Recently, many massage therapists have shared with me they are finding it difficult to start a practice, maintain a practice or get a good paying position at a spa.
For more than 20 years in the massage industry, the most significant skill I obtained to be successful was knowing the principles of how to run a business.
Even if you are working for someone else, you must understand business basics. Most of us are self-employed or subcontractors, and those who are employed will benefit to know how operations run.
A few days ago, I received a treatment at a local school. When I went to the receptionist desk, there was a student sitting there looking very bored, unsociable and unprofessional. I began asking her how school was, and her first comment to me was, "I don't understand why I have to sit at this desk. I don't like it." This comment doesn't surprise me, as I have heard similar throughout the years in teaching business classes to massage therapists, hiring them at my facility or meeting them at their place of employment.
I began to explain to this young lady that she is sitting in the most important position for her career to be successful. She look perplexed and disbelieving, so we began a conversation. I started to share with her that if she did not know how to approach a client, speak to them pleasantly and offer suggestions for services, then she was going to find it challenging later on. I explained to her people just don't jump up and say, "Book me for an appointment. Add this service." You have to show them why they would benefit from working with you. Immediately, she sat up taller and opened an ear to hearing some more. I said to her that if I knew what her expertise was perhaps I might book a treatment with her. However, since she didn't even acknowledge me in any way, she would never know I was a potential customer.
I proceeded to give her scenarios. What if you are working for someone else and the receptionist is out for the day, out to lunch or goes to the bathroom, and you have to cover for a little while? Wouldn't it be nice to know how to answer a phone appropriately and sell the person on the other side your services? I asked if she understood how to market herself. She frowned.
I continued explaining that knowing the behind-the-scenes functions of a business as well as what she does is what makes any business successful. Teamwork, cooperation, enthusiasm and knowledge all create a successful business.
Our profession is one that requires a lot of marketing and teamwork. Without this, you are alone---and trust me, it is harder to do things alone.
Just as I was saying this, her instructor walked up to the desk and began to listen to the conversation. She smiled and looked up to acknowledge me. The student continued to ask questions about servicing a client. Servicing a client begins the first time you make contact. This could be on a phone, at your place of business, in a hallway or at a function where you might be marketing yourself or a business. People expect courtesy and warm smiles. They want to learn from you and know what you offer. They are interested in you because they will be entrusting you with their body. If you are timid or afraid to speak with people, you will never have the opportunity to build your clientele.
Trust me, the phone doesn't just ring the day you get your massage license.
If you are not comfortable speaking to people, take a class in public speaking. Ask your instructor to include some exercises in the training, if he or she does not already address this aspect. If the exercises exist, don't be resistant, as I have often witnessed students become disgruntled because they have to do "stupid scenarios."
I continued to question her, "Why do you want to know how to schedule an appointment?" She did not answer and only shrugged her shoulders.
Someday you may not work for someone else, and what appears to be simple can turn into a disaster very quickly if you don't understand the logic.
Rebooking an appointment is equally as important. When you complete your service, if you give your customer a weak statement asking when she would like to come again, most people will say, "I'll call you." Many of them do not call because they forget or they meet someone new who is more confident and they schedule with them.
If you know how to be confident and direct, you can explain the benefits of staying on task with appointments. For example: If you know your client likes a 10 a.m. appointment, suggest she book her next session now, so she is guaranteed the time slot and day she prefers. After all, you wouldn't want her to be disappointed. Show your clients they are special. People like to know you are paying attention to their needs and that you really care.
If you are treating them for specific ailments, it's important you explain consistent scheduled treatments will benefit them greatly. You may say something such as, "Let's schedule you now while I have the availability, because I want you to receive the maximum achievable benefits for your care. It's important that the work be done consistently. I wouldn't want you to be disappointed if you don't obtain the relief you are looking for."
