Find Your Own Creative Recipe

for a Successful Practice

By Les Sweeney
[Business Side]

Author note: Hello, readers! Kristin Coverly here with a bit of sad news; this will be Les Sweeney’s last Business Side column as a regular contributor. After coauthoring 30 columns with him, I’ll become a solo writer and he’s back to focusing on his day job—being president of ABMP. Even though we’ll miss him and his incredible wit, charm, pop culture references, and sound business advice, don’t worry—you haven’t seen the last of him yet. We’re pretty sure he’ll chime in from time to time as a guest coauthor on future columns.
As this is his last formal column, he kept the keyboard to himself to share one last irreverent take on business. Enjoy!

I’ve been writing this business column for the past five years with my friend, colleague, massage therapist, and inspiration, Kristin Coverly, and it’s been a lot of fun. However, as we all know, there are few guarantees in life—one of which is that all good things come to an end. I’m not going anywhere, but you’ll only get my wisdom(?) on occasion, which means more Kristin, which means a better column.
One of my favorite things to talk about with therapists is how to generate and sustain a healthy practice. But, to be honest, there are only so many ways to get from A to B. Our job is to help stimulate, motivate, and indoctrinate you, our beloved readers, with ideas to make your practice more successful and fulfilling. But when we come down to it, success in business is made up of attracting new clients and keeping your current ones. And there are only so many ways of achieving that, right? Well, I’m going to spend a little time this issue trying to break that mold, and focus on unconventional means to achieve your goals.
One of my favorite podcasts used to have a segment they called “Half-Baked Ideas”—outside-the-box suggestions to make life more interesting, with the understanding that these things may not be quite ready for prime time. So, consider this my swan song, and my “half-baked ideas” column. After you read it, you may celebrate my departure!
Unique (and Possibly Terrible) Ways to Find New Clients
Go to a Bar
Typically, professional decorum and contraindications suggest keeping massage and alcohol separate. But what about marketing massage? We’re not suggesting you set up your table at the end of the bar, but if you’re a person who enjoys an occasional pint and sets foot in an establishment, why not reach out to potential clients there? Take a stack of business cards to your next happy hour—after all, we know those patrons aren’t afraid to use some of their disposable income.

Go to a Funeral
Bear with me here. I’m not suggesting replicating Will Ferrell’s performance in Wedding Crashers (well, not exactly, at least). And I’m not suggesting you actually go to a funeral. But providing support and relief to your clients is your mantra, right? Volunteering your services to clients in their time of need is wholly consistent with why we chose to practice massage. Showing your support to grieving clients is not only a heartfelt gesture that will be appreciated, but it may help build the client-therapist trust that can lead to a lifelong client.

Go to a Wedding
OK, more traditional, but only if you’re invited. Offer the bride and groom a free massage, or crazy discounts for the wedding party. Everyone is happy and celebrating! Don’t be afraid to leverage that joy into a little subtle prospecting.

Go to Jail
Just kidding. Wanted to see how far you’d follow here. However …

Partner with a Bail Bondsman
Look, people make mistakes. And those people undoubtedly are going to be stressed, right? Partner with a lawyer and offer a discount after they meet with the lawyer (the lawyer can screen them for you). Have the attorney give out your discount card. Speaking of which …

Partner with a Divorce Attorney
Talk about stress! Same concept. This is one of the most difficult times in someone’s life. An arrangement with an attorney could give you an opportunity to provide support for someone in a tough time. Or, just do like every mobile phone carrier and/or mattress store and …

Be a Sign-Spinner
Stand on the corner for hours at a time spinning a sign with your latest promotion. And while you’re at it, schedule yourself for a massage—your delts will need it!

Ways to Communicate with Clients
Text Them
Perhaps you’ve heard of this. The kids all really seem to enjoy it. Here’s how it works: you type a message into your phone. We’re not sure what happens after that, but the other person somehow knows what you wrote. Seriously, make sure when you sign up a new client that you get their mobile phone number and get permission to send them text messages. Then, set up a weekly “Openings” message group where you blast out open session times and get your calendar all filled up.

Call Them
As mentioned, this is a half-baked idea column. But what if you actually went old school and picked up the phone and spoke to another person? OK, sit down, and read that last sentence again. This is a bit out there, but the strategy of calling people to (a) check on their welfare and (b) politely ask for their business has actually been used quite often since 1876. Don’t be afraid to go old school.

Write a Letter
If you think phone calls are retro, how about going back to 1860 and the Pony Express? One way would be for you to buy a horse and deliver a letter yourself; interesting, but overall probably not terribly efficient. Horses eat a lot, and after they eat … but what about sending a handwritten thank-you card or invitation to book? I recently got a handwritten thank-you card from a company I ordered swim trunks from! The card is still on my desk, because, it’s awesome, and makes me like the company even more.

Be Like McDonald’s
Bet you weren’t expecting that one, huh? I don’t mean give out Happy Meals, or create a hamburger that looks like you sat on it. I mean, offer some gimmick that gets people to come back. How many times in our adult lives has McDonald’s offered that Monopoly game? Why? Because people love Monopoly and burgers that look like you sat on them. You, instead, can come up with a scavenger hunt game, or some type of “collect all 7” promotion, and deliver awesome massage instead of chicken nuggets.

Use Technology
First, a comment, which some of you may not like: if you are not using scheduling software, or your free ABMP website, or a smartphone to help manage your practice, please stop reading this, roll up the magazine, and swat yourself with it. Why are you reading this article about helping your business when you have these tools sitting right in front of you? Why?
OK, where were we—well, we already talked about texting, but what about social media? Are you on Twitter? It’s a good way to pick up savvy clients—take a more unconventional stance and become the “personality” on Twitter that shares goofy videos, funny stuff, opinions, and also shoot out tips, self-help info, and session offers. Get your clients’ Twitter handles and follow them, and ask them to follow you back. Facebook is a more obvious target (which we’ve discussed before)—try Twitter as an additional strategy.
Another idea could be to hire a receptionist service—make your bones on the phone. Make sure there’s a live person who can book sessions on your behalf.

Ways to Deliver the Goods
Just a reminder, dear reader—this is the “half-baked ideas” edition. Not all of these may work (maybe none of them will, who knows).

Give Free Time
My favorite massage therapist occasionally offers extra time, and while in many cases it is not taken advantage of, it fosters loyalty. At the beginning of a session, ask, “What’s your schedule? I was thinking I’d like to add another 20 minutes today, if you’re able to stay a bit longer.”

Add Something
Another one of my favorite massage therapists brings me a bottle of water for each session. That’s a nice touch.

Change It Up
If you have the ability to do this, ask your client if they would prefer you come to their home or office for this session. Not something you’d want to do regularly, but they may enjoy it, and again, it’s another level of service.

Buy the Massage
If you’re feeling particularly generous, tell your client, “This one’s on me.” Or give them a free session coupon to give to someone else—it might gain you another client.

Some of these ideas are close to fully baked (perhaps just a bit “al dente”), while others might need to go directly to the garbage—it’s up to you to decide what to do with them. My intent is to challenge your assumptions and standard line of thinking. A favorite line around here has become, “Inertia is the strongest force in the universe.” Who said it? I did! The worst thing we can do in life—whether in your practice, relationships, diet, you name it—is to get in a rut. Don’t be afraid to be creative and recognize that not all ideas will work. But you gotta go for it!
See you around.

Les Sweeney, BCTMB, is ABMP’s president. Contact him at and read his occasional blog posts on