Skip to main content

Ep 289 - High-quality, Committed Clients with Joanna Sapir

An image of spa attendant going over services offered to two clients.

You believe in your work. This is your purpose, and you want a business that reflects that. In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren speak with small business coach Joanna Sapir about how practitioners can serve their clients more deeply, how consultations should be used as a growth strategy, and how to step into a leadership role to create committed client relationships.

Author Images
Darren Buford, editor-in-chief of Massage & Bodywork magazine.
Kristin Coverly, director of professional education at ABMP.
Author Bio

Joanna Sapir provides small business coaching in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world, helping innovative practitioners build more profitable and sustainable businesses. She is also the host of the podcast The Business Revolution for Practitioners. For more information, visit  



Darren Buford is senior director of communications and editor-in-chief for ABMP. He is editor of Massage & Bodywork magazine and has worked for ABMP for 22 years, and been involved in journalism at the association, trade, and consumer levels for 24 years. He has served as board member and president of the Western Publishing Association, as well as board member for Association Media & Publishing. Contact him at

Kristin Coverly, LMT is a massage therapist, educator, and the director of professional education at ABMP. She loves creating continuing education courses, events, and resources to support massage therapists and bodyworkers as they enhance their lives and practices. Contact her at





Elements Massage:


Precision Neuromuscular Therapy:


Anatomy Trains is a global leader in online anatomy educationand alsoprovides in-classroom certification programs forstructuralintegration in the US, Canada, Australia,Europe, Japan, and China, as well as fresh-tissue cadaverdissectionlabs and weekend courses. The work of Anatomy Trains originated with founder Tom Myers, who mapped the human body into 13 myofascial meridians in his original book, currently in itsfourthedition and translated into 12 languages. The principles of Anatomy Trains are used by osteopaths, physical therapists, bodyworkers, massage therapists, personal trainers, yoga, Pilates,Gyrotonics, and other body-minded manual therapists and movement professionals. Anatomy Trains inspires these practitioners to work with holisticanatomy in treating system-wide patterns to provide improved client outcomes in terms of structure and function.




Founded by a massage therapist for massage therapists, the Elements Massage® brand is a network of independently owned and operated studios dedicated to changing lives--including yours!  The Elements Massage brand believes massage therapists deserve a supportive team, business and marketing resources, and the chance to learn as much as they want, so many Elements Massage studios offer and reimburse continuing education on an ongoing basis. It's no surprise Elements Massage therapist and client satisfaction leads the industry. That's because from day one, the brand has kept an unmatched commitment to deliver the best therapeutic massage experiences possible for both clients and massage therapists. Elements Massage studios expects the best. So should you. If this sounds like a fit, reach out. Studios are hiring!






Each Elements Massage® studio is independently owned and operated. Franchise owners (or their designated hiring managers) are solely responsible for all employment and personnel decisions and matters regarding their independently owned and operated studios, including hiring, direction, training, supervision, discipline, discharge, compensation (e.g., wage practices and tax withholding and reporting requirements), and termination of employment. Elements Therapeutic Massage, LLC (ETM) is not involved in, and is not responsible for, employment and personnel matters and decisions made by any franchise owner. All individuals hired by franchise owners’ studios are their employees, not those of ETM. Benefits vary by independently owned and operated Elements Massage® studios. Elements Massage® and Elements Massage + design are registered trademarks owned by ETM.

Therapists who are drawn to Precision Neuromuscular Therapy are problem-solvers who want to learn new approaches, but also understand the “why” behind the “what”.  This desire resonates with our emphasis on the problem-solving process, rather than the teaching of a singular technique or approach. Led by founder Douglas Nelson, each PNMT instructor is a busy clinician with decades of practical experience.

We have taught hundreds of hands-on live seminars for more than twenty years, emphasizing precise palpation and assessment skills. PNMT online courses are another rich source of discovery and deeper understanding. Also available is a video resource library (PNMT Portal) with hundreds of videos of treatment, assessment, pathology, and practice pearls.

Learn more at

Full Transcript



0:00:00.1 Speaker 1: Are you a massage therapist who loves to problem-solve? Do you see clients with challenging musculoskeletal issues? If so, then studying precision neuromuscular therapy will help to sharpen your decision-making skills and achieve better client outcomes. Our emphasis is on the problem solving process rather than the teaching of a singular technique or approach. Led by founder Douglas Nelson each PNMT instructor is a busy clinician with decades of practical experience. Visit to explore our offerings of live seminars, online courses, or the video resource library, the PNMT portal, that's 




0:00:58.6 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford. 


