Finding new clients may be one of the least fun parts of being a massage therapist. Or maybe it’s one of your favorite parts, I don’t know you. But, whether you like it or hate it, I bet you wish you didn’t have to do so much of it. It’s much more fun to be able to focus on treating a full book of regular clients.
Having a lot of regular clients is great for a massage therapist. It shows that you are good at what you do, because your clients keep coming back. It helps you have a more predictable income, which is great for both your pocketbook and your landlord. And, it gives you the opportunity to build strong healing relationships with those regular clients. That lets you give them the highest level of care.
But, how do you get more regulars? Maybe you’re seeing lots of new clients, but don’t seem to be able to get them to book a second appointment. Or maybe you have a steady stream of tourists who never come back. Or maybe you just want more clients overall. Whatever you need, I want to help you find and retain more regular clients.
I sat down with Doug Osborn and Jeanine Poe, the owner and business manager respectively of The Palms Massage & Day Spa in Carthage, MO to talk about methods they have found useful to retain clients and to find new ones. I also spoke with Susie Byrd, Master Massage Therapist and the owner of The Edge School of Massage Therapy in Fayetteville, AR. Below, I’ve summarized their suggestions that any massage therapist can use to find and retain clients.
Create a Treatment Plan for Each Client
New clients love to ask hard questions. One of the best is “How often should I get a massage?” This can be tough to answer, especially when you’ve just met them. But, clients are going to keep asking. So, you need to have a good way to answer.
One solution is to have a standard answer and always use that. You could tell every client that they should come back at least once a month. But, that can feel a little impersonal to the client. And, often new clients come in because they need more intensive work to get them to a maintenance level. Seeing them more often in the beginning helps them heal quicker. They will feel the benefits of your treatment faster. And they are more likely to turn into loyal clients down the road.
Another, better, option is to craft a personalized treatment plan for each client. This doesn’t have to be anything all fancy, you don’t even have to write it down. Though, you may want to remember it. You don’t want to confuse a client by changing it after you’ve told them.
Start building the treatment plan during your new client intake. On your intake paperwork/interview you probably already ask if they have any specific areas or concerns they would like you to address. Think about what those concerns might mean in terms of a treatment plan. You would treat sore shoulders from slumping at a desk different than a frozen shoulder or plantar fasciitis, right? Think about how those particular issues are best treated by your services.
During the first massage, watch out for other concerns that the client might not have mentioned. But also, take time to look for, and point out, the things they did mention. Clients love it when you notice things about them, especially if it’s things that their friends and family members don’t even notice. It makes them feel special. Imagine how much a tired young mom would appreciate the validation from “I see what you meant about carrying your tension in your shoulders. Let’s see what we can do about that.” That is part of the service you provide.
Now, of course, this may vary from client to client. You want to read the room. If the client seems to be more the type that would find that as an intrusion of their privacy, or an interruption of their nap, then go a different route with them.
By the end of the massage, when the “How often should I get a massage” question tends to come up, you should have an idea of the treatment plan you are going to suggest. Then, don’t even wait for them to ask the question. Skip right to telling them your recommendations. Follow that up with asking when they would like to book their next appointment.
Even if the client doesn’t have any specific issues. It can be nice to see them more often than once a month to start out. You can use phrases like “While I’m learning you, I’d like to see you…” or “While we’re getting to know each other, I’d like to see you…” to explain this to the client.
As you progress through the treatment plan, be sure to point out the improvements you see. Again, most clients love it when you notice things. And, it helps them see the value you provide. If even their massage therapist doesn’t notice that their posture is improving why would they keep coming back, right?
DON’T ask IF they would like to book their next appointment. DO ask WHEN they would like to book their next appointment. After the first massage, explain to them your suggested treatment plan. Then ask “When would you like to book our next appointment?” Using WHEN instead of IF, makes it seem more important. You’re of course, still giving the client the choice of whether to book or not. But you do want to make sure that you are clearly communicating the value of your services.
If a client books a repeat appointment while still there, they are waaaaay more likely to follow through. That’s really what this whole section is trying to get at. So, do whatever you (reasonably) can, to get them to book the second appointment before they leave. That is the single biggest thing you can do to increase your repeat client rate.
Make Sure Every Client Has A Fabulous Experience
It can be a tough pill to swallow, but we can be blind to our own faults. And sometimes, if clients aren’t rebooking there might be a reason for that. This isn’t the end of the world, though. We all want to be great at what we do. And the way we do that is by figuring out what those faults are and fixing them. And how do you do that? You ask.
You can start asking even before the first massage. During your new client intake ask if they have ever had a massage before. If they have, and they are coming to you now, that might mean that they had some issues with their previous therapist. It can be helpful to ask “Was there anything about that previous massage that you definitely didn’t like?” You don’t want to repeat the mistakes of a previous therapist, and asking can open the doors for the client to mention things that you might do unknowingly that would make them disappear and never schedule again.
But what you really want is feedback on your performance. During the massage, ask early and ask often. Especially with a new client, you can’t ask too often. Is the pressure good? Is the temp okay? Is the music too loud? Etc. Remember, your goal is for them to be comfortable. And, you want to clearly communicate to the client that that is your goal. Waiting for them to speak up about being uncomfortable is only going to lose you a client.
And, don’t be afraid to make changes to your process. As you get more regulars and get to know them, you’ll find that some like the room warmer, some like it cooler. Some like music, some like silence. Some want to talk, some want to sleep. Don’t feel that you have to offer the same cookie cutter service to everyone. That actually does a disservice to the point of having regulars. The goal is to give them exactly the service they want and need.
