Create Success

Thrive in Today’s Market

By Felicia Brown

For more than 15 years I’ve been a massage therapist. I went to massage school at a time when most people in the South didn’t think giving massages was a reputable job. Yet, while I was being maligned by some and called crazy by more than a few of my friends, I was also taking perfectly timed steps to enter the field and take advantage of the emerging growth of the industry. Because I was willing to do whatever it took to make my living giving massages, I became a successful massage therapist seemingly overnight.

But things are different for new therapists now, at least in my area. When I began my journey into massage school, there were exactly two options here in North Carolina. According to my recent Google search for massage therapy programs, now there are at least 25 programs for massage therapy in the Tarheel state alone. That fact, combined with the increased number of therapists all across the country, alters the very fabric of the massage therapy profession (and all of its healing arts kin). These factors, along with the ever-changing marketplace, put pressure on every therapist to be the absolute best they can be just to stay in business.

So what does it take to be a successful massage therapist now? Is it learning neuromuscular therapy or myofascial release for pain relief? Being able to take health insurance for payment or offering a flexible fee structure for clients on a budget? Offering your clients a total spa experience by working in a full-service spa or salon? Perhaps these factors are a part of what it takes to be a success, but are any of them enough on their own?

After my years in the industry as a hands-on practitioner, educator, spa owner, and consultant, I have come to realize there is no one technique, tactic, or characteristic that makes a massage therapist or any healing arts professional succeed. Still, today’s massage practitioner can be at the top of the game by employing a set of key strategies and methods that combined will help him or her to survive and thrive in the current marketplace and economy. Here are a few of my tried- and-true suggestions for success.

Understand Your Clients and Their Needs
As massage and spa professionals, we sometimes get lost in our own reasons for wanting to work in this field and forget about what makes a massage or other relaxation service appealing to the client. Most clients visit a massage therapist or spa for several key reasons:

• Decrease pain and discomfort.

• Enjoy a mini-getaway.

• Feel restored and renewed.

• Find inner calm, peace, and quiet.

• Improve health and well-being.

• Relax and escape from stress.

Unfortunately, many clients do not get what they are hoping for during their visit for a variety of reasons, including a therapist’s poor communication or listening skills, inadequate training, apathy, or even a focus on their own agenda (instead of the client’s). Unsuccessful therapists may fail to confirm the treatment that is scheduled, and the client’s reasons for choosing that treatment, as well as forgetting to address any questions or concerns the client may have about the treatment during the session. As a result, the massage therapy experience can feel confusing, disappointing, and stressful to the client. That, my friends, does not translate into repeat bookings.

One of my favorite stories that illustrates this point is about a therapist I visited back when I saw 30 or more clients a week. At the time, I was experiencing some chronic thumb pain and specifically asked the therapist to spend extra time on my hands. Can you believe she actually skipped them? Perhaps she had some professional jealousy of my success, but more than likely she was caught up in her own routine or perhaps thinking about her own problems or after-work plans. The massage itself was decent overall and a good value. But the therapist lost my business when she failed to deliver what I specifically asked for and truly needed.

It’s All In the Details

Take a moment right now to think about your most memorable massage experience as a client. What was it that made that appointment or session so special? Was it the fountain in the waiting room? Was it the organic massage oil that the therapist used? Could it have been the brand of massage table in the treatment room that really stood out in your mind?

When I ask most people about their favorite massage therapy experience, the memories usually have more to do with little things they noticed—the extras and thoughtful details—that were a part of their visit. A fresh flower in the massage room, the heated towels or table warmer that kept them feeling cozy during the treatment, getting an unexpected service upgrade during their appointment, or a free candle as a thank-you for a new client referral. They might also mention the relaxing music or enticing aromatherapy used during the session or how the therapist seemed to find every sore spot on their body.

Above all, the level of overall care and customer service received from their massage therapist before, during, and after the session is what most people remember. Giving great customer service, paying attention to the details, and providing good treatments, is what makes the difference between a mediocre therapist and a great one. The good news is that most extras are not expensive to add, but simply take a little bit of thought, time, and effort to implement.

Want to hear about the flip side of memorable details in a massage? During one session I received, the therapist didn’t start the music until she came into the room to begin the session. I thought that was a little tacky, but forgot about it once I started to relax. However, as soon as the session ended, she turned off the music, pulled the bolster out from under my knees, and flipped on the overhead light before saying, “OK, we’re done now.” What an abrupt way to end my hour of relaxation (and any chances of me becoming her regular client). See what I remembered most out of the session?

So what can you do to make your client feel comfortable, relaxed, and cared for during the entire appointment? Begin by making sure that the massage experience begins as soon as your clients walk through the door. Have quiet music playing throughout the business when they arrive. Be vigilant in keeping your office clean and professional throughout. Use tools like scented candles or soft lighting to create an instantly soothing atmosphere throughout the space.

After the session, help clients reenter the real world gently with a few minutes of quiet time on the table. Offer some fruit, tea, or water to ground them and bring them back into their bodies. Maintain the attitude of relaxation and calmness as you collect their payment and reschedule their next session. In other words, do whatever you can to preserve the feeling of peace and serenity people experienced during the massage, at least until they walk out the door.

Understand What It Means to Be a Professional

A few key items are critical in making a massage therapist a success in the eyes of the client and in the profession. Aside from acting ethically, and following proper educational and licensing guidelines and laws, it is essential that the therapist is friendly, courteous, professional, and honest. We need to be able to respond to (and sometimes read) our clients’ requests both on and off the table, as well as to anticipate their needs before they occur. Similarly, we should remember our clients’ likes and dislikes—from the type of music or pressure they prefer to the way we confirm their appointments or return their phone calls.

