Not Happy With Your Practice? Change It!

Create a Practice that Works for You

By Kristin Coverly

Have you ever considered quitting the massage profession even though you love what you do? Therapists with their own practices often consider this extreme option when they feel a jolt of panic over gaping holes in their client schedule, they’re challenged by marketing and managing their practice, they’re bored and uninspired by their current modality and group of clients, or they’re physically exhausted from working at the table. Sound familiar? Don’t give up so easily on something you love.

If your current practice isn’t working for you, change it! Even though some days it may seem easier to quit the profession than to analyze what’s not working and put time and energy into redesigning your practice, it’s worth the effort. You’ll continue to make a living doing what you love and the profession won’t lose a skilled, caring, and passionate therapist.

Let’s start with a self-assessment to get to the root of the problem. Schedule time on your calendar and take yourself to a distraction-free location where you can focus on you and your practice. Answer the following questions honestly:

• Do you still enjoy the hands-on aspect of massage? Why? Why not?

• How does it feel to interact with clients?

• How do you feel while giving a massage?

• How do you feel after giving a massage?

• Why did you choose the massage profession? Do you still resonate with those reasons?

• Would you miss giving massage if you left the profession?

The real question is this: are you ready to leave because you are truly done with massage and you get no joy from it, or because you’ve encountered challenges? If your answers to the self-assessment show that you just no longer enjoy the work, then maybe it is time for you to find something else that will fulfill you. If you still love the work, but are frustrated by your current situation, change your situation. 

Practice Analysis

Let’s evaluate your practice and make a plan to change what’s not working. Begin by taking a closer look at the practice you’ve created:

• Are you inspired and challenged by the modalities you’re practicing?

• Do you look forward to seeing the clients with whom you’re currently working?

• Do you need more or different social interaction?

• Are you physically exhausted by the work?

• Do the days and times you’re working fit your lifestyle?

• Do you need more clients to sustain your practice?

• Can you adapt to the potentially inconsistent income of a private practice?

• Describe your ideal practice. Does your practice match this description?

Your honest answers to these questions should highlight an area or two of your current strategy that’s not working. Use that knowledge to create a step-by-step action plan to remodel your practice.

You may want to make changes in several of the following categories to create your ideal practice. What’s an ideal practice? It’s a practice that works for you: part-time, full-time, sole proprietor, employee, or your own unique mix.

“I need more clients.”

Solution: Rethink Your Marketing Strategy

Do you want the independence of a private practice, but need more clients to make it viable? It’s time to analyze your marketing strategy. Are you actively promoting your practice, or are you passively relying on word of mouth to bring new clients to your door? If you’re doing some marketing but you’re not seeing the results you need, expand your efforts and try something new.

Tailor your marketing activities to specifically attract the kind of clients you want to work with—your target market—so you’re spending your time and money wisely. If you want to work with pregnant women, don’t just pin a few cards to the coffee shop bulletin board. Speak to a Lamaze group, create referral relationships with obstetricians/gynecologists, place an ad in the local moms’ group enewsletter, or post your cards and brochures in mom and baby stores. Find ways to reach the members of that target market specifically.

Take this opportunity to refresh your marketing efforts and create a strategy that not only works to attract the clients you want to your practice, but also includes activities you’ll enjoy doing.

Things to consider

•  Get creative and have fun!

•  Marketing is personal, and you have the ability to define what it means for you and your practice. Doing chair massage at a community event is marketing. Giving massage after a 5K race is marketing. Asking your current clients to give your cards to their friends, family, and co-workers is marketing.

•  Marketing is letting people know who you are and what you have to offer: that’s it!

Action steps

1. Write down all of the things you’re currently doing to market your practice.

2. Research all of the ways you can reach the target market(s) you want to work with. Who are they? Where do they go? What do they do?

3. Read marketing books and utilize online resources and courses to increase your marketing knowledge.

4. Plan at least three new marketing opportunities you’re excited to try.

5. Schedule time weekly and/or daily to devote to marketing your practice.

6. Create a separate calendar to plan your marketing activities and schedule a minimum of one unique activity each month.

7. Develop strategies to market to your current clients to keep them coming back.

8. Create and maintain an informative website for your practice.

9. Embrace social media as a way to communicate with current clients and attract new ones.

“I’m tired of giving the same massage.”

Solution: Explore New Modalities

Are you still passionate about massage, but uninspired by the type of hands-on work you’re doing? You’re not alone; this happens to most therapists at one point or another. The kind of massage that will inspire and fulfill you has almost certainly changed since you graduated from massage school.

You may be more interested in treatment work now than prenatal massage, or geriatric massage rather than sports massage. Maybe you just need to add something new to the techniques you’re already using, and breathe some fresh life into your practice so it doesn’t feel like you’re giving the same session over and over. The good news is there are more continuing education options available to you than ever before. The fun part? Choosing one that will inspire you.

