How to help new massage clients find you

If you own your own massage practice, one of the challenges of keeping it going involves the need to periodically expand your client base. When your massage practice slips into a lull, and you find yourself wanting to reach out and find new clients, but you don’t have the money on hand to launch any sort of a big ad campaign, what do you do? Well, how about rather than spending the time and resources to go looking for new clients, you just connect with the clients who are looking for you?

When most people are looking for a restaurant, a shop, or service, they look online. Search engines, like Google, Bing, and Yahoo offer up local business listings before the usual web results. These listings can include the location, phone number, the hours, links to reviews on sites like Yelp, and such. If you’ve been in business for a bit and your state business license is up to date, you’ll likely be able to see your listing just by searching. If your massage practice has a listing, but you’ve never done anything with it, you should see a link in there that says: “Claim this business.” Go ahead and click it. Once you have claimed your business, you’ll be able to be sure that the information shared with searchers is up-to-date and shows your practice in its best light. If you’d like to read up a bit on how business listings work with the search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo all offer easy step-by-step instructions.

Another place where you’ll be sure to want to claim your business is on Yelp. Yelp is the leading business review site, and has become the go-to resource for anyone vetting a new massage therapist, hair stylist, or great dinner spot. Also, by claiming your business on Yelp, you’ll also have the opportunity to ensure that the photos and information shared on your practice’s listing are current. All those options help you control the information about your business that is served up to potential new clients when they search online for a massage therapist. If you’d like to reach out in a more interactive way, you can set up a Facebook business page. Facebook allows you to reach out to existing clients who have liked your page, as well as easily create ads to reach beyond your current client base. (That part’s not free, so it might be for another day, but it is super-easy.) So, if you find that your massage practice is periodically in need of fresh clients, take just a few minutes to claim your business online so that potential clients in your area who are looking for what you have to offer can find you.

Creating a Stress Free Area for Your Massage Clients

As massage therapists, we know that there really isn’t any firm boundary between mental or emotional stress and physical tension, so when we invite clients into our practice for treatment, we need to take care that our space is not only physically clean and welcoming, but also emotionally tidy.

Larisa Goldin, CEO of Dreamclinic shares, “I’ve always used a funny little mental trick, a visualization. For me it became a routine and seemed to work quite effectively, in that no matter what kind of mood I was in, I have always been able to enter my neutral sacred space of healing once in the massage room with my client. I picture a string or stream of golden healing light coming through into the top of my head and flowing through my hands to the client.  It’s like an energy moving through me, nothing getting stuck within me or drained from me.  You could call it an energetic alignment.”

While that particular technique may or may not resonate for you, the trick is to find what does. You need to be able to leave your own stresses and frustrations at the door to ensure that you are free to do good work for your client, as well as prevent yourself from taking on any of their tension, which can really wear you out, if not burn you out. There are as many ways to draw that gate across your healing space as there are modalities, therapists, and massage techniques combined. If you haven’t found yours yet, you could try:

  • Meditation: Either listening to a guided meditation in a recording or an app, or taking a few minutes for silent Zen meditation, will enable you to bring yourself into the here and now.
  • Deep Breathing: Even just a few long, slow, deep conscious breaths can help you lay your troubles aside for a while and clear your mind for what’s ahead.
  • Ritual: Whatever your faith tradition or spirituality, you can incorporate aspects of it into a brief ritual to guide yourself into your healing mode.
  • Affirmation: Either while looking at yourself in a mirror or gazing at the sky, repeating a chosen memorized passage, written either by you or by someone else, can reinforce the clarity of your intention.

What other techniques have you found that help you to keep your practice emotionally tidy?

Starting Your Fabulous, Successful Massage Practice

You’re approaching the end of massage school. Now what?! Where do you start? How do you spend your time prior to starting your fabulous, successful massage practice? It can feel daunting, for sure. Once your logistical concerns are taken care of (like choosing a space to practice, acquiring your massage & business licenses), you might still be feeling some overwhelm about being a ‘beginner.’

Putting yourself out there can be daunting for many massage therapists. Oftentimes new therapists distract themselves with the logistics, i.e. I can’t start seeing clients until I have X, Y, Z. Sometimes the most important part is not the website, the business cards, etc. Sometimes the most important part is to just start.

Here’s an easy way to start and get over the inertia of that initial period: Set up your massage room and just start working on clients. Don’t worry about income for that first month (but make sure that you are covered financially!). View that first month as an extension of your education and invite anybody and everybody you can to come and receive massage. Ask for feedback. Thank them for the opportunity to work with them. Practice setting up treatment plans and communicating with clients for return visits & referrals.

