Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Last year, I had the good fortune of being referred to the clientele of another ashiatsu therapist who had enrolled in nursing school and was downsizing his practice. At the time, I saw this as the best networking payoff I’d had in the history of my practice. Lately I’ve been wondering if that was really the case.

The referrals from him actually started in 2016. Two of his clients booked same-day appointments because he wasn’t available. Both seemed pleased with my work but neither rebooked right away. After he reached out to ask if he could send clients my way because he was in school, one of them booked again and continued to visit once a month to take advantage of my loyalty program five more times.

When she called one Saturday morning wanting a massage that day because she had just hurt herself in a fitness class, I didn’t have any openings until later that week. I was also reluctant to treat such a recent injury. I told her I’d be happy to see her in a few days and gave her some self-care instructions in the meantime. She said something to the effect that her former therapist had accommodated her in the past with these types of injuries and that it had worked well. I texted her two days later to see how she was feeling and offer her an appointment. She declined and I haven’t seen her since.

Seven other clients have visited as direct referrals from that therapist. Three came in once with same or next day bookings, one took several months to get started and came in twice, two others came in for a few months but have since fallen off, and one has been in every three weeks for the last three months.

I wonder if that therapist referred me to all of his clients or just those he saw occasionally. I also wonder if his course load has lightened or if he’s finished with school and has resumed his practice. I know he didn’t tell his clients that I only offer ashiatsu because some of them have been surprised to have that as the only option. I also know that his clients are extremely fond of him.

I can only be who I am. I choose to practice within the professional boundaries I’ve set. I trust my instincts and experience when faced with contraindications, and I have my own unique treatment and communication style.

Taking on clients from someone else can be challenging. We won’t have their personality nor can we duplicate their touch. Overall, this was still a great thing for my practice although the effects have been short lived. Those clients helped fill openings in my schedule and I know I provided them with high quality services. I just didn’t do it the way their beloved former therapist did.

Acquiring those clients didn’t cost me any money and the only time I spent on that initial interaction was receiving a massage. I’ll continue reaching out to local practitioners to not only create the possibility for more of these opportunities, but to have a network to refer my clients to should the need arise. Perhaps they would respond to a new therapist in the same way. Established, mutually fulfilling relationships that are difficult to replace is a natural development in the practice that I love!

Have you taken on clients from another massage therapist? How did it go? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

Posted in Marketing, Networking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Making the Most of a Slow Month

As much as it seems we should have continuous growth as our practices mature, that’s not what happens. Seasonal schedule shifts and spending habits can have a big impact on our client load from month to month. These natural dips aren’t a cause for panic. They are an opportunity for reflection, restoration and redirection.

For some unknown reason, April is one of my slower months every year. You’d think with tax refunds coming in it would be the opposite, but that hasn’t been my experience. Rather than getting discouraged when clients (and cash flow) thin out, I accept the invitation to take advantage of that downtime.

  • I get caught up on sleep, chores and business tasks. I also capitalize on the break and reach out to friends and family I haven’t talked to for a while. If they’re local, I try to get together for lunch or coffee to reconnect. Being a sole practitioner can be isolating so it’s important to maintain those supportive relationships.
  • I do more marketing. It can be hard to fit in when I’m booked consistently and, honestly, doesn’t seem necessary then. Knowing a slow down is likely to be on the horizon, I think about what my next scheme will be and look ahead. Then I put it on my schedule and implement. This approach keeps me from feeling guilty about blocking off time when I could be available for clients because they have plenty of other options those weeks.
  • If the slow down lasts more than a month, I start a Groupon campaign. In addition to other marketing efforts, this proven strategy to get more new clients on my table is my go-to plan when regular clients fall off. Using Groupon the right way gets me back on track quickly. When I’m busy and making more money, my outlook is positive and I’m not worrying about how to pay my bills.

There’s an ebb and flow to everything, including demand for massage. Tracking my business income regularly helps me anticipate these cycles and recognize that they are temporary. It’s simply part of riding the wave in the practice that I love!

