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Ep 393 - The Comfort of Protocols in your Business: Business or Pressure with Allissa Haines

Image of a hand holding a pen and paper with a client in consultation.

Enforcing business policies can be uncomfortable. Host Allissa Haines discusses how creating protocols and scripts in advance will lend professionalism and ease to running a massage business.


EP 384 – STRUCTURING YOUR MASSAGE BUSINESS: /podcasts/ep-384-structuring-your-massage-business-business-or-pressure-allissa-haines

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Allissa Haines is a practicing massage therapist and business owner and columnist for Massage & Bodywork magazine. You can find her building a community of massage therapists at





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Full Transcript

0:00:00.0 Allissa Haines: HobaCare JoJoba is 100% pure, high-quality JoJoba, and it is ideal for massage and body work professionals. The closest product to the natural sebum our skin produces, HobaCare provides a deeply nourishing massage medium that won't clog pores. HobaCare is non-allergenic, so you can use it on every client and not worry about allergic reactions. HobaCare is shelf-stable and will not stain your natural fiber sheets, making it an excellent choice for professional use and saving you money. You can use just a drop or two and get all the friction you need for specific deep work. You can use a little bit more and get all the glide you need for lighter work. With HobaCare JoJoba, you can offer your clients a superior experience that benefits both skin health and overall wellbeing. Our listeners can receive 20% off their order with code ABMP. Learn more at 




0:01:12.1 AH: 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. It is our mission to make sure that every massage therapist and body worker has the tools to make that happen. Let's jump in. To introduce today's topic, first I wanna touch on some of the most common complaints people make about their massage therapist. And I am getting this list of complaints based on what clients have told me about previous massage experiences, and also what I read in online reviews of other massage therapists, and of course of me too, 'cause I am imperfect. And what I've found is the most common complaints are too much pressure or not enough pressure during the actual hands-on work. 


0:02:12.6 AH: So the wrong pressure. The next most common complaint is that the massage therapist talked too much during the massage. And then the third most common complaint from my extremely unscientific research is disorganized business practices. And that might mean not getting a call back or an email response or a text response, the massage therapist canceling appointments at the last minute and doing that repeatedly, inconsistent fees or pricing, discounts that are offered sometimes and not all the times or irregularly, and in general ambiguous policies about payments accepted, cancellations, just in general disorganized business practices. 


0:03:00.6 AH: And my little editorial side note here is that it is this, it is these tendencies that overall have given our field a little bit of an impression of flakiness and unprofessionalism. I'm not suggesting that we deserve that reputation, but I will say that I have certainly met colleagues who are less than structured in their business practices and that does lend to a client experience that labels us as a little bit flaky. So a few episodes ago, we talked about getting organized. I think it was episode 384, and we'll put that in the show notes. And we talked about getting organized, setting up systems for all the little things you do in your massage business. Those things that we listed there were mostly internal to your business. I want to talk more about the external workings, policies, protocols, things that clients see. And it sounds really boring, but it's actually a way to make decisions in advance about how you will handle any given situation in your business. When you have a plan, you can create consistency so that your clients always know what to expect and you always know what to expect. 


0:04:16.4 AH: This eliminates confusion and disappointment and resentment on both sides, on behalf of the client and on behalf of you. So when you think about your policies and your protocols, your outward facing ones, you are making these decisions in advance and that allows you to provide really great customer service, which is synonymous typically with really consistent customer service. So what are we talking about specifically? First, we're talking about policies around booking. So your schedule, your boundaries about when you will work and when you will not work, your boundaries around how quickly someone can schedule an appointment. Do you allow same day appointments? Do you not allow same day appointments? Do you only allow them for current clients who are in pain or in some kind of, I'm gonna air quote this, emergency? You can have any rules you want, but do you want them to be thought out, clear, and consistently applied? Consider your booking policies in regards to if a client needs to pay for the appointment in full or simply pay a deposit or not do any of that and simply schedule the appointment. Will you apply these policies when a client is booking in front of you and you have to actually like take the credit card, put it in your hand, enter it into your system, or is it only going to apply when people book an appointment online?  


0:05:45.6 AH: Is this only going to apply to first-time clients or irregular clients, or will you also apply it to every client, even your very regulars? Consider your policies around the intake. Do you have a written intake that requires signatures? Is it mandatory and how are you going to handle it if a client does not want to complete your intake? And finally, your policy around reminders. Do you send automated text or email reminders, or do you do a phone call or do you do a manual text? Whatever your policy is, whatever your protocol is around reminders, is the client aware of that? And is the client aware that if for some reason they don't receive a reminder, they are still going to be subject to your cancellation policy? And that's our next little topic here, is cancellations. How do you decide what a cancellation is? What is the amount of time that you feel you need before a scheduled appointment to be able to cancel the appointment without a penalty to the client? Is it 24 hours? Is it 48 hours? Is it 72 hours? Are there exceptions to that cancellation policy, like sickness or emergency? Or is it just a foreign policy period and it applies to everyone all the time? Is there a difference for you between a cancellation and a no-show?  