0:01:00.6 Kristin Coverly: And I'm Kristin Coverly. 


0:01:00.7 DB: And welcome to The ABMP podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Joanna Sapir. Joanna provides small business coaching in the San Francisco Bay and surrounding areas and across the world, helping innovative practitioners build more profitable and sustainable businesses. And she is the host of the podcast The Business Revolution for Practitioners. For more information visit Hello Joanna and hello Kristin. 


0:01:25.2 Joanna Sapir: Hi. Hi Darren. 


0:01:27.4 KC: Hello and welcome to The ABMP podcast. We're excited to have you here. Let's jump right in. Joanna, let's start by talking about how practitioners serve their clients more deeply. You mentioned designing programs and packages that get results. Tell us more about that. 


0:01:43.4 JS: Yeah, well, the usual way that body workers and massage therapists are practicing is you book a session. You go to their website, I go to your website, and that's what I can do, or I can call you up and I talk to you and you say, "Let's book a session." So then I might come in and let's use me as an example. I am a 48-year-old competitive Olympic style weight lifter, and a mom and a business owner. I got all kinds of needs for body work. And let's say I even have a competition that I'm coming up on, and let's say it's four months away, and I'm starting to really plan the peak of my training cycle. And again, I got all these other stressors going on in my life, and I come in for this session, and you might even ask me, "What's going on?" and I might even tell you all of this, but you're still just addressing what's going on with me that day. There's not this long-term outlook, and then you finish the session and you go, "When would you like to come in next?" 


0:02:45.8 JS: And it's just this very session by session happenstance approach versus what I know would serve me best and what I would love and would also serve the massage therapist even better in business. But most of all, if we just talk about from a client-centered perspective, what would serve me, would be, if you, as the body worker, looked at what I'm doing over the next four months. Let's say... I said four months because that's when I named that this competition is coming up. But let's create a plan to support you and your body to be prepared for this. And so that involves looking at all the things that are going on and what's gonna be our plan of action to get you healthy and keep you healthy. To whatever is involved, whatever I got going on with me. And that, how amazing, how amazing would that be? For me as a client, that's exactly what I want, is to know that my body worker is part of my team in my corner. I have a coach prescribing and doing all of my programming. This is my body worker keeping me healthy on this track, on this plan. And so what's that plan?  


0:04:01.2 JS: So that's what I teach actually body workers and massage therapist to do, is to create those kind of treatment plans for their clients and how to enroll people in that right from the beginning, because it's still different to just say what somebody needs and say, "So why don't you come in every week," let's just say, "for the next four months?" It's different just to say it than it is to actually get the client's commitment and really enroll them in the process. And it is back to that client center perspective, it's incredibly powerful for a client to be committing to their own health and their own goals in that way. And you will find your clients being much higher quality clients when you actually create this process in your business, you will get fantastic people. So that's what I mean by creating programs. It's different than merely selling a pack of sessions. 


0:05:02.3 JS: I think packages or packages of sessions can be kind of common in the industry, and it's usually done in a way that's about discounting. It's about saving money. It's like you buy the pack of sessions in order to save money, it's not laid out as this plan. And furthermore, if I buy a pack of sessions, I can use it whenever I want to, maybe it expires in a year or something like that, but that doesn't actually give me the treatment plan that we're talking about, right? If I can choose whenever I wanna come, the practitioner should be the one saying, "This is how often. This is what we're gonna be doing. Here's the timeframe." 


0:05:39.1 DB: Joanna, I totally agree. As a client, I associate being sold a package of four sessions more with relaxation massage than I do necessarily with a treatment plan specifically addressing my health in general or any specific needs I have. Kristin, would you agree as a therapist?  


0:06:00.4 KC: Yeah, I think you're right. I think it could, though, be different. So I think Joanna's right in that oftentimes, practitioners approach a package and offer it and market it, the languaging we use is around discounts, like, "Hey, buy this package because you get a financial discount." However, a package could absolutely be used as a very important part of an ongoing program. And so I think a package could be either, but more often we go down that lane of, "Don't you wanna buy this, 'cause it's a discount?" And you're right then that often, Darren, that falls into the more relaxation plan. But it could be a great tool to implement a program that you and your client have set for a long-term goal. I love that. 


