Setting Your Fees for Massage

One of the common questions I get is ‘How much should I charge for a massage”? The question really should be ‘How much do I need to make each week/each session to run a profitable business.

I was talking to a friend of mine who asked me if I knew any cheap massage therapists. She had been going to someone who was charging about $40-$50 an hour. That person apparently went out of business and had to go back into the corporate world to make a living. So was charging less than the national average of $60 a wise thing to do?

Many think that charging less will get them more clients. They start out charging less for their services because they think that they are right out of massage school and not very good so they need to charge less and attract more clients. While they may not be as experienced the value of massage is really relative to each clients perspective and may not have anything to do with how good of a massage therapist you are.

Charging less in the beginning may be a good incentive for people to come in. I recommend that as soon as your schedule is full to start charging more. Yes you may loose clients but the bottom line is that you need to be making enough to support yourself and your family. As you get busier you can be choosier about who you work on taking clients who pay you more.

Some areas of the country where the cost of living is less may have lower fees for massage therapy services.

I have outlined some things to consider when setting your fees:

  • You will only be able to do a certain number of massages a day/week physically, mentally and emotionally. Most massage therapists do about 20 hours of massage a week. Some are able to do more. Since you are only able to do so many massages, you need to charge more to make a decent living.
  • What is the value of a massage? What does it mean to people to be able to come in and get relief for their pain or problem? What is the value of providing regular weekly massage to someone and helping them heal their attachment, security and self-esteem issues?
  • What amount do you need to charge so that you do not feel resentful of the massage client? I have heard many stories of massage therapists feeling resentful and yes even to the extent that the person wanted to apply more pressure to the massage client than they could stand. While this is not a usual thing for a massage therapist it may arise when you feel resentful.
  • Charge enough so that you are not expecting a tip. Some people will tip, some won’t. Depending on tips for income is not very helpful financially. If someone does tip think of it as a bonus not an essential part of your income.


Nina McIntosh in her book The The Educated Heart: Professional Boundaries for Massage Therapists, Bodyworkers, and Movement Teachers (LWW In Touch Series) says this about setting fees:

Your rates affect what both clients and colleges will think of you. If you charge more than the norm, some clients may be put off, while others may think you must be offering something special for the extra charge. If you charge less than the going rate, some clients will be attracted to the bargain but may not value the work as much….

The amount you charge also affects how you feel about your work. Make sure that your fees are fair to you and that they take into account all of your expenses. Charge enough so that you won’t resent your clients. Also, make sure you don’t feel as if you are overcharging. If you are not comfortable with your fees, clients will sense it and feel uncomfortable too.

Setting Your Massage Fees when Billing Insurance

Setting your fees for when you bill an insurance company is a whole other ballgame. Many massage therapists charge more when they bill an insurance company saying things like – they have to wait longer to get paid and they have to do more work to get paid. There is a big discrepancy over this issue that I have only just recently found a legal answer for. When I went to a workshop put on by two local Seattle area attorneys they made it really clear that those extra things that go into insurance billing are just a part of doing business and they can not be charged extra for. You can charge the extra amount that you pay or would pay a billing person to submit each bill and for the work you/they have to do to get paid. Otherwise charging more to an insurance company than you do your cash clients for the same service is considered insurance fraud and that can be punishable by a $5000 fine and 5 years in prison.

What about the fact that you are doing medical massage? I for one do not do anything different when someone comes in for a regular massage and pay cash for it compared to someone who I am able to bill their insurance company for the services. If you could prove in a court of law that you do treat the client differently and that you use different skills and knowledge than you may be OK.

There is also something called the Usual and customary fee schedule for insurance companies that set rates for insurance companies. I think the last time I checked for Seattle area it was about $132 a hour. The thing is that we don’t really know how they are getting that number. If you bill for auto accidents, those insurance companies will usually pay whatever you charge so if massage therapists (or others) are charging more than their regular cash clients to insurance companies and that is the number being used to determine the UCR – is that really factual, ethical and legal?

This actually is one of the things that I think our massage associations should be doing more work on for us -figuring out for each state what are the legal implications of setting different fees for massage therapy sessions.

The other thing to know is that professionally you can ask others what they make but if you ‘collude with others in setting your fees’ it could be seen as price fixing.  ( I am not of course a lawyer but that is what I was told by the workshop I mentioned above.)