How do you make the most of your slower months? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!



Posted in Groupon, Marketing, Money | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fool Me Twice, Shame On You

No one likes being taken for a fool, especially when it costs them money. A few months ago, I was contacted by a client who I hadn’t seen for a long time. Against my better judgment, I went ahead and booked him. What happened next has inspired a no-nonsense approach to clients who don’t respect my time.

So here’s the backstory:

Our first session was in April of 2016. He had purchased a package on Groupon and upgraded all three sessions. He had cancelled his last massage on the package the same day because he had gotten into a car accident. He rescheduled and finished up his package by the end of May.

He booked another massage for mid June but no-showed. Then I didn’t hear back from him until a year-and-a-half later. I was out of town when I got his email requesting an appointment. My initial instinct was to say no, but I reconsidered. He’s a young guy who is a single parent. Maybe he had been embarrassed about blowing me off so had delayed reaching out again because he didn’t know what to say. I enjoyed working with him and he had gotten good results. I prefer to give established clients the benefit of the doubt, so I gave him some options and he booked an appointment. I let him know that my prices and cancellation policy had been updated since his last visit, and asked him to review the links in his confirmation email.

I have online scheduling that automatically sends reminder emails so I don’t have to remember. The day of his appointment, he didn’t show. I verified his email address in my scheduling software and that a reminder had been sent. The phone number I had for him was no longer in service, so I sent him this email:

The phone number I have for you is not in service. Hope all is well. I wish I would have known you couldn’t make it today so I could have offered your spot to someone else. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to book you again until I receive $75 for today’s appointment. I have a PayPal account.

Here’s the reply I received:

I’m terribly sorry, my car was totaled on Friday night. The whole next day I had to deal with him in the insurance. I will definitely pay that $75 when I make my next appointment.

Sound familiar? He also included this photo with 20171122 as the first eight characters of the file name. His appointment date was 12/9/2017. Obviously, he was unaware the the default file name for photos includes the date they were taken (or thought I was). Busted!

I think it’s a safe bet I’ll never hear from him again. That’s probably for the best. Since then, I show no mercy for no-shows or same-day cancellations for first time clients. They are notified that they will have to pay for the missed appointment as well as pay me up front for any future appointments.

I’m sure I’ll won’t collect any money from any of them since I don’t require credit card information to book a first appointment. Such is the nature of this business. It’s a risk I take, but now I only take it once. At least I don’t have rare clients like this running me around and costing more than the fee for one missed appointment. There’s no shortage of learning adventures in the practice that I love!

How do you deal with no-shows and first-time clients who cancel the same day? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

Posted in Business Practices, Money, Policies | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

What NOT To Say When Clients Are Late

As massage therapists, we work on a tight schedule. When clients are late, that schedule can get thrown off, which can lead to running behind and making other clients wait. This causes undo stress for us and inconvenience for those whose appointments are later in the day. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Once upon a time, a coworker and I were waiting for two clients who were enjoying a spa day together. They were in the locker room getting their robes on and were taking forever. Starting late meant we’d have to shorten their services in order to stay on schedule. When my coworker went to the locker room and called their names, they got upset. Obviously, they didn’t want to be rushed but my guess is they didn’t want shorter services either. Their reaction inspired a completely different approach to such situations.

I realized that although letting them know time was getting short was in their best interest, that’s not how they perceived it. They were there to relax and hang out together, and nudging them along didn’t meet that expectation. They saw it as rude and interfering with their experience. From then on, I stopped worrying about getting started on time because what really matters is finishing on time so the next client isn’t affected. It was their time and money, and if they wanted to spend it in the locker room chatting or using their phones, so be it.

Every situation is unique, but I’ve devised some general protocols to prevent late clients in the first place in addition to dealing with them that don’t send me into a frenzy once they leave or sacrifice the experience of clients after them.

