Should you see every client or just the clients seeking a specialty? In this episode of Business or Pressure, host Allissa Haines walks you through the merits of having a general massage practice or choosing a specialty.
“Does Your Massage Business Need a Reboot,” by Allissa Haines, Massage & Bodywork magazine, July/August 2023, page 82.
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0:00:55.2 S1: Hello and welcome to Business or Pressure, taking the pain out of massage business with me, Allissa Haines. This is your no-nonsense guide to building a happy, sustainable massage therapy business. In this podcast, we operate from the premise that we can be in a caregiving profession and make a living wage in a thriving business. And it is our mission to make sure every massage therapist and bodyworker has the tools to make that happen. Today's topic, we are gonna talk about having a general massage practice versus a specialty massage practice, and maybe help figure out what's best for you. So let's define each of those. In a general massage therapy or body work practice, that kinda means that you probably take on most, if not all, of the potential clients that come knocking at your door with varying issues and needs.
0:01:53.0 S1: So it might mean that you do pregnancy massage, you do general relaxation, you do hot stones, you do sports massage or deep tissue or whatever you wanna call it, whoever needs whatever. Low back pain, headaches, stress, all of these things, you will take on that massage client and you will treat them accordingly, and your practice is really varied in that way. In a specialty massage practice, you would choose either a particular technique or a particular pathology or combine those two, and only do that. You might only do NRT or Neural Reset Therapy, or you might only do bear foot massage. So if someone wants to get massaged with your hands, that's not an option. You're only gonna massage with your feet because you only do bare foot massage. Or maybe you specialize in a pathology and you very strictly only see TMJD clients or clients with migraine or clients who are just out of a joint replacement surgery, maybe knees, hips and shoulders, or maybe just one or two of those. An example of specializing in both a technique and a pathology could be if you do manual lymphatic drainage, but very specifically for people who had cancer. So you've got manual lymphatic drainage as your technique, and you specifically only accept clients with cancer or a history of cancer, with issues that indicate the use of manual lymphatic drainage.
0:03:23.1 S1: There is no right or wrong between generalizing or specializing. There is simply what works best for you and how you want your career to evolve. But we do want it to be an intentional decision. We want all of the factors, all of the decisions in our massage therapy businesses to be intentional and not default. So let's go through some of the pros and cons of each and how you might be able to figure out if you're in the place where you should be or if you need to evolve to another type of practice. So when is a general practice a fantastic idea? If you are just starting out and you need the money, if you don't know yet what kinds of techniques you love to use, if you don't know yet what kinds of issues you prefer to treat, you don't know yet what you're really good at and what you're really terrible at, or what you enjoy or don't enjoy, then a general practice is a great idea.
0:04:25.0 S1: You take most of the clients that walk in your door, you take them happily, maybe you do a little research here and there to make sure that you are being the best massage therapist you can be for that client, and you're learning about what you're doing. If there are not a lot of other massage therapists around and you are able to differentiate yourself, make yourself noticeable with decent branding and maybe community involvement, maybe some networking, then a general practice is a really good idea. When is a specialty a good idea? If you are practicing in a saturated market, an area where there are tons and tons of massage therapists, if you are finding that it is hard to get to the top of those Google searches when someone looks for a massage therapist in your area, if you have other massage therapists in your building or on your block, and every networking group is already full of them, that's a saturated market.
0:05:23.0 S1: You've got lots of massage therapists. Specializing in that kind of market can be a really good idea. When you specialize, you become the expert, you become the best person at treating jaws and headaches in your area. You will attract people who are specifically looking for that issue in any given area. People will travel further and wait longer to see a specialist, so if you get known as specializing in that, it'll be a little easier to get a full book of clients than if you're just kind of a general practitioner. If your brain is bored, if you are feeling stagnant with the huge numbers of people who come in with general low back pain or general neck pain, if that bores you, if you're getting tired of it, if you're making grocery lists in your head while you're giving a massage, that's a sign that you're bored and maybe you are ready to dive into learning. That's our next little bullet point here.
0:06:24.4 S1: If you are ready to deep dive into learning a particular technique or pathology, then specializing on that might be a great idea once you've done some of the initial learning. If you are ready for a little bit of a challenge with your hands-on work and your studying and learning, then specializing can be a really good idea. If you are thinking of a re-brand, if you're a little bit bored overall with your business, if you feel like you need to refresh your service offerings and your website, and you're just overall feeling bored and outdated, now could be a really great time to move your practice into a specialty. And I wanna point out that in the July-August issue of Massage and Bodywork Magazine, our column is titled, 'Does Your Massage Business Need A Reboot?'
0:07:13.0 S1: That could be a helpful little resource in deciding if you are ready to change the way you work. If you want to charge more than the other massage therapists around you, especially in a saturated marketplace, but just in general, if you want to command a higher price, specializing is a good way to get there. Someone with migraine problems will be perfectly delighted to pay $20 more per session than at the spa down the street, because they're going to you who has experience and skills in treating their particular issue. When you specialize, you can charge more, if you choose to. So why does all this matter? Why do we want to spend a few minutes thinking through, "Is our general practice working? Or, do I wanna specialize? Or, am I bored with specializing and I want to move back into a general practice?" Why does it matter? Well, once again, we want our decisions in our business to be intentional. And a lot of the decisions we make about our massage businesses are based on the initial guidance from instructors or whatever workplace we landed in right after massage school.
0:08:23.2 S1: We make a lot of decisions by default when we startup our businesses. That's not a bad thing, we're just treading water and trying to get this thing started and doing the absolute best we can. But, it's worth thinking through now, because choosing a general practice or choosing a specialty is going to indicate how you market your business, how you find and bring in new clients. I also wanna note that when you're thinking through this decision, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can say, "I love all my general practice clients right now, but I need some more clients and I think I wanna specifically attract people training for marathons." And then you adjust your marketing to attract those kinds of new clients. Or, if you're in a specialty and you're getting really tired of treating people who are training for marathons, you can keep those clients, but work on attracting new ones who have different or varied issues. We wanna think this through as, "What do I want the foundation to be?"
0:09:25.9 S1: It doesn't mean that you have to refuse your client's pregnant daughter for pregnancy massage, just because you're only doing an oncology massage nowadays. You get to be in charge all the time, of the clients you do and don't take, and of making exceptions to any particular focus or specialty that you have. This also matters a lot because it will impact how you choose to market your massage business, how you find and bring in new clients. It's really helpful to know who we're talking to, so we can say the things that will attract them to our massage business. But you have to have a picture too, in your head, of what that client looks like and what you can do for them. And that's gonna be some different thinking based on having a general practice or a specialized one. And how you start to find and bring in new clients is exactly what we're gonna dive into in the next episode. So you've got a couple of weeks to start thinking through what your practice, what your base is, and if that's working for you.
0:10:28.8 S1: Alright, we're gonna move on to today's high five. Today, my high five goes to Dolly Parton for writing the song 'Jolene,' and all the artists who've covered it, especially Lil Nas X. I just fell into a fantastic YouTube rabbit hole yesterday listening to Jolene and all the various covers. I needed a break from the thinky work I was doing, and listening to all the different covers of Jolene was the perfect break. If you haven't done it, you should totally do it. If you have a question about running your business or an idea for an episode, you can reach out. You can email me at email@example.com. You can also find me building websites and playing with my community of massage therapists over at deepbreathdigital.com. And make sure that you are subscribed to ABMP's podcast so you don't miss a beat. There is so much to learn about building and maintaining a massage business. We're gonna help you cover the business and marketing side, the communication skills, all of it, to help you be successful. I will meet you right here for the next episode. I can't wait.