Living Well: Building A Client Base

Discover tips to help you build a stable of loyal and regular clients.

June 21, 2010

Illustration of people with light bouncing between them for connection

If you’re trying to get your practice started, build a strong clientele within a practice or spa where you work, or have been in the business for years, getting your name—along with information regarding the benefits of massage therapy—out to consumers can be one of the most challenging tasks you face.

The old saying that nothing worth doing is ever easy is probably true, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to find ways to make building a solid group of clients less difficult. Following are some ideas you can use to move toward developing and maintaining a loyal client base, as well as getting yourself, your practice—or both—in the minds of consumers.

Getting Press

Print publications have taken it on the chin in the recent economy, but plenty of people in your community still receive and read a daily newspaper. And, rightly or wrongly, what’s printed in a newspaper usually carries some authority. In other words, what’s reported is believed to be true. So, how can you start making the most of any opportunities you might have to build a relationship with your local newspaper?

First, if you contact a newspaper about information on your practice, do so when you actually living well have something going on that is newsworthy. Don’t approach a contact at the paper simply because you want to be mentioned. Save the phone call to a local reporter for when you have a big milestone to celebrate, like say 10, 15 or 25 years in business. 

If you’re just opening a practice in the community, think about an interesting angle you might be able to offer some of the local media. Is there a particular reason you opened your practice in the area that might resonate with local residents? Did you move from another area, for example, or is your practice focus particularly relevant to residents? Having an interesting story, when possible, will go a long way in increasing the response you get from local media outlets.

Additionally, do your research and make sure you’re speaking to the right person. Don’t send information to the columnist who covers home and gardening, for example, and then wonder why you got no response. If you don’t receive your local newspaper (or any magazines your community might offer) go and buy one and familiarize yourself with both what types of events and stories the paper covers as well as its reporting staff.

Avoid recycling a story you read, because once the newspaper (or other publication) has covered a topic, they probably aren’t going to return to the idea any time soon. One complaint repeated by reporters is that they’ll run a story on a topic and then continue to receive pitches for the next several weeks from people who do the same thing or something very similar.

If you can, consider contributing a column. Many local newspapers depend on local residents to write columns where specific knowledge or expertise is needed. Could you contribute a column on massage therapy and health care? Often, you’d provide these columns to the publication free of charge, as the article is most often considered a marketing opportunity for you.

You can also present yourself as a potential interview subject so when reporters are working on a story that suits your area of expertise and interest, they call on you. You need to keep a few things in mind, however. First, remember that talking to someone writing an article doesn’t guarantee you’ll be mentioned in the article. You need to make sure you are giving useful quotes.

Most reporters are looking for short, concise, accurate information, so when you know the topic will be general, for example the benefits of massage therapy, have a few brief points you can easily discuss. If you know the focus of the article is very specific, however, for example how massage can help relieve back pain, you might want to have a few succinct quotes ready.

When writing for a publication, make sure the column or article you send is free from grammar and spelling errors. If you need to, ask a friend or colleague to be a second set of eyes so you can be assured your writing is as errorfree as possible.

Also, avoid any jargon that is specific to massage therapy that might not be immediately recognized or understood by consumers who aren’t in your profession. If you absolutely need to reference a modality by its proper name, be sure you give a detailed explanation so readers readily understand what you are talking about.

There’s a very good chance you aren’t the only person a reporter can go to for an interview, so one key part of being quoted in the media is being available. Respond to a request for an interview quickly and remember, once you’ve been quoted in one print publication, other writers might start looking to you as a potential source.


As a massage therapist, you may spend a good part of your working day alone. Yes, you’re with clients, but, especially if you have your own practice, a majority of your time is spent by yourself.

Developing relationships with potential clients and connecting with other massage therapists can be difficult. Everyone tosses the word networking around, but what does that really mean, and how can you network effectively? Here are some concrete ideas to get you started:

Go to events that really interest you. People recognize passion, no matter if they share that passion or not. So find something you’re really interested in and seek out events in your area that pertain to this interest. For example, attend a lecture on or a book signing by a favorite author. In this environment, you’ll meet people you already have something in common with and may find it easier to both start conversations and talk about your other passion—massage therapy.

Sometimes, it is who you know. You may find that knowing the right people is worth more than knowing everyone. If marketing isn’t your strong suit, for example, you may be better off connecting with a person who knows a lot of good marketing people and can give you an introduction. Sometimes, knowing 10 people who are well-connected is much more worthwhile than developing and maintaining 30 or 40 separate relationships.

Make yourself a resource. Becoming a resource for someone else might seem counterintuitive, but showing you’re willing to connect someone who can benefit from another person’s services or skills is hugely positive and will leave a lasting impression that will come back to you. When you put in a good word for others you present yourself as a reliable, upstanding person—someone people want to work with.

Self-Care Strategies

Your commitment to the massage therapy profession, in many ways, is also a commitment to yourself. Here are some good, basic self-care strategies.

According to Lauriann Greene and Richard W. Goggins, authors of Save Your Hands!, body mechanics is one part of injury prevention. “If you ignore your body mechanics, you can injure yourself, regardless of the other self-care steps that you take,” they say. “But all by itself, good body mechanics isn’t enough to prevent injury.”

A holistic approach to injury prevention, Greene and Goggins believe, is a must, encompassing nearly all aspects of your practice, from work space to scheduling clients. “You need to have a good ergonomic set up of your treatment table so that it’s possible for you to use good body mechanics,” they explain. “You also need to carefully schedule clients so you don’t overloadyourself.”

Common injuries. The most common injury, according to Greene and Goggins, is a musculoskeletal disorder to the upper extremity due to overuse or overexertion. “These injuries typically occur from a combination of repetitive motions, forceful hand exertions and awkward postures, such as reaching too far forward or bending the wrists,” they explain.

Self-care error. The message here is really one of diversification. “Therapists who focus on a single strategy for self-care, such as body mechanics or stretching, are likely to be disappointed with the results,” Greene and Goggins explain. “Many injuries result from doing the same thing over and over again, and that includes always taking the same approach to injury prevention.” Look at self-care from this perspective: If your symptoms are occurring because you are working on too many clients, for example, increasing your focus on body mechanics isn’t going to help prevent injury.

Develop good habits. “The most important thing for new therapists is to build endurance slowly,” Greene and Goggins say. “Achieve endurance through physical conditioning and by gradually increasing the amount of massage work they do.”

Studies that have been conducted suggest that endurance, not strength, is more important for preventing injury. Variety, too, can be helpful. “New therapists would also be helped by learning more than one way to work on a muscle or condition,” they explain. “For example, always using a long stroke from the head of the table to work the erector spinae means the therapist will always be bending forward at the low back when working on this muscle group. This can put the therapist at risk for low back injury.”

Preventing injury. “Someone who has worked 10 years in the profession has likely already learned ways of working that avoid symptoms,” explain Greene and Goggins. “After 20 years, you may see an increase in injuries due to longer time of exposure to physical demands and the natural aging process.”

According to Greene and Goggins, this point is where massage therapists might want to take a look at the modalities they are practicing and consider adding techniques that are easier on the practitioner.Other considerations include scheduling longer recovery periods between clients, particularly in the afternoon when fatigue can accumulate.

“More experienced therapists should also take advantage of the networks they’ve developed to do more frequent massage exchanges,” they add. “Receiving massage once a week may be more appropriate than once per month, given the demands of massage work.”