The Dos and Doníts of a Thriving Practice

By Les Sweeney and Kristin Coverly
[Business Side]

We’re often asked by both new and seasoned massage and bodywork therapists how to create a successful practice. While there’s no magic answer that works for everyone (and everyone has a unique definition for success), there are some general dos and don’ts that will help you take your practice from a sob story to a success story. 


News Flash: Your Practice is Actually a Business

Do you tend to conveniently forget that you’re a small business owner? Nice try, but like a sunflower or sea monkey your practice needs your time and attention if you want it to grow. Here’s how to show it the love it needs.


Do: Create a plan for your practice 

Don’t: Rely on a Ouija board 

We find a startling number of therapists adopt the hope-for-the-best business philosophy. Does it work? Not so much. Why do they do it? Our guess is because creating a plan for managing, marketing, and growing a practice may seem more than they are capable of. The key? Take it one step at a time and really think about what you want your life—and your practice—to be. What modalities do you want to practice? What kinds of clients do you want to work with? How many days a week do you want to work? Getting clear about what you want gives you a much better shot at creating a practice you enjoy.


Do: Be the master of your schedule 

Don’t: Give massages at midnight (unless you want to)

Being in a customer service field doesn’t mean you have to bend over backward for your clients to the point where it’s detrimental to your own well-being (and low back). Create a schedule with available appointment times and stick to it. You’re allowed to say no to the client who asks for an appointment at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday.


Do: Schedule time to run your practice 

Don’t: Forget you’re running a business

Think you’ll get around to working on your marketing, client communication, and finances whenever you have time here and there? Think again! Schedule at least 30 minutes every day to sit at your desk and do something related to running your business: share helpful information on your Facebook page for your practice, plan a new marketing event, call clients, enter your business expenses for the week, etc. Your business will thank you. 

Marketing Works (But Only if You’re Doing It)

Marketing doesn’t magically happen on its own—sorry. As a business owner, you need to take steps to spread the word about your practice and attract new clients. If you make it personal and uniquely your own, you might even enjoy it! Pick yourself up off the floor and read on.


Do: Be a voyeur (Legally)

Don’t: Try to create inspired marketing materials in a vacuum (or while vacuuming)

Creating or updating your website? Look around at other bodywork (and nonbodywork) websites to get inspired by design and content. Seeing work you like (and don’t like) will help you create your own brilliant materials. This goes for business cards, brochures, and social media sites, too. Your aim is to inform potential clients that you are professional, capable, trustworthy, and genuine—don’t try to be something you’re not.


Do: Create marketing materials with benefits-centered language 

Don’t: Leave your potential clients scratching their heads and wondering what the heck you’re talking about

What motivates new clients to call you for an appointment? Knowing what’s in it for them if they do. Use marketing language that describes the benefits of your work in terms they’ll understand (e.g., not hyperemia). Focus on how the session will affect them, their bodies, and their lives, or on what your work will help, eliminate, or enhance. Not sure if your language works? Have a few nonbodywork friends give it a test-read.

Do: Get clear about who you
want to work with and what
you want to do 

Don’t: Try to be everything to everyone

Embrace the concept of target markets. Focusing your marketing efforts on specific groups of potential clients gives you much more bang for your buck. Start by thinking about and choosing the groups of people you actually want to bring into your practice (athletes? moms? desk jockeys?). Then find out where they go and what they do. Find ways to market to them in those places (give a talk, place an article or ad in a newsletter, do hands-on massage after a race) and tailor your marketing materials to describe the benefits of your work for that specific population.


Do: Embrace social media 

Don’t: Pretend you can’t find your computer’s “on” button

Facebook isn’t just for checking up on your high school crush or bragging about your vacation. It can be a great means to encourage word-of-mouth recommendations—just online instead of face to face. And it’s not as scary as it seems—really! The same goes for Twitter. Like anything else, learning how to post and tweet like a pro just takes learning the ropes step-by-step, and then practicing. Your clients are out there in cyberspace; go connect with them. 

Finances: Be Savvy Not Sorry

Earning money is good. Ignoring your finances and hoping for the best—not good. Here’s how to create a healthier relationship with your bank account.


Do: Look at your finances 

Don’t: Ignore them 

Quick quiz: what’s the balance in your business account right now? Pretending that your finances are fine won’t make them fine. As scary as it might be, knowing exactly how much money is flowing in and out of your practice will help you make smart choices about your spending. It’s always better to know where you stand (even if it’s horrifying) than to not know and make choices that will get you into trouble. Bottom line not where you want it? Create a budget and stick to it. 


