What's Your Edge?

Help Clients Choose You

By JoAnna Haugen

When it comes to doling out the dough in life, some things are givens. Of course, the mortgage or rent payment, food for the table, and paying off debts take financial priority. People have a choice on how to spend what’s left over, and massage therapists should hope that at least some of that money gets spent on their services. Creating a competitive edge for your business can help bring more of those dollars to your door.

Massage clinics aren’t necessarily competing with each other for the consumers’ discretionary income—they’re competing with any activity, service, or item that may be considered an extra expenditure after all the mandatory bills are paid. When compared to movie theaters, bowling alleys, clothing retailers, restaurants, and any number of other places people spend money, it may seem like a daunting task to find a way to become—and remain—top of mind. However, redefining massage services, tying that message into business basics, reaching out to the community, and fostering a climate that creates return clientele can make it much easier for massage therapists to claim a competitive edge in the marketplace.

A Need, Not a Desire
Though many people seek out massage because they find it relaxing, therapists have the ability to redefine this rejuvenating experience into one that more directly impacts a person’s health and well-being. “Many massage therapists have come to believe they’re providing pampering, and they’ve really missed out on the best opportunity to market their services and [explain] this is not a luxury expense,” says Patti Biro, a business consultant working in the spa, medical spa, and wellness fields. “It’s not even a discretionary expense. We need to be selling massage as part of how you keep yourself healthy, both mentally and physically.”

Many clients have come to believe massage is merely for relaxation, making it a luxury service in their minds. In fact, a 2013 national survey of consumers, conducted for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals by Harstad Strategic Research, found that 79 percent of massage consumers surveyed equate massage to relaxation and don’t see it as therapeutic or stress-relieving. Of those who had never had a massage, 40 percent did not correlate massage with wellness, but with relaxation instead. While it’s obvious to those of us in the profession that relaxation, stress relief, and well-being can be one and the same, that’s typically not the understanding of the consumer.

Massage therapists need to change their messaging so clients understand the health and wellness benefits of regular massage. “We really try to take ‘luxury’ out of what we do,” says Sara Daly, president of Waterfalls Day Spa. “We make it more of a necessity. That is our marketing strategy.”

Educating clients on the health benefits of massage may mean explaining how massage helps mitigate pain from past injuries, manage chronic diseases, and keep the body in the best condition possible. “We need to keep healthy because, frankly, most of us can’t afford to get sick,” Biro says. Compared to the cost of medical expenses, routine massages are but a small investment in a healthy future.

Business Savvy
Once therapists have gotten a grasp on how to define massage services as important, necessary, and not simply a luxury, they need to package that message in a way that reaches prospective clients. And yes, it is absolutely necessary to conduct outreach for business. “I think a lot of people don’t market their business because it’s expensive, and I think people have this irrational fear that they’re going to become too busy,” Daly says.

“In today’s world, you have to have a marketing plan, and you have to map out what you’re going to do three to six months in advance,” Biro says. A website is a given in today’s marketplace. However, instead of placing the focus on relaxation, as many massage therapists’ websites do, emphasis needs to be placed on massage as a necessity for managing stress. When people manage stress, they help manage chronic diseases and achieve and maintain optimal health. If you have words like relaxation, pampering, and luxury splashed across your website, replace them with terms like wellness, health maintenance, and pain management. This reframed language will help realign the consumer mind-set, so your business can compete for discretionary dollars.

Beyond the Storefront
Beyond their websites and storefronts, business owners also need to get into the community to educate people about how valuable their services are. One of the best ways to do this is to seek out and align with community groups and neighborhood partners who may be potential referral sources. Regardless the size of the city, there are likely support groups for people with arthritis, diabetes, and other conditions. Check the local newspaper/web events calendar for a listing of local meetings if you’re not sure what’s available in your area.

“The best thing that’s going to come from aligning with a not-for-profit or local charity is instant credibility, so you want to align with somebody who has a good reputation,” Biro says. Once you reach out to one of these organizations, there are three levels of involvement: participating on the board of directors, volunteering, and attending or supporting fundraising and/or educational events. In choosing a nonprofit with which to partner, think about which have board members and volunteers who may become clients, as well as those that offer activities and events in which you can actively participate.

Offering to donate services, such as 10-minute chair massages, at community events and health fairs is a great way to introduce massage to people who have never received a treatment. Some people may simply seek out the free service, but others may become lifetime clients. Even one of those conversions is worth a couple hours of unpaid time. For those who can muster up the courage for public speaking, offer to give presentations at corporate retreats or for local health and wellness centers. Any handouts should include business branding and all contact information.
Most nonprofit organizations hold fundraisers, and massage therapists are frequently asked to donate complimentary massages. “Though this isn’t a bad way to get your name out there, where [business owners] miss the mark is taking the opportunity to be involved in that fundraiser, to see if there is a way to get a discounted ticket so they can actually meet some people,” Biro says. Additionally, in the case of silent auctions, therapists should find out in advance if they can get a list of the people who bid on their donation so they can follow up with these promising prospects.

