How NOT to run a massage therapy business

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how to run a massage therapy clinic

Since about January, my friend has been telling me about her massage therapist. I had some aches in my back and it was always in the back of my mind to schedule an appointment. I imagine she gave me her name and card abut seven times. Then recently, I restructured my schedule to have a healthier pace. As part of my new schedule, I want to start exercising more.

Then I was on Facebook.  I was on my own personal page and probably uploading pictures of my new daughter. Then a sponsored post came up for the massage therapy business. I clicked on the ad, which went to their Facebook page. I clicked on the website link, which went to their main page.

Next I clicked on the section to find my friend’s friend, who’s name i somehow remembered.

Lastly, I submitted their form for the date and time I wanted, it was for Wednesday.

The next day (Tuesday) I got an email asking if i wanted to come in that day. I replied that I did not have openings and that I was hoping for a Wednesday appointment, however my friend’s friend was not in on Wednesdays. I said that i would schedule an appointment with whoever was available.

Then she told me I had to call to give my credit card number in case I did not show up for the massage appointment. I asked if they had a secure link, such as PayPal, the scheduler said that I could stop in and pay ahead of time, email my credit card number, or call it in, but they did not have a secure way of paying.

The last email that I received was that I could purchase a gift card on the website ahead of time, then use that number to schedule an appointment.

I did not schedule an appointment and I will not be scheduling one.

Let’s evaluate what happened and glean some things for us counselors in private practice.

How to Acquire a New Massage Therapy Client

In his amazing book, Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business (Amazon Associate link) Jay Conrad Levinson talks about people’s attention spans. He states in the book that the average person usually listens only about 1/7 of the time when they think they are being sold to and that someone needs to hear something 7x to take action. So the average person needs to see or hear a commercial 49x before they really decide whether to take action.

In my situation, my friend told me about 7x about her friend. As well, I drove past the clinic a number of times. Also, I probably saw their Facebook ads a few times. Before I even clicked on their ad, I had heard about them at least 15x over an eleven month period.

Customer Service as an Investment

I find it amazing how often massage therapy businesses (or any small business for that matter) doesn’t focus on customer service. Here are some reasons that a front desk worker needs to be amazing:

  • It takes time and money to acquire a client.
  • If it takes 49 points of contact for someone to call, that means that every person that calls has been considering whether to come schedule a massage for a long time.
  • Current clients are actually worth more, because they take less time to acquire.
  • A potential clients could bring in loads of money over time, investing in them is going to yield more results than “cold leads” like random people on Facebook

A great example of this is the online shoe store, Zappos. In an article US News, they discuss how their phone staff can make autonomous decisions that are in the best interest of the client, they say: “Zappos’ leadership empowers employees to make choices as necessary to serve customers.”

I experienced over the top customer service that blew my mind a few years ago. I was so impressed I did a podcast episode about it.

The Myth of the No Show

Over and over I recommend that people charge their full rate when a current client no shows. It builds a sense of responsibility and professionalism. I also think that counselors and massage therapists should charge their full rate if someone no shows or cancels within 24 hours, unless the therapist waives it at their discretion.

With that said, I also have advised people to not charge for a no show that is at the first appointment. These are potential clients that have taken a while to acquire. Let’s look at some numbers:

  • Say a typical massage therapy client comes 6x per year at a rate of $120 per session. That means that they are “worth” $720
  • Imagine a massage therapy clinic has 10 new people that schedule per week and has a 50% no show rate for initial appointments, on paper this looks like a loss of $600 (5 people not showing up at $120 per session)
  • In reality those 5 people are actually a loss of $3,600 ($720 x 5)
  • If even one of those five people is lost because of a pre-pay that’s a loss of $720.

I completely understand wanting to get paid for what is scheduled, however, if a no show rate is so high that pre-payment is necessary, I think there are better ways to change that.

  1. Hire or train someone: In this situation, each new client is worth $720, that means that if the massage therapy practice can acquire one additional person per week that would be $36,000 ($720 x 50 weeks to account for holidays). In essence if they hired another person to improve customer experience for $20,000 they would still gross $36,000 more!
  2. Evaluate why they are not showing up: Evaluate why people are not showing up. A reminder postcard or call might change the no show rate. Why spend $500 on Facebook ads just to have people not show up? Are they getting lost? At Mental Wellness Counseling we have Zoe talk to them, she emails them written directions with a link to an interactive map, and also puts them into a schedule that alerts them. We have about a 5% no show rate.
  3. Empower the person that schedules: A PayPal account takes 10 minutes to set up. If the front desk person says, “We’re about to lose someone because we don’t have a secure link” the owner should hear, “We’re about to lose $720 would you mind taking 10 minutes to make $720?”

A Complete Mindset Change

I wish that this experience was not the norm. As I learn more and more about business, consulting, and running a private practice that grows quickly, the opportunities pop out everywhere. So many small businesses have terrible logos, websites, and customer service.

Small business owners often think that “everyone is out for their money.” Although this is true, deciding how to use their money to be most effective is a mindset shift. The example of paying for an additional employee to try and reduce the no show rate goes against the mindset of cheapness that many small business owners have.

For a massage therapy business to thrive they must:

  • Understand the value of each new referral by figuring out the average number of sessions/rate of most clients
  • Invest in retaining new referrals at a higher rate than driving them to make the phone call/email
  • Empower the front desk staff to give over-the-top customer service that encourages folks to make an appointment
  • Reduce the steps to make an appointment. I had to: click on the Facebook ad, find the website on the Facebook page, find the therapist I wanted on the website, find the contact us page, email 4 or so times, only to find out that they wanted me to email my credit card! If the Facebook ad just directed to a landing page to schedule (and maybe even pay for the first appointment) I imagine the practice would have tons more traffic


private practice consultant headshot

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC

Joe Sanok is a private practice business consultant and counselor that helps small businesses and counselors in private practice to increase revenue and have more fun! He helps owners with website design, vision, growth, and using their time to create income through being a private practice consultant.

Joe was frustrated with his lack of business and marketing skills when he left graduate school. He loved helping people through counseling, but felt that often people couldn’t find him. Over the past few years he has grown his skills, income, and ability to lead others, while still maintaining an active private practice in Traverse City, MI.

To link to Joe’s Google+ .

Photo by Nick Webb