Inside Out

Successfully build your massage practice with these marketing tips for introverts.

By Clare La Plante, March 21, 2010

woman working on laptop computer

Several years ago, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line invited Nancy Fenn, author of the Introvertz Coach blog and a San Diego-based astrologer, to be a guest speaker on an all-expenses-paid, 10-day Mexican Caribbean cruise. A chance of a lifetime, or so she thought: promote her business while in paradise.

As it turned out, the trip didn’t do her business much good. A self-professed introvert, she was worn out by the public speaking, as well as her constant position in the public eye. It didn’t matter how many business cards she handed out, or how much she enjoyed the white sands, vivid colors and open sea air. “I might as well have been from another planet,” she says. “It was stressful and exhausting.”

However, she did learn a valuable lesson: Marketing her business in venues and with strategies that don’t suit her probably won’t work very well, and she certainly won’t enjoy the task. 

According to Sarah Edwards, LCSW, and co-author of Getting Business to Come to You, Fenn isn’t alone. “One of the biggest marketing stumbling blocks for introverts is that we think we have to be different than who we are if we are going to market ourselves successfully,” she explains, quickly adding the belief is nonsense. “You just have to have the confidence to do what feels right for you.”

The Power of One

Introverts often need alone time to regenerate, and often communicate best one-on-one or in smaller groups. Under the simplest definitions, extroverts gain energy from being around people, while introverts draw energy from reflection and going within.

But these definitions, obviously, don’t tell the entire story.  “Contrary to other myths, introverts are not shy, antisocial, aloof, or lack self-confidence,” says Pat Weber, a Virginia-based business coach for introverts. In fact, introverts typically have plenty of social strengths, including good listening skills, sensitivity, intuition, creativity and empathy.

According to Laurie Helgoe, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Inner Strength, introverts comprise at least half of the American population—not the one-third statistic often bandied about—with many of us somewhere in the middle on the introversion/extroversion spectrum. “People hung on to the one-third statistic because in our culture we tend to value extroversion,” she says. “Introverts tend to go underground with preferences.”

Edwards suggests this idea leads us to think that the only way to market ourselves is by being loud, vocal, splashy, talkative, competitive and omnipresent. Such an approach might be suitable for an extrovert, but where to start if you are an introvert?

How about right where you are, with your current clients? “People miss this all the time,” says Weber. “They think they have to go out and bring in new clients.” But as she points out, that might not be the best use of an introvert’s energy. Weber, for example, receives regular massage but hasn’t chosen a primary therapist, in part, she says, because “No one has ever reached out to me and made it personal.”

So consider reaching out in a personal way—after all, this may be one of your strengths as an introvert. Make a call. Or write a postcard if you’re feeling especially introverted. “Just say, ‘I was just thinking about you. I wanted to let you know that I miss seeing you here,’” suggests Weber.

Or send your clients an anniversary card honoring the date of their first session offering a discount on a massage, suggests Mary Hershey, children’s book author and co-producer of Shrinking Violet Promotions, a popular marketing blog for introverts. “If they’re regular clients, they will really appreciate it,” she says. If they’re not, it’s an excellent way to invite them back.

Weber stresses not to think of this approach simply as self-promotion. You can be direct and personal, expressing an authentic sentiment, which is the way introverts like to operate. “If you care about your clients, why not let them know?” she asks.

Carving Out Your Space

A second strategy entails recalling the benefits that you bring to your clients, including stress relief, renewed health, improved circulation and deep connection, for example.

When you think about marketing in these ways, outreach to your current— or potential—clients offers more blessing than bother. “Always present your work in your ability to solve a problem,” says Weber. “You can say, for example, ‘I know how to help relieve your neck pain,’ or ‘reduce your stress from the economy.’”

If you can, develop a niche market that distinguishes you from practices in your immediate area. Having a specialty, and a passion for it, will naturally attract clients. Edwards herself had some success with this approach when she placed an ad in her community paper describing her psychotherapy practice focus as “trauma, grief, and loss counseling.”

While her practice certainly encompasses more, the ad gave potential clients a frame of reference for her work. “People can project what they want onto your specialty,” she says. For example, clients came to her for everything from how to cope with illness to how to successfully blend stepfamilies.

To find your niche, research therapists in your area and find out what you do differently: Do you make home visits? Do you have a gift for working with the elderly? Frame your specialty in an easy-to-remember way, and then put your message out there. “It has to be something people remember—not a long story,” says Nancy Ancowitz, author of Self-Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead. Think ‘elder massage,’ ‘pregnancy massage,’ or ‘back injuries,’ for example.

Ancowitz also says your niche will likely find you if you pay attention. “Go with your passion,” she advises. “Something that excites you or some kind of massage that you received that was perfect for you.”

When you find your niche, make sure you keep up with advancements and news in the profession. That’s what Tallahassee, Florida based massage therapist (and self professed introvert) Susan Gage did after attending a continuing education class on carpal tunnel syndrome. A light bulb went off for her, and so she continued to take related classes, intuitively applying the knowledge to her own approach. Gage then reached out to medical professionals in her community, including physical therapists, and asked them to refer appropriate clients to her.

In the Know

Another powerful marketing tool for introverts involves colleagues and friends. For example, two or three massage therapists might join forces, just as Hershey joined forces with a writing friend when it came time to promote one of her books. “Two introverts together can be a powerful thing,” she says.