Beyond nonprofit organizations, massage therapists should get to know their neighborhoods. There is a lot of referral potential from other small businesses, such as health-care providers, dentists, yoga studios, natural health stores, and fitness centers. “Generally, people who are spending their discretionary income on Pilates or yoga can afford a massage a month or at least every other month,” Biro says. Seek out businesses that are looking for the same target market but are not competitors. For example, if you specialize in prenatal massage, stop by the local birthing center and visit the OB/GYN providers in the area to introduce yourself. “The three most important words in marketing are know, like, and trust,” Biro says. “If they know your face, and they know who you are and what you do, they’re much more likely to send someone to you or come in themselves.”

When Daly opened her business, she made a commitment to educate the public on the importance of massage. “I knew if we could educate and show value, people would trust us and they would understand what we do,” she says. Waterfalls Day Spa now holds a free evening class approximately once every other month on a variety of topics ranging from mineral makeup to skin care. “The goal is to get people who have never been to the spa to come to the classes,” she says. “We slyly do some marketing during the educational section of the evening.” Products are also discounted during the event, which helps drives sales and introduces potential clients to the business.

Additionally, massage therapists need to remember those community groups and networks with which they are already aligned. If your kids play on sports teams or participate in arts clubs, get to know the other parents who are always sitting in the stands. Joyce Hauber, owner of Enjoyce Massage Therapy & Bodywork, LLC, actively participates in a job-shadowing program at the local high school where she talks about what it takes to become a massage therapist and why people choose the profession. She has a packet of information she passes out to the students that addresses all aspects of the job, and which also has her contact information on it. As a bonus, Hauber says, “The teachers and staff at the school know who I am and what I do. I have received new business from (them).”
Don’t be afraid to talk about your career within your own social circles as well. Word-of-mouth marketing can go a long way in promoting the massage business as an important asset in people’s lives.

Creating Loyal Clientele
Though community outreach is one tool in gaining name recognition and getting people through the door, one of the weakest links in many marketing strategies is retention. A lot of day spas and massage therapists spend money on recruiting new clients. They may offer coupons for first-time visitors, but providing one-off, discounted experiences through Groupon and other means doesn’t necessarily equate to steady clients and ongoing business. Massage therapists need to value their clients and their clients’ needs, but they also need to value their time. Avoid putting yourself in the same category as the local dollar store by dangling discounted coupons for customers who simply seek cheap services. “We avoid discounting,” Daly says. “We don’t want the bargain client because it’s a one-time thing, and they don’t want a relationship with us or our spa.”

Once someone has been convinced that massage is a necessary expenditure and she’s walked through the clinic door for the very first time, it is essential that she is treated with respect and not simply as a person who hands over a credit card at the end of an appointment. “When someone comes into our spa, I want them to feel immediately relaxed,” Daly says. Start getting to know clients beyond the info on their intake form.  

Your intake form should ask for a phone number and/or email address, and therapists should make it a point not to forget about these first-time clients. Call a couple of days after the initial appointment to follow up and ask how they are feeling, if they had any questions, and whether they enjoyed the experience. Stay in touch at least once a month with a newsletter or outbound email that specifically communicates with your paying customers. Consider sending handwritten thank-you notes to loyal clientele expressing appreciation for their continued business, or take the time to send a birthday card or holiday greetings. “Doing these simple things will go a long way with retention,” Biro says.
Every client should be treated like an individual, and each visit should focus specifically on that client’s care. “We really listen to what their problems are. We don’t do cookie-cutter massages,” Daly says. “We have the same protocols for every massage, but not every client needs that exact same massage.” To perpetuate the message that massage is essential for health and wellness, not just relaxation, massage therapists should actively educate themselves so they can educate their clients. When they learn about new massage techniques or related issues on nutrition, exercise, or general health (water consumption, weight loss, improving circulation, etc.), they should create handouts for their clients with branding from the business.

At the conclusion of a new client’s first massage, Daly talks to the client about problem areas and writes down what she thinks the client needs in order to maintain optimal health. “By the end of that experience, I want my client to think, ‘I was taken care of, they thought of me, they want to see me again,’” Daly says.

Taking the time to address client needs beyond the massage shows them that you care and that your business isn’t all pampering and fluff. “To me, educating my clients is a vital aspect to keep them coming back to me for their therapeutic massage sessions,” Hauber says. And if they’re convinced that it is, in fact, important to return for another treatment, the money these clients may have spent on a lunch out will be saved for a necessary expense—your massage services.

Las Vegas-based writer JoAnna Haugen has written for more than 50 publications and numerous clients in a variety of industries. Contact her at joanna_haugen@hotmail.com.

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