Setting fees that support you and your business is just good self care and it is just business.  It does not mean you care less about others who can not afford your services.  When you are making what you need to make, you are able to give more money or use your money to set up services for disadvantaged people to get affordable massage or even free massages.

So what do you need to charge so that you will be a successful massage therapist?

Interviewing Massage Clients

The Client Interview
The Massage Client Interview is one of the most important parts of the massage session.
The Interview is how you gather information on what the client expects from their session as well as what they need.  It will help you create a plan of action in applying what you know about massage and help you to perform an effective massage.  It is the beginning of educating your clients about massage and what it is that it does and what you do specifically with massage.  It also sets the stage for building trust and for starting the therapeutic relationship with a client.

You can start with an intake form with the standard information you want to collect but the real interview is where everything starts.   Be sure to have a private area where you can ask these detailed questions or you can also ask during the session as you go.

What you really are doing is trying to get to the heart of why they are there so that you can address their needs and fulfill them in your massage session.  Often people don’t know the real underlying reason for seeking massage, but their main goal is always to get out of pain or have less stress.  What they really want is a better life that allows them to do more when they are pain free or have less stress.  Getting to these real issues can help you in creating a treatment plan for them that includes repeat sessions for achieving that.

People also do not always want to share their information either for personal reasons or they just really do not know that this information could help them get a better massage.  Because of transference and the power differential, clients often expect you to read their minds and just know what they need.  I know for me when I get a massage, it is really hard to talk.  I often go to a place deep inside part relaxation and probably part early childhood.  The way touch makes people feel nurtured and cared for will do that.

It also helps to track what they say so you can bring that information into the next sessions.  You can show progress that way too as they often may not seem like they are progressing but taking notes can help you to show them their progress. Here are some things to remember when talking with clients:

  • Be sensitive to the personal information you will be getting from each client.
  • Be aware of the non-verbal factors such as posture, gait and holding patterns of the body.  Be aware of your own body language too.
  • Learn to communicate just what it is that you do in a massage or what happens when different massage is applied to the body in different ways and explain what is best for their condition
  • Allow enough time to complete a thorough interview.  You can also ask questions as you are working
  • Use active listening and show that you understand the client by para-phrasing or telling them what you heard them say
  • Ask yes or no questions and also open ended questions.
  • Most of the healing process happens in just being heard and acknowledged.  It is part of the therapeutic relationship.

Create an intake form to make the process easier asking the questions you want to ask there first.  Expand on them in the verbal interview.

Just asking the standard questions to rule out contraindications is really just the beginning of a good massage client interview.  Engaging clients in their own healing process and becoming aware of their bodies is crucial for helping people to feel better and to also build your massage business.
What most people need no matter what they are suffering from or dealing with is to be listened too and believed.  Just the act of listening can give people such a sense of relief and start the healing process.  It doesn’t really matter what technique you use in your massage session.

Learning to listen is often a difficult challenge for massage therapists.  It is also about asking the right questions of clients to get them to open up about their real issues.  This isn’t psychotherapy but getting people to become more aware of their bodies.

Most massage therapists are taught to ask questions so that they will understand the clients condition better and know how to use their techniques on a client.  This assumes that knowing about the condition will help find a solution or fix the problem.  Most often issues do not have just one pat answer.  When you change the goal of asking questions to one of empowering clients rather than fixing them the massage client interview will look quite different.  It puts healing back in the hands of the massage client and focusing on what the client wants to have in their life rather than focusing on the problem.  Empowering clients help clients discover their own powers of healing and helps guide them out of the victim mode that so often goes along with injuries and illness.

A great book to help you to think of the massage client interview in a very different way than just trying to fix clients issues is called “Interviewing for Solutions by Peter DeJong.  In it he describes a process of learning to interview clients with the goal of helping them to come up with their own solutions.  Asking questions usually shows more about the person asking the question and their views and values.  Being able to set your views and agendas aside will be the constant challenge for massage therapists especially since they are often taught to fix in massage schools.
Using open ended questions can help.  These are questions that open up a clients perspective.  They can’t be answered with just yes or no.  Once the question is asked active listening is used to repeat the information back to the client so that clarification can be made.