Don’t: Wait for clients to knock on your door

Manage your expenses carefully and look at how much you make per hour—adding in all the time you devote to your practice. If you’re not happy with the result, compare the amount of time you earn money (practicing and getting paid) to the amount of time you are available to see clients. Your plan should be to maximize the time you are earning during your available time.


Do: Prepare for tax time 

Don’t: Pretend April 15 doesn’t exist

Want to stop panicking every April? Keep on top of your income and expenses throughout the year and enter them weekly into whatever system you use. Need motivation to devote time to it weekly? Remember how it feels to look at that shoebox of unorganized receipts with a deadline looming. Fifteen minutes a week is a sweet tradeoff for a stress-free spring.

A Happy Client = A Happy Practice

We’re going to go out on a limb and assume you want your clients to come back to see you again; it’s a pretty smart business philosophy. Here’s how to make that happen.


Do: Remember what it’s
like to be a client

Don’t: Forget how much your clients look forward to their session

It’s easy to look at a session as just one of five you have that day and come into it with half your mind on what you’re going to make for dinner and the other half on last night’s Modern Family episode (understandable—that is a funny show). Try to remember that your client has probably been looking forward to this all week—maybe all month. Remember how exciting it feels when you’ve got an appointment to receive bodywork? Ground and reenergize between each client so you can treat it like it’s your first and only session of the day.


Do: Listen to your clients 

Don’t: Have a set routine 

What’s the number one complaint from clients? Their therapist didn’t give them the session for which they asked. Listen to your clients and ask questions until you really understand what they want. What does focusing on an area mean to them? Fifteen minutes? Forty minutes? Set expectations for the session to avoid disappointment; share your treatment plan so you’re on the same page. Be willing and able to adapt your flow and the amount of time you spend on each area of the body. 

What are other ways you can personalize their session? Allow clients to choose their own aromatherapy, music, and table temperature. Ask them what techniques they really love (then do more of those) and which techniques they don’t love so much (and minimize or let go of those). One client may love that thing you do on the trapezius and another might hate it. It’s good to know who’s who.


Do: Put yourself in your clients’ shoes 

Don’t: Wear them home 

Have you received a session in your own office space? It’s an invaluable experience. How comfortable is your table? What’s it like to sit in the client intake chair? What noises and smells do you pick up on? Has the tick, tick, tick of your clock slowly driven you crazy by midsession?


Do: Deep clean your office space 

Don’t: Think watching Office Space is a substitute

Another complaint high on the I-won’t-go-back-to-see-that-therapist again list? Dirty office space—really. The state of your office reflects on the quality of your work, whether it’s an accurate reflection or not. Pulling out the vacuum cleaner may just mean keeping clients.

It’s All About You (And That’s Ok)

Dedicating your life to helping others is wonderful; ignoring your own needs is not. These simple steps will help you put yourself first every once and a while (which is a good thing). 


Do: Plan time off 

Don’t: Forget to make money to afford your time off

The kind of day off you don’t want—zero clients on the schedule—might just happen on its own, unfortunately, but the I’m-away-on-vacation-and-am-actually-breathing kind of time off takes a little planning. Tracking your sessions each year will help you pinpoint when you naturally tend to have a slump in your client load, which is the perfect time for you to schedule a break. The downside? Your income stops when you’re away from the office. Budget accordingly in the months before to soften the blow.


Do: Get inspired and remember why you started doing bodywork 

Don’t: Let yourself get bored 

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you’ve been doing the same thing year after year. Luckily, our field gives you lots of opportunities to stay refreshed and inspired. Get bodywork from different therapists who practice a variety of bodywork styles. Read professional magazines (we can recommend one) and challenge yourself to try at least one new technique or product from each issue. Take a continuing education course to deepen your knowledge in a modality you already practice or, better yet, try something totally new and outside your normal groove. Follow the social media accounts of other practitioners and industry experts. Find unique ways to energize your practice and keep it fresh for you and your clients. 


Les Sweeney is ABMP’s president and resident blogger. Contact him at
and read his blog on Kristin Coverly,, is an ABMP education facilitator who teaches workshops for therapists and instructors across the country. Both are massage therapists with business degrees who care about you and your practice. Want more? Check out their ABMP BizFit video tips on 

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