Are you trained as a massage therapist and want to find out how to earn more money? Brilliant! This post will give you some useful ideas of how to get more clients, and how to sustain this super career choice.
But first my story… In 2018 I decided to go self-employed after lots of different jobs and studies. I had trained and worked as a massage therapist for a few years in the past for a company, and wanted to see how I got on doing things my way.
When I started out on the road of self employment I had an idealistic plan:
Advertise my deep tissue massages at a much lower cost than everyone else to get loads of clients, and to save money by doing everything myself including my website, booking people in and my accounting. And it kind of worked at first. I did get loads of clients. But I didn’t make much, I also spent a lot of time on frustrating admin tasks, got resentful and wore myself out. Lockdown gave me the perfect chance to reset and I decided to take an online business course designed for holistic and beauty business owners. I got so much from it. I started to pay attention to what worked for others too and joined Facebook groups like Massage Therapists – Get Through Coronavirus & Come out Stronger Together to stay connected and supported by others in the trade.
Now I earn plenty and have lots of free time. This post shares all the things I wish I’d known when I went self employed; advice to help you earn more and ways you can streamline your business to give you more freedom.
How to get more massage clients
Make a free business listing on Google! Get people to leave you reviews by sharing the link with them. Then you come up in a search. The more positive reviews, the higher your ranking. Other things which boost your ranking on your Google business listing are posting photos, videos, blog posts etc to keep it active.
A Facebook business page is another good way to advertise to potential clients. After populating my page with pictures and reviews I posted about my services in local groups. I got around half of my clients this way. Top tip: to get a lot more people in local groups to see your posts, post something in the lead-up to your promotion which will get lots of comments, something completely unrelated to your business. For example, I posted a photo of a new vegan fish and chips place and asked who has been there yet. I got tons of comments. Some of the people who commented then went on to book my workshops when I promoted them in the same Facebook group the week after: pleasing the algorithm.
Posting business cards or flyers through doors can actually work. At least they did when I tried it in 2018. I posted business cards to around 5 streets and got 4 bookings. Not bad really.
Another oldie-but-goody method is to provide free mini treatments at community events. For example, 5 minute hand, head or shoulders treatments (you just need a chair and can carry them out through clothing using acupressure/ onsite massage techniques). Then hand out your business card or leaflet there. To source these events, contact local village halls, community centres, schools and places where craft fairs and Christmas markets take place too. It may clash with your money-making plan to offer massage for free, but doing so will come back to you in abundance. I normally avoid offering discounts but I will share this tip passed onto me recently, if you want to boost this process even more, hand recipients of the free mini treatments a generous discount token. Half of them use the token and book in with you, and out of those, half of them will become regular clients if your treatments are effective. The rest will come through by word of mouth from the ones who enjoyed them. A Gateway Workshops massage therapist and teacher told me this, it’s how she got all of her clients, and since then she has never had to advertise.
This article shares lots more ideas on how to get more clients.
But just as important as finding the clients in the first place is retaining the ones you’ve got, making them regular and making them get you more business.
How? Apart from having amazing treatments which you are well trained in, you can upsell. For people who book an hour you can suggest a longer treatment next time. An hour is not really long enough for someone with a lot of tension or who hasn’t had a treatment in over a month, and it’s near impossible to do a thorough full body treatment on a tense person in 60 minutes. I upsell in advance on my booking system. I state that 60 minutes is only suitable for part of the body or a basic full body routine. I recommend 90 minutes for people who haven’t had an appointment in a while or who are very tense.
I also suggest to clients that regular treatments are important, every 1-2 weeks for the first 3 appointments and then at least every month thereafter.
Asking for reviews is incredibly important too, be proactive. I used to send out a follow up message with a review request to everyone who had an appointment, which worked for some people. But I still had lots of regulars who had never left a review. Then at a later date I wrote an email to everyone explaining how important reviews were for my business and asked them to leave one if they hadn’t already. I received around 18 that day! People just forget so you need to keep asking them.
How to price your massage treatments
Price them to cover your outgoing expenses and then some, so that you make enough profit! When you start out, if you want you could offer an ‘introductory’ rate, but make sure it is clearly labelled as introductory. If you price yourself high, you will attract people with more money, if you price them low, you will attract those looking for a bargain.
Your outgoings can include: training, insurance, accounting software, booking system subscription, website, kitting your treatment room out, a massage bed, a massage chair, bolsters, towels, oils, music and cleaning products. Plus there’s the time you spend on admin, promotion, cleaning and of course massaging! Your price should reflect all of this.
Whatever you do, avoid offering discounts or deals (unless it is for buying a package of 3 treatments for example). Not only does it make your standard rate seem more expensive in comparison, it might only attract people looking for a bargain who might be unlikely to return regularly paying the standard rate. Don’t reward people with discounts because it devalues what you do. Their reward is a great massage!