Next, I asked the student if she knew about basic bookkeeping, and again she frowned and put her head down. You must learn how to handle money. You need to know what your starting cash draw might be, how to accept credit card processing, what information is needed on a check, etc. You need to understand what profit and loss is. Just because someone pays you $30 for a service doesn't mean you earn $30. You have to know what your expenses are or you will not know how to budget appropriately. This includes, products you use, rental fees you may have, laundering costs for sheets, business cards, etc. Even if you work for someone else, you should understand all of these aspects, so you don't feel as if your rate of earnings is unfair. Do you have any idea what overhead costs might be? What advertising costs? If your answer is "no," then you are not ready for business.
At this point, the instructor joined in the conversation and shared similar comments, telling the young lady that everything I told her is true and that she should be glad I stopped by to inform her how important her role was today. The student sat up and agreed and thanked me. She said she had no idea she needed to know these things. This is unfortunately an attitude I have come across with the majority of students entering the field.
One downfall to success is thinking you know everything right out of school. All too often I see students who graduate and think they will make a lot of money because everyone told them they had a great touch. They feel confident in their abilities to run a business, and months later they share stories about how hard it is to keep clients. Why? One must understand most schools give students basic, entry-level training. Students cannot expect to have the skills other practitioners have who have continued their studies for years after graduating. Also, students cannot expect someone to pay them the same price as an experienced practitioner.
Continuing education is important. I am always amazed when I have a student in my class who has been in practice for about five years and still does not know how to treat specific types of ailments. Whether or not you plan on entering into a spa field or private practice, it is important to know how to address symptoms and problems people have in any situation. If you want to help people feel better in their bodies, improve functioning and range of motion, for example, you will need to learn skills that will provide these benefits and effects.
Choose your classes wisely. Learn from experienced professionals. Ask questions about the classes and what you will obtain from the course of study. You must understand that after you take your training, don't immediately call yourself an expert and start charging. Unfortunately, this happens all too often. You must practice, practice and practice. You should receive treatments, too, so you know how it should feel from an experienced practitioner.
I have had clients say to me, "Oh, I don't want craniosacral therapy. I had it done and it didn't work." So my next question was, "Do you know what level of experience the practitioner had in this modality?" Usually, I hear "no" or "a few days of training." A few days of training does not qualify anyone to be proficient in a new modality. When I would proceed to offer craniosacral therapy after taking a continuing-education course on the topic, if it didn't have any benefit, the session would be free and the client would agree to try it again. Needless to say, every single person would say "That is not what I had before. This was awesome."
Please honor the profession, as well as yourself and your clients. If you want to keep them coming back, make sure you know what you are doing. Since we all work together on a greater level, everything you or I do affects another practitioner. If we want to be successful, then it is imperative all our colleagues are professionally trained in all aspects.
The last and most significant reason I have observed for failure is lack of self-discipline and self-care. My question to you is, "When was your last massage?" How can you convince a client to come for treatments on a regular basis, if you don't follow your philosophy for health care?
Do your hands or wrists hurt? Is your back or neck sore? If so, go for a massage with an experienced therapist. Get the help you need to take care of yourself. Our energy, on all levels, is important. We transfer everything, and I know I would not want my client to feel bad if I wasn't feeling good.
I started a practice to reschedule a client if I was not 100-percent available on all levels to him or her. The reaction from other practitioners was often surprise. They would tell me I would lose my clients, but quite the opposite happened. I would explain to them that I wanted to make sure they received the best treatment possible and today was not a good day for me. I'd apologize and offer another day and even a small discount for the inconvenience. What began to develop was a relationship with my clients where they respected me so immensely they knew I would never cancel if it wasn't truly important. They honored my needs to take care of myself and not one of them took the discount.
So your relationship with your client is on many levels and we need to make sure we, as individuals, are taking care of this for a successful practice, no matter where we practice.
Relationships are important and not always easy. So remember to take heed to your instructor's advice and pay attention to what they are sharing. They have walked in your shoes and have the expertise to guide you to success. Put aside your attitude or beliefs of what you think are really right or important. You might just learn something very important for success.