Marketing Your Practice

10 Low-Cost Ways

By Robert Chute

 Entrepreneurial spirit is one essential element for success many massage therapists ignore. They think they should be beyond thinking about their practices as businesses. They think excellent hands-on skills are enough. They’re not. No matter where you start, you need to take a business-like approach to business problems. Hope is not a strategy. Whether you’re just starting out or are unsure how to market yourself, the marketing approaches here can be done on the proverbial shoestring.


Let’s assume you don’t have a big budget to market your business. You do have the gift of time from a less-than-full schedule so the strategies will be time-intensive rather than expensive. You also have entrepreneurial moxie on your side (or you better get some). Don’t worry, entrepreneurship will develop as you take action. The tips below are action items designed to get you out of your clinic and among your potential clients.

Once you’re an established therapist with a full schedule, you’ll probably have less time to use these approaches and can graduate to more time-efficient but more costly strategies. Therapists with a solid clientele either look to hire more therapists, grow franchises, or let your website do more of the work. You don’t have the budget for a large advertising campaign, yet. Try these strategies and soon you will.

1. Make an Attitude Adjustment

Sometimes massage schools oversell the ease with which their graduates can make a mint. As a result, new therapists are often pushed to expect success too quickly. It can happen, but if you’re determined to work for yourself immediately it can take some time to develop a large clientele to reliably fill your schedule.

The entrepreneurial mind-set is that you can make it on your own through sweat equity. If that means you have to keep a part-time job to finance your dreams and groceries for a while, so be it. (If you think that retail job is beneath you now that you’re officially a professional, frankly, that’s a bad sign.)

You have a lot of work to do, so don’t pay too much attention to people who predict doom and gloom. Pessimists don’t even try. They just snipe at you from the sidelines and they make lousy entrepreneurs. Successful businesspeople fuel their enthusiasm with optimism. Hearing the word no doesn’t make them feel bad and they don’t come at the challenge with a heavy sense of entitlement. Smile. You just made yourself look better and it didn’t cost you a thing.   If you’re still reluctant to jump, think how enthusiastic you are about massage therapy and how many more people you will soon be able to help. Always remember that your ultimate goal is to help others. The money will come from caring and that’s not something you ever have to apologize for.

Head on straight? Good. Now you can get to work.

2. Don’t Discount
It’s a popular strategy, but I don’t encourage anyone to use discount programs to lure in new clients without seriously considering the ramifications. In the longer term, you may have difficulty raising that discounted fee with those clients who simply came in because they were being undercharged. Worse, you could end up with a practice full of people receiving discounts. Too many massage therapists already undercharge (especially when they are first starting out). Don’t forget that fee increases tend to be slow and incremental, so you can be stuck with that low base rate dragging down your income for a long time. Fees should be determined by what you need to cover your costs and what the market will bear.

I’m all for giving out short demonstrations for free. You’re giving potential clients a taste of what the work is like. Demos bring you into their comfort zone and eliminate the prospect’s fear factor.

Try doing demos at health fairs or with an allied noncompeting profession; consider your dentist’s or chiropractor’s waiting room. Everywhere you go, there is potential to spread the word. Now, how to do that elegantly?


3. Get a Massage Chair

All massage therapists should have a massage chair as standard equipment. They allow you the mobility to get out of your office and among the people who are your potential clients. The chair makes you accessible. It’s your most powerful promotional item besides your hands-on skills.

Don’t fret about the price. Massage chairs are inexpensive and pay for themselves quickly. Better, they can bring you a lot of work where you wouldn’t ordinarily work. That kind of exposure will get your practice off the ground.

Some therapists prefer to do on-site massage exclusively. I haven’t had to use the massage chair for years now, but it’s an excellent option for clients with neck injuries who can’t yet endure lying on a massage table. Get it. Use it.

4. Get Out of Your Empty Clinic

You have something special that busy therapists don’t. You have time. Don’t use it to watch the clock, count the pencils, and wait for someone to wander through your door.                

Yes, you just rented a room. It’s your first office and you want to be there all the time. But instead, get out there and drum up business so you have a real reason to be there. When you’re launching a business, you need to be mobile, so take your cell phone with you. Your office is now where you are.

Window washers go out each morning and go to every store with glass windows to ask if the proprietor wants his or her windows cleaned. Does that sound like a drag? Too bad. You’re going to make sales calls, and you’re going to take your massage chair with you.