After you have done twenty or thirty sessions in that first month, you will start to develop confidence as the techniques that you learned in school begin to get refined with real-world client communication & feedback. Then, you will not only be ready for the next stage of growth, but you will also feel ready to start promoting & embodying your practice.

Meetups for Massage Therapists

I am just back from our massage therapist state convention Classes, networking, stuff to buy and a bit of fun. I had the joy of being a test body, demonstrating treatment by one of the best bodyworkers in the world today.
But the big annual meeting/convention paradigm is changing Conventions are losing attendance, and may be going the way of the pay phone. We have lots of other opportunities to communicate, so fewer therapists every year, also means fewer people selling products, fewer recruiters and fewer classes.
At some point our state meeting may change to every other year, or it may morph into some sort of social event that happens to have some classes the same weekend. They just don’t want to call it a convention, because conventions are losing
Well, should the community of massage therapists care? What does a convention do for we who rub?
As someone who has spent 25 to 30 hours a week for the past 20 years in a dimly-lit room, I have to say I like seeing other people who do what I do. It’s a good time to compare notes. How’s business? What are your shoulders feeling like? Find a good program for your schedule? How do you unstick scalenes?
Hey, we can do all this online, of course, but I do like to see folks in person. I notice that the web has replaced much communication, yet people still gather in groups. Perhaps we should have bonfires on the beach, so we can feel our tribalism as in days gone by. Whoop-whoop!

Common Misconceptions Clients May Have About Massage

Many of us have had glowing reviews from clients, telling us that we’ve just given them the best massage of their life. And yet, even being the superhero healers we are, we still occasionally have those clients who end up complaining or telling others that we just didn’t quite get the job done for them. I think this results from common misconceptions that some clients have about massage:

  • Assuming it’s one size fits all: Newer clients commonly think that we massage therapists have a set “routine,” applying it indiscriminately to everybody. Of course, we know that we’re far more likely to create a unique massage plan for the individual client based on what they’re presenting with that day.
  • Mistaking personal preference for quality: If a client doesn’t like what you did, it can be easy for them to assume that it’s because you’re “bad” at massage, when really it’s the choice of modalities or techniques you used and your communication about them. Myofascial release is going to feel great to one person and terrible to another. Some people love the broad, sweeping experience of having forearms stretch their back, while others prefer the specific feeling of having someone using their fingers. Techniques being experienced differently by each client results in a difference in how they react to our work.
  • Judging the work based on the therapist’s appearance: Some clients mistakenly believe that a petite female therapist is not going to have enough strength to really work the muscles, or conversely, that massage from a big burly male therapist is going to be too strong. In reality, it has a lot more to do with technique than physique. I’ve had plenty of sessions from men that were focused on creating a relaxing, gentle experience with soothing ambiance.

So, what can you do about this? The antidote to all these misconceptions is the same: communication—even before the session begins.

Simple clear communication is the best approach to get ahead of the misconceptions and empower clients.  Consider explaining to clients at the beginning of the session that:

  • Every body is unique
  • Your work is adaptive to them
  • You invite them to speak up if they don’t enjoy a technique or want more/less pressure
  • You welcome them to speak up if they enjoy a specific technique or want to stay in an area

Creating a space for clear open communication is the cornerstone of ensuring that clients feel heard and get the best massage for their body.