  • Great people as they arrive – shake their hand, look them in the eye.  Make them feel comfortable.  After all they are coming into a strange office to take their clothes off and have someone they don’t know – touch them.
  • What brings you in for a massage today?
  • How long have you felt this way?
  • Have you had this before?
  • When was the last time you had a massage?
  • Do you know what causes the pain/condition?
  • Do you do anything that makes it feel better?
  • Does it stop or hinder you from any of your daily activities?
  • Have you used massage before for this condition and did it work?
  • Don’t use technical terms or names of muscles as you talk.  Most do not know what you are talking about.
  • Ask them what they do for a living and what hobbies or activities they pursue.  That can often give you clues about what is needed.  A chef will be using different muscles than someone sitting at a computer all day.
  • Have you had massage before for this condition? Did it help?  What type of massage was it?  This can help you assess things more.

You also might want to explain why you are asking so many questions.  Some people get put off by it all and have ‘form’ overwhelm.

Ask questions when looking them in the face.  If you are asking while they are on the massage table, move to where they can see you if possible.  If they are face down, that of course is not always possible.

At the end of the interview you want to know why people are there and be able to create a plan of working on the areas that are needed in order to get results.  There is nothing worse than going to a massage therapist and telling them your left leg hurts and then they never touch it.

Some of this information is to rule out contraindications and create a plan, but it is also about creating a connection with the client.  They want to know that you understand what they have and will be able to help them.  They want to feel heard.  They want to feel understood more than anything.  They often will feel worried about their health and may feel like that they are the only person in the world that feels that way.  What they really want to know is if you can help them with what THEY have going on.

Being able to communicate with clients in this way requires that massage therapists be able to set aside their own views and really listen to the client.  This process can be made easier when the massage therapist engages in supervision to work in getting their own needs met outside of the massage office.  In doing so, it allows the massage therapist to be more fully focused on the massage client rather than on their own need to fix.  Supervision can also help massage therapists become more aware of their own fixing and helping issues which will lead to a higher level of integrity in a massage business which often is what will also create a more profitable and successful massage business.

Rebooking Clients

This whole process is also about educating clients about their bodies and about how massage can help them achieve their goals.  Many do not understand how massage works and will expect to be ‘fixed’ in one session.   The goal is to get regular weekly massage – yes weekly.  Somewhere along the line we have gotten away from the weekly massage session and people have started to think that once a month is enough.   (Can you guess where that comes from?)  Most of my practice over the last 28 years have been working on people once a week for over 15-20 years – yes they really do come that often and for that long.  People may also ask how often they should come in.  Don’t be afraid to say once a week.  I even had a few clients who came in 2x a week for over 20 years and when I tell people that, you can see the jealous look in their eye.  They need to give themselves permission to give that to themselves, no matter what the cost.

Your website is also the first place to start educating clients about this.  You should have articles on just that and a separate article on the many conditions you work with or a few good articles on stress and how regular weekly massage helps with that.

At the end of the session, people should understand that coming weekly will help them achieve their goals not only for having less pain, but for having a better life.  I had a client who said it best – “I came in with neck pain and didn’t expect to leave feeling nicer towards my co-workers and partner”.

The real benefits of massage are:

  • Feeling lighter and happier
  • Being able to sleep better
  • Being able to work with a clearer mind and more energy
  • Having more energy and being pain free for engaging in family life
  • Having more energy and being pain free for engaging in hobbies and activities.

People want to run faster, jump higher and leap tall buildings in a single bound.  The want to hike more, work in the garden more, play with their kids more.  They want to have more efficient workouts and feel more at ease walking down the street.

You just have to ask them to come back next week.  Simple right?  So much fear is associated with asking a client to rebook.  Will it be too pushy to ask?  Will you come off as greedy?  Will you be too intrusive?  Is it too much to ask?  Working through some of these fears and issues is really a process.  Get support.

You also have to know some of the reasons people say that they won’t come back.  One of the most common is that there was too much pressure or not enough pressure.  This is part of the conversation that can start in the interview process but it continues on into the session.  You have to stop asking – is the pressure OK?  Be more specific.  Is this pressure deep enough or is it too much pressure?  People don’t actually know that they can speak up about this.  Read more on getting the pressure jussst right. (on my other site – www.massagepracticebuilder.com)

Listening

While this may seem like a lot of questions that take a lot of time, most of this is really just listening to what the client needs and stepping out of the way to let them figure out what they need in order to feel better.  It is the focus of a client-centered relationship.  It is not about you always giving advice.  It is helping them to come to the conclusion that they need more massage on their own really.  It really should not take more than 5 minutes if that. It takes practice to get it down to that though.  It is an art form.  That means you can’t be thinking things like when do I get lunch today or even thinking about your next questions.