No, you aren’t going to appear at each door and yell in, “Anybody want a massage from a total stranger? I’m pretty desperate!” You probably don’t want to work on anyone who says yes to that. (See Cold Calling, page 47.)

You’ll be turned away a lot. Expect that and don’t take it personally. However, somebody’s going to eye your massage chair on that strap on your shoulder. On your rounds, you’ll end up giving some people a demo. Good. You’re on your way.

Now, how do you translate that into paying clients? You know you should always be packing your business cards. You should also have gift certificates on you and your day planner so you can schedule interested clients immediately. Set your goal. How many new clients will you get today before you get to stop?

Also remember to get their business cards. You’ll need their information for the address and e-mail database you’re building. The card exchange also signals to the owner that you’re interested in what he or she is about, too. (It helps immensely if that interest in people is genuine. You can’t fake it.)

This is an important step for you, and it’s the one suggestion you are least likely to follow through on. Getting out of your comfort zone is difficult, but it does work. When I started working as a massage therapist, I had moved to a new city where I knew no one. (It worked out, but I don’t recommend it as a sane strategy.) Mine was a very cold start in northern Canada. My first professional client was a woman I met on a transit train. It began when she asked about the massage chair on my shoulder.

5. Amp Up Your Communication Efforts                 

You’re building your clientele by making contacts. Help your clients and they’ll help you build your practice. Don’t forget to ask for their assistance in spreading the word. New business owners who fail to ask for help don’t get to be old business owners.

In step four, you impressed business owners with your pitch and your professional demeanor. Now it’s time to do follow-up with all those people you contacted. Write thank-you notes letting them know you appreciated their time. Encourage them to call with questions.

Once people become your clients, you’ll pay special attention to birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions like Valentine’s Day, for instance. Your address database is a critical tool to get new clients, keep clients coming, and recall clients who have wandered away. I used to use my mailing list as a quick and easy reference to call to confirm clients’ appointments rather than pull their files every time. Now they’re all programmed into my cell phone.

Take on the role of information broker about your services and the profession. Tell them a bit about yourself, since you have to sell them on you first. Always emphasize how your work can benefit them. Dump any excess medical jargon and keep the tone conversational. You’re a results-oriented problem solver, and it’s their problems you’re solving.

Your correspondence should have the personal touch (e.g., “On your last visit you mentioned your 30th wedding anniversary is this month. Congratulations!”) No need to oversell it. Just let them know you’re paying attention, caring, and conscientious.

When I started out, I delivered flyers to my neighborhood. Free parking is a big draw to a clinic. Being able to conveniently walk there is even better. Later on, I hired a teenager to run the flyers around while I worked. I wrote my newsletters then, but that was a million years ago when there was no Internet. Now, I would pay the nominal fee to the post office to deliver postcards with my website address and a gentle reminder “It’s time to discover (or rediscover) the benefits of massage.”  

Your website should communicate to clients and potential clients who you are and what benefits you can provide through your service. Make it easy for people to schedule appointments.

Not ready for a website? Minimal websites aren’t that pricey and you can add more bells and whistles later to make yours more interactive. Failing that, blogs are free. Blog on massage therapy. Again, emphasize why readers should receive massage, not so much how you do it. A list of courses you’ve taken will mostly be a blur they don’t understand (like when my mechanic starts talking about what’s under the hood of my van). Avoid jargon. Update your blog frequently so people will have a reason to come back often.

Advertising in your local paper can be expensive (and indistinguishable from all the other people trying to sell stuff). Write a helpful column and submit it to the editor. Be the expert on something and people will start recognizing your name. That’s the difference between advertising and promotion. Promotion is free and more effective because writing earns you and your practice more credibility. 

6. Host an Open House

A colleague of mine was very successful with this route. She mailed postcard invitations very cheaply, blanketing nearby neighborhoods. (Don’t forget your database as well. Your best prospects are friends and family of existing clients.)

A lesser strategy is simply to advertise that you exist and invite patrons to call for an appointment … some day. To boost your responses, go bigger by giving more. The better strategy is to hold an open house at your clinic so you can take that opportunity to inform and educate and, once again, delete the fear factor. You want the merely curious to confidently graduate into your clientele.

Show them what you do with talks and demonstrations. Be sure to ask attendees to RSVP so you know how many to expect, allowing you to plan an adequate event. If you get more than you can handle, sign up the crowd for an alternate date.

