Where will I get clients? That’s the question most massage students start asking a few months before graduation. You finally know your olecranon from your ischium. You don’t poke clients in the knee on every full leg effleurage, so the reality of making a living in this business starts to set in.
Even though you’re not a real massage therapist yet, it’s important to start marketing. Remember how it was tricky to palpate the SCM on your first try? It took practice to get that right. Marketing is the same way, so start practicing.
Remember: It’s all about reputation and relationships
You want to start building a great reputation now. What does that mean? Being really, really responsible, treating your ‘practice’ clients like real client, and teaching them that your massage will be worth paying full price for once you graduate. Let’s face it massage therapists often get a bad rap. People think we’re all flighty, flakey, and unreliable. Because many, many massage therapists are. That stereotype has changed dramatically over the past several years, but it’s still around. You’ll need to work hard to prove you’re a reliable, responsible practitioner. You’ll need to work hard to earn a solid income as a massage therapist. And if people get to know and trust you now, they’ll be more likely to spend their hard-earned money on massage for you later, after you graduate. Here are some steps to get you started.
Clean up your outgoing voicemail message
It’s time to start acting like the respectable wellness practitioner you want to be. Your outgoing message should not have outgoing music in the background, your adorable toddler being especially cute, or muffle voice saying, “leave a message” in a casual way. Make it simple, short and clear. “Hi, you’ve reached the voicemail for Sarah Smith. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now. Please leave your name and number and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.”
As a student, that’s all you need.
Answer the phone like a pro
Every time. Every single time. Even when it’s your mom, your best friend, or your plumber. “Hi, this is Sarah, may I help you?” Get used to it, so it flows naturally and becomes a habit.
Get a great email address
If your email address is anything other than your name, or a clear derivative of your name, get a new one. Do not use email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. Pick a respectable email address, preferable not one attached to a certain internet provider (like verizon or comcast.) Choose a service like gmail, so even if you move or change internet providers, you can keep your same email address. Also, set up a great email signature that includes your name and phone number (it does not need to include your email address, since they’ve already got that!)
This should go without saying but here it is anyways. Call and email people back. In a timely manner. That means, as soon as possible. You’re still a student, so you won’t be getting lots of calls from strangers or anything. But it’s important that you get used to getting back to people quickly and efficiently, and build a reputation for being reliable.
“Sarah was so great about getting back to me to schedule my ‘student’ massage! She really loves massage, I can’t wait to see her start a business!” sounds way better than, “Oh ,I never got a massage from Sarah, we never connected. But I heard she’s pretty good.”
Get Contact Information
Every time you practice on someone, get their contact info. (It’s likely that your school requires you to use an intake form to screen for contraindications, if not, now’s a great time to make your own.) For future marketing purposes, you’ll want to have
- Full name
- Mailing Address
- Phone number
- Email address
- Date of Birth
When requesting this information from your massage guinea pigs, it’s very important that you get permission to use it. If you’ve got an intake form you can customize, add a checkbox that says, “It’s okay for <massage student name> to contact me via email/postal mail/phone with massage news and specials. Or you can request permission verbally. You could say something like, “Is it okay if I add you to my email list? I expect to send an announcement when I graduate and let you know where I’m working!” Then make a note in your records that you received verbal permission to add the client to your contact list.
Store Contact Information
Decide on how you’ll store all this information. I’ve found the easiest way to organize client info is a spreadsheet. Depending on your computer preferences, you may use Excel, Numbers, or a web-based spreadsheet as available in Google Drive/Doc.
Every time you massage a new ‘practice client’ get their info (and permission) and load it into your system. Really. Every time. If you can discipline yourself to do this now you’ll be miles ahead of most new massage graduates who are still struggling to get organized and build a list.
Welcome new clients (well, pretend clients)
Consider sending a thank you note to new clients after their first visit? It’s a genuinely nice gesture and also a great way to remind them of how great they felt after their massage! You can use a simple blank note card or a standard thank you card (keep an eye on clearance sections in stores, you’ll find good stuff cheap). Write a short note, something very simple like, “It was a pleasure to work with you! Hope you feel great and I see you again soon,” and include a business card.
It’s imperative that you check with your state regulations here, they vary and you don’t want to get in trouble! If it’s allowed, have some business cards created that say “Massage Therapy Student”. Keep it simple, with just your name, phone number, and email address (if you plan to communicate with clients via email.) Do not spend a bunch of money on business cards. Even if you have a friend, brother, or aggressively sales-y aunt with a print shop, do not get roped into dropping more than $10 on a stack of 250 cards. Vistaprint is the most common place to get business cards online, and there’s even a free option (although I recommend dropping a few dollars to upgrade and remove the Vistaprint logo from the backside).
