Massage and Bodywork Magazine for the Visually Impaired - 10 Lessons Learned

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September/October 2014 Issue

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10 Lessons Learned

By Les Sweeney and Kristin Coverly
[Business Side]

How do fixing a fence, buying in bulk, and celebrating Grandparents’ Day make you a better business owner? Les and Kristin each share five lessons they’ve learned as consumers and employees that you can apply to your practice today.

Les’s Top 5

1. Get Your Oil Changed
Here’s a question I’ve asked students at massage and bodywork programs since the late ’90s: how often should you get the oil changed in your car? Nearly every student speaks up when I ask this question, and the overwhelming reply is, “3,000 miles!” And … that’s probably not the right answer.
If you drive a Honda, the manufacturers say you should change your oil every 7,500 miles (or 3,750 if you drive in extreme conditions, which apparently are defined as “Colorado,” where we live). Volkswagen? They say 5,000. So why does Jiffy Lube tell you 3,000? Hey, wait—you don’t think they’re trying to drive sales, do you?
In whose interest is it for you to change your oil every 3,000 miles? Well, your car probably won’t mind, but eventually, your wallet will. In whose interest is it for you to tell your clients to get treatments 20 times a year? Everyone’s! They benefit because regular bodywork makes a difference; you benefit because having a little Jiffy Lube mentality in you isn’t all bad. And more bodywork doesn’t contribute to climate change, either.

2. Show Them You Care
Answer the phone, call customers back, and reply to requests promptly.
This one just happened to me last fall, and was revisited recently. My wife and I needed to have our fence replaced.
I called a fence contractor and left a voice mail. No response. After a week, I called back, because I was hoping to have something done before winter. I left another message, and this time the contractor’s wife/office manager called me back within an hour. We set up an appointment time. Day of appointment? No show. So much for that contractor.
Fast-forward to this spring. Connect with another contractor. Leave message, get immediate follow-up. Set appointment. Day of appointment? Contractor is late, so I call him. He didn’t write the time down, but he was very apologetic, and made a sincere, concerted effort to reschedule within 48 hours—and this time he made the appointment. He’ll end up getting my business, even though he, like the first contractor, failed the first time. Why? Because he showed care and effort. I am not perfect, nor do I expect perfection. But I do expect care and effort. The rarest thing in business today is outstanding service. Deliver it, and you will stand out.

3. Ask the Right Questions
One of my less enjoyable working experiences was at a clothing store in the Washington, D.C., area when I was 23. I was also working full time elsewhere, but I was a young pup low on the totem pole and wanted to pick up a few extra bucks to take my girlfriend (now the lovely Mrs. Sweeney) out to dinner on occasion. I didn’t love the retail job (actually, I hated it), but a valuable service lesson was provided to me. My manager instructed me to never ask a customer a yes/no question. “Can I help you with anything?” “No.” You get that answer, you’re pretty much done. But, “What color sweater are you looking for?” opens up a conversation. Bam!
Don’t ask, “Would you like to reschedule?” That gives your client the option to say “No,” or “Let me get back to you,” which means “No.” Instead, try “Let’s check schedules for two weeks out. I have the same time available then, or would you prefer Wednesday?” Get in the habit of asking your clients questions that will help them make their wellness a priority.

4. Set Your Price, But Give an Incentive to Buy More
Every retailer’s goal is to make you buy stuff from them. And the more stuff you buy, the better. That iced tea I like? $2.99 a bottle. But today? Two for $4. Sure, I’ll buy another! Costco sells really good pretzels. They come in barrels bigger than my head (and I have a big head). That way, they sell more pretzels.
Your job is to sell more treatments. So make buying irresistible for your clients. When they check out, tell them their fee, but offer them a three-pack as an alternative. Sales don’t have to be engraved in stone; they can occur whenever you want them to. “Today is $65, or you can buy a three-pack for $170 and save $25.”

5. Clients are in Charge, But Guide Them
The chef may know what he or she likes, or what is most popular, or even what is best, but the diner is the one who’s eating.
At Starbucks, you can make the drink the way you want it, but you can’t order a Coke. Chipotle lets you customize your burrito, but you can’t get a hamburger.
Be sure to serve your clients’ interests, but do not expect every client (or even many clients) to exercise much control or preference over their session. I go to a wonderful massage therapist who is super-attuned to the needs of her clients. She will ask about my preferences or needs, but sometimes I have to tell her, “I don’t care; I just want to lay down.” A massage is my opportunity to stop the merry-go-round; I don’t want to decide anything.