Don’t stop asking for feedback at the end of the massage, though. Some clients may not be comfortable speaking up while face down and naked. Ask again after the massage. And, ask again before the second massage, assuming you get to do one. Asking “Is there anything you’d like to try different this time? Different music? Different scent?” can get them to open up about any concerns they might have thought of since their last appointment.
Beyond asking the client in person, here are some other ways to get some great feedback. Remember, feedback is good. It helps you get better at what you do, and it helps your clients enjoy your services more. It might hurt sometimes, but I promise it’s the good kind of pain.
- Create an email survey and send it to some of your clients. You can collect the results anonymously, if you think that would help your clients be more honest. But, if you don’t have that many clients yet to send it to, you might not get enough data to find out much. As a rule, you want at least 5 answers to each question to be able to get an idea of an ‘average’ result. But, you also may not want to bother all of your clients with a lengthy survey.
- Give a gift certificate to a friend and ask them to send you a secret shopper. You really want to be honest about this so don’t try to code the certificate or anything. You want to get real feedback, right? Come up with specific question for the secret shopper to answer afterwards. Otherwise you might just get “It was great!” Which is fun to hear, but not terribly useful.
- Talk to and trade with other massage therapists. It can be easy to get into the mindset that other massage therapists are “the competition”, but honestly, there’s more than enough work to go around. Building your success on the broken backs of other people is so 2008. We’re all about building a bigger raft and helping everyone succeed these days. Trade with someone and let them know that you want honest, maybe even harsh, feedback. And be willing to give it back to them without getting your ego involved.
Some other general ways to improve your clients’ experience:
-I hate forgetting an appointment. And you probably hate no shows. Use a scheduling software that automatically sends appointment reminders. Doug and Jeanine recommend Square Scheduling, especially if you’re already using Square Merchant Services. It’s less than $30/month, and they said it reduced their no shows from more than one a week down to less than one a month. That more than pays for the software right there.
-Don’t forget to show appreciation to the regular clients you do have. Once you have them down to a maintenance level, you don’t want to lose them because they think you don’t care anymore. You don’t have to go overboard, but a birthday card or a small Christmas present can go a long way to show that you appreciate their continued patronage.
DON’T be afraid of feedback. DO ask “How did I do today?” or something similar after every massage. It might feel awkward at first, but your client will appreciate that you want to hear their opinion. That’s the point of this whole section. Feedback is good and you are going to need it to be great at what you do.
Find Regulars By Networking With Local Business Owners
Keeping a regular client is all well and good, but how do you find them in the first place? That can be tough, especially if your business is in an area with lots of tourists. You might rarely ever see the same person twice. But you know who IS there all year round? Other business owners.
And even if those business owners aren’t interested in massage, they have spouses, they have friends, they have employees, some of whom must be. These are people you want to know, especially if you want to build a regular clientele.
A great way to get to know other business owners is by joining your local Chamber of Commerce. The Carthage, MO one is amazing, btw. Your membership will probably include a listing in a local directory, several networking events each month that will be full of local business owners, and maybe even some opportunities to attend educational events on all areas of business.
Doug said that when he joined the Carthage Chamber he was pretty liberal with giving out free gift certificates. He wanted to make sure that everyone knew that he was looking for clients and was willing to stand beside his service. Personally, I think that that attitude is a large factor in the success that The Palms has seen.
You local Chamber probably also sponsors a local business expo. This can be a great way to meet other business owners as well as locals that like to patronize local businesses. Even if you don’t get a booth, be sure to attend and hand out business cards. Meeting potential clients face to face is a great way to build their trust. And most people want to trust you a bit before they’ll get naked with you.
Another option is to keep an eye out for large employers in your area. Large employers often have insurance plans that include massage benefits. Reach out to and network with these businesses by offering free chair massage in their breakroom or office areas. Or, offer your services at an event they put on, like a run/walk, a golf tournament, or even a volunteer day. You won’t know what opportunities they might have until you ask.
Does your business have neighbors? Network with them. Give them a free massage. Make sure they have some of your business cards and take some of theirs. And actually give them out. When they start to see your clients come to them, they’ll be even more likely to refer their clients to you. Also, look at shared opportunities for signage or marketing that you guys can do together.
Find a local civic organization or volunteer opportunity to join. Preferably one that has lots of other business owners that also volunteer. Your local Chamber could probably point you in the right direction even if you don’t join. But, I think it’s more important that it’s something you are passionate about. Don’t sign up for something you’re going to hate just for the networking. But, if there is a cause you are excited about, this might be a good way to kill two birds with one stone.
Think about local business that are popular or that you love. How could you help them and market to their customers at the same time? Maybe you could offer to set up a massage chair inside a coffee shop or outside of a small boutique. You’ll draw customers into their shop, and you’ll be able to hand out business cards and maybe even book some appointments.
Social media can be frustrating, but it is king these days. If you don’t have a social media presence yet, you can work on building one. A great way to do that is by working with other business owners. If you want to build your Instagram following, for example, look for local business owners that are killing Insta and network with them. Mention their products in exchange for you mentioning theirs. Create a story together, and both of you will benefit more than if either of you did it alone.
DON’T feel like you have to go this alone. DO get to know other local business owners. Having a network of support will not only help you gain clients, it’ll also help you build your business. You’ll find support you didn’t even know you needed. And you’ll find that you’ll be able to do more working alongside other business owners than you can on your own.
I know that this is a big shotgun list of things to try. And, I don’t want to suggest that you should go out and try everything at the same time. But, pick out a few and try them out. You’ll find out quickly if something works for you or not. Look into your local chamber or start a Facebook page. Try something and see how it works. But don’t be afraid to change gears if what you’re doing doesn’t seem to be working. Whatever you do, keep moving forward and you’ll get there eventually.