Coaching Massage Therapists in Private Practice Success
Interview by David Dressler, Registered Massage Therapist
Gone are the days when Registered Massage Therapists could drop off some referral pads to their neighbourhood MDs and expect a never-ending stream of patients to show up at their office doors. This might have been a workable marketing plan in the days of full referrals, but no longer. In order to be successful today, especially if starting a practice, it is necessary to have a fully developed business plan and marketing strategy.
Nobody would build a house without a plan or pilot an airliner across the ocean without a map. Why would a Registered Massage Therapist open a business without a business plan including detailed marketing strategy? The answer is: because our profession was never taught these skills in school, and unless we have had prior business experience, the likelihood is we will open our practice without a master plan for success.
The question confronting us is: How do we, as the massage profession, and as individual RMTs, market our practices? We cannot rely on the MTA to do it for us. They can only give basic guidelines and some specific suggestions to the profession as a whole in the context of group seminars. The MTA cannot tailor a business plan and marketing strategy for each RMT. The MTA cannot offer individual RMTs ongoing follow-up or one-on-one encouragement when the going gets tough.
One way to answer this leading question is to do what many successful business people do: they turn to a coach. We need a coach.
Juliet Austin is a Coach, Consultant & Copywriter who has helped massage therapists and other professionals, develop successful practices. I interviewed Juliet for this article.
David Dressler: Tell us what a coach is.
Juliet Austin: According to the International Coaching Federation, “Professional coaching is an ongoing partnership that helps clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. Through the process of coaching, clients deepen their learning, improve their performance, and enhance their quality of life”. A coach works with one’s personal and/or professional life. Mainly, I help professionals market their practices while they maintain a balance and fulfilling life.
DD: How did you get into coaching?
JA: I was a psychotherapist, educator and researcher in the field of family violence for over twenty years. I was looking for a way to work with people that felt more positive. I wanted to be inspired by people who were doing relatively well in their lives and to use my skills to help them realize their goals and attain their next level.
DD: How can you help the individual Registered Massage Therapist?
JA: I can help RMTs in many ways. First, by helping the individual RMT get their life in order so that they can focus on building the business. Coaches believe that the personal always affects the professional, and the reverse. We examine lifestyle and personal habits such as structuring time, organization skills, overcoming procrastination (a big one!), cleaning up areas in one’s life that drain energy, scheduling time consistently to market and follow up with prospective clients.
The major roadblocks to success for many helping professionals are their limiting beliefs about self, success, marketing. Some examples in this context might be: “I am not a business person”. “It is unprofessional to advertise because doctors do not”. “I should not lower my price as an incentive; it looks cheap”. “To compete is wrong”. A coach can help the RMT remove these roadblocks to success while remaining ethical and professional.
Goal-setting is crucial. One has to be clear on what one wants in the practice as well as in one’s whole life. Many helping professionals are not clear about their goals in either area and just live and practice from day to day. Goal setting is crucial because, without knowing where one wants to head, one cannot expect to arrive!
The marketing plan is the means to achieving the business goals. We spend lots of time constructing the marketing plan, testing and fine-tuning. As mentioned earlier, no generic approach can be helpful here.
This is precisely where many Registered Massage Therapist’s fall off track when they have applied a suggestion from a seminar and it may not work. They did not know how to adjust it to their circumstances, and when it appears to have failed, they blame themselves or the strategy. Then, they may lose motivation, and their private practices may suffer. Successful practices are built by appropriately applying proven strategies consistently and ongoing, even when one may be discouraged and wants to quit.
Support and encouragement are essential. One of the unique benefits of having a personal coach is the ongoing support. I talk with my clients typically three times a month. We discuss and set concrete goals the client works on until the next call. When the client has reached the goal, we move on. If not, we examine roadblocks and develop strategies to overcome them. Or we set different goals.
I welcome additional contact by e-mail between regular sessions in which clients can ask questions or share successes with me.
DD: What are some common mistakes Registered Massage Therapist’s make when marketing themselves?
JA: I mentioned limiting beliefs are foremost. Other typical mistakes come from lack of business knowledge: trying a few marketing strategies, and then when they do not work, erroneously attributing lack of success to the strategies or other external factors. Examples of external factors often blamed for lack of success are: “too much competition”, “people don’t have money for massage”, or “business always slows down in the summer, no use advertising then”. While these factors may be true to a degree, the fact remains that there are massage therapists who are successful using the same marketing strategies in spite of these external circumstances. Success lies in how they are implementing these strategies and how they are following up with prospective clients. Anyone can learn to market and be good at it if the motivation is there and if they find the right strategies that work for them. Anyone can learn to be successful and this is where the coach steps in.
DD: What are some specific marketing strategies you would suggest RMTs use?
JA: I would suggest that massage therapists must have an integrated marketing plan. Successful practices are often built upon a number of strategies that are integrated and work together. One very sound marketing principle I suggest to my clients is that you are more likely to be successful bringing in people you already know than new people. I encourage my clients to follow up with current and past patients. I suggest massage therapists think about developing a niche. The massage therapist should ask: “What do my ideal patients look like?” I help my clients know who it is they want to work with and to target market to the area where they can be found.
DD: Can you give us an example of a private practice “before and after” story?
JA: A psychotherapist in practice for several years had consistently been struggling to get clients. She was doing the right things to market, but when she did not get immediate results, she would give up on a method and move on or do nothing for awhile. She became discouraged and this worsened matters. Part of her problem was she had not made a commitment to any of her marketing strategies. After several months of coaching, her whole perspective on marketing changed. She understood she had to market consistently and that, when she might not see immediate results, she had to keep up her efforts. As a result of this change in her thinking, she now consistently attracts more clients.
DAVID DRESSLER, BA, RMT practices Massage Therapy in Vancouver and is interning as a coach in Anti-aging Therapeutics.