Open ended questions can help in this process.  Open ended questions are like ‘what brings you in for massage today’, where the client has to give more than a yes or no answer.  When they reply, you pick out specific things that they say that catch your attention and ask something more about that.  It is called reflective listening.

You can also use this information to follow up in an email or text with someone (with permission that you get on the intake form and have outlined on your HIPAA policy).  You can ask how is your shoulder doing or ask some question about the session.   Use specific words that they might have used.

 

 

Marketing Defined (It isn’t so scary)

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of ideas, goods and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives”.

In order for marketing to happen 4 things must happen: (From “Marketing” Mcgraw Hill/Irwin Series in Marketing)

  1. there must be two people with unsatisfied needs
  2. a desire to be satisfied
  3. a way for the two parties to communicate
  4. and something to exchange which in this case is your massage therapy service

One theory of marketing is that you have to discover the needs and wants of potential clients and then satisfy them. While this may be true to a certain extent, the massage profession is faced with the unique challenge of being the business itself (as compared to businesses in which people work ON the business.) When you are busy focusing on the needs of others, you often neglect your own.

The other thing is that you can’t be everything to everyone in this business. You don’t have to nor can you ever satisfy everyone’s needs.

The thing about needs and wants is that wants are different from needs and come from different emotional places. Often what we want – a new car, a fancy diamond ring or other things usually is coming from a place of lack. We may think we want something but the real reason for wanting something is that we want the attention or approval that goes with it. Getting those things usually don’t make us feel any happy although many people think it will. What people are looking for is the feeling that they think it will create. What we think we want is really our small self or ego talking.

What people wanting a massage are usually looking for is to be out of pain, to have less stress or to have better health. But what is the real thing they are looking for? People get into pain and sickness mainly because they aren’t taking care of themselves. They want us to “fix” them and make them better.
When we take the perspective of really desiring something it is coming from your heart. When people are desiring to feel better, to have less pain or have less stress they are coming from the place of wanting that and wanting someone to do that for them. They will be more willing to participate in the process of massage and healthcare and be willing to do what it takes to feel better.
On the other hand someone who is really committed to their health and personal growth (their spirituality), people will desire massage and will do anything they need to do to get it – pay whatever it takes and come in whatever time you have available. These are the clients you really desire – people who desire you.

So if your potential client has a need and you have something that can help that need, marketing is just being able to tell that person that you can fill their need or solve their problem. All you have to do is communicate this and the problem for most massage therapists is they are lacking the self esteem to do that. They will use excuses like ” it isn’t about the money” or “I just want to do massage, I don’t want to do the marketing to get the business or “there is too much competition.” What you are really saying is that I don’t want to tell anyone about myself or my service. I hope they will just find me so I don’t have to do anything.

The other problem I see with the old marketing theories is that the focusing on the need of the client and potential client can take a massage therapist away from taking care of their own needs. It is one of the biggest causes of burnout in the massage profession.

A marketing plan that focuses on trying to figure out and meet the needs of people is really manipulating people into thinking that they need or want massage. They will need it and if they don’t get it they will get injured, stay in pain and have high stress levels which lead to disease.

But today there are new ways of marketing that are based on attracting your ideal client. The first thing you have to know is who do you want to work with and then find out how to connect with these people. Marketing is really about connection.

Monica Roseberry in her book “Marketing Massage: From First Job to Dream Practice (Paperback) ” defines it as:

“Marketing is a way of being: it is representing yourself, your work and your profession in thousands of tangible and intangible ways.”

She goes on to say

“Everything you are and do is marketing”.

Cherie Sohnen-Moe in her book “Business Mastery : A Guide for Creating a Fulfilling, Thriving Business and Keeping It Successful” says this:

“Marketing is not a dirty word: it’s simply sharing yourself with others so they can get a sense of who you are, which allows them to make an informed decision of whether to utilize your services.