For those Mother Teresas out there: I know you want to provide people with affordable treatments. The thing is, a lot of people are more than happy to pay a decent amount for a decent treatment, so if you price yourself low then people who can afford more are getting a cheap deal at your expense. Some ideas for your philanthropic fix: price yourself high but allow community prices for those in need, do some volunteering such as providing seated acupressure treatments at a community centre, or contact your local council about wellbeing funds if you like the idea of running a project.
The responsibility to allow everyone accessibly priced treatments should not weigh on your shoulders. Things are changing already; doctors in some counties are starting to prescribe massage to people instead of painkillers. In the future massage could be subsidised by the government, making it affordable for everyone. For now, know that you’re part of the movement and do everything you can to look after yourself, because it can be a tough job if you are prone to being self sacrificing.
Automated booking systems for massage and beauty therapists
Online booking systems give you more freedom and more money. I’ll explain how. But first, here is a nice list of options, some work best for sole traders and some work best for teams. I prefer Ovatu because it costs £15 for sole traders despite how many features you use such as automated payments and consultation forms. Whereas Timely costs £35 per month for the same features, although it’s a lot easier to set up. I was recently recommended Booksy and Acuity, worth checking out.
How online booking systems help you get more clients
Most people do not want to text/call/email you to book an appointment, they want to see a list of dates and pick one out which suits them. It’s just easier. This fact means that you get way more bookings with an automatic system. You can get them overnight whilst you sleep!
Booking systems give you more freedom
I used to think that I had more control over my diary with my own method of booking people via emails, text and Facebook messages. I wanted to control exactly when I booked people according to my diary and to have random days off when I wanted. As it turns out, you have more freedom with an automatic booking system because you can manipulate exactly when you want people to book appointments. To illustrate this, I decided I did not want to work Saturdays, I also wanted a huge gap in between bookings (time to clean/ stretch/ eat/ recharge) and I didn’t want to work much at all during the week surrounding my period. So I set my roster to accommodate all this and hey presto, people book in around all my requirements.There’s no bartering for time slots or umming and ahhing over my diary every time someone wants an appointment. Booking software often includes automated payments and consultation forms too which saves you lots of time; it does your admin for you. It’s so worth the small price and the time setting it up.
Booking systems stop unwanted clients
Another reason I was resisting getting an automated booking system was because I didn’t want any weirdos to make an appointment online and turn up on my doorstep. I thought that through texts and calls I could read into certain words and decipher if someone seemed dodgy or not, as well as a good old fashioned Facebook search if in doubt. Yes, I was a master spy, concerned about protecting myself and my business. Clever. No, not really! You can effectively deter wronguns with an automatic booking system. How to stay safe as a massage therapist? By setting up your booking system to take pre-payment in advance. Having to complete personal details and enter debit card details scares off dodgy people. It deters no-shows too. Also, you can clearly outline your policies in the booking system (ie. no sexual services), which should also stop the wrong type of customer booking in. No system is bulletproof but an online booking system is more secure than navigating text messages. More on this below.
Professional Phone number
If you put your personal number on your business page you might get someone rather unsavoury texting you at 3am asking about your services ‘for men’. It’s sad but true and has happened to every massage therapist I know. To avoid this: get a virtual landline for a couple of £s a month. Not only does it look professional, it stops nasty messages coming through. One step further, do not answer your phone to unknown numbers. This may seem counterintuitive to running a business, but you are mainly going to get calls from people who want a massage there and then, possibly circling your area in a car, and/or dodgy people asking weird questions. If a reasonable person calls and there is no answer, they tend to leave a message with their name and number, or they book an appointment online.
In addition, if working from home, I would avoid putting your address on Google/your website to prevent people knocking on your door at 10pm asking ‘is this the massage place?’ It’s happened to me!
Accounting system for self employed sole traders
A subscription to an online accounting system saves you time. If you try to record all your income and expenses using pen and paper or on a spreadsheet, and you easily manage to complete your annual self assessment tax return this way then well done! But most people would find this procedure incredibly fiddly and long winded. An accounting package takes the hassle and time out of recording your income and expenses. It also allows you to complete tax reports and produce invoices at the touch of a button. I use Quickbooks which was around £3 a month for the first three months, then £10 per month thereafter. All my bank transactions both in and out are listed there; each month I just label them as business or personal. I also attach receipts to any business spending which you need to do in case you ever get investigated. As a self employed person it’s a legal requirement to fill out a self assessment tax report every year. If you fail to do so you will be fined a minimum of £100 for every month you do not report your income and expenses. This can add up! Also, you could completely avoid paying tax if you list your business expenses properly. Business expenses can include a percentage of your household bill if you WFH, training courses, uniform, oils, laundry costs: lots of things! Getting streamlined with accounting from the get-go saves you a from headaches and wasted time down the line.
