Persistent Optimism

How to Maintain an Energized Practice

By Lee Picciuto

What inspired you to become a massage therapist? For me, it was an innate desire to help people achieve whole body health. While we all have different motivations for choosing this career, I believe an underlying theme of benevolence is a commonality among us. We all have another common denominator: the desire to maintain a prosperous, enduring practice. But how, during times of fluctuation, do we achieve this goal? Learning to recognize and accept the cycles that occur in our business is the first step in maintaining personal and professional equanimity.


Connect with Colleagues

Building a massage therapy practice, and developing and retaining loyal clients takes time and tremendous effort. While massage therapy is a rewarding profession, you may face the challenge of creating a steady cash flow, especially if you are self-employed or do not have an ongoing, guaranteed source of income. Many massage therapists, myself included, have experienced the anxiety of lulls in our practices and it is not uncommon to be loath to admit that frustration to others, especially colleagues. It’s easy to view such an admission as a lack of business acumen and/or poor effectiveness as a therapist—a false scenario in most cases.

I finally decided to share these feelings with another therapist and discovered that she was also experiencing a lull in clientele and was also concerned about her effectiveness as a practitioner. We then freed ourselves of this stress and proceeded to brainstorm techniques to boost our respective businesses. The thought that my colleague would steal my ideas never crossed my mind and vice versa. We were thrilled to have found a new support system and sounding board. We decided to meet regularly to discuss methods of promoting our practices and we always left feeling energized as a result of our conversations. When you avoid viewing your colleagues just as competition, countless ideas can flourish.


Create Your Niche

Some massage therapists may also be prone to bouts of excessive worry during slow times and may feel that other therapists are taking more than their fair share of potential clients, resulting in bitter feelings. In the business world, there will always be competition, especially if you live in an area that is oversaturated with massage therapists.

One therapist who lives in such a market told me that her way of standing out among numerous other massage professionals was to create a niche for herself. She chose a particular modality she’s really drawn to—craniosacral therapy. She took extensive courses on the topic, became certified, and developed her practice vertically. Feeling confident with the depth of her skill set, she sought other health professionals she could network with and educate about the modality. She experienced a gradual increase in clientele and is now known in her area as a specialist in her chosen field. Remember that as a result of your massage therapy education and continuing studies, you have a unique perspective and talents that can be used to individualize your healing practice.

Overcome Expectations

Massage therapists may feel frustrated during lulls in business as a result of the

high expectations they have upon graduating from massage school. Some schools do provide their students with a realistic glimpse of what the time and energy it takes to build a practice. Others, unfortunately, do not. And most of us have seen and heard the commercials on television and radio from massage schools that promise their prospective students a path to make quick money, be their own bosses, and set their own hours with no concrete mention of how this will happen. If students are attracted to promises like these and then realize that their appointment books are not immediately filled upon graduation, they can be deeply disappointed.

Common convention holds that building a steady business (assuming you are self-employed) with regular clientele and income can take three to five years. In my case, it took me about three years to build a practice with enough clients to meet my financial needs and comfort level. Of course, there are variations of comfort level and some therapists may build a steady practice in less time, while others take longer. Three to five years, however, seems to be a conservative and realistic guideline.

Recognize Cycles

Aside from the economic influences therapists feel today, massage schedules tend to go through various cycles during the year. If you don’t expect these fluctuations, you may be frequently discouraged during your first years as a massage therapist. It may take you a full year of work to recognize these cycles, develop your practice, and adjust your expectations.

One therapist said that in her region, the summer season is slow because many people are out of their normal routine (e.g., on vacation) and do not maintain their regular massage schedule. However, once autumn arrives, her clients have a more structured schedule and resume their massage appointments. Another therapist told me that winter is a slow time for him. The weather in his area is prone to snow and ice, which causes many people to not want to venture out unless absolutely necessary. Once the weather begins to warm up, though, his clients begin to call again. Still another therapist said her business hits a lull during the post-holiday season when many people are catching up on their finances. After a few months, her clients also resume a more regular massage schedule.

There are numerous reasons for the lulls in business experienced by massage therapists. These can include the seasonal client schedules, weather, and economic factors. Once you have been in practice for a year or two, you will be able to better observe which seasons are peak and which are soft.

Trust in Yourself

A simple affirmation has helped me during business lulls and periods of self-doubt. Beyond my normal business-building strategies, such as updating my promotional literature, sending out a mailing and discount coupon to my clients, and creating newsletters, I also like to take a more philosophical approach and recite the following:

“Everything is as it should be and those people who can benefit from my massage therapy services will come to me. I have done all I can do to make my presence known, and trust that the right clients will appear in my life at the right time.”

While simply reciting an affirmation without taking any action is not a surefire solution to handling slow business cycles, saying positive words can place you into a mind-set that can foster an environment to create and implement business-growing strategies.

If you find yourself becoming frustrated after trying your best to promote your business, attempt to return to a state of thankfulness and appreciation for the clients you do see, keeping in mind their greatest good at all times. This, coupled with positive, uplifting thoughts and obtaining support from your colleagues, will help you maintain your practice and boost your confidence during variations in your schedule.

Although working as a massage therapist can be challenging, I hope you find that the rewards greatly outweigh the obstacles. My greatest wish for you is a career filled with interesting clients, supportive colleagues, and the knowledge that in whatever capacity you choose to work, you have played a significant role in enhancing the quality of life for countless people. May you have a lifetime and career of longevity, creativity, and vitality!

 Lee Picciuto, LMT, NCTMB, author of Ethics in Practice: A Handbook for Modern Massage Therapists (DayOne Publishing, 2009), is excited about the evolution of the massage therapy profession. She can be reached at