0:07:09.6 AH: Maybe you just have a fee that's not the full amount of the service when someone cancels, let's say 16 hours in advance. It's not 24 hours, which is your policy, and it's just a fee, $25 fee, $50 fee, whatever. Is that different? Is that fee different if they no-show? If you're sitting there waiting at your office and they don't show up, are you charging just that fee? Or are you charging the full amount of the service? And then you get to decide how you are going to enforce that cancellation policy. And I cannot stress this enough. If you choose to have a cancellation policy, you need to think ahead on how you are going to enforce it. And that might include having actual written scripts so that you are prepared when someone cancels or no-shows. So how you're going to enforce it and what are the exceptions to that policy, to that enforcement. So that might mean having a script that says, I understand that your schedule changed and you need to cancel tonight's appointment. I do need to apply my cancellation fee. I will send you a link so that you can pay for that before you make your next appointment. Or if they paid a deposit, your script is gonna say something like, I understand that you had to cancel, schedules change. 


0:08:32.5 AH: I have accepted your deposit as the cancellation fee. I look forward to you making your next appointment. If someone has to cancel, but they can rebook right away 'cause you have another opening in a few days in your schedule, are you gonna charge that cancellation fee and also schedule them for a few days? Or are you gonna not charge them a fee because they were able to schedule right away? There are all kinds of contingencies and there are all kinds of policies they can be whatever you want them to be, but they should be thought out, ideally written down with scripts for each situation so that you're not fumbling at the last minute when it happens and you're annoyed and your emotions are involved in it. So have a plan for every particular contingency and when you run into something that you haven't run into before, take that opportunity to create a plan and write it down for the next time it happens and then you'll have some really good, prepared consistency for how you are going to respond to any given cancellation. This one's a little less frequently considered, but it's still kind of a thing for a lot of us, the payments that you accept. You might accept cash, you might accept check, you might accept credit card or you might not accept credit cards or you may prefer only credit cards. 


0:09:49.0 AH: That's actually how my business is. I prefer credit cards. A check is okay 'cause I can deposit it virtually from my phone, I don't actually have to go to the bank. And cash is a pain for me because I do not like to have to stop at my bank. So I had to consider my preferences, what I want my policies to be and what I will accept outside of those policies. It might feel like creating policies and protocols and consistency is directly opposed to the idea that you want to be easy to work with, but it's not because consistency makes you easy to work with. Consistency and sticking with your policies and your protocols makes it so clients always know what to expect. And if what they expect from you is not a good fit for their personality and their lifestyle, then that's a good thing to know that because they can seek another massage therapist with different policies that better suits their needs. 


0:10:47.9 AH: Being easy to work with doesn't mean that you have no rules or boundaries. It actually means that you have great rules and boundaries and they are clear to everyone. Your business has to serve you as well as your clients. Now, do we make accommodations? Absolutely. There will always be exceptions, but our policies should be built in a solid structure, a good foundation, on well thought out policies and protocols. So as you try to figure out and think through what the best policies are for you and your business, try to let go of that chatter in the back of your head that's like, well, what about XYZ and this would be an exception. 


0:11:29.5 AH: Sure, create your policies, make a list of the actual exceptions, and then have a plan for executing all of that when it happens. You will look so beautifully professional if when something comes up in your business, you have a script to handle it right away. All you have to do is open a document and copy and paste, paste that into the text you're sending the client that says, I totally understand that you had to cancel. I am glad that you are not coming in when you're sick. I do not charge a cancellation fee for that, or I charge a cancellation fee for last minute changes. Here's a link where you can pay that fee before you schedule your next appointment. You will look so good for having yourself together that will defray most of the ickiness on the side of the client because they knew this was gonna happen. And you can feel good about applying those policies when everyone is in the know. And you can feel good about letting go of clients who are not a good fit for your policies and your protocols. And that's what I have to say about thinking ahead in order to be very professional in your business practices so that everyone understands what your business is about. It can only benefit you to be very clear. 


0:12:49.8 AH: All right, today's high five is a weird one, but I'm giving it to you anyway. Trader Joe's Coconut Flavored Almonds. If you have not tried these delicious nuggets of happiness, if you are able to eat almonds and a little bit of sugar and some coconut, you should totally find in the dried fruit and nuts section of Trader Joe's, it's a blue bag, they're officially called Trader Joe's Coconut Flavored Almonds, and they're delicious. Like, almonds are pretty good for you, provided you can eat almonds. And they're kind of like candy, so I don't necessarily think you should sit down and eat a whole bag, but they are a delicious, high-protein treat, my friend. So if you have not tried the delicious treat that is Trader Joe's Coconut Flavored Almonds, and you are able to get to a Trader Joe's, I'm just gonna suggest that you try them, 'cause I think they'll improve the quality of your snacks. 


0:13:39.7 AH: If you have a question about running your business or an idea for an episode, reach out via email at You can also find me building websites and playing with my community of massage therapists over at And make sure that you are subscribed to ABMP's podcast so you don't miss a bit. There is so much to learn about building and maintaining a massage practice. We're gonna help you cover the business and marketing side, the communication skills, and all the things you need to help you be successful. I will meet you right here for the next episode. I can't wait.