Joyful, Useful Skin Massage

Snappy massage therapists used to make fun of “skin massage”, using it as a stand-in for a massage of no connection, a mere application of oil, an unmemorable massage of no consequence.
But hey, snappy aside, there is a really awesome aspect to skin massage worth thinking about – and doing.
Here we are dealing not with lilting pressure, but often no pressure, and a term perhaps last heard on whaling ships: furling.
Furling, really? Yeppers-peppers.
Sometimes a pain complaint from a client is the ghost of the past. An imprint still there long after the trauma is gone. If lucky, the massage therapist may feel it in the easiest structure to touch and modify, the skin.
Once in a while I find one of these morphed patches of skin, right at the beginning of a massage when I am scanning and feeling the area of complaint. It might be over a stuck infraspinatus, a wedged down trapezius, or a plastered temporalis.
When I find these spots, I gently- heed that word – gently try to pick up the skin between thumb and forefinger, skin only, and see if the pain disperses. Sometimes the planets align, and the pain goes whoosh! The client may think it was magic (not a bad way thought when it comes time to re-book) and it certainly can seem that way. Of course it is not, just another expression of starting at the beginning and checking layer by layer of the structures involved in a pattern of pain or tension.
If the skin won’t open to lifting touch, it is time to go on to gentle rocking, range of motion, itsy-bitsy circles, anything to remind the skin that it is supposed to move moderately independent of the structures below. Sometimes that is the key, and the skin releases.furlingsail
If it does not let go, it puts the massage therapist on the ship deck with the whaling sailors. We probably all furl, but perhaps don’t call it that because we drop words unique to the 19th century. But I like antiques, and this antique tells the story best. To furl, we pick up all of the portion of a sail, bunch it up and smooth our bunch before we seek to add more.
Massage furling is picking up a bit of skin, with a bit of adipose, and possibly a bit of connective tissue and muscle, and gently rolling it to smooth and open the adhesions.
Reminder time, this is a gentle technique. One of my buddies did this as a pinch, a locking pliers kind of pinch, which made me levitate, and wouldn’t let go until I came back down to the table. Fun amongst therapist friends, but zooming across the pain threshold will lose you most clients. Gentle takes the day.
It’s a cool way to begin a massage with first relieving the pain, then following with a Swedish or mixed technique massage to address the entire body.
Well, call me Ishmael. Skin massage has some purpose too!

Massage Therapist Interview Tips

Unless we stay in private practice for our whole career, we all have to interview for a job. Some of us end up interviewing several times—when we switch jobs or relocate, to upgrade our income, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone gave us the key to what employers are looking for that results in one massage therapist being hired and another turned away?

Here’s a list of the top 5 things, from my perspective as an employer, that can determine whether a therapist gets hired:

  1. Massage technique. Make sure you manage your time well, address all the areas discussed, and use several techniques. One of the biggest things that can make an employer turn away a therapist is an over-reliance on one technique, resulting in a massage that’s ineffective or boring.
  2. Eye contact. So simple, and yet, I’ve seen many candidates who would barely make eye contact. Make it a habit to maintain reasonable and healthy eye contact with your interviewer.
  3. Energy and enthusiasm. When I’m interviewing someone, I’m very aware of their level of energy. If they respond to questions in a monosyllabic way, seem to be reluctant to share anything about themselves, or generally feel like a low-energy individual, I’m unlikely to hire them. So, get plenty of sleep, meditate—whatever you have to do to show up in a good mood, with a sparkle in your eye.
  4. Personal appearance. While we are all beautiful beings, remember that the interviewer is looking at you through the lens of how their clients will see you. Come for your interview dressed similarly to how you would dress when actually performing massage on clients, especially if you’re going to be doing a demo. Showing up looking sloppy, disheveled, or unprofessional is a clue to the employer that you are not really serious about your career, or about getting this job.
  5. Client focus. While you may be already have years of experience, making you a massage therapist superstar, it is important that you focus on your client’s preferences. Preferences for temperature, music, massage techniques, etc. all need to be client approved. This will create trust between the client and the massage therapist and a general sense of caring for that individual’s needs.

Good luck in your next interview, and I hope these tips help you get hired wherever it is you’d love to work.

If you’d like a chance to put these suggestions into practice, Dreamclinic is hiring and would love to hear from you.

Therapeutic Massage?

My massage client had gone to a fancy resort spa with an extraordinary view of the ocean. The spa was world-class. The services were expensive, the atmosphere somewhat reminiscent of a place where Roman emperors might have gone for a holiday.
How was your massage? I asked him when the holiday was over.
I had the guy they said was the best there, my client said, and I probably had the worst massage of my life.
Okay, I was not-so-secretly delighted that the fancy place didn’t measure up. But what was wrong with the massage? Shouldn’t it be pretty good if not better than average?
My client thought so. His masseuse didn’t ask any questions and spent 80 minutes gliding his hands and forearms over his body, impersonal and disconnected. I asked him afterwards why he didn’t work more on my bad spots, my client said. The guy told me oh, you wanted a therapeutic massage. Remind me next time.
Yowza. Great moments in customer service. Of course there would be no next time. I felt bad for my client, worse for my profession. What had gone wrong here? Why would a supposed deep-tissue massage turn into an oil basting? Even more important, why would there be a difference if my client had spoken up and asked for a “therapeutic” massage?
Unimpressed, yes, but it gave us both a moment to consider what a therapeutic massage means. I have been doing massage for 21 years. My client is a connoisseur, having had two to three massages a week for a good 40-plus years.
The person we couldn’t quiz was the spa therapist. Don’t know if he was hung over, injured, overworked or just uncaring. Maybe he didn’t like working on old guys. Maybe he was a Johnny-one-note with a recipe for conserving energy. The great unknown.
Either way, he had insured that my client would never get a massage from this guy ever again. And my client was soured on the resort, too.
To my way of thinking, all massages are therapeutic, he said.
I could not agree with him more. I’ve had great massages from experts to the humble, self-taught therapists. The names of the massages did not matter. The caring connection matters most.

