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Get Involved In Community Events

Practice, Practice, Practice

              Get Involved In

Donating your time to worthwhile local projects is a great way to increase your visibility.

By Raymond Blaylock


When starting any type of a business the biggest challenge is acquiring clientele. Once you have learned the specific skills that are unique to a line of work, honed those skills and readied yourself for marketability, the next step is to find your client base. To paraphrase the famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire, "Show Me The Clients!" 
In my 27-plus years as a massage therapist I have witnessed many therapists with great hands, and a promising potential in this field. Yet they were unable to create success because they could not create a client base. Being a technically excellent massage therapist will not ensure your success if no one knows how great you are.
Whether you're just starting out, or trying to expand your existing practice, being involved in good works in your community has several benefits. First, it raises your visibility, and it does so while associating you with something your community values and holds in esteem. Plus, that selfless act of giving to another, caring for someone or something enough to physically be there for them, enhances your sense of belonging.
You can run a business on a win-win approach. For example, as part of our Seated Massage Comprehensive Certification we created a program called Unity in the Community. This is our public service/good works training. The Unity in the Community program provides massage therapists with suitable circumstances to accomplish three important goals: provide people with their first professional massage; educate them about the benefits of massage therapy; and connect themselves and their profession to something the community values. 
Unity in the Community has a simple proposition: We want to help those in need whenever we can by providing seated massage services for populations who can benefit by the service. Some examples are shelters for abused individuals, retirement homes and emergency medical support services in times of disasters and emergencies. We also help individuals or specific programs by doing massage to raise funds that go directly to the specified cause. When properly orchestrated, these opportunities present benefits for the recipient of the funds, for the massage therapists and for our profession.
When you are in the public it is important to take extra steps to demonstrate professionalism. For example, dress appropriately, be presentable, be friendly, be a good listener, and work at the appropriate level.
Wear Appropriate Attire. If you spend your days in a treatment room with clients, it's easy to fall into habits that would be ill-advised to present in public, such as working without shoes. This behavior might be permissible in some office settings, but it is not professional in a public setting. In general, it's better to be overdressed than underdressed. If you go into a presentation wearing a shirt and tie and everyone is wearing T-shirts and polo shirts, you can remove the tie. If you go to do massage in a professional office you should wear a shirt that has a collar. Obviously you would not wear a shirt and tie to do massage, but image is important.
Our profession has suffered from a poor image in the past. Consider the following story: One of my students was flying through a major city airport, and observed the person at the Seated Massage concession standing around smoking a cigarette, eating potato chips, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with, "I got my crabs in Maryland!" Each item cited above is a matter of personal choice, but does it present the image you want people to have of a massage therapist? 
Be Presentable. Keep your work area orderly and presentable. It is a good idea to have a sign-up table and put all of the travel bags, coats, miscellaneous personal items, and your supplies under the table. Massage chairs are peculiar-looking devices. People are naturally curious about their design and function. After you have set up and have your work area arranged and neat, put one of your fellow therapists into the chair and do some work on them. People will stop to watch you.