“Marketing is about enabling your clientele to value you and your services.”

“The major portion of marketing a service business is educational in nature.”

So all marketing really is, is talking about yourself and your massage business. If you start talking about yourself by talking with someone who is easy to talk to – your neighbor, your family, people you see everyday at the grocery store or gym. Each time you do so you will be building a framework for being able to talk to larger groups of people or physicians and chiropractors about what you do and what solution you provide. Then potential clients can choose you based on making an informed decision about your services and whether or not they desire your services. Working with people who desire your service and really want to be there on their own accord rather than being wooed by promises of you being able to fulfill their needs or wants is what will help you build a practice that is successful and rewarding (which is a really big difference from just being successful.)

I have been trying to put this idea together for awhile and don’t know if I have it all clear but I would really like to hear others ideas about marketing and how we can move from fear based marketing into spiritual marketing for lack of a better word. Spiritual marketing is about developing relationships that are beneficial for both parties.

 

Massage Business Plans

To Write an effective business plan, first work on these key concepts so that you can co-create exactly what you want rather than just taking what comes your way.

  • Take a look at your self and your practice (or what you want it to be). Take the self assessment inquiry here.
  • Create a mission/statement or Create a statement of informed consent. This is more really for you to discover what it is that you really do.  It is more than just the standard “here is what the benefits of massage are”.  Knowing what it is that you do is the first step.  This is really more about getting clear about your intentions and connecting with your true self.  You can also give the statement to potential clients or learn to describe verbally what you do so that you can know that clients are on the same page as you as far as their health concerns.
  • What is your Intention for doing massage or creating a business?  Often our intentions are unconscious.  Finding out your intentions allow you to learn to create based on your intentions.  Intention is not a goal to be reached but rather an energy to tap into.  You can learn to co-create your practice and your life with intention.
  • Find out who you want to market to (find your target).  Who is your ideal client?  The book “Attracting Perfect Customers” also addresses this concept in more detail.  Some people recommend doing market research to see what the demand is. While you can do it that way, you may end up doing something that you really don’t want to be doing.  Like what if the demand is for relaxation massage and you hate doing relaxation massage – will you do it?  When you compromise you risk losing touch with yourself and your passion.  You will have a higher risk of ending up burned out.  Doing what you love and loving what you do is the key.
  • Make business cards, brochures, flyers, educational packets and promotional material based on who you are for your ideal client and with intention.
  • Know your competition, but realize that competition is really about fear – fear that someone else will take your clients or fear that you are not going to get clients.  Overcoming the fear and working with others will often lead to others respecting you and referring clients to you.
  • Why we fail.  Business and Practices end up in failure usually because of the false beliefs that the mind create that hold us back and keep us from doing the things that we need to do to run a successful practice.

Online Resources:

Your Business Plan: Dreaming Forward Business Side By Daryl Kulak: Massage and Bodywork Magazine

Intro to Massage Therapy – Mary Beth Braun: Google Books

See also:  www.massagepracticebuilder.com : Massage Business Plans

Creating Brouchures for Your Massage Business

Think like your customer.

One of the most important things you can do when starting a massage business or writing a brochure for your massage business is to start thinking like your customer.  What is it that they want from you?

You just can’t assume that  they are looking for you!  In fact they are not looking for you.  They are looking for an answer to their problem.

Your job is to solve their problem and let them know you can and will help them to solve their problem.

Ken Evoy in his Free Ebook “Make Your Words Sell” says it clearly:

“Become Your Customer”

I recommend that you actually do this- go out in the world and shop around for a massage therapist from the very start and pretend that you don’t know anyone or anything about massage.  What is it that you want in a massage?  How will you know who can provide that best for you?  How will you be able to tell that you will get the most value for your money?

Most massage therapy brochures are too much ‘all about the massage therapist’ – how much training, what types of massage and things that clients really don’t care about or even know about.  They most likely don’t know what technique will work for them and they probably don’t care.  All they want is to be out of pain, have less stress or experience a deeper awareness of themselves.

Your potential client has needs and wants.  Their needs may be different from their wants.  They may need a massage but they don’t want to spend the money.  They may want to feel better but they don’t have the time to take care of themselves.

 

Features vs Benefits

One of my pet peeves about the massage profession is the long list of the benefits of massage that can be seen on almost everyone’s websites.  You know the ones – increases circulation, reduces pain, increases energy.