Continuing education is a wonderful opportunity for you to get a second (or third) wind and reenergize your practice. The bonus is that your clients will enjoy the new journey with you and gain a better understanding of the depth of the massage field.

Things to consider

•  It can take time to fully learn a new modality; this probably won’t be an overnight change.

•  Learning a new modality requires an investment of not just time, but money; plan accordingly.

•  Receive sessions from professionals who specialize in different modalities to get a clear sense of what the work really is; reading about a modality doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the reality of that style of massage on the table.

•  Think not only about new techniques you want to add to your practice, but those you want to let go of. Do you offer stone massage because you think your clients want it but you hate actually doing the work and resent it when someone books a stone session? Stop doing it!

Action steps

1. Identify the new modality you want to learn.

2. Research your options for continuing education.

3. Create a financial plan to save money specifically for this purpose.

4. Sign up for courses well in advance and alter your client schedule accordingly.

5. Create a marketing plan to introduce your new modality to your clients.

6. Evaluate the modalities you currently practice.

7. Give clients advance notice of any modalities you will no longer offer.

“I’m not inspired by my current clientele.”

Solution: Change Your Focus

Are you still passionate about your hands-on work, but you don’t look forward to seeing the clients on your schedule? This is often the result of widespread versus targeted marketing efforts.

If you want to practice orthopedic massage, but do general marketing to your area and don’t focus your marketing efforts on attracting clients with orthopedic needs, you’re not going to draw the right kind of client to your practice. Maybe the majority of your clients are athletes because your office is located near a gym, but you’re not as interested in working with them as you are the few clients you have who are fighting cancer.

As you build your practice and gain experience with different populations, you’ll form a clearer understanding of who you’re inspired to have on your table and who you’d rather not see.

Things to consider

• Who you work with has as much of an impact on your professional happiness as the type of massage you practice.

• While almost all practices are a mix of client types, be proactive and decide what you want that mix to include.

• Your target market may be based on gender, age, physical or emotional need, profession, hobby, location, or any number of factors.

• Once you determine who you want to bring into your practice, market specifically to them.

•  If you have clients you don’t enjoy working with, for whatever reason, consider ending the therapeutic relationship so they can find a therapist who’s a better match for them and you can fill that space with a client you look forward to seeing.

Action steps

1. Evaluate your client list. Who do you enjoy working with?

2. Determine the type of client you want to attract to your practice.

3. Create a marketing plan specifically for this target market.

4. If you choose to end a therapeutic relationship that isn’t working for you, do so professionally and compassionately.

“I can’t keep working these hours.”

Solution: Restructure Your Schedule

Is your current appointment schedule zapping your professional happiness? If the days and times you’re seeing clients are causing you to think about leaving the profession, it’s time to make a change. Whether you’re in this situation because you’ve allowed your clients to dictate your schedule or because what used to work for you no longer does, you have options.

Different populations are available for sessions at varying days and times. If you only want to work when your kids are in school, choose to work with populations who are available when you are—other stay-at-home parents, night-shift workers, retirees, clients with flexible work schedules, and so on. Market to these populations specifically and don’t invest your time and energy marketing to populations who are only available on nights and weekends. Conversely, if you’re an athlete who wants to train during the day and see clients in the evening, seek out clients who can fill those appointment times.

Take a critical look at your schedule. Some people will enjoy their part-time practice more if they’re giving two sessions a day four days a week, while others would prefer to give four sessions a day and work only two days a week. You may feel a significant attitude shift if you work two Saturdays a month instead of three.

The question is: does your schedule work for you? If not, decide what schedule fits your lifestyle and create it.

Things to consider

•  With such a wide variety of potential clients out there, there are clients who are available when you want to work.

•  Determine what you want and then tailor your practice to meet your needs.

•  If you change your session times, not all of your current clients will be able to continue working with you. You’ll need to be willing to lose a few clients to make this shift.

•  Consider making a gradual change, rather than an abrupt one, to keep a steady client base as you make the transition.

Action steps

1. Determine what you want your schedule to be.

2. Communicate your schedule change to your current clients at least 30 days in advance.

3. Make the change gradually if your new schedule won’t work for a significant number of your current clients.

4. Market to populations that are a fit for your new schedule.

“A full-time practice just isn’t for me.”

Solution: Embrace Part-Time Opportunities

Don’t like the responsibility of running your own practice? Craving an opportunity to interact with colleagues?

It’s OK to admit that a full-time private practice isn’t the best fit for you. Too often massage therapists graduate from school with the notion that it’s best if they start their own practice and never work for anyone else. Just like anything in life, there are pros and cons to all choices. Sure, it’s wonderful to be your own boss and set your own rates and schedule, but it’s also a lot of work to do all of the marketing and bookkeeping yourself. It’s not a failure in any way to admit that you’d like the stability of a regular paycheck and some health benefits. Allow room for your practice to evolve over time; what worked for you two years ago may not be the best fit for you today. 

Here are some alternatives for therapists who want to continue doing hands-on work, but don’t want to run a full-time practice. 

