Navigating business in this new reality of coronavirus (COVID-19) can be confusing and scary.
Some states are still partially closed down while others are open; one county might allow therapists to reopen massage practices while a neighboring county does not — it can be challenging to know what the best way to progress is.
Understanding necessary protocols related to safety and sanitation — including the universal precautions to control infection that should already be standard in every massage practice, proper use of face masks, a more robust intake interview that includes questions about possible exposure to coronavirus and social distancing practices — shouldn’t be difficult to understand or implement. (Visit massagemag.com/coronavirus for guidelines.) Attracting new clients and retaining regular clients doesn’t need to be difficult either, even in this new paradigm.
Your brand identity could depend on how you market your practice and communicate to clients during this uncharted and challenging time. By implementing new procedures, communicating about them clearly and requiring client agreement with them, you will be on a positive track. Still, in your marketing you’ll have to navigate a highly politicized society, including people who might not agree with or understand your new protocols.
Reopening Your Massage Practice: What Do Your Clients Think?
As we get back to business and you consider reopening your massage practice, you will likely encounter a range of clients having a variety of opinions related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To see examples of this, you need look no further than social media. You will probably see people taking extreme stances in either direction, as well as those in the middle who are likely just trying to avoid the fray.
A word of caution here: If you encounter a client or colleague with an opinion different from your own, do not get in a war of words with them. On social media, especially, this is a no-win situation. Unfortunately, there are people out there looking to create drama. Drama is the last thing your brand and your business need.
Let us break down those clients into three broad categories.
The first category are those who just want to get back to the way it was. They want to go on with life and may even think that COVID-19 is not what we are being told it is. These people may refuse to wear a mask at all and are resistant to any restrictions or changes from the way things operated before. When you reopen and communicate such precautions as requiring massage clients to wear a face mask, conducting a more robust intake interview, and taking extra time to sanitize between sessions, you might lose some of the clients in this category.
The second category are those who are not sure what to think, feel or believe about what is going on. Their opinion may change from day to day. They want to go back to some semblance of normalcy, but what would that even look like? They hear reports from both sides, know people who are on both ends of the extreme, and are torn by what to believe and how to go about their lives. When you reopen your massage practice, this type of client might be most receptive to marketing communication that spells out your new safety and sanitation procedures, taking the guesswork out of their minds.
The third category is the polar opposite of the first category. These are the people who want to take every precaution. They may be living deep in fear. Even as governmental leadership has released restrictions, they are hesitant to venture out. The thought of being in close proximity with someone not in their pod causes them extreme anxiety. This type of client might also respond well to marketing communication that spells out new safety and sanitation procedures — but perhaps not for a while.
I teach and work at the largest massage school in the state of Arizona, The Southwest Institute of Healing Arts. We have experienced just this phenomenon with both students and clients. With the students, many are not willing to attend classes on-campus, even for strictly bodywork classes. Others see no point in wearing a mask and do not see the need for social distancing. Then there are still other students who are just trying to figure out what they are comfortable with. We are navigating how best to support our students based on CDC guidelines, government mandates and polling our students.
As the massage clinic reopens, we are experiencing the same divisions among returning clients. Some are ready to get their usual massage without restrictions. Other regular clients are still waiting to see what is going to be genuinely safe before returning. The clients in the middle are wanting to show up, yet very tentative about what they are comfortable with.
You don’t need to try to market to every category of potential client. As the saying goes, “You can’t please all the people all the time.” You must create a practice of safety and sanitation, and market your reopened massage practice so that the people willing to work within your parameters are drawn to you.
As you reopen your massage business, you need to first honor yourself and your brand, even before your clients. Marketing primarily to those who want to get back to normal may put you at risk if you are not comfortable with working without a mask or not comfortable with your clients wearing a mask.
If you fall into the center and are unsure of how this should all work, you may end up with clients who don’t respect the boundaries you feel comfortable with.
If you are not ready to come back to business yourself, you may need to make tough choices about how your practice will survive through this pandemic and lose clients who may find another therapist during your absence. On the flip side, you could gain new clients who aren’t comfortable with the way their established massage therapist is operating their practice.
The best tack to take is to implement the necessary safety and sanitation procedures to inhibit the transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19), clearly and consistently communicate those procedures to clients, and obtain their consent to this new way of doing business.
You don’t need to take a hard stance in either direction to avoid alienating any group of clients. An old adage says there are three things not to talk about in polite company: politics, money or religion. This is good practice in business as well (except for money, which is a subject for another article.)
Your practice is not the place to be political. It can immediately taint your brand and alienate clients. Leave politics to the politicians so you can continue to be there to serve your clients. In the end, that will give a higher probability of happier clients and a happier you. This will also protect your brand in the long run by not alienating a segment of your potential client base.
If You Are Employed
If you work for someone else either as an employee or an independent contractor, you may have important decisions to make. When massage establishments reopen and you are called back to work, you may have a tough choice to make if you do not feel safe working in close proximity to clients.
Additionally, if the place of business has decided to return to business as normal, it might not be worth it for you to continue working there. Before you take a firm stance with an employer, think through how you feel and make an informed decision before burning bridges. Be willing to offer alternatives while understanding they may not be willing to budge. In the end, you have to be true to yourself.
Social and physical distancing has deprived people of a basic need — human touch — yet people need massage now more than ever for anxiety release, pain relief and connection. The key is to honor where they are coming from and to honor where you are at as well.
If you approach this new reality with a smart marketing plan that rests on clean communication and agreements with clients, you can rebuild your clientele.
Set aside your fear, anger and frustration, but continue to put safety first. Become knowledgeable about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the new business and sanitation practices you must implement. Communicate well with clients, and be willing to release any client who puts your health at risk.
About the Author
Elmas Vincent is an entrepreneurial mentor, coach, consultant, speaker and trainer. He wrote this article on behalf of Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, a school that offers training in massage, nutrition, life coaching and more. His articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “What Steps Should I Take Now to Save for Retirement?” (May 2020).