Raising the Bar

By Jennie Hastings Stancu
[Savvy Self-Care]

The beginning of a career in massage and bodywork is so exciting. There are a lot of milestone events: our first paying client, our first successful outcome, and our first full schedule. After we have achieved our initial dreams and successes, how do we keep the fire burning? How do we stay engaged and enlivened by our work over time?

You know it’s time to raise the bar when you feel your enthusiasm for your work start to wane. If your work begins to feel monotonous, or if you’re starting to get that itch that it’s time to go back to school, take a moment and ask yourself: “When was the last time I made a deliberate effort to raise the bar?”

Raise Your Thinking
The first step to raising the bar has a lot to do with your mind-set. If you find yourself with persistent thoughts like, “That will never work,” or, “It doesn’t matter what I do,” it is definitely time to work on your thoughts.
Sometimes it is obvious when we are thinking negative thoughts, but sometimes the thoughts are so embedded in our lives that it is difficult to see them. Asking a trusted coach, friend, or therapist to help you identify these thoughts is usually what it takes to become aware of them so you can change them.
Every time you feel negativity sneaking in, take a moment and reflect. Is what you’re thinking the truth? Is there another way you could look at the same thing that would give you a more positive outlook?
I used to think I couldn’t charge more because nobody would pay a higher rate. I looked around at what other massage therapists were charging and thought, “If they’re charging less than me, nobody will come to me.” With some help, I realized that was not an accurate thought. For one thing, I had no evidence to support it. All you have to do is walk into Whole Foods to realize that people will pay more for what they value. So I switched my thought. Instead of thinking, “Nobody will come to me if I charge more,” I started thinking, “People will pay for what they value.” This leads me to the next step.

Raise Your Value
What are you really good at that is fun for you? Are you an expert skier, do you knit gorgeous socks, or do you love photography? How can you bring your expertise and love of what you do to your work?
The expert skier could start positioning himself as the massage therapist for skiers, offering a specialized approach to the work, and sending his clients home with some key stretches to improve their performance. The knitter can become well known in knitting circles for being the bodyworker who helps other knitters find relief in their hands, shoulders, and necks. If you love photography, you could use this skill to create a fabulous Facebook page, website, and other marketing materials for your practice.
In my practice, when I wanted to make a significant price increase, I felt much better about doing it when I offered greater value to my clients. Instead of just raising my prices, I also created a self-care program that included a massage and two yoga classes per month. I rented a studio space and invited everybody in my program to come to my classes. Working with a group meant I could facilitate many people at once, so the cost for me in time and money was less than the increase in my rates. It was a win-win situation, as my clients received a higher level of care and service, and I was able to make more money while doing something I loved.
Many people think they need to go out and learn a new modality to increase the value of their work. While this is one way of doing it, it may not be necessary. I am sure you have all kinds of untapped value inside you. It could be as simple as identifying a group of people you’d like to work with more deeply, and then gearing your practice to serve them in a specific way.

Raise Your Prices
There’s nothing like feeling well compensated to get your fire burning again. So many massage therapists I know are still charging the same prices they started out with years ago. If you never raise your prices, or ask for a raise if you’re an employee, the only way to make more money is to work more hours. As the years go by, and we become better at what we do, we need to be able to keep our standard of living without distressing our aging bodies.
Many bodyworkers say, “But I want to keep my work accessible to everybody.” This is a noble sentiment, but in my experience, people who are willing to pay full price for your work may actually get more out of it than people who aren’t. When someone commits to paying your full price, they bring themselves to your work in a more committed way, and as such, get better results.
Many things increase in price. I know a bodyworker who was told by one of his clients (an attorney) that the client expected his prices to go up every year. Every year you do something, you get better at it. You can’t ask for a raise just because you want to make more money, but you can ask for a raise because your value has increased. As long as you are in touch with your value, asking for a raise or raising your prices in a sincere and respectful way will win you respect both from others and yourself.
So there you go—my recipe for raising the bar. It starts by building yourself up from the inside, then letting that increased value out for the world to benefit from, and concludes with that increased value returning to you, so you can keep the fire burning for a long time to come.

Jennie Hastings Stancu, LMT, is the author of The Inspired Massage Therapist (Massage Blossom Books, 2012). She lives in Portland, Maine, and is the creator of Blossom for Women, where she specializes in helping healers and those living through heartbreaking loss. You can contact her at jennie@massageblossom.com.