Berkana Institute of Massage Therapy, cultivating a massage practice, Denver Massage School, Jill Berkana, massage therapy professionalism
The way the public perceives you will, without a doubt, impact your massage therapy career. We want to explore and maximize every possible angle we can as we are trying to attract clients, hoping to be offered an awesome independent contract or applying for the great job. The intention of this post is to encourage you to explore if you are utilizing every bit of your number one marketing tool, which I believe is your appearance and charisma. Once you get your client on the table, you can wow them with your mad massage therapy skills. This is about how to get them there.
Of course, if you have been doing consistently beautiful work, your reputation will precede you, and positive word of mouth is extremely powerful. Still, we must consider how we represent as professional massage therapists.
I’m not a superficial and judgmental person. Of course I struggle with those human shortcomings as we all do, but this is not about that. This post is intended to provide tools for greater professional prosperity. Over the 24 years I have been an industry professional and educator, I’ve connected with many massage therapists who complain about their lack of business or how hard the business is for them. Many also demonstrate some type of professional self sabotaging behavior. Often there is something about their appearance, (which could easily be improved) and/or lack of business charisma that is getting in their way.
Now, let me be clear. I am not implying that you have to be some classic beauty, be perfectly symmetrical or completely lean and toned to be a successful massage therapist. How boring anyway, right? People want massages from human beings, and if you had that magazine cover, photo shopped, unrealistic “perfect” shape and face, many people would not feel comfortable getting under your hands. Everyone has potential untapped beauty that comes from inner confidence, kindness, warmth, humility, a dash of humor and compassion. I’ve always told my students this, “Guess what, your clients have to like you!”
If you feel stifled in the area of personal confidence and expressing yourself, you might want to look into a public speaking class. If you lack personal confidence at a deeper level, you might consider working through things with a life coach or therapist. There is no shame in this. I believe we ALL should spend some time in introspective self discovery with a professional neutral party if we want to touch people for a living. Massage Therapists must have a strong personal constitution to work with the vulnerability our clients show up with.
Now let’s examine your number ONE marketing tool from the external perspective. Consider this scenario:
You have been given a massage therapy gift certificate for your birthday. You have called and made the appointment, you walk up to the door and ring the doorbell.
WHO opens the door? What qualities do they possess that make you feel comfortable enough to give them permission to touch you for an hour or more?
Of course, the actual gift certificate was their first professional impression of you, and the way you managed the phone call was their second impression, but what happens now?
Here are some qualities that id like to experience: warmth, smile, welcoming, friendly…but let’s face it, the massage therapist is going to be judged at the superficial level as well.
We can enjoy more success attracting and retaining awesome clients by paying attention to and working with the following details:
- Being yourself with all types of clients: Lucky massage therapists! We get to be ourselves and express our individuality in so many ways! Authenticity is a very attractive quality and Independent Massage Therapists have this special freedom to explore the full spectrum of style from freaky to conservative. My advice to you is this, if you want to be on the funky end of the spectrum, go with clean, cool, artistic, bohemian and ditch smelly un-kept hippy with holey clothes. The more you can adapt your style to create rapport with all types of clients, the more success you will have making a living.
- Hair: Your hair must be clean and you will want to pull it back if it is getting on your clients. Please do have a trade with a hairdresser for color (if you do that) and cuts so you look professional. If you are a man and you want to have facial hair, don’t look like you just came out of the forest. Please carve that into something more along the lines of a renaissance man.
- Teeth: There are many people out there in the world who are going to judge you by the health of your teeth. If you need some cosmetic work done, find a dentist to trade with you! If you need a lot done, take my advice and go to Thailand! I had about $15,000 worth of work done in Thailand for $1,700. They did a perfect job…and I got to go to Thailand!
- Breath: If you want to never see a client again, have foul breath. If you want to keep your clients floss and brush your teeth, have your teeth cleaned regularly. Why not do a trade? Brush and scrape your tongue, and if you are a mouth breather, look into why that is going on. It could be that you have an allergy to dairy, or a deviated septum. Either way, breathing out of your mouth can make pervy sounds when you are working and forces your breath on the client’s body in unacceptable ways that cross the comfort zone. Also, avoid onions and garlic for the several hours prior to your appointments, and use breath spray. Don’t use mints or gum during a session. This will bother a client with a gum smacking pet peeve.
