Remember—think small, incremental habits. A goal is just a goal until you put a plan into action, so think in action terms.
• When checking a client out who is not already a regular, I will mention the membership program and provide them a flyer with details and instructions for buying online.
• After I see a client for the first time, I will send them a thank-you email that also mentions the membership plans and provides a link to buy online.
• On the first day of each month, I send all clients I have not seen in the last month an email promoting the membership program as a great way to enforce healthy habits.
Principle #4: You Can Do This!
Am I good enough? Can I do this? Are people going to find out I don’t have what it takes?
Most people would undoubtedly be surprised to hear that I don’t really enjoy being a CEO. That I don’t derive joy from having a successful business. That I’m incredibly shy and introverted and that I really didn’t want to have my face on a magazine cover.
I did love being a sports massage therapist, though, and I do love making a positive difference in others’ lives—that’s where my inspiration and joy come from.
I think we’re all kind of led to a calling or to do something that we just can’t ignore. In my case, it’s always been sort of like a dream is calling me. A dream that won’t let go and compels me to move forward—closer to it, even while I feel afraid, anxious and uncertain.
I believe we wouldn’t be given that calling or dream unless we were somehow capable of enacting it. I’m certain of that, and as a result, I have a strong sense of self-belief which lets me move forward and do what needs to be done to manifest the dream in reality.
If you’ve read this far, then I know that you too have a dream, and the ability to realize it. Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid. Do the work. Show yourself what you’re capable of.
About the Author:
Mark Volkmann ran a massage practice, then founded Massage Warehouse and, later, MassageBook, a company that provides small-business assistance to massage therapists and bodyworkers in the form of scheduling software, SOAP notes and marketing support. Learn more about the customer journey and business success on the blog page of massagebook.com. He is also a MASSAGE Magazine All-Star.
Mark Volkmann is participating in the All-Star Video Series of business tips.