Legitimate, professional massage therapists put time, energy and money into getting the education and licensing required to practice massage legally. The last thing you want, after all that, is to get lumped in with illegal massage parlors.
You can make it clear that your practice is legitimate by making conscious choices as to how you portray yourself in your marketing, in your office and in the treatment room.
All massage therapists are in this fight together. Protect each other by creating firm boundaries and clear intentions for your practice. It not only protects you, but the industry as a whole.
1. Put a Face to the Business
Disreputable massage parlors often use stock photography and vague language when describing their services in ads. Be specific when describing the type of massage you offer so nothing is left open to interpretation. Avoid stock photos and use real images of you and your staff.
2. Screen Your Clients Before You Book Them
Illegitimate massage practices keep their booking processes vague and discreet because they are protecting their clients from possible police interaction. Be up front in asking for last name, address and phone number before you schedule a client. Ask them what they are looking for from massage therapy and if they have any illnesses or injuries. These questions establish your business as a clinical setting, differentiating your practice from a disreputable massage parlor.
3. Name Your Niche
In keeping with being vague and trying to fly under law enforcement’s radar, unsavory massage parlors often use names that are non-specific and unclear. Choose a name that is unique to your practice. Perhaps use words specific to your name or your city, but most importantly, include your niche in your business name. Being specific about what you offer in your business leaves less room for assumptions about any other services you may or may not offer.
4. Design a Top-Notch Intake Form
Have all your new clients complete a professional, medical intake form. Ask about each client’s goals for the session, current or past injuries, and current or past illnesses. On your intake form, you should have answers to choose from, not just open-ended questions that can easily be left blank. If a client does not fill out the form completely or writes illegibly, this is a possible red flag. If they are not giving you the information you need to have a clear picture of their medical history, do not proceed.
5. Dress with Boundaries in Mind
Attire is a non-verbal communication of brand and business style. Use your clothing choices to project your professionalism and boundaries. Send the correct signals through your clothing, accessories and footwear.
6. Let Your Sign Do the Talking
Illegal massage parlors tend to cover the front of their business with large pictures and signs to block the windows so no one can see in. Differentiate your practice by hanging signs, but leaving plenty of space clear. You can even hang a sign that says “Respect Massage, Zero Tolerance” — find more information about these at respectmassage.com — allowing for transparency on multiple levels.
7. Have a Policy
Implement a clear policy that your practice does not mix sex and massage, and have clients sign it as a part of the intake process. Go through the policy verbally as you go over their intake form.
8. Be Clear About Your Business Hours
Have clear hours listed on your website and your front door. Shady massage parlors tend to be open late. Make it clear that you are not. Even saying “by appointment only” could be left open to interpretation.
9. Protect Your Social Media Image
Think carefully about each photo and post you put on the internet. It doesn’t matter if you are in a private practice, an employee or a business owner — your social media represents you as a massage therapist. Each image of you online should represent your profession.
10. Combat Human Trafficking in Massage Parlors
Do not send unwanted solicitors to other massage businesses, no matter what you think may be happening behind closed doors. Report all sexual solicitations to the police.
About the Author
Joyce Gauthier, LMT, is the creator and founder of Respect Massage, a campaign to deter sexual solicitation of massage therapists. Join the Respect Massage movement by visiting respectmassage.com.