  • Having a link to the Google map to my office in both confirmation and reminder emails prevents new clients from being late on their first visit. Ideally, they click on the link in the confirmation email to familiarize themselves with my location soon after booking, and again when they get the reminder the day before their appointment to determine how long it will take them to get there so they can plan accordingly.
  • I have an incredibly short intake form that takes less than three minutes for most clients to complete, even if they have a lot of medical history. The last thing anyone wants to contend with if they’re running late to their first appointment is lengthy paperwork once they get there. I’ve had other health care providers email intake documents to me ahead of time or seen a link to them on their website. That’s all good when clients are compliant but creates an avoidable problem if they aren’t.
  • I book clients thirty minutes apart to build in a little lag time. No matter how punctual someone may be overall, sometimes the unexpected happens. A traffic jam or untimely important call isn’t their fault, so they shouldn’t be penalized for it. They may also have questions or scheduling they want to do before they leave that I want to allow plenty of time for. Since I don’t have a receptionist, these tasks are my responsibility and they take time.
  • New client appointments almost always go over because it usually takes a few extra minutes to get to know each other and for them to feel comfortable with me. If I have time available after their appointment, I ask if we can end at the time that would give them a full service. By doing this, I’m respecting their time and mine while giving them all the time they’re paying for. If that isn’t an option, getting clear on their priorities ensures they’ll be satisfied with their massage even if it runs a bit short their first visit.

No matter what measures are in place, some clients are consistently late. As frustrating as this can be, it comes with the territory. Rather than making suggestions to help them be more prompt, I’ve found it’s best to train them once they get there. That way, they get more time on the massage table without interfering with the rest of my schedule.

A typical scenario for my repeat offenders goes something like this:

Client: “I’m so sorry I’m late! The traffic was terrible!”

Me: “No worries. I’m glad you’re here! Why don’t you get comfortable on the table and we can decide what we’re doing today while I apply the oil.”

This minimizes any conversation that will shorten their service even more. It doesn’t make them feel bad and sends a message that I’m committed to giving them as much remaining time as possible so we can get more done. Soon enough, they come in, apologize and head straight for the treatment room.

But what about those clients who are not only late but want to chat first? I do my best to keep the conversation focused on our objectives and keep my answers brief should they ask how I’m doing. Inevitably, these are the people who want a full body massage, which makes our job all the more challenging.

  • Having a loose routine to follow for each area of the body lets me select those that will take more time to meet the client’s needs while spending less time on those that just need to be touched in order to feel complete.
  • Using slow, deliberate strokes makes the massage feel longer. If I get caught up in an area of concern, I ask if they want to spend more time there or if they want to move on. Letting them call the shots lets me off the hook.
  • If an area is taking longer than will allow for a full body massage, I ask if there are places that can be addressed briefly or skipped in order to accomplish extended time there. Most clients understand this and are willing to compromise if they need something problematic worked out. It’s also an opportunity to lengthen the session thirty minutes for an additional fee if we both have the time.

Doing what we can to give clients everything they are paying for is important for growing a practice. I know there is a movement within the industry to charge for results rather than time, much like the way medical appointments are structured. As enlightened as this sounds, there are so many individual variables that I can’t guarantee results. I can guarantee clients will get my highest intentions for as much time as they give me in the practice that I love.

How do you navigate late clients? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

Posted in Boundaries, Business Practices, Client Experience, Policies | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Policies Are Made To Be Bent

A recurring theme I see in massage blogs, magazines and Facebook groups is owning our worth. This gets tested when we’re presented with situations that we’ve created policies to address, such as cancellations, late arrivals and expiration dates. The pervasive advise I see is to stand your ground and enforce your policy, but is that always the best plan of action?

Balancing our gratitude for our clients with honoring our value can be tricky. Our policies aren’t just about us. In this spirit, I’ve created  policies based on how I would want and expect to be treated from experiences I’ve had with businesses that I wish had been handled differently.

Many years ago, I was seeing a massage therapist once a month. I had been a consistent regular client for some time when I got a phone call from her telling me I had missed an appointment. Perhaps I had scheduled it incorrectly in my phone (which is entirely possible). I know I hadn’t received a reminder (I may have even told her I wouldn’t need one).