Be Friendly. Ask the onlookers questions such as, "Have you ever been on one of these?" The answer is usually no. 
Your reply is, "This is a specially designed piece of equipment that allows me to get into the chronically tight areas of your neck and back." More questions follow. You will say, "We are working today with the [fill in the blank charity here], the massage is free and if you would like to make a donation to their [insert the charity's special project here], you may do so afterward." 
What we have learned in this donation scenario is that people are much more generous after your magic fingers do their work. After you have helped a person out of the massage chair you can say, "If you would like to make a donation you can do so with the woman in the [charity's name] T-shirt at the sign-up table." It is best to make that statement as casual as possible. You do not want people to feel pressured no pun intended. (Part of the skills that a massage therapist develops over the years is how to ask good questions.)
Be a Good Listener. Sometimes in our exuberance to tell our story we talk over someone trying to tell us something that is important to him/her. If you observe people in conversations you will see this happening all the time. If you do it say, "Oh, I am sorry I interrupted you, what was that you were saying?" It shows consideration and demonstrates that you care. When you are sending out messages your reception of information becomes less accurate in other words when you are talking it is hard to hear the important details a client (or friend, or family member) is trying to relate to you. Pick up some information on active listening; it's an invaluable tool. Look people in the eye when they are talking as it is a sign you are paying attention and that you care. People will notice and it will make a difference in your effectiveness as a communicator.
Work at the Appropriate Level. Many people receive their first massage at these types of events. A significant aspect of this is interaction is that you become part of these people's personal histories. Whenever they think about massage, get a massage, talk to anybody about massage, or encourage someone to try it for the first time, you will be part of that experience. This certainly comes with a ration of responsibility. First, do not try to totally eliminate people's pain in the first visit. I know that we only do this out of caring, but remember, it has taken a lifetime to get to this point. During the first treatment, be gentle, be caring, and help them feel as much as their system will permit. I look at those first-time clients like an onion. I try to peel off, release, and remove as many layers of tension as they can comfortably give up. I want them to feel better after the session, to understand the process of massage therapy, and I want them to feel inspired to access this service again.

Making a checklist of items you will need to do an event makes your life easier. Once you get to a site and realize that you forgot your signs, your business cards, or some other important item you will appreciate your traveling list. Keep in mind that the physical act of doing the massage is only one reason we are there educating the public about the benefits of massage therapy and prospecting for clients are the other major motivations. Thus, the collateral material you bring to an event is very important. Collateral material includes business cards, brochures, signage, articles about massage, and your menu of services. Bring business card holders, brochure holders, and a method to hang or support your signage. I use my very first massage table as a sign-up table. It is portable and sturdy, and with a nice cloth cover, it looks very professional. 
 Assign someone to work at the sign-up table who can talk with people. This is a key point: This person does not have to be a massage therapist, but he or she should be someone who likes people, and can handle them in a caring, informative way. The "front desk" person's job is to take care of the sign-up sheet, collect information, disseminate material, and make sure things are flowing smoothly. This enables therapists to concentrate on doing massage. Note: When giving people information about massage therapy remember they are mainly interested in how this is going to help them with the challenges they are experiencing, and the bottom line of what it is going to cost. This is especially true when presenting your services for consideration by a business owner.

It is also helpful to have multiple therapists participating at these events. When you try to do one of these events alone, you find that it becomes a harried and frustrating endeavor because you can not effectively give massages, talk to people about massage, and collect and disseminate information all by yourself.