0:06:46.6 DB: So Joanna, I know that one of your primary growth strategies is to host consultations. Can you give a definition of what a consultation is and outline the process for doing it?  


0:06:56.8 JS: Yeah, well, so if you're taking this programmatic approach to enrolling a client in this treatment plan, whatever it is, you're gonna need some process to, first of all, get their enrollment, to enroll them, to get their buy-in, to get them on the same page and to, most of all, understand what is it that they actually need? So I teach practitioners to use a consultation for that, and the consultation is... I teach it as a free process, though some of my clients in the long run have ended up charging for it, but generally we start free. And the consultation on the one hand, from a business perspective is it's a sales process, is what it is, it's the point at which you get somebody to say, "Yes, I wanna do this," and they pay the money. That is what happens in it. But for really serving our clients powerfully, we want this to be a truly meaningful assessment process where you as the practitioner are actually doing an assessment to determine what it is that this person needs, and you're making that recommendation for what they need. That is the plan you're laying out, and then it becomes their choice whether they'd like to step forward and take that plan from you, like with you as their body worker. 


0:08:13.6 JS: So that assessment process involves not simply, to be really clear, it's not a free session of your services, it's not a body worker session. Although it very well may include a physical assessment on your part. So that may be a portion of it, but a lot of it is talking to your prospective client, kinda depends on your field, but in bodywork for sure you'd wanna get your hands on them. But it would start with an interview of understanding who they are, what their goals are, what's going on with them. And this is another place that is an opportunity for body workers, I think, to serve their clients so much more powerfully. And that's by getting to know them at a much deeper level than I think usually happens. 


0:09:00.1 KC: What I think is interesting is oftentimes in our languaging, we might call that a phone interview, but this takes it to a different level and really has a different way of looking at it, in the way that you operate and kind of work through a consultation. What I thought was interesting is that you recommend people have that as their call to action on their website for potential new clients, instead of book a session, it's book a consultation. So talk to us a little bit more about that. 


0:09:26.2 JS: Yeah, that's exactly right. You as a practitioner need to know who your ideal clients are I'm sure you guys have talked about this before on your podcast. It's another part of the freelancer mindset to go, "Well, I can help anyone that shows up." And I know that this is a point of resistance for practitioners and body workers. I know it's really hard when you're in a helping profession like, yeah, you can help a lot of people. I can too. So I work as a business strategist, I could work with... I could work really actually with any service-based business. The stuff that I teach could be used by a plumber or an appliance repair man, but I don't work with any service-based person. I work with the people who I love working with the most and the ones who resonate with me the most, so they see the best results. And that's who you wanna think of as who your people are. You need to know who your people are. Who do I love working with the most and who gets the best results for my services and what's the overlap there? So I've honed in, I know who my people are, and you're gonna wanna know who your people are as well, and that is a key piece of this consultation process as well, is you determining is this one of my people?  


0:10:50.5 DB: Joanna one of the ways that you're talking about this or the lens that you're talking about this through seems to be with new and potential clients. What about existing clients? Do you try to... If you're gonna shift your business to this new model, how do you work with existing clients? Are you introducing them to this plan? Are you total transition in the way that you're doing business at that point?  


0:11:12.3 JS: So practitioners understandably get a little freaked out about this. Like, "Oh my goodness, how are my past clients gonna respond to this? They're never gonna do this." And so they're kind of going, "What's gonna happen with my old clients?" We do it in a couple of ways. I ask the practitioner, "What do you think you will need to feel confident to communicate this to your past clients?" And we kind of identify ahead of time either an amount of money or in a number of clients in the new way. So what we do is it's just new clients to begin, they haven't told their old clients yet, they do change their website, they change their website, the call to action is now the 15-minute phone consultation is how it starts. But old clients still have their text number and their email, old clients are still like just doing the old way of booking sessions. So we let them stay for a bit. We start the new way with new clients. And then I ask them how many new clients or how much money do you wanna make before you're ready to make the switch? And they'll say something like, "When I've made $30,000 in sales." Or, "When I get 10 new clients in the new way." Or something, they'll say something like that, right?  


0:12:19.6 JS: I have a campaign that I help my clients. It's an education campaign for their former clients. So the last thing you wanna do is just suddenly say, "Hey, you can't buy sessions anymore, and it looks like this," it's actually this education campaign where you're showing them how much better it is for them to do it this way. 