The thing about this list of the benefits of massage that is used to promote your practice is that they fail to pass the ‘So What?” test.

Take each one of your proposed benefits of massage statements and ask ‘So What?’  In doing so you will be able to get down to the real benefits of massage that will have more appeal to your potential clients.

So often we forget that people don’t really know about massage.  That is also what is called the ‘Curse of Knowledge” in the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
.   We become such experts and so filled with knowledge that we often forget what it was like when we didn’t know.

Apply that to your potential massage clients.  Do they know or care about increasing their circulation?  Do they know or care that you do myofacial release or even Swedish Massage?

If you keep asking ‘so what’ you will be able to write about the benefits of massage that will be most compelling to your reader to make your most wanted response which should be to make the call for the appointment!

 

Features vs Benefits

Do the so what test on this common list of the benefits of massage?

Massage increases the blood supply and nutrition to your muscles.
So what?  Why do my muscles need blood supply and nutrition?  How will that help my pain or stress?

Massage helps your muscles recover more quickly from exertion and fatigue.
So what? Why do I need my muscles to recover more quickly from exertion and fatigue?

Massage relaxes your muscles, effectively reducing spasms, tension and cramping.
So what?

Massage reduces and breaks down adhesions (knots) and fibrosis.
So what?

Massage stretches your connective tissue.
So what?

Massage helps to re-establish your proper muscular tone.
So what?

Massage reduces your muscle and soft tissue pain.
So what?

Massage supports increased work capacity and encourages your metabolism.
So what?

Massage helps to prevent muscular atrophy (wasting from injury and paralysis).

Unique Selling Proposition

Ken Evoy in his Ebook “Make Your Words Sell” describes your Unique Selling Proposition as this:

Your USP is the single, most important asset you possess.  It answers the heart-breaking questions that every one of your readers ask…

“Why should I buy from You?”

“What can you offer that your competitors can’t?”

The thing about figuring out your USP is that you need to apply it again to your potential customers needs.

He suggests using the ‘So What” technique and keep asking ‘so what?’ when you are writing your brochure.

Doing this will help you get down to the real benefits of getting a massage from you. 

If you don’t have a compelling USP, you won’t get any customers from your brochure. 

So why should someone come to you for massage?

What is the benefit your client will receive?
(What pain does it cure?   What will they get out of a massage? )

What makes you different from all the other massage therapists in your neighborhood?

 The thing is that with so many different conditions that massage helps, how will you be able to talk about them all?  

   This is what a website is for.  Your brochure will just talk about one or two different conditions or techniques as there is limited space.  You are also creating a brochure for a specific population or reason.  There may be many who read your brochure that won’t be able to relate to that information so they will need more info.  Your website will have it all!   That is why a website is such an important part of your marketing efforts. Creating a brochure without a website is a waste of time and money.

Massage Therapy Brochure Tips

  • Include your website address on Every massage therapy brochure.  Any printed marketing material is really a waste of time and money unless you have a website to provide more information.
  • Create a new brochure for each different type of massage service that you provide
  • Unless you  have a background in marketing, you will need to learn and study how to create a brochure
  • Test your brochures and their effectiveness.  Send or distribute the brochure to your target market and change it every month or so and send it again until you get your most wanted response.  Change one or two things at a time like your headlines/copy and offer so you know what it is that makes people move into action.
  • Hire a copywriter if necessary.  You are a massage therapist.  It can pay to hire people to help you do what you don’t do best!  You will then have more time to do what you do best- massage.

Back to Massage Business

Retaining Massage Clients

Retaining massage clients is the heart of a massage business.  When people come in regularly for massage you can build a solid foundation for your massage business.  People come in for various reasons – stress, pain, injuries.  They need different types of massage for different times in their lives.  Getting people to come in once a week for a massage should be your goal.  Understanding why they are coming in can help you to create a dynamic massage session that is just for them.

I can’t tell you the number of really bad massages I have had during my career- massage therapist telling me their problems,  me telling them to work on my old quad injury and them totally ignoring it, people telling me what they think I should do… all of these things are the things that will help you in creating a base of regular weekly (every other week) massage clients.

