Challenges? Opportunities!

We Answer Your Questions

By Les Sweeney, NCTM, and Kristin Coverly, RMT
[Business Side]

Kristin and Les asked massage therapists and bodyworkers what challenges they face, and then pored through the responses. Here are some of those challenges, along with advice and suggestions.

Kristin Coverly: Les, being a successful massage and bodywork professional isn’t easy.

Les Sweeney: Really? I just thought you needed lotion, a holster, and a table. Ha! JK! LOL! Sorry, just practicing my online persona.

KC: SMH. Since we wanted this issue’s column to be tailored to exactly what our readers want to know—not what we think they want to know—we reached out through Facebook and Twitter to see what questions therapists had about building a successful practice and career. 

LS: What did we hear?

KC: Well, we heard a lot. And we have members who need advice.

LS: Perfect. That’s what I am good at—free advice. Let’s dive in and see how we can help. 

Jasmyn said the areas she needs guidance in are “getting clients and advertising.” What are some tips Jasmyn can use for getting clients?

KC: This is an ongoing challenge for almost all therapists. You can spend your time and money trying to market to everyone, but that’s really only an option for therapists with unlimited funds. For the rest of us, it makes sense to focus our efforts on attracting the clients we really want to work with. Create profiles of the kinds of clients you want—including who they are, where they go, what they do—and everything gets easier. From this, you’ll know where to market to them and what messages to use. But, and this will probably be an unpopular answer, marketing is a job business owners need to do regularly. And, by regularly, I mean daily. Think of new ways to get out into the community to meet people, to reach potential clients, to tell people who you are and what you have to offer. Schedule time to actively grow your practice.

LS: Nice, Kristin. Jasmyn should be all set with those.

Oooh, Shawna gave us a handful of juicy questions. Her first is, “How do I market craniosacral to the layperson?” I’ll take this one. This is a real challenge, Shawna, because the average person does not know of (and certainly isn’t familiar with the benefits of) craniosacral therapy. Here is my suggestion, and I think this can apply to any form of bodywork (or even massage, for that matter) that the general public does not have a great understanding about. Don’t immediately jump into a history lesson; nearly every form of bodywork has its place and is important. But what does the average consumer want? He wants to easily and quickly understand the benefits of what he is buying. So, I’d answer three questions:

• How will I feel during the session?

• How will I feel after?

• What does it help?

Then, think about pathologies or common ailments that the session can help with, and reference those to build your case for trying your services. It may sound a little basic, but you have to try to draw people into the shallow end first. It’s kind of like when you suggest a new food to a friend or child—typically, you’ll offer comparisons to a more familiar food to give a landmark to gauge his or her interest. You know—“It tastes like chicken.”

Two other Shawna challenges were “getting clients to take my advice” and “helping clients understand the benefit of regular self-care.” These two ride together, because if clients do the second, chances are they’ll be doing the first—heck, regular bodywork is kind of the definition of self-care (at least partially). For the first time in my life, I received weekly bodywork this winter while training for the Boston Marathon. It was great—and necessary. And while I may not keep up the weekly pace for the balance of the year, I am still averaging about one session every 10–14 days.

Here’s a challenge for bodyworkers: be helpful and supportive, but not preachy. I have fired MTs for this. Look, I know who I am, and I don’t need to pay someone to remind me of my shortcomings (I have family for that). So this is a delicate balancing act for therapists. Like I mentioned about craniosacral, talk to the client about what she will receive, and avoid talking about what she is lacking. Or, if you can use yourself as an example, your advice can be couched in an “If I can do it, you can” approach that feels less threatening or demeaning.

KC: Great advice! Shawna also mentioned challenges with how therapists sustain themselves, specifically “getting enough bodywork.” I’m pretty sure every therapist can relate! The key is to plan ahead. One option: trade with a friend. One way to avoid the heartbreaking “My schedule’s crazy, I have to postpone your session for a few weeks” scenario is to schedule the same day and time each week for you and your colleague to trade. No exceptions. One week you receive and one week you give. Another option is to pay to receive great bodywork. Be the client you want your clients to be and book several sessions at once so you have them on your calendar.