She and her partner schedule book signings together, and talk up each other’s work. “It’s so much easier to promote someone’s work other than your own,” Hershey explains. In such an approach, you and another massage therapist friend might go to a health fair or local health food store and offer quick massages, talking one another up when appropriate. “It’s more powerful for someone else to say, ‘She’s great,’ than for you to say, ‘I’m great,’” says Helgoe.

Don’t forget your virtual friends, either. The Internet, for example, “is largely filled with enthusiastic introverts,” says Fenn. You can work on your online presence in the privacy of your own home, take your time and use your writing skills—all introvert draws. Helgoe, for example, does an e-newsletter for her clients that includes tips and reflections on topics she knows will be of interest.

Another idea is Facebook. With more than 300 million users, you can create a business page where you can collect “fans.” (Hint: start with family and friends to build traffic.) Add useful information— photos, health tips and information about massage. Gage recently started a discussion about massage on her Facebook page.

Fenn also blogs, and encourages readers to ask questions, which she answers for free. She spends about an hour a day on these readers, most of whom she never sees as clients. “But every once in awhile, I get a good, long-standing client,” she says. She also gives away free coupons on special occasions, such as for Mother’s Day and Christmas. Some are free introductory sessions for one-half hour. “That’s how I built my business,” Fenn explains.

Find Your Way Out

At times, of course, learning a few extroversion skills will pay off, especially when too-good-to-pass-up opportunities arise. For Gage, this opportunity appeared when she was invited to speak at a health fair catering to low income women, a group she wanted to help educate about massage.

Knowing herself, Gage made sure she took the time to prepare, going so far as to practice in the shower. “I jotted down notes ahead of time,” she explains. “When it was over, I thought to myself, ‘Who was that up there?’ My adrenaline took over.”

You can even prepare ahead of time for what to say in a more casual networking setting. “Practice what you’re going to say, without it sounding rehearsed,” Ancowitz says. And arrive rested, since social functions tire introverts. “If you show up rested, prepared and practiced, you’ll do so much better,” she adds.

Of course, none of these marketing techniques will mean a thing if you don’t honor your innate introverted preferences. “This is the No. 1 thing in the owner’s manual. You have to go within to recharge, or it’s like running without oil,” explains Hershey. “You’ll crash and burn.” So schedule your day carefully. Pace yourself. Take breaks—even if they extend your day. Write in your journal. Go for a walk. Even changing the sheets on the massage table can be a grounding ritual.

You can also use your time with your clients to regenerate by making your massage work into a meditation of sorts. Quiet your body, lower the stimulation and breathe. “I’ll even explain to folks, ‘I don’t do a lot of talking during a session. If you want to talk to me, you certainly can, and I’ll respond,’” Gage says. “I can’t tell you how many people love me for it. A lot of what has been said about me is how much the person felt I was paying attention to them. In the end, the thing that will finally create a client is the experience they have with you.”

Interview Basics for Introverts

“In some ways,” says Sarah Edwards, LCSW, and author of Getting Business to Come to You, “it’s easier [than regular marketing].” Even though this idea may seem counterintuitive, consider this angle: An interview is simply a conversation, an activity at which introverts excel. Follow these tips, and relax.

Do Your Homework. You want to know everything you can in advance about the organization and who will be conducting the interview. Here is one place you can use your good introvert research skills. “Google them!” says Nancy Ancowitz, author of Self Promotion for Introverts and a New York-based business coach. She also suggests looking for any personal contacts within the spa, clinic or business where you’re interviewing. “It makes a big difference when someone personally recommends you,” she adds.

Anticipate the Questions. When Laurie Helgoe, PhD, author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Inner Strength, does promotional radio interviews, she’s learned to anticipate the types of questions she may be asked, and to think about the message she wants to convey. “This helps with quicker responding,” she says, since introverts often need and want time to reflect. Think about it: Will they want to know your work history? Your massage philosophy? If you have a client base? Have a quick summary of what you do, and why your approach is special. “Make sure it connects to the [organization]’s philosophy,” Ancowitz advises.

Practice. Once you have an idea of the questions you’ll be asked, practice answering them with a friend. Helgoe practices with her extroverted attorney husband, who drills her with questions ahead of time. “I get frustrated and bomb the first practice interview,” she says. But then she does much better the second time. Introverts often want to skip this preparation, but if you work through the anxiety you may have, your prep work will pay off in spades.

Use Good Body Language. Have a firm, but not gripping, handshake. Look your interviewers in the eye and modulate your voice so it doesn’t go high or into a monotone. Most of us fidget when we’re nervous. “Move only when you need to, and hold your hands and feet still,” Ancowitz says. Sit straight and walk calmly into the room. “Videotape yourself in a practice session,” she adds. “You’ll be amazed.” When in doubt? Just breathe.

Be Specific. Tell them exactly why you want the job. Is it your favorite spa? Do they practice a type of massage therapy that complements your own? Have they created the perfect environment for you and your clients? Be truthful and, whenever possible, give specific examples.

Allow Silence. “In a conversation, introverts prefer to have time and space to consider their answers,” says Helgoe. “You may not get that in an interview.” So use silence to think. “It’s not necessarily a disadvantage,” she says. “It shows you are thoughtful.” And if a question seems unclear, simply say, “Can you say a little bit more about what you’re asking?’ or ‘Can I think about that and answer that a little later in the interview because I want to give an accurate response?’”

Prepare, practice and then go get ‘em. “Once introverts have a very clear sense of what they want to communicate, they can be very good at interviews,” Helgoe says.