I have to admit, although I had been providing massage for a number of years, I didn’t feel I should have to pay for it. I felt that either she or I must have made an honest mistake and that since it hadn’t happened before, I should get a break. I honestly don’t remember if I paid her for that appointment or not, but that experience shaped the policy I currently have.

My original cancellation policy was fine until two and a half years into business. All of a sudden, I had several opportunities to enforce it. I realized that what I had conceived early on wasn’t serving me anymore, so I overhauled it. Since then, I’ve lost two regular clients due to enforcement. Both had been repeat offenders. I had let them slide more than once and had been very clear that a cancellation fee would be imposed the next time I didn’t get adequate notification.

Perhaps they felt that they were doing me a favor by paying me for the services they received or that our long-standing relationships and past compensation should have covered the appointments they missed. I’m sorry they chose to stop coming in rather than valuing my time and abilities, not to mention considering the needs of other clients. In both cases, their standing appointment slots filled immediately. It was obviously time for them to move on.

Recently, an established client didn’t show up for her appointment. When I called her, she said she had forgotten since it wasn’t scheduled for her usual day and time. This client has been with me for over three years and had never done this before. I told her she could use her “Oh, shit!” cancellation, and I took a walk to pass the time. But a few months later, she had a similar situation. She had been up with her sick daughter the night before and overslept. I told her I could see her later that day and that she would owe an extra $20 for the late-notice cancellation.

By the time she came in, I had given this a lot of thought. She had been a wonderful client for a long time. Being in the medical field, I knew she understood the inconvenience that those kinds of cancellations cause. But I just didn’t feel right about that additional fee in that particular case. She’s extremely supportive of my practice and we have a great history. I told her that I wasn’t charging her the cancellation fee, but if she had another such cancellation within the next six months I would. She was quite grateful and I’m certain I earned more than $20 from that decision.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t enforce our business policies. There are times when we have to stand our ground because we’re being undervalued. It’s true, we teach people how to treat us. I hope I’m teaching my clients to see the big picture as it relates to our interactions. Getting a massage isn’t always the most important thing on the agenda. But how do we know when to bend and when to be tough?

  • First off, sending ALL clients appointment reminders automatically from my online scheduling software sets a precedent for what they can expect from me as a business owner and reduces missed appointments. There’s a link to my cancellation policy in every confirmation and reminder email, so everyone has the chance to familiarize themselves. One elderly client who is particularly forgetful gets a reminder call from me on all three numbers I have for her. This may sound like overkill, but it keeps her treatment on schedule and makes my income from her predictable.
  • If I get enough notice to realistically fill their appointment slot on a first offense by an established client, I tell them I was able to fill it. This is in line with my unwritten three strikes rule (not all policies have to be shared). If the notice is extremely short, I give them the choice of redeeming their “Oh shit!” cancellation or paying a cancellation fee. This way, I’m playing it off as enforcement rather than letting it slide.
  • If I’m earning a substantial portion of my regular income from a specific client, they have more appointments than someone who visits less frequently. That means they get more chances to show up. I don’t have a set amount of time between offenses that determines what action I take. Those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. In the long run, I’ll probably make more money by not enforcing my policy for a fluke missed appointment. The risk of alienating an overall exceptional client isn’t worth a one-time payment.
  • Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. I’ve found that if a first or second appointment has a late notice cancellation, more will follow. Therefore, newer clients get less leeway than more established ones. If they understand and pay the cancellation fee, that tells me they want to do business with ME, not just get a massage. It also prevents future occurrences.

There are so many possibilities when it comes to business relationships and the personal circumstances of our clients. What might be perceived as being unable to stand up for ourselves is often a case of meeting clients where they are. The better I’ve done that, the more the practice I love has grown and the deeper my client relationships have become!

Do you enforce your cancellation policy consistently? If not, why? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

Posted in Boundaries, Business Practices, Policies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

‘Tis the Season for Taxes (Again)

Just when I think I’ve shared