LS: OK. Shawna, you are welcome ϑ. So, Kristin, a member Who Must Not Be Named (not Voldemort) is curious about the following: “I am interested in supplementing my income with product to sell. I have Sombra now (can’t keep it on my shelf), but would love to know other things that would be applicable in a nonspa environment.” What say you?

KC: Congratulations on supplementing your income with product sales—smart move! There’s a long list of possible answers: aromatherapy, foam rollers, hot packs, massage tools, music, and so on. I could make a strong case for any one of them, but they need to be items that your clients want, not what I would want, or what my clients would want. What’s the best way to figure out what your clients want? Ask them! Create a list of products you might carry (with room for clients’ own ideas) and get their feedback; they may surprise you. The bonus is they’ll be more likely to buy if they’re part of the process.

Here’s one for you, Les. Ann writes that her challenge is “making clients understand my time is just as valuable as theirs and that they need to be on time, if not early.” How would you manage that?

LS: That’s good. Ann, here’s my two cents. When it comes down to it, you are selling your time. Yes, the service you provide is the reason a client comes to see you and hopefully returns. But your business is predicated on time. There are no shortcuts in bodywork, no ways to speed up (or slow down) the clock. So the time you devote to each client is precious and can’t be wasted—by you or the client. I would tactfully explain your ground rules to all your clients: “You are paying for a block of time, and your late arrival cuts into it; for best results, I’d like you on the table when the session starts (meaning, on the table at 11:00 a.m. for an 11:00 a.m. appointment, so probably get here by 10:50 a.m.); an hour massage will be 60 minutes if we start on time,” etc. You don’t have to be militant about it, but you can explain that you want to do your best for them and this will help. The least confrontational ways to do this include posting a sign at your reception area or printing up handouts with these details and giving them to all clients. You can always say, “I’ve had a few folks that have been tardy,” without giving up any names.

Now, here’s a challenge we might need to call in backup for. Rosemary’s challenge is “keeping up with social media (Facebook/Twitter).” Oh, Abram …

Abram Herman, ABMP Social Media Coordinator: Thanks, Les. Keeping up with social media for your business is all about choosing to make it a priority. In the same way that you set aside time for SOAP notes, taxes, and other business essentials, you should also make a conscious effort to set aside time specifically for social media. Spend one hour a week coming up with content to post throughout the week, and you won’t have to come up with something new and creative each day. Once you’ve created your content calendar, you can even find tools to schedule your posts so they go out automatically, without adding daily work.

LS: Thanks Abe! Here’s a challenging one: Tori wants to know how to get people “taking what I do seriously” and understanding that regular massage is beneficial to their health. She points out, “It is widely considered a beauty treatment or a luxury, not a preventative health-care measure.” Rebecca said this is a challenge for her as well, but from a slightly different perspective: “Trying to convince people that massage therapy shouldn’t be a once-in-a-while treat, but part of their lifestyle. I think some people take better care of their cars than themselves!”

KC: Why do people take better care of their cars? Because they know what will happen if they don’t. When we’re talking with clients about the benefits of regular bodywork, we need to put ourselves in their shoes. What do they need to know to make this decision that affects their time and money? They want to know what’s in it for them. It’s our job as bodyworkers to tell them! As Les mentioned earlier, use benefits-based language and tailor your message to each person. If they get headaches, stress the benefits specifically for reduced headache occurrence. You may need to do some research to arm yourself with data. In compelling language they’ll understand, tell them exactly why regular bodywork is better for them than sporadic sessions. Be confident in your delivery; if you doubt what you’re saying, so will they.

And you get the last one, Les—a basic, but important, challenge. Carla states, “When it rains, it floods. Everyone calls at the last minute!”

LS: I view this as a happy problem. If your biggest challenge is too much business, that’s OK. My first question is, “Is it the same people every time?” Then, we have a training issue, like our previous tardy clients. Many people schedule at the last minute because that’s how they live their lives, and also because that’s when they feel “broken”—“My back’s out, can you fit me in?” If it’s random, we need to think about changing people’s expectations and behavior, and we do that through education, but also reward. What behavior do you want to encourage? What lead time do you want? Are you willing to reward your clients for doing what you want? “Book a week out and receive a free foot scrub!” 

Thanks to all for your input, and we hope these ideas help! 

Les Sweeney, NCTM, is ABMP’s president and resident blogger. Contact him at and read his blog on Kristin Coverly, RMT,, 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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