Kristin’s Top 5

1. Keep It Simple
It’s time to replace my 18-year-old road bike, so I’ve started shopping around. I know a little about bikes, but not a ton, so I need help from the sales guys. I recently had someone tell me a bike had “Shimano 105” components without any further explanation, even though I’d started our conversation by confessing that I’d need some education from him on my options. Do I know that Shimano has different types of components? Sure. Have I memorized the component chart? Nope. When I asked for a little more information about the 105 components, he seemed exasperated and gave a quick “They’re good” reply. It would have taken him about 30 seconds to explain in layman’s terms the component group’s benefits and where it falls on the Shimano hierarchy—and I would have felt a lot better about the experience if he had.
It reminded me how important it is to meet your clients where they are and to make them feel comfortable with their current level of knowledge about the body and your work. They probably have a vague notion there are muscles that flex the hip, but we can’t expect them to know a lot about the psoas. It’s our job to use terms they’ll understand and take a little time to educate those who are interested.

2. Ask, Please!
I receive massage from different therapists in all sorts of settings just to see what’s happening out there in the massage and bodywork field. Putting yourself in the client role is a great reminder that a client’s overall impression of a session is the sum of a lot of parts, not just the hands-on work. I once had a therapist play music by alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs throughout our session. I like their music, but it’s definitely not what I would choose for relaxation. I didn’t say anything because I was curious to see if she would ever ask me what kind of music I wanted. She didn’t.
Ask your clients about all of the extras that make up the session environment: aromatherapy, lighting, music, temperature, etc. They may not have a strong opinion or want to make any decisions that day (see Les’s #5), but giving them the option to have a few little things exactly how they want can make a big difference.

3. Stop, Look, and Listen
One thing I learned as a hotel front desk clerk is even if you’re under pressure and frantically trying to fix a problem—a nonsmoking room smells smoky, a room’s too close to the elevator, we’re out of rooms and people with reservations are still walking in the door—pause, make eye contact, and really listen to what the person in front of you is saying (or yelling). Looking down to type or grab a piece of paper while they’re talking, even to start fixing the problem, will often only make things worse. People want to feel acknowledged, heard, and seen.
Before and after each session, focus on your clients and the things they’re communicating, both verbally and physically. Stop adjusting the sheets, setting up your iPod, or fidgeting with the table warmer and look your clients in the eye as you ask them how they’re feeling and what they’d like to focus on in the session. They’ll know you care, and they will feel heard.

4. Create Your Own Holidays
The founding fathers didn’t create Grandparents’ Day (September 7) or Administrative Professionals’ Day (April 23). Who did? Organizations and companies that want you to buy more gifts. Companies come up with all sorts of new holidays to celebrate groups of people and keep giving us reasons to buy products. And you know what? It works!
Steal this idea and create your own holidays for your practice. Celebrate “Back to School” with your clients who are parents, or create a “Finish Line” promotion for clients who are running a 10K. Introduce a new service or highlight an existing one with “Stone Massage September” or “Thai Massage Tuesdays.” Have fun with it! And don’t forget to plan ahead for Fun at Work Day (January 28).

5. Rules are Rules
What happens when you pay your phone bill late or (in my case) return a Redbox movie late? You pay a fee. It’s not a surprise; you know in advance there’s a penalty for missing the deadline. The company charges a fee, each and every time. They don’t say “Well, I’ll give you a break this time, but I’ll charge you next time, for sure.” It’s the consistent and expected enforcement of the rule that gets us to do things on time (unless I need to watch the end of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; then I’ll pay the fee).
Take a page out of their book and set up your practice’s policies on cancellations, late arrivals, returned payment, etc., in advance. Communicate these policies in writing to all of your clients and then feel 100 percent comfortable enforcing those policies each and every time. Just like other businesses do.

Les Sweeney is ABMP’s president and resident blogger. Contact him at and read his blog on Kristin Coverly,, is the manager of professional development at ABMP and teaches workshops for therapists and instructors across the country. Both are massage therapists with business degrees who care about you and your practice. Want more? Check out their ABMP BizFit video tips on

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