Straight Talk from Your Peers

Therapists' Insights on Day-to-Day Life in the Field

By Les Sweeney and Kristin Coverly
[Business Side]

Each issue, we dispense some wisdom about ways to help you—the massage and bodywork professional—be more successful in this career you’ve chosen. We rely on our own experiences and training, along with some helpful input from readers and members, coworkers, and colleagues. For this issue (and perhaps a few more down the road), we’ve decided to go straight to the source—your peers. We wanted to hear from a cross-section of today’s practitioners about what life is like for them in the trenches—cultivating a practice and a career on a daily basis. A big thank-you to these awesome members for sharing their insights!
What was the best thing you’ve done to market and grow your practice?

Catherine Gregory: When I first moved my practice to a new town, I wrote a letter to all of the local health practitioners who work with my clientele to introduce myself and tell them about my practice. I included an article I’d written about my work that was published in a national magazine. That made a lasting impression that continues to bring new clients to me years later from those same referral sources.
What is the most effective thing you’ve done to increase client retention and rebooking?

Tiesha von Kaenel: I find educating our clients on what is happening with their bodies helps them feel confident in my skills. Almost every client I have rebooks, either for their next appointment, or for their next multiple appointments.

Karla Freitag: We offer a membership program, the Cornerstone Advantage, that about 50 percent of our clients participate in (and we expect that percentage to grow). The program structure is simple: clients pay an annual fee of $60 per individual. After that, the Members Only price is $60 for 60 minutes; a $15 discount over the regular rate. In addition, each member is tagged in our online system and will receive special discounts, coupons, and opportunities to receive extra perks throughout the year. Prior to the end of their year, each client will receive an email reminder that it is time to renew their membership. No contracts to sign, no high-pressure sales. Simple and sweet! Our clients like it.
What aspects of customer service do you provide that your clients really appreciate?

Joshua Bell: I ask questions and try to create an environment where the client feels they have a voice in their massage. Through communication, we can be sure to be on the same page so I can provide the service they need while they enjoy a massage tailored just for them.

Joan M. Laubacher: Online scheduling! This was the best move for me to make in my practice; 75 percent of my clients book online. I recently sent a survey to my clients using SurveyMonkey and included a question on ease of scheduling. The response was overwhelmingly positive. My clients appreciate booking at any time of the day, and because they prepay when they book, they enjoy ending their massage without the stress of payment. While they’re with me, I’m 100 percent focused on meeting their needs. I think this is what my clients appreciate most in my practice. That or the dark chocolates I offer! Every detail is important: the quality of linens, the comfort of the table and head cradle, the temperature of the room and table, keeping your space clean and uncluttered. After their session, I follow up with thoughts and suggestions by email.
Do you have any specific advice for other therapists regarding handling finances?

KF: When possible, allow the experts in their respective fields to assist you with the money topics that are not your expertise. If you cannot afford that, find an easy solution such as QuickBooks, which will enable you to learn the basics and continue to spend time on what you love to do the most: massage therapy.
How do you incorporate technology in the way you market and manage your practice?

KF: We LOVE technology! We use MassageBook for our scheduling and SOAP-noting software, QuickBooks for accounting, an online answering system for phone calls, Google Drive for all our documents and spreadsheets, etc.

CG: I have never thought of myself as tech savvy, but it’s important for any business owner to have some sort of internet/social media presence, and it’s not as difficult as I thought. I have two websites and a Facebook business page where I’ll post inspirational quotes or links to my blog or other relevant information. I also have a MailChimp email newsletter, and when someone new signs up for my email list from my website, they get a free gift, which is a short ebook I wrote.
How do you communicate with your clients between appointments?

JML: I communicate in two ways: first, I send one or two email blasts per month through Full Slate. I am always respectful of keeping my communications brief and focused, but I also like to throw in a little sense of humor. We all need a good laugh! Second, I maintain a Facebook business page that I update with relevant postings about my practice or education and awareness postings that I think will help the reader. Through Facebook, I sometimes run an online-only campaign using the Rafflecopter app to promote my business. I ran a successful St. Patrick’s Day giveaway raffle and asked individuals to post something about this celebration, like a good Irish joke or blessing, and the randomly selected winner won a 90-minute massage. I also ran a campaign to celebrate Earth Day—the winner received a massage, and I contributed money toward a charitable organization of their choice.
What would you say is the most important skill or trait therapists need to be a successful sole proprietor?

KF: I would say listening skills, empathy, boundaries, and self-care are all important.

JML: All the skills that will always be relevant, no matter your age or social media savvy: being professional, good at time management, courteous, and present. And get comfortable with marketing yourself!
What are some of the pros and cons to working as an employee?

JB: Working as an employee is great, especially if you are just starting out. Building experience is key to building confidence and building your savings. It can give you a more flexible schedule that will not only pay the bills, but will also leave time to pursue other ventures. You can also learn a lot about what you like and don’t like about the experience and apply it to what you want to do in the future.

JML: There are many pros to working as an employee, including camaraderie with other massage therapists, an opportunity to work with a variety of clients, and the employer handling all the marketing, scheduling, and payment collection. Cons can include not being in control of the clients you see, following direction from a manager, having to use a brand of lotion you didn’t choose, and tight scheduling between sessions.
What advice do you have for other therapists who want to specialize and work with a specific population?

CG: Specializing in a specific area of care or a specific population is a great way to carve out a unique niche in a saturated market. By understanding who you want to serve and why, it’s easier to create marketing language directed to those specific clients. My clients are women with reproductive health concerns, which encompasses a wide range of ages and stages of menstrual health. I seek clients who want to be empowered in their healing process by learning and incorporating self-care tools into daily practice. I began including this language in my marketing so I don’t attract clients simply looking for a quick fix.  
How has the profession changed since you entered it?

JML: The essence of massage hasn’t changed, but the business of massage has changed dramatically. Therapists may want to consider online scheduling to better meet client convenience. Referrals remain absolutely invaluable, but social media opportunities are driving new business. And lastly, while we may not always be able to compare on price and hours with the franchises, we can offer one constant to clients: our space, our touch, and our presence.
Is there something in the massage profession you would change if you could?

TVK: If I could change anything about the massage profession, it would be for us to be more recognized by the medical community as valued therapists. Some do embrace us, but it drives me batty that insurance will sometimes only cover massage if performed by a chiropractor, physical therapist, or other individual when we are the ones who specialize in these modalities!
What advice do you have for other therapists?  

TVK: Be you. You have been given gifts to help and serve others in a unique way. Embrace them.

KF: Take what you’ve learned in school and make it your own. Be creative. Get out of your head and learn how to tune-in and LISTEN to your clients and their bodies’ response to your work. Follow the body’s lead as it assists you in healing itself.   

JB: Your touch is a brand that makes a true impression on people, so make sure that impression imparts good health, good intention, and confidence in your craft.

Have questions or some of your own advice to share with others? Get in touch! Email

Les Sweeney is ABMP’s president. Contact him at and read his occasional blog posts on Kristin Coverly,, is the manager of professional development at ABMP and creates resources and teaches workshops for therapists across the country. Both are massage therapists with business degrees who care about you and your practice.