Sign-In Sheets. Make sure people sign in at any type of an event. Keep these records afterwards for legal reasons. There have been incidences of therapists being sued by people coming back after an event saying that they were injured. The most recent case involved a group of therapists working at an event and the therapist who was accused had no record to prove or disprove that the individual in question had indeed been in his chair. I have had two incidents in 12 years in which someone called after an event with a similar complaint. When I checked my sign-in sheets their names were not on our list, which means we did not work on these people. When I relayed this information I never heard from them again. Be aware! There are people out there trying to make a living by suing others for false claims. Protect yourself from these individuals by having a sign-up sheet. We insist people sign in before they get into the chair. The sign-up sheet is how we keep track of who worked on whom, and it is how we pay our therapists in revenue producing events.
Choosing The Event
The major types of volunteer events are those that help individuals (either through direct hands-on massage or by raising funds); and responding to natural disasters or emergencies (see sidebar). At a disaster relief event we are looking neither for compensation, nor recognition, we are there to do what we do help people feel better. The other types of volunteer events such as fund-raisers, art festivals, telethons, health fairs, and Earth Day celebrations are wonderful opportunities to contribute to your community.
There are two methods to consider in getting people to work on and spread the word about massage. The first method is to find an existing event that will provide space to set up, with the proceeds going to that event or to a designated charity or recipient. This is usually your most advantageous route. Someone else has gone through the effort to bring people to the location, saving you the expenditure of time and money (see sidebar, page 134). The second option is to develop your own event. This can be as simple as donating your proceeds on a specific day to charity or as elaborate as doing a public event.
I know how powerful this experience has been for our organization, students and partner sponsors. It takes time, effort and forethought having a few connections helps. Think about who you know that can hook you up, such as a friend, a colleague, or a client who might be on the board of a local event or fund-raiser. Start thinking in terms of "Who do I know?" Compile a list today. Research potential charitable groups and obtain an upcoming events calendar from your local Chamber of Commerce.
Energy Exchange
At this point we have covered most of the logistics, preparation and supplies needed to make a professional presentation and acquire the most return on our investment of time and energy. A lot of what we are talking about here is energy exchange. We invest time and physical energy into making this happen, and in return we hope for leads to other events and opportunities that will bring a larger client base. There is a sense of balance that exists when you frame your approach to business in those terms. For those of you that have a difficult time thinking of yourself as a business person perhaps this will give you a perspective on how to create a win-win scenario on a business level.I think it is counterproductive to do massage without some form of energy exchange with the recipient. People appreciate and place more value on things for which the exchange has occurred. When you get the opportunity to participate in a fund-raiser or charity event, tell the organizer you would like to take donations after the massages that will go to the event. This conveys the idea to people that this is a service we provide as a profession.
Let me share with you a little bit of massage therapy history that forms my strong conclusions on this subject. During the renaissance of massage therapy in the United States, back in the early- to mid-1980s, one of the tools that was very effective for raising consciousness about massage therapy was sports massage. We needed a vehicle to get our profession into the eye of the public. I am very familiar with this piece of massage history because at the time I was the national director of public relations for the AMTA. Then in 1985, the AMTA decided to form a National Sports Massage Team to draw positive attention to massage therapy. I was appointed as one of the founding co-directors, along with Tom Fink from Pennsylvania and Bob King from Illinois. Our task was to generate a small volunteer corps of devoted therapists and create a national presence with little or no money. This turned out to be a critical tool for the success of therapists then and all who have joined our ranks as therapists since 1985.

Volunteer sports massage therapists have donated thousands of hours at sporting events all over North America. The United States was part of the 1st International Sports Massage Team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada (AMTA member Myk Hungerford was instrumental in making it happen). Big-name athletes and personalities, such as Bob Hope, and public figures such as Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, began discussing how much massage therapy was an integral part of their lives. The media articles started to appear everywhere, in all types of magazines, newspapers and periodicals, even beyond the realm of sports. 
Fast-forward to the present, and you will find articles on a massage-related topic every month. Much of the current coverage of massage is due to the efforts of those early volunteers that ranged far and wide, from the Ironman in Hawaii to a little YMCA fun run in Rockford, Illinois, to Special Olympic programs all over the country. Working only for recognition, these volunteer therapists helped people find out what was missing in their health-care regimens, training plans, and wellness programs. The public relations program, was and continues to be, a success. The down side to this manner of gaining publicity was that after several years of service, when we went back to some of these larger events that were for-profit and asked to be compensated (at least for our expenses), the response was, "Why should we pay for massage when we can get it for free!" It grew harder and harder to get therapists to participate in athletic events. We created something that worked on the public relations level, but was taking a personal toll on the therapists.
We do not want to make that mistake again. Ideally, include some type of option for the massage recipient to donate money for the charity. This sets up the mental construct of people paying for massage.
Creating a business presence through good works is a conscious, caring way of letting people find out what you have to offer to your community. Be prepared and make a good presentation while you do something positive for your community. Educate your community about the benefits of massage therapy as part of the health-care system. Partner up with organizations and other therapists to get more bang for your buck and your effort. That old saying of "What goes around, comes around" is a great way to do business. I love my job! 
Raymond Blaylock RMT, NCTMB has been a massage therapist for 27 years, and has been teaching since 1976. He is the author of the Seated Massage Technique Video, and the developer of the Seated Massage Experience Comprehensive Certification Program. Raymond resides in Tampa, Florida, and can be reached at: 813-249-2911, or rrb@seatdmassage.com.

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