You can host an open house anytime. In one clinic, we held a customer appreciation day with a tropical theme, complete with Hawaiian shirts and plastic Dollar Store leis. The clients loved it. We raised money for charity. I baked muffins, chatted with new people, and converted some new clients with demos. Canadians in February are all dreaming of palm trees, so that theme worked well. What will your theme be?

7. Find Your Niche

When we start out, we’ll do any kind of massage we’re qualified to do. When I began, I was even scared to set office hours. If someone wanted me there at 7:30 a.m., I said “Sure, whatever you want.” When they asked if I did sports massage, sure whatever you want. Just let me work, so I can pay the bills.

It’s better to choose a narrow, under-serviced need, and fill that need. It’s easier to sell specifics. (After a haphazard start, I became the therapist to see if you have multiple sclerosis.)

There are a lot of massage therapists out there. What makes you different? What can you do to distinguish you from the rest? Get creative and think how you can fit in with what’s unique to your area. For instance, are there tourist destinations, busy B&Bs, amusement parks, or beaches? These are venues you could work as a massage therapist. What about working in a mall or at festivals or trade conferences?

I’ve worked on several election nights for candidates and their army of volunteers. I gained a lot of clients that way, though I think I’m a jinx, since the candidates always lost.

Here’s a fresh idea to get you thinking what you could do: every town in America could have a wedding massage therapist. The wedding industry is huge. How about getting involved in a bridal fair? Your services could be showcased right beside florists, dress shops, and caterers. We know brides get stressed out—there are even television shows dedicated to that phenomenon. What a great treat for the newly married couple and their wedding party to have you at the rehearsal dinner with your trusty massage chair. Make sure your gift certificates are sufficiently fancy so they can be proudly displayed and presented in a gift bag.

8. Give

There are charity events everywhere and they are constant. There are so many people in need. You can give of your time and skill to benefit them. And, bluntly, you can also give to get.

I’ve volunteered my time massaging at numerous charity runs over the years. They are the easiest to do because charity organizers are so familiar with having massage therapists work on runners at these events.

Novice therapists have a great advantage. You have the time and the energy to appear at these events and do the work without taking time away from your fledgling practice. Yes, some veteran therapists still do this noble work. Personally, after massaging through the week, I don’t want to spend my weekend at it. These days when I participate, I’m either the runner or I’ll donate gift certificates or money.

There is a debate about whether massage therapists should be paid to work every time. I see the point. As an established therapist with a full schedule, I’m reluctant to do unpaid work. I only have so much massage in me. However, for new grads launching their businesses, I encourage them in their struggle to promote themselves. You don’t find your clientele. Your clientele finds you. You can only make yourself more visible so they can find you more easily.

Good causes benefit from our participation as massage therapists. If you had the budget for advertising, you’d do that more. Instead of money, you have time. You are buying a marketing opportunity with the skills you donate. Think of that as your promotional budget. (I have worked with charities and managed to get paid, too. I accomplished that as a speaker, however, and I spoke for free before I started getting paid for it.)

9. Teach

Get over your resistance to public speaking and give back to your profession by teaching. If your knees knock, start with Toastmasters. They know you are there to learn to be a better orator, so they’re a kind audience. In school, there must have been an aspect of massage therapy in which you were particularly interested. Delve into that and make it your own.

I’ve given many seminars on stress and pain management and even developed an audiocassette for sale on those subjects. If I were to do it today, I’d record a podcast for easy downloading to an iPod or MP3 player. As the technology has changed there are many more promotional opportunities. Now more than ever, a wider audience can benefit from your expertise at little expense.   

Don’t know how to make a podcast? I bet you know someone who knows. Barter massage for their help and learn how to do it yourself.

10. Stick

You’ll be turned down. A lot. Sometimes with sneers. So what? Go on to the next person quickly because maybe they need your work very badly and don’t even know it yet. Don’t stop until you find all the people you have time in your schedule to assist. We don’t need that many people to fill a practice, so it won’t take as long as you might think if you get serious about your action plan. You will succeed.

 Remember, you’re an optimistic entrepreneur who just wants to help people. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be that and do that? Someday soon you’ll be so busy helping people in your clinic you’ll (almost) wish you had time to wander around in the sunlight with a massage chair on your shoulder.


 Robert Chute is a regular contributor and columnist for Massage & Bodywork. Let him know which strategies worked best for you at You
can read his Practitioner Parables column on page 128.