When people really feel like their needs are being addressed and attended to they feel cared for.   When their massage session gives them the results that they were looking for they feel relief and grateful.

The key to retaining massage clients is less about the massage or technique than it is about your presence or focus on a person during a session.  So many massage therapists don’t understand that doing things like talking during a session, giving advice, sharing personal information and not focusing totally on the client can influence whether a client comes back or not. These things are really making the massage session more about you.  It is a common misconception in the massage profession.  Since our work is so personal we often find ourselves being personal with people on our tables – becoming friends with them and sometimes even more.  (It is now illegal to date clients in some states.)  Because our work is personal it is even more important to be aware of who’s needs you are serving – yours or the clients.   Talking, giving advice and being bored in a massage session is more about your needs for attention and connection.  Getting those needs met outside of your practice within the constructs of peer supervision or individual supervision can be very helpful in creating more in depth client relationships as well as retaining massage clients.

Now people come and go – they have busy schedules, go on vacation and at times want to experience other types of massage and touch.  You can’t help everyone nor should you try.  Everyone does not have to become a client although it is a nice thought.  Learning who your ideal massage client is can also be a big part of this scenario.   You want to be working on people who value their health and your time.  Working on draining clients is one of the best ways to scare people away.  Draining clients are those people who make you feel less than inspired in your work.  They are the ones who show up late or cancel at the last minute or have so many complaints and they already tried 5 different massage therapists and not one person could help them.   After awhile you will be able to tell who these draining clients are right from the first phone call.   Your ideal client is unique to you though so you have to take time to discover who that ideal massage client is.  Your chances of getting them and keeping them as massage clients dramatically increases.

I personally like a good challenge to work on- difficult situations that doctors gave up on or were about to do surgery on and the client wanted to just try something else.   I also like working on people who are working through some deep emotional issues like grief, job changes, divorce and other things like that.  I find that type of work to be rewarding.   I won’t stand for anyone who cancels at the last minute and doesn’t want to pay me for my time.   I don’t like to work on people who just want maintenance massage but want me to bill their insurance (it is not within the medically necessity clauses).  The clearer the boundaries I create around these things the more clients I get when you would really think that it would be limiting my clients.   It works the opposite for the most part.

Other simple things that you can to to encourage repeat business is to offer special discounts or even monthly memberships for massage.  I also try to set people up on a regular day and time and keep that as often as we can.  When people know they have a regular spot it makes it easier for their schedule too.  Educating clients as to the benefits of getting regular massage can also help.  I usually try to explain how muscles work and how massage works.  I also ask people in the intake interview to explain in detail to me how they feel and check in with them each time so that they can see the improvement.

Even if you are an employee it is up to you really to build a framework of regular repeat business.

What do you do to retain massage clients and take care of yourself?

Relationship Marketing for Massage Therapists

Relationship marketing is about just that – building relationships.  Massage is such a  ‘personal’ profession really where people don’t want to be sold to and massage therapists don’t want to sell.   What really happens on the table no matter what technique one does is about building a relationship.  It starts from the minute someone even thinks about wanting a massage.  They may not even know about you.   From everything you do  – how your website looks, how you answer the phone and how you educate clients it is all about relationships.

When people first want a massage they start thinking about it and will often start with searching for ‘massage, your city or town’.  When your website comes up first in the listings it can make a big impression.  The other part is that it needs to have enough information in the listing to make a person want to click on it.  This is done through what is called the metatags of your site.  This is a piece of code that doesn’t show up on your page but it is used by the search engines.  The meta tag has 2 parts really – the keywords and the description.  Using the right keywords and description are crucial.  How would you describe what it is that you do in a sentence that would make someone want to click on your site?

What people are looking for online is a solution to their problem – whatever it may be… stress, pain, and injury are probably the most common.  Your metatag should address their problem.  My personal slogan is “You don’t have to live in pain”.

So once you get people to your website it is still all about building a relationship.  People want to know that you know what you are doing and that you can handle whatever issue that they are having.  Using your website to educate people as to the different types of diseases and conditions that you work with is all about building relationships and trust – enough so that they will pick up the phone and call or email you.

