You have mastered key massage techniques, passed your exam, earned your license, and you already may be employed in the field.
But as a new massage therapist, your work is not done; in fact, it never is.
The most successful massage therapists have a passion for lifelong learning, striving to master a new technique or understand the latest research about how massage can help alleviate certain symptoms or conditions.
Over the last 13 years I’ve worked in the massage, spa and wellness industry, I have noticed that some massage therapy schools and employers have not placed enough emphasis on certain skills that can help drive a massage therapist’s success in their career.
The good news is, these are simple skills to learn. So if you’re a new massage therapist, and want to learn how to be a key team player, be sure you pay attention to certain actions and attitudes that can help you achieve success early in your career.
Written and verbal communication skills do not come naturally to many people, and too few massage therapy programs have incorporated courses to teach students how to interact with clients.
From the time a customer walks through the door until the time she leaves, it is the massage therapist’s job to establish an open, two-way line of communication between him- or herself and the guest to ensure the best possible massage experience.
First, massage therapists should get to know guests as best they can before they meet them.
They should read any notes included in the management system to aid them in creating a plan to remedy clients’ needs, such as recommending a certain level of pressure and area of focus, and provide the expected guest experience.
When it’s time to meet the guest in person, first impressions are everything—from your uniform to your posture, smile and eye contact.
Both verbal and nonverbal communication matter each time a guest comes in for a service.
Ask the guest what prompted her visit and if she is experiencing any pain.
Practice active listening, the act of paying close attention, asking follow-up questions to clarify uncertainties, and rephrasing what the person said to ensure you fully understand her needs.
This also will allow you the opportunity to suggest additional services, such as hot stone therapy and aromatherapy, to enhance her experience.
As you discuss your solution and approach for each session, be clear and concise; avoid overly technical terms and phrasing.
Additionally, it’s common for therapists to want to stay silent once the massage has begun, but by maintaining that open line of communication and focusing on guest education—and letting the guest know it’s OK for her to talk, as well—you can better understand how she is feeling throughout the session and if any adjustments should be made.
It’s also an opportunity to, within your scope of practice, educate the guest on what problems you see and what she can do at home in between visits to help alleviate discomfort.
No matter where you are employed as a massage therapist, you likely have access to multiple revenue streams that can help you earn more.
In addition to earning a draw wage and tips, massage therapists earn commission from recommending add-ons, retail products and recruiting new members or guests.
Of course, like communication skills, the art of recommending guests to purchase retail products does not come naturally to many people.
A helpful employer will help therapists understand where their income is going to come from, evaluate opportunities to expand these incremental revenue opportunities, and provide employees with training materials necessary to understanding additional revenue streams and increasing confidence in their ability to recommend products.
This goes back to communication and guest education.
Employed massage therapists should not only understand the ways to make more money, but will also be able to clearly communicate the long-term value of guests becoming members of the massage franchise or clinic, as well as the therapeutic benefit of add-ons to massages.
If you’re a new therapist already employed, and you don’t have a clear understanding of the ways you can earn money beyond your hourly wage or salary, talk with your supervisor.
Successful massage therapists understand marketing principles.
Marketing is the means by which businesses build brand awareness and convert people into ongoing clients.
The establishment you work for likely has at least one person in charge of marketing the business to acquire more clients for its massage therapists, but you can play a huge role in marketing yourself and your skills to drive your own client base.
While more massage therapy schools are beginning to expose students to the principles of marketing to support their careers as solo practitioners or as part of a multi-therapist team, our industry still sees too many new massage therapists unable to effectively market their services and the business for which they work.
As a new massage therapist, it will be to your benefit to learn the basics of marketing, primarily word-of-mouth marketing.
Any employed massage therapist should be encouraged to talk about the brand, share promotions on social media, invite friends and family in for a massage at an introductory rate, and more—any opportunity to promote how the business helps members and guests elevate their every day through professional, massage is a win.
Successful massage therapists project professionalism.
Professionalism encompasses a myriad of behaviors, from your overall demeanor and physical appearance to the language you use and manner in which you conduct business.
You’ve likely never had a class on acting professionally in the workplace, and it’s not typically an intrinsic quality most people have.
While what’s acceptable will vary by employer and by each person you interact with, there are several best practices a new massage therapist can adhere to in order to be successful in his or her career.
First and foremost, always respect your customers and their requests and preferences. Ask each new guest you serve to complete an intake form specifying her preferred pressure and comfort level regarding massaging certain areas of the body such as gluteals and pectoral muscles.
Even if you know a certain technique in an area of the body would help alleviate the guest’s pain or ailment—and even if you’ve educated the guest on this—if she is not open to you working on this area, respect her wishes.
As professionals, we have a responsibility to educate our clients on what would be best course of action and why, giving us an opportunity to open someone’s mind to a new form of massage therapy; however, we are bound by our professional standards.
We must never force a technique on a client.
Professionalism also applies to the simple task of returning phone calls and answering emails in a timely manner.
While it may seem like an obvious thing to do, today’s business environment moves so quickly that it’s easy to forget to do something so simple, and consumers are quick to jump ship if they don’t receive good customer service.
Successful massage therapists shift their attitude from me to we.
While marketing your services is important to your success as a new massage therapist, it’s a common misperception in some segments of the service industry that you, and you alone, are responsible for your success.
But whether you work for a resort spa or a locally owned concept, word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful tool that will either bring in new clients or play a huge role in you losing them.
Put simply, new massage therapists should understand that while they can build their own clientele, recommend memberships, drive retail recommendations and offer massage add-ons, a few negative reviews of your establishment could hurt the entire team.
It’s incredibly important to be a team player, encouraging each other to do their best and celebrating even the smallest successes.
When everyone feels like they are part of a team contributing to the overall success of the business, they perform better.
The key to achieving success as a new massage therapist is more than just recalling and applying what you learned in school; it’s about going beyond the textbook and having a deeper understanding of the business of massage therapy, so you can better understand your clients, increase your personal income and grow your career.
Editor’s note: Download the free New Practitioner eBook, The Blueprint for a Successful Massage Career.
About the Author
Shane Evans is co-founder and president of Massage Heights. She co-founded Massage Heights in 2004 with her husband, Wayne. Today she is responsible for the company’s services, products and programs, and also helps develop strategic initiatives.