Dual Relationships and Pricing

By Allissa Haines and Michael Reynolds
[Blueprint for Success]

Massage is a business, but it’s a very personal business. In school, much of our “practice” is done on people we know from our personal lives. When we start and grow our businesses, many of our clients are people we know from other areas of our lives. Dual relationships are tricky. And adding money into the mix makes them even trickier.
Some practitioners choose to not treat their friends and family at all. That kind of clear-cut policy eliminates the potential issues and awkwardness when people we know come looking for free or discounted massage. But that black-and-white “no massage for friends and family” decision doesn’t work for every therapist and most of us juggle at least a few dual relationships.
Providing massage to family and friends can cause boundary challenges for many massage therapists. Pushier people may ask for, or simply expect, free or discounted massage. Others may urge you to see them outside of your normal business hours.
Further, as we transition out of the student role and into the business owner role, it can be tough to renegotiate massage arrangements with the people we practiced on. Our “student” agreements can go on and on until eventually we realize we’re 10 years into practice and still not charging an old practice client a real price. Oops.
So, what’s a kindhearted but boundary-aware massage therapist to do? Here are some ideas for navigating the issues so you can come away feeling good about massaging a friend or family member.

Make a Decision

Do you want to make a firm rule and just not massage friends and family? Do it. Make the rule. And when people ask, simply say, “I don’t work on friends, but I’ll get you the info for another local therapist who does great work.” If someone presses the issue, you might choose to expand on that: “It can get really complicated to have a personal relationship as well as a professional, therapeutic relationship. So, I prefer to avoid it altogether.” But you don’t have to explain. “No” is a complete sentence.

Create a Structure

If you decide you want to work with people you know from your personal life, create a structure you can stick to. That will help you avoid the potential pitfalls. (And if you’re already in deep, keep reading for some scripts to get you out of the lousy situation you’re in.)
Will you charge them the same rate, or will you have a different price for friends and family? If you want to give a discount, how much will it be? Create the pricing structure you are comfortable with and be really clear about that.

Practice Your Script

Create your script and use it when you book appointments. “Yes! I’m so glad you asked, Aunt Sue! I would love to work with you during your rotator cuff surgery rehab. And since you asked, I do give family $20 off my usual treatment price. All of my other policies apply the same, including the scheduling and cancellation policy, so be sure to read them in your confirmation email.”

Make Some Changes

If you’ve been treating loved ones and giving them varied prices, or not charging at all, it’s time to fix that. Set a date that you’ll be making changes. (Ideally, you’ll be making other service or pricing changes at the same time. That may help you feel less awkward about approaching the topic.) Inform your loved ones the same way you would inform all your clients. Be proactive and clear.
Send an email (or letter, or however you communicate with clients) to the friends and family and say, “I’m making some changes in my pricing structure and services and I’m pleased to continue offering a discount to my friends and family. Beginning April 1, the following pricing will take effect.” Then list the discounted pricing. That’s it. Don’t make it a big deal, just treat it like any other business decision. Because it is.
If you want to stop giving a discount, that’s cool too. You might say, “I’m making some changes in my pricing structure and services and I’ve chosen to discontinue some discounts I’ve offered in the past. Beginning April 1, the following pricing will apply to all clients.” Then list your prices.
If you have people who come in regularly, do this verbally at all their upcoming appointments, or on the phone when they call to book their next one.

What If People Give You Grief?

Once a spouse of my childhood neighbor asked my prices, and when I gave her my usual pricing she said, “Oh, my husband said you may have a discount for friends.” That’s legit. It’s OK to ask. I probably would give the discount to my actual childhood neighbor. He was nice to me when the bigger kids tried to steal my tricycle. But I didn’t feel compelled to extend that to his wife. So I simply replied, “I’m sorry, I don’t have special pricing for this situation.”
If you feel like you’re getting pushed (or guilted) around by an assertive relative or friend, stand your ground. Be clear and don’t waffle. Again, it really helps to practice your responses for these situations. Most people don’t understand the logistics and finances of running a small business. They don’t realize what our time is worth, so this is a good chance to sympathize and educate, while still keeping it brief. “I know massage can be pricey. I wish I could get more myself. But it would be hard for me to run my business if I gave discounts to everyone I love.”
With an especially pushy relative it can help to be blunt. “This is my job. I’m well trained and skilled at it and it’s how I earn my living. I’m sure you don’t mean to be disrespectful, but that’s exactly what you’re doing by trying to pressure me into giving you a massage for free. And frankly, you don’t want a massage from me if I’m resentful about giving you a discount. It would be a terrible massage.” Then stop talking and let that stand for itself.

Get Cozy with Occasional Discomfort

These conversations can be so uncomfortable! Remember the first time you draped to massage a thigh? That was probably awkward and uncomfortable too. But after practice and time and more practice, draping got so much easier. The same is true of these communication skills.
Do your best to get comfortable with the uncomfortable conversations, and you’ll find all kinds of conversations and business decisions become easier and less stressful.

Allissa Haines and Michael Reynolds can be found at www.massagebusinessblueprint.com, a member-based community designed to help you attract more clients, make more money, and improve your quality of life.