0:12:40.3 KC: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors. 




0:12:44.3 Speaker 1: Anatomy Trains is delighted to invite you to our in-person fascial dissection workshop, October 10th through 14, 2022. We're excited to be back in the lab with Anatomy Trains author Tom Myers and master dissector Todd Garcia in Todd's laboratory of anatomical enlightenment in Boulder, Colorado. Join students from around the world and from all types of manual movement and fitness professions to explore the real human form, not the images you get from books. Visit for details. 


0:13:20.0 S1: Hey life-long learners, did you know that Elements Massage Studios are hiring and at the top of their list is curious massage therapists like you? Elements Massage Studios are all about improving the lives of everyone they touch. For them, that includes giving you training in new skills, a supportive team, and chances to grow a client list. If this sounds like it could be your new home, let them know we sent you by going to That's 


0:13:55.3 KC: Let's get back to our conversation. Joanna, I'm curious, you've got clients on this new plan, the new program, sort of a long-term approach, how often do you re-assess along the way?  


0:14:06.6 JS: So program design is really an important piece of this. And so what I would encourage anyone listening, and when people are working with me, we're not making that plan up on the spot, even if it seems like that. We're actually, as part of the work I do with practitioners anyway, we're first identifying who are those ideal people, who are those people I love to work with and see the best results for my services, and we're designing the programs ahead of time. The program or programs ahead of time. What you're doing is you're creating a basic container within which you can customize an approach, but it's still a basic container that you have thought out ahead of time as this is the process that I know will help my ideal clients achieve the results they're after. So for example, a number of body workers that I work with, they're essentially people are coming to them in acute pain, and it may be, it may be that they've experienced chronic pain, but they're in pain right now, and they're like, "I've got this pain." 


0:15:16.1 JS: And so a lot of times the body worker what they're designing their initial program is very specifically to deal with this pain that somebody is coming to them in. So they're designing that process that is very much based on the practitioner. Like I'm not telling, I don't tell practitioners what that should look like, I'm giving them tools and leading them through a process of figuring out themselves for themselves, but these look really different, like some of my practitioners, it's a six month process where they see people weekly. That's pretty basic, right? But then I have others who like it's a three-month process but the first month they're coming in twice a week, and then the second month they're coming in weekly, and then the third month it's every other week. So it's really just... That's based on you and really looking at your ideal people and what do you really think they need? So for body workers in particular, a lot of times, if somebody's coming to you with injury or pain, the first level program, that first entry program is about helping them get out of pain, and where is it that you wanna get them to? So one of the things that I prompt practitioners to think about, and all of you listening can think about is, what are the milestones I wanna build in here? What are the kind of the achievements?  


0:16:37.9 JS: And you can have multiple milestones in your program, or it can be one. It just really depends on who your people are and what you're helping them get to. And then when that's over, what's the next step? And so for these body workers who people are coming with particular pain, that first program is meant to try to address the root cause, let's get you out of pain and get to the root cause, and then after that, it's usually some kind of, I wanna say maintenance, but it's really not always about maintenance, a lot of times the practitioners are telling me, "Now I want them to learn what was creating that pain in the first place so we can completely avoid that." And so a lot of times this starts to involve movement therapy and self-myofascial work, and all these other pieces that are not just the body work and coming in for the session. That's in the front end programs as well, but so then they're designing something after that. So for example, these... I can think of multiple practitioners who I've worked with who they have that initial program, the person's coming in pain, it might be, like I said, three months, might be six months, whatever it is, and then after that, the ongoing work is often like six or 12 months, basically containers. And a fair number of your people, I think a lot of times it looks like about half of the people who finished that initial program are like, "Cool, I'm a lifer." 


0:18:00.9 JS: You know what I mean? Stay with me, here I go, and that looks... That next level looks kind of different. So it's up to you as the practitioner to design what are those steps and what are those programs? But I do wanna be clear, sometimes when practitioners are not working with me and they hear this, so this is for all of you listeners, you go, "Oh, that makes sense." And they will short-change themselves on their ideas about that initial program and they'll wanna make it really small, I should say, even if small, like let's say something like four weeks. And they don't necessarily recognize it, but it's their fear of how to enroll somebody in something bigger that makes them saying four weeks, even though four weeks isn't at all what is really gonna help this person. So I just wanna warn against that. This isn't about like, "Oh yeah, I give them this little taste to begin so that then they'll stay long-term." No enroll them in what they need right from the beginning. And you absolutely can do that with a great consultation process. 