- Skin: If you have skin issues, you might want to see a dermatologist, esthetician or a nutritionist. So much of this challenge is genetic disposition, but you may be able to improve the quality of your skin with the assistance of a skin care professional. Why not do a trade!
- Eyes: Your eyes should be clear and sparkly! Make sure you are getting enough sleep.
- Voice: We all have the voice that we have, but it is changeable! For example, the voice you use in the bedroom with your lover is not the same voice you use to talk to your Great Aunt. Explore and cultivate your therapeutic voice. This should not be too sensual, sexual, too soft or too loud, don’t whisper, and avoid using the voice up in your head that has a nasally high pitched tone. Speak more from your throat and chest. If this is confusing or an issue for you, take a class with a voice teacher. Why not do a trade!
- Posture: Who wants to get a massage from a massage therapist with crappy posture? C’mon…really? Start with postural awareness and police yourself! You may find it helpful to have a mirror in the massage room so you can watch yourself while you work. Please don’t have that at the foot or the head of the table. If posture continues to be an issue, find an Alexander Technique Teacher. Why not do a trade!
- Wardrobe: The clothes you choose to wear should be non-revealing, non-wrinkled, fit correctly, be clean, and not have holes in them, or any offensive symbols or language. Your wardrobe should be stylish and not cross the comfort zone. Your clothes should also be free of the smell of detergent. Make sure when you lean over your blouse does not reveal your breasts or cleavage, and wear a bra or a camisole under your shirt. Also avoid jingling jewelry. If you dress provocatively expect to have aroused clients, and attract clients with sexual intentions. If this happens to you regularly, I highly recomend that you do a personal inventory and explore everything about how you are holding yourself, dressing, speaking, your intake procedure and policies, marketing etc. and CHANGE whatever you suspect might be sending your clients the wrong message. That’s NOT supposed to be happening.
- Nails and cuticles: I’m sure you learned this in massage school, however being scratched is one of the number one client complaints. Don’t fool yourself, you may NOT have a French manicure, and you must cut those nails off and file them each and every day. Make hard fists in each of your hands. If you are leaving fingernail marks in your palms, your nails are too long. If you ever leave a scratch on a client, this should be a big wake-up call for you. Keep trying till you get that manicure right! It’s better to err on the side of caution. We all cut our nails too short at some point. This is especially important if you do deeper work or any work under the body. If your cuticles are dry and cracking, use cuticle cream to improve the texture.
- Odors: Please avoid all neurotoxins! Many clients are allergic to them and will get an instant headache and/or be nauseous by being in a small room with you. Some neurotoxins are found in hair spray, chemical colognes, perfumes, some deodorants, and body creams. They are also found in memory foam. Please use natural products and ones that have very little smell if any at all. You want to avoid aphrodisiacs such as rose, sandalwood, patchouli, and vanilla, and really keep things as neutral as possible especially if you are working with someone who has asthma as strong smells can trigger an attack. If you are providing aroma therapy, be sure this is what your client wants, and make sure you have cross ventilation so you can clear the space in between your clients. Aromatherapy should not be assumed.
- Smoking: If you are a smoker and a massage therapist, this most likely is impacting your practice. For me, going to a massage therapist who smokes is like going to a dentist with rotten teeth. As a former smoker, I know how hard it is to quit. It’s horrid, but if you want to be a health mentor for your clients (which is essentially what a massage therapist SHOULD be) please walk your talk and give up the cancer sticks. There are ways this can be done. Try switching to Organic American Spirit brand cigarettes which will initially get you off of the addiction to all of the additives, then you might try going to the e cigarettes as a bridge to your freedom.
- Fitness level: The size and shape of your body or body type does not matter unless you are obese. If that is the case you are certainly aware that this is not good for you, and if you want to live, and live without pain, you must seek change. If you are a personal trainer or a nutritionist, your fitness level might be more important to attracting clients. Regardless, there are many people who will judge a massage therapist for their body shape and level of fitness. There are people who will judge a massage therapist’s ability to give depth if they are petite or assume depth from a stronger looking therapist. However we are built, we can all improve our fitness level by drinking plenty of water, eating normal quantities of healthy food, getting plenty of rest, being outside and doing at least one half hour of exercise every day. Continue to reach for health and you will have it! You can always trade with a personal trainer, and/or nutritionist if you need support to get things on track.
I hope this post provides some ideas for you. One of my favorite business role models Madonna reinvented herself a couple of hundred times. We can do it too, and as you revamp yourself you will see improvement in the cultivation of your practice.