Growing Demand for Chair Massage in the Workplace

Like so many of my peers, I used to regard chair massage as nothing but an “introductory” technique that would allow clients to experience a bit of massage, after which they’d want to come to a spa or clinic where they’d get a longer “real” session.  That was, until one day when I joined a group providing massage on-site at a large retail chain for both customers and floor staff.

The response from the staff was so profoundly grateful, that it opened my eyes and changed my whole perception of chair massage. The women who came up were shocked at how much better they felt. They asked, “Is there any way that you could do this on a regular basis? Could you get our management to set this up?” They could tell that they were receiving true healing benefit from even those short 10-minute sessions.

So, why is chair massage viewed as less-valuable than other modalities like sports massage, clinical massage, Thai, shiatsu, etc.? Well, for one thing, sessions tend to be shorter: instead of an hour, they run just 10-30 minutes. Secondly, clients are clothed, so you can’t access their skin. You have to modify your technique, and you can’t use many techniques, like effleurage. Plus, certain body areas, like the front of the legs, abdominal area, and the chest, are not exposed without special arrangement.

However, there are a lot of things that you can do in a chair massage session. You still get great access to people’s neck, back, head, shoulders, arms, and hands. But the most interesting thing that I learned that day is that for some of those clients, this would be the only version of massage that they would ever receive or consider receiving, and, while it might be less-effective than a full session on the table, we all know that all massage has benefits simply because healing touch is healing touch.

I’ve come to realize that clothed chair massage is a wonderful and valuable modality unto itself that serves a portion of the population for whom it’s the perfect fit:

  • People who are not comfortable taking off their clothing—those who are shy or maybe have religious conventions that prevent them from getting undressed
  • Those who may not have the funds to go for a $70-90 session but will gladly spend $25 for 15-20 minutes of massage
  • All those hard-working, busy people, who are so busy that taking an hour or two out of their day is just not feasible. For them, access to a shorter session nearby or even potentially right in their neighborhood or where they work is a godsend.

Don’t underestimate the role that chair massage, particularly on-site, can play in your practice.

All Thumbs Massage

Massage therapists have a few tricks for using specific pressure techniques without straining their thumbs. Whether light, firm or deep, these handy tips provide support for precious thumb during massage strokes.
These body mechanics require split legs, from 4 inches to shoulder width apart, one behind the other and slightly flexed at the knees and hips. Movement forward springs from the back leg. The visual cue is to imagine your foot pushing the floor away. As you push forward, the hands effleurage the client’s back. When this “fencing lunge” stops, the forward stroke stops. Return strokes should be glides rather than more forceful strokes to avoid activating the lats and rotators, which can lead to shoulder and neck pain.
With these mechanics the length of these strokes depends on the length of the therapist’s arms. Shorter-arm therapists tend to have smaller zones, for instance half the back rather than full length. Taller therapists can cover more territory but are at risk for using their neck and thoracic muscles if they do not take care to split and flex legs.
Here are some photos of thumb-saving stances that allow therapists to work as deeply or lightly as they like. The first is the main thumb saver: Pressing the straight thumb into the flexed index finger and using the other fingers for support. The fingers are flexed so the wrist must be slightly flexed or straight to avoid carpal injury. This allows for stripping along muscle fibers or for transverse friction without risk to the thumb. It also feels better to the client.thumb3
The second photo demonstrates the thumbs pressed against each other, but this time the fingers are spread so the massage therapist can knead with the second phalanges of the fingers. This kneading feels more broad and intense top the client than flat finger kneads. Think of it as a step between finger and forearm kneading.thumb1
The third photo shows some more thumb stabilization to avoid hyper extension and strain. This time both hands support both thumbs providing a wide and very stable effleurage. thumb2
These thumb tips have kept myself and colleagues out of danger while pursuing long careers in healing. One of my clients calls these strokes the teddy bear paws. Thumbs up!