It is also our responsibility as professionals to educate our clients about the need for self-care and what specific treatments, regimens, or products will help them achieve their desired goals. This includes knowing when treating a particular condition or providing a desired result is out of our scope of practice and being willing to refer to other professionals whenever needed.

Lastly, assuming the therapist/client relationship is a good match, the provider should help the client to determine an appropriate treatment plan—even if the only desired goal is relaxation or stress management. After doing so, the therapist should invite the client to return again. Help them to rebook another appointment and provide appropriate follow-up after the appointment. Your dentist does it for you. Why shouldn’t you do it for your clients?

Defining What You Do
It’s no secret that with the proliferation of massage schools across the country, there are more massage therapists and more places that offer massage therapy services than ever before. And as the number of therapists and companies offering massage and bodywork continues to grow, more and more new business models (and thankfully more client types) emerge. But what does that mean for your individual success? It means that today’s therapists have to be more flexible, creative, inventive, and persistent to create and achieve their massage therapy career. All but gone are the days of naming your desired commission rate from salon and practice owners—which as a business owner I think is actually for the good of the industry as a whole. What has occurred in the last few years is the creation of a multitude of new business models, compensation plans, and even fee structures. Thankfully, this has also created a whole new crop of massage therapy clients and spa-goers, which in the end is good for all of us.

That being said, we all have to be more creative in marketing and reaching out to clients who are better educated about massage, who are also more demanding than those in years past, and who are searching for a better price or stronger value than ever before. We have to specialize and find our niche, yet be willing to reinvent ourselves as needed to create a healthier—and perhaps even more diverse—practice. (See Finding a Niche, at left.) If you employ or sub-contract other therapists, this is true for your entire business as well.

Guerrilla Marketing for Your Success

Through the years, I have come to realize that marketing is much more than placing ads in the Yellow Pages or giving away free gift certificates for charity auctions and community fundraisers. Guerilla marketing, a phrase coined by author Jay Conrad Levinson in his book of the same title, relates to using your time, energy, and imagination to increase sales, profits, and growth in your business. In fact, one of Levinson’s key principles is that every single thing you do that touches your clients or potential clients is marketing. In fact, just about every example and idea I’ve shared above is actually part of marketing yourself and your practice whether you work alone, own a practice, or are employed by someone else.

By taking an honest look at some of the things I’ve mentioned and other facets of your practice, it should be clear to you that you are immersed in marketing every single day. It starts from the moment you step out of your house and speak to the cashier at the grocery store to the way you answer your phone or respond to client messages. Every interaction you have and impression you make with others is a marketing vehicle for your practice whether you like it or not. Today’s successful massage therapist not only realizes this, but also takes every opportunity to send the right message out into the world.

Find a Place of Gratitude

While finding a new niche, broadening your range of skills, or revving up a new marketing plan can be challenging or frustrating to independent senior-level therapists who feel they’ve “been there, done that,” I encourage you to have gratitude for all the opportunities created by the new massage marketplace. Continue to be thankful for the experience of being self-employed, as well as the freedom of choice and creation you are allowed by being essentially on your own. Sometimes it is a lonely, scary road to be a solo practitioner or business owner, but in my experience, the challenges faced in this realm and in difficult economic times can create the deepest levels of creativity, ingenuity, learning, and compassion imaginable.

For those working for someone else—a spa, salon, doctor’s office, mobile massage business, or massage therapy franchise—begin by being thankful for your employment. While some new business models and concepts may cause some therapists to feel underpaid (and perhaps some are), if you are fortunate enough to have a job doing something you love, do your best to be grateful for it above all else. In times like these, when people are cutting back on luxury and elective personal services like massage therapy and spa treatments (forcing many businesses to close their doors), be thankful if your employer is still around to provide you with a paycheck, even if that paycheck may be lower than what you feel you need or deserve.

Being able to use your skills and talents to help others can be more rewarding than a paycheck of any size gained doing something that has no deeper meaning or reward to you. Your positive attitude and willingness to make the best of your situation can help you advance in your present job and attract even better opportunities into your life, not to mention more clients.

Being a success as a massage therapist, or anything you do, depends on a lot of things, but mostly on your willingness to persevere and do what it takes to make your dreams come true. Begin with the suggestions I’ve provided here and add your own ingredients or ideas to create a recipe that works for you. Just keep sharing your light with the world through your caring heart and healing hands. By doing so, you’ll help others make it through their own ups and downs and become a truly successful person as a result.


  Felicia Brown is a licensed massage therapist and the owner of Spalutions!,
(, a firm that provides training and marketing solutions for massage and spa professionals. She provides free business advice for wellness professionals on her blog at and is working on a marketing book for spa and healing arts professionals.



Finding a Niche

One example of a therapist who specialized right from the start of his practice is Jim O’Gara, a musician turned massage therapist.

“I decided to specialize in pain relief for musicians simply because I am one,” O’Gara told me recently. “I’ve been a guitarist for almost 20 years and developed both carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). After recovering from CTS and TOS using Julstro Muscular Therapy (, I was able to play again and later decided to help other musicians recover from or, more importantly, prevent the pain I went through.

“This sets me apart from other massage therapists in that I am already a member of the niche I am trying to reach.”

O’Gara is taking this effort one step further by offering self-care education to his musician clients and is working on a book detailing the work he does.

For more information, visit O’Gara’s website at