Solution: Mix a Private Practice and Part-Time Massage Therapy Job

Do you enjoy some aspects of being a sole proprietor, but a full-time private practice isn’t the best fit for you? Consider cutting back on your private practice and adding a part-time massage therapy job to your business plan. There are an abundance of clinics, spas, hospitals, and other employers who are clamoring for qualified therapists to join their teams.

The benefits of this choice include working with a wide variety of clientele, introducing the world of massage to first-time clients, and having the ability to just show up and have clients and supplies ready for you. Because these locations are often open seven days a week, therapists can vie for days and shift times that work with their schedule.

Balancing a part-time private practice and part-time massage job gives you the opportunity to enjoy doing hands-on work full time while minimizing the time and effort you need to spend marketing and managing your practice.

Things to consider

•  Research your opportunities carefully; different employment situations attract different types of clients and require you to use different modalities. Find the fit that’s right for you.

•  It may take time before you have a full client schedule as an employee.

•  You’ll need your employee position to have a fairly set schedule so you can book your private practice clients in advance. 

•  It’s not OK to lure clients into your private practice from your job; they’re your employer’s clients, not yours.

Action steps

1. Determine which employment setting is best for you: clinic, spa, hospital, chiropractor, etc.

2. Research available jobs in desirable locations.

3. Develop a compelling resume and cover letter.

4. Prepare for verbal and hands-on interviews.

5. Plan your schedule to balance a part-time job and part-time practice.

Solution: Mix a Private Practice and a Nonmassage Therapy Job

Still enjoy giving massage, but you don’t have the desire or physical capability for it to be your full-time gig? Take this opportunity to transition your practice to part time and look for a part-time or full-time job in another field. This will allow you to continue to do the hands-on work that you love, but you’ll also have the opportunity to interact with colleagues, receive health benefits, and earn a steady paycheck.

Additional benefits? It’s a wonderful opportunity to market your part-time practice to a new group of people. You might even enjoy your current clients in a new way when you’re not viewing them as your sole source of income.

Things to consider

•  Part-time therapists often transition to a home office, when appropriate, to give them scheduling flexibility and reduce expenses.

•  Set your appointment times in advance and say no when you need to create balance; it’s easy to get overbooked when you’re juggling a job and practice.

•  You may need to let go of some of your clients as you downsize your practice; do so professionally and compassionately.

•  Remember that creating your ideal mix is personal. A part-time practice for you may mean three clients per week while for someone else it’s eight to 10.

Action steps

1. Set your part-time schedule: number of appointments, days, and times.

2. Communicate your schedule changes to the clients you’re keeping.

3. Create a referral list for clients you are no longer able to see.

Solution: Secure a Full-Time Massage Therapy Job

Are you ready to close your private practice doors altogether in exchange for a full-time massage therapy position? Now is the perfect time to do it, as the number of employee positions and the variety of opportunities are at all-time highs.

Working as an employee can allow you to continue to do the work you love without the responsibility of building and managing your own business.

Things to consider

•  Avoid jumping at the first opportunity that comes your way.

•  Carefully choose the type of massage you want to do and the kind of clients you want to work with; your experience working at a spa will be very different than working in a chiropractic office.

•  Working all of your hours at one location could reward you with preferred scheduling and benefits, while working with more than one type of employer provides a variety of clientele and modalities.

•  When researching these opportunities, be sure to ask how many hours per week are required to qualify for benefits.

•  New employees may not have a full schedule right away; prepare financially for this transition.

•  Ask if there are opportunities for growth into supervisor or managerial roles; this may open up a whole new career path for you.

•  Plan a professional and timely way to communicate to your current clients that you’re closing your practice and have a referral list available to them for other qualified therapists in the area.

Action steps

1. Determine which employment setting is best for you: clinic, spa, hospital, chiropractor, etc.

2. Research available jobs in desirable locations.

3. Develop a compelling resume and cover letter.

4. Prepare for verbal and hands-on interviews.

5. Give clients professional and timely notice of your closing.

6. Create a referral list for your current clients.

7. Prepare financially for the gap between your last private client and your first paycheck, or transition slowly by maintaining a part-time practice for a period of time.

Take a breath

So, what should you do the next time you experience a jolt of panic about your practice and consider throwing in the towel? Take a deep breath and recognize that this moment of crisis may actually give you the perfect opportunity to create your ideal practice.

Kristin Coverly is an education facilitator with ABMP and leads Instructors on the Front Lines workshops for massage educators and ABMP BizFit Live: Successful Practice Workshops for massage therapists across the country. Contact her at



Thinking About Quitting? Try This Instead:

> Self-Assessment. Ask yourself: is massage still the right profession for me? If the answer is yes, look for solutions.

> Practice Analysis. Honestly analyze what’s working and what’s not in your current practice. You can change your marketing, modalities, clients, schedule, and practice to breathe new life into your career and bring fresh energy to your work. Create a step-by-step action plan to transform your practice and create the unique professional situation that works for you.