So your website is one of the many different types of relationship marketing.  Once you get people on the table your possibilities just increased exponentially.  Each client you get has family, co-workers and friends who are one of your best possibilities.  The client will go and tell others about their experience so you have to make it the best massage you ever do – each and every time.  The client interview and getting the details of what needs to be done is the first part.  Being able to listen to what is going on in your client without giving any advice or opinions can work wonders.  Most often what people are really needing is to be heard and understood.  Learning active listening skills is an important part of building relationships with massage clients.   Explaining what happens in the body when muscles are tight are also part of the experience so that you can educate clients about the real benefits of massage – not just those things like “increase your circulation” and “relax tight muscles” but you can take the time to let people see just what is happening in their body as you work on them.  I will do things like work one arm and then ask them to feel the difference.  If someone asks what it is that I am feeling in their body I turn the question around and ask them.  Getting people more in their bodies so that they can feel the real benefits of massage is a good start.  To me the real benefits of massage are the ones that are not so obvious.  Sure being out of pain is the most significant but people in pain are usually depressed, frustrated, angry and it will show in their life.  I had a client tell me that she came in with neck pain and didn’t realize that it would change her life.  She is much nicer to her co-workers, more efficient at work and nicer to her spouse – go figure!

The word of mouth process continues in relationship marketing.  Networking with other health care professionals and businesses is paramount.  Chiropractors are usually the first bet because their work is related in some ways.  Working with chiropractors also has its own issues but you can learn to deal with them.  Dentists, Acupuncturists, Naturopaths, Psychologists and mental health counselors are all in the networking category.   The best way to contact them though is with interest in their business or practice to use as a possible referral source for your clients.  Become clients of them yourself.  My massage business was basically jump started by a chiropractor that I was going to.  I actually was not even looking for referrals and then all of a sudden he was sending me client after client.   Working with other professionals who have similar philosophies about healing is important too.

Every time you get a referral from someone respond in some way with a progress report if it is a physician or a thank you note if some other business.

So start thinking of marketing as just building relationships.  What relationship can you build today?  Call that chiropractor up the street?  Visit the business next door and talk to your neighbors.

How to set your massage rates.

Setting your massage rates involves knowing what you need to make to be successful and stay in business along with pricing your rates to be affordable by your target market or ideal massage client. So often massage therapists set their rates low thinking that it will get you more massage clients because you will be cheaper than other massage therapists. Many do this from the start of their business thinking that they are not skilled enough to charge more for their services.

What you charge is a reflection of your relationship with money.

What relationship with money?
Most do not even have a relationship with money.

Many massage therapists have the idea that they are in this business to help others and that helping is reward enough for the services that they provide. This idea of it being noble to not have money and help is common in many of the helping professions and is one of the biggest causes of burnout.

To start with research prices in your area.  Call a few places or look at their websites for what fees they charge. Keep in mind that internet research might not be 100% accurate.   Then go in and get a few massages from these places to see if you think their work is worth it.  I can’t tell you the number of really bad massages I have gotten from people who charged extra for deep tissue or spa’s that charged more only to get a really bad massage.  You will find a range of various prices and services.

You also need to consider what your overhead is for your business and how much you need to make in a draw or pay yourself each month.

You should set your prices high enough that not everyone can afford you and low enough so that you have enough clients.

Every year you should give yourself a raise no matter what the economy is doing.

You can also charge more if you take classes on a new method or technique and have mastered it.  Adding more services like hot stone massage or reflexology makes your work different and more valuable then just a regular massage.  If you are just starting out right out of massage school you also don’t have much experience.  You can charge more each year of experience that you gain.

The other factor to consider is what kind of results are you getting?  If you are an expert in massage or one of the many techniques and are able to get good results it is worth more than the regular market value.  Specializing in a specific disease or condition such as cancer or fibromyalgi can also be worth more.

Many massage therapists have a tendency to want to use a sliding scale method of charging or charging less than they need to make thinking that they need to do that to start out.    You can do that to get the clients that you need and then start raising your rates right away and say it was just an introductory rate.

There will always be someone who is willing to charge less than you.  When professionals compete on price lowering it affects the whole profession.

It all actually comes down to what do you want to or need to make.  Asking this question first can help guide you on the path to a long career in massage.  Many massage therapists will burn out or not be able to stay in business when they continually work for less than they need to make.   You also need to do the marketing that building a business requires to attract the clients that you want and who will pay you what you are worth.

See also:

Rate Setting Tool Kit from Mikelann Valterra