Automatic client consultation Forms
When I started out I didn’t have any systems in place apart from the paper consultation form on the day. Now I prefer to have this completed before clients attend. Why? What if someone has a condition that prevents you from treating them? You will have to a) send them home unhappy, b) refund them or c) treat them and risk their health and your business. It’s just not logical!
I used Jotform at first because it was free and easy to build a form and to email the link. However, the best way to avoid repetitive admin tasks like emailing each person a form, is to have an automated booking system which includes a consultation form for clients to fill out when they book. I use Ovatu which has a 60 day free trial, and is then only £15 a month (UK 2021 figure).
Advanced Massage Training
Most Level 3 training courses are not enough on their own to equip you with the skills to provide deep tissue massage treatments (the most popular type), whilst saving your thumbs and wrists from straining. Additional training is necessary to really hone your skill set. But there are ways to do it without having to do additional Level 3 or Level 4 courses.
You can self-educate by watching advanced massage training videos online. Use these to practice on people you know, like a willing friend, and make sure you get feedback all the time to really gauge what feels effective or not.
Receiving deep tissue massages yourself is very valuable, so that you know how it should feel, and to pick up on extra techniques. It can be especially useful to set up a massage swap with another therapist so that you can practice on each other and get feedback.
In addition, there are lots of workshops where you can top up your Level 3 studies with some hands-on training.
To keep going longer than the average workspan of 3 years for a massage therapist you will benefit from incorporating your forearms and elbows into your practice. This allows for firm pressure to be applied without straining your hands and wrists.
Generally, clients don’t care if you have a long list of qualifications or not, they just want a good massage. So there is no need to obsess about doing lots of courses to look more professional. As long as you are insurable with a relevant L3 qualification and have received additional training you can be a great therapist.
Onsite Massage Visits
Onsite massage involves providing massage in the workplace or at events. This style of massage is sometimes called seated acupressure or chair massage. It is conducted through clothing and usually lasts from 5-20 minutes per person. This means that lots of people in a business or at an event can receive a treatment. In addition, you don’t use oils, so its altogether more convenient than standard massage. The recipient can be seated on an ergonomically designed massage chair or simply at their desk. This style of massage mainly involves using the forearms and elbows to achieve pressure by leaning in. Its best to avoid using your hands for firm pressure movements during onsite visits because you can strain them, as well as your wrists, especially if you are doing a full day of work.
It is a brilliant way to earn a good amount of money in one chunk, because companies often require around 3-6 hours of massage. It can be fun too because you get to meet lots of different people. Plus it provides variety, especially if you mainly operate from a home treatment room. It is also a good way to promote your services because you can hand out your business card on the day.
There are lots of companies who hire self employed massage therapists to do onsite office and events visits such as Joyful Living and Take a Breather. Working for companies like this can be a great opportunity to gain experience and potentially meet other therapists who are booked at the same location too. Or you can find your own bookings by contacting local businesses.
A therapy business coach
Someone who has been there, done that and bought the t-shirt, and can show you how to raise your business game is invaluable. Especially a one-to-one mentor who can look at what you are doing with your business and help you to strategise a plan for success. My recommendation for all things massage therapy business related is Nikki Wolf who has helped me a lot. She has lots of free advice and training on her site, and you can book a free Zoom call with her to discuss where you’re at; and FYI this phone call alone can be incredibly helpful!
Self Care for massage therapists
You won’t be good at your job (or anything else) if you feel terrible. So self care should be viewed as a work responsibility. Massage can be like competing in athletic exercise, you need to really look after your mind and body. Strengthening your back is a great way to avoid postural issues, such as toning the rhomboids, as well as pilates for posture. And after doing some massage work you will benefit from stretching out the muscles you’ve been using, in the same way that athletes stretch after a run.
As well as other obvious wellbeing practices like eating wholefoods, exercise and resting, it’s really important to receive lots of massages! Not only will this benefit your mind, body (and soul), but you can also pick up extra techniques or business ideas from other therapists. It all adds to your skill set. Setting up a therapy swap with another massage therapist is an amazing way to get free treatments, practice techniques and get feedback. It’s also just a great way to talk about massage work related things which is important if you’re working solo most of the time.
To sum up
Massage therapy work is not just the case of doing massage and receiving money. If you want to maximise your free time, your money and your safety, you benefit from having some nifty administrative systems in place. As well as clear boundaries and some decent self care practices in order to keep your business sustainable.