0:19:04.7 DB: Joanna, as we bring this podcast to close, I just have one small question. In that filter, a phone filter conversation, you did mention a couple of times about filtering out people. Can you just briefly tell... I'm so curious, that's a pretty powerful thing, and not a lot of massage therapists probably feel comfortable doing that because that feels like letting money go. Can you just elaborate on that? Just briefly?  


0:19:26.2 JS: Yeah, I mean, this is a huge mindset shift that's needed, and for honestly any business owner but anybody in wellness practice. Man, it's one of the most powerful things you can do. I have a whole lesson about you have to learn how to turn away leads. And it's interesting, I will say this, when you learn the power of this, and I'll talk a little bit more about it, but when you learn the power of this, this actually is one of the milestones in my program with clients. One of the milestones is when you turn away your first lead because they weren't the right fit. It is an empowering process. So yes, we tend to... The freelancer mindset is we take anybody who shows up and is willing to pay, heck yeah. And that's an argument a freelancer type will have against doing a consultation is, no, I'm take anyone and everyone who show... They already know they wanna buy a session from me, why would I do a consultation first, right? But that's not what this is. This really is about who do I love working with and who do I wanna see the best results from my services?  


0:20:40.1 JS: So I ask practitioners, I do a free workshop where one of the questions I ask is, "Who are your favorite clients? Like who are your three favorite clients? And who are your three least favorite clients?" And anybody can come up with. It's easy for people to come up with who have been my favorite people and who have been my least favorite people, and then I say, "Now, why? Why did those people end up in the yes list and why did those people end up in the no list?" Well, the no list I mean inevitably is things like they don't value my time, they don't value my expertise, they'll cancel on me last minute, they try and tell me what to do, they never do their homework, they're always coming in complaining with the same problems and so on. So everybody's got their qualities, their criteria for what is not a client they don't like working with. Everybody can identify that, and that's what we're filtering out, that is what you are both, you are explicitly looking for that yourself in your phone pre-qual. And you're also identifying budget, you're filtering people out because you don't wanna have somebody in for that assessment process to enroll them in. 


0:21:51.9 JS: If they simply are like, "Oh, no way would I pay that or invest in my health in that way." So you're really also looking at how serious is this person about their own health and wellness and reaching their goals. And if they are not a fit, you are turning them away, and so that's why you really wanna have a great referral network as well. Is like who would be the right fit for this person? So it's simply you're asking them a few questions, like a few initial filtering questions, and you're able to identify pretty early if it's not the right person, and you say, "I don't think I'm the best person to help you, but I've got somebody who is." 


0:22:28.5 JS: And you wanna really have your referral network set up to know who are the right referrals for this type of person, this type of person, this type of injury, this type of health concern, etcetera. It's a great reason to be well-networked and to also have your own specialties where you can tell your network here's who I work with, right? Here are the particular pains and problems and goals and desires that are perfect for me in a client. So yes, you are turning people away, yes, that's scary, yes. It's also a wonderful milestone because when you're saying no to those folks, you're saying yes then to the people that you do want, and the reverse is true. When you're saying yes to anyone you're saying no to... You are taking up space in your life and it is a whole different ball game when your business is entirely focused on the people you love working with and they see the best results from your services. It is a whole new level of fulfillment as a practitioner to have that, to really truly love all of your clients so much and know that they're fully, fully invested. 


0:23:37.3 DB: I wanna thank our guest today Joanna Sapir. For more information about Joanna, visit Thanks Joanna and thanks Kristin. 


0:23:45.9 JS: Thanks for having me. 


0:23:47.1 KC: Thanks so much for being with us and helping us look at how we structure our practices in a different way. 




0:24:00.8 S1: Members are loving ABMP Five-Minute Muscles and ABMP Pocket Pathology, two quick reference web apps included with ABMP membership. ABMP Five-Minute Muscles delivers muscle-specific palpation and technique videos plus origins insertions and actions for the 83 muscles most commonly addressed by body workers. ABMP Pocket Pathology, created in conjunction with Ruth Werner, puts key information for nearly 200 common pathologies at your fingertips and provides the knowledge you need to help you make informed treatment decisions. Start learning today. ABMP members log in at and look for the links in the featured benefits section of your member home page. Not a member? Learn about these exciting member benefits at