Networking for MTs

By Yael Friedmann
[Business Side]

Networking is one of the best things you can do to make your practice grow. That rule is one of the first things I learned when I went into business—and hands down the advice I received most frequently from other business owners, no matter what profession they were in. You’ve probably heard the same thing. But do you have a clear understanding of exactly what networking is and how you can use it to grow your business.

What Is Networking?

Networking is the art and science of beginning, maintaining, and cultivating beneficial relationships. Start the process by considering that people weigh a number of criteria when they have to make business decisions—and healthcare decisions are very business-oriented. This fact is especially pertinent for massage therapists who don’t typically work with traditional health insurance plans, because you have clients considering out-of-pocket expenses. What’s going to prompt them to invest in your services when they could use that money for any number of things?

In large part, the answer is based on the relationship clients have with the business owner. People do business with people they like and trust. If they like you as a person, they’re more likely to come to you for bodywork. The concept is transferable: if the potential client knows about you through a mutual acquaintance, he or she is far more likely to book an appointment with you than with an unknown provider.

The starting point of networking is getting people to know, like, and trust you. At first, this may seem manipulative, and the concept of networking turns a lot of massage therapists off. However, the most effective networking stems from authentic relationships, based in the genuine care and compassion for other human beings. Fortunately, this trait is second nature to caregivers.

Networking encourages personal referrals

Nearly all clients come to us via word of mouth. A healthcare professional, friend, or colleague promoted the value of our services and connected clients with us.

Obviously, the more people you get to know, the more individuals you’ll have speaking on your behalf. Networking efforts connect you with people who are outside your immediate sphere. The potential client pool grows exponentially with every connection you make.

Networking exposes you to media opportunities

Value any media connection you make. Few things are as effective at generating positive word of mouth as appearing in the local newspaper, regional magazine, on a local news show, or even on a well-respected website or blog. Additionally, if you want to publicize a special event, you’ll already have established relationships with media professionals you can contact.

Networking connects you to useful professional contacts

Networking is a two-way street. While you’re obviously looking to form relationships with people who can help you and your practice, you’re going to meet people you can help, too.

For example, let’s say you meet a nutritionist who specializes in working with overweight children. You hit it off, and she turns out to be someone you trust and respect on a professional level. When one of your clients mentions she’s looking for someone to help her child who’s struggling with a weight issue, you have a referral for her. This works for you on three levels: the client appreciates the assistance; you reinforce your relationship with the nutritionist; and she’s grateful for the referral business. Should an opportunity arise to return the favor, guess which massage therapist she’ll likely recommend?

Networking helps you develop name recognition, making your brand familiar to a wider range of people

This is a subtle, yet powerful, side effect of networking. One of the things networking can do for you is build name recognition. People see you at events, even if they don’t engage with you directly. You develop a reputation as a viable, hardworking business owner through your high profile. Compare this with the image of the massage therapist who heads home at day’s end and has no connection to the business community.

How Do You Network?

You already know how to network. Networking is simply forming relationships with people, connecting to people who may be interested in your practice, or, perhaps more importantly, talking to other people about your practice.

The trick is to find places to form relationships with people you don’t already know. After all, once you’ve exhausted your immediate circle of family members and friends, where will you find new clients?

Networking groups may be the answer. Groups like Business Networking International (BNI), regional chambers of commerce, and professional associations offer networking opportunities with professionals of every background. There are also trade-specific networking groups: the Holistic Health Network, for example, has branches all across the nation.

Don’t overlook online networking efforts. Increasingly we’re connecting with friends, colleagues, and peers online. Social networking sites like LinkedIn offer the opportunity to put yourself out there on a virtual level. People are placing increasing value on what they read online. If you can position yourself well on the web, you’ll be able to generate referral business that way.

Still, face-to-face networking is the gold standard. Even the smallest towns have some form of a networking group. Consider attending a few meetings and getting your feet wet. It’s a great way to learn networking and meet many people all at once.

A Note of Caution About Networking

I’ve just spent all this time telling you about the positive side of networking, and now I’m rolling out the cautionary note. It wouldn’t be right to tell you about the upside of the networking world without mentioning the drawbacks.

Networking is fun, and it’s effective. You can certainly build brand recognition and get to know lots of interesting people. However, networking can easily consume all of your time, if you let it.

I found this to be true in the early years of my business. I was very eager to build my practice, of course, and managed to get myself involved with numerous networking groups. I’d go to the meetings, talk with people, and come away feeling both exhausted and unsure of what I’d accomplished. I was spending hours and hours every single week networking. It was just too much.

Again, the key is balance. There is an optimal amount of networking to do. Any amount after that, and you’re going to realize diminishing returns. The energy, effort, and time you expend are not going to be recouped in the number of referrals you receive. There must be a clear relationship between the time you spend networking and the benefit you realize from it.

Well Worth the Time

Developing relationships with people from many walks of life has far-reaching benefits. I’ve found that networking allows me to feel more grounded in, and connected to, my community— especially important when I moved to this city with relatively few connections. It’s a great way to make friends and meet the people who make things happen in your community.

Networking will also get people talking—about you, about your practice, and the services you offer. This is an essential element in generating word of mouth and driving referral business to your office. It’s well worth the time and effort to network and start forming those connections.

 Yael Friedmann, MA, LMT, is a nationally certified massage therapist, entrepreneur, and marketing consultant to the complementary and alternative medicine industry. She has practiced as a massage therapist for eight years and currently serves on the NCTMB Ethics & Standards Committee. Friedmann is a Massachusetts certified instructor for massage and entrepreneurship. She runs a massage wellness center south of Boston,