Email service options
Using your regular email is great for communicating with clients individually. But eventually, you’ll want to send out an email to all of your ‘pretend’ clients at once (we’ll discuss why in the next section). Many business owners make the mistake of writing a newsletter-y email, putting all of their contacts into the BCC (blind carbon copy) field, and hitting ‘send’. This is a bad idea for several reasons.
- Having a good-looking email sets a professional tone, and you can’t get that with regular email. Bulk email providers have templates you can customize to look attractive and professional.
- There’s a piece of legislation called the CAN-SPAM Act that sets rules about commercial emails. You can (and should) read about the law, but using a standard bulk email provider will ensure that your are compliant with all the rules.
- Emails with multiple recipients tend to land in spam/junkmail boxes. That means no one will see your email. That’s a lot of wasted effort.
There are several services to choose from, most with similar features. MailChimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month (that’s plenty for you) but it can be a little tricky to learn. That said, they have great video tutorials and all sorts of ebook to help you get really great at email marketing. Constant Contact and iContact each offer plans for under $20 a month, and are fairly user friendly. If you’ve joined a professional organization already, you may get a discount with a particular email provider, so check that out, too
Send an occasional bulk email
Once you get set up with a bulk email provider, use it! Even if your list is only 10 to 15 people, it’s great practice to send a bulk email (often called an email blast or campaign). It’ll be tough the first few times, may as well get that learning curve under your belt now!
Not sure what to put in an email? Here are some ideas
You’re constantly learning new techniques in school. Tell your clients what you’re learning, and invite them to call you to schedule some practice time. Here’s an example:
I just learned some great neck and facial massage techniques in school! If you’ve got headache or jaw problems (or even if you don’t!) I would love the opportunity to practice on you. Please feel free to call or email me and we can get something scheduled.
Announce when you’re about to graduate. Here’s an example:
Only one month left until I finish the massage program at <school name here>! If you want a massage at the student prices <or free, depending on your state and school rules> call or email me to get scheduled soon!
There may be some lag time between when you graduate and when you start working somewhere. Once you’ve got a job, or started your own place, or even if you’re massaging onsite in homes and workplaces, you should tell your clients about it! Here’s an example:
It’s finally happened! I’ve graduated, I’m licensed and ready to see your for massage at <place where you’re working>. To schedule an appointment, please call or email <info here>
See you soon!
Get started on a website
There are many, many options for getting a website started, and various levels of Do-It-Yourself skills needed to get going. Spend some time looking at other massage websites and make note of what you do and don’t like about them.
You may choose to have a designer build a website for you. Maybe you’ve got a cousin, girlfriend, really smart parrot that has offered to build a website for you. That could work out just fine, but be mindful of this: You must be able to change the content of your website yourself. No matter what kind of website you have built, always ask, “Will I be able to easily log in and change the text on my own?” Then be sure you actually learn how to do that, right away. No matter how much you trust someone, do not, I repeat, do not, get a website that requires you to pay/beg/bribe the designer to change basic text content for you.
There are many options for building a website on your own, too. If you’re a member of a professional organization, they may have simple website building tools as a member benefit.
Weebly is a simple platform with lots of attractive templates and customization options. If you’re a little more tech-savvy, you can use a host like DreamHost, bluehost with a one-click install of easy-to-use website software like WordPress.
Clean up your social media profiles
If you’re on Facebook, take a look at your privacy settings. If you want to keep your profile entreily personal, set the privacy high so only friends (and maybe even just certain lists of friends) can see your posts and pictures. Would you feel comfortable if a client saw those pictures of you at that bachelor party? Then remove the pictures or lock that album up so only your close connections can see them.
If you want to make it easier for clients and potential clients to find you, allow non-friends to view your profile picture and contact info.
Be sure to have a profile picture that is a clear and appropriate picture of you. Not your dog, not your baby, but you. (And not you in a bikini with a handful of tequilla jello shots. Keep it clean.) Once again, if you don’t want to keep it clean, be sure to set the privacy restrictions high. Just keep in mind that you can’t always stop other people from posting and sharing compromising pictures of you, so nothing is truly secure.
If you’ve got a Twitter, google+ account or any other social media presence, follow the same guidelines to clean it up and keep it professional.
If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, now may be a good time to start one. Think of LinkedIn as an online business lunch. It’s sort of like an online resume, and there are features to help you connect with other professionals.
This probably seems like a tremendous, scary amount of work, but it’s absolutely manageable in bite-sized pieces. As a student in massage therapy school, any foundation you can lay will help you build a stronger massage career once you graduate. And even more importantly, if you start now, you’ll have the support of your fellow students and instructors! It’s great to bounce ideas off other students and help each other along, don’t waste that opportunity.
Massage is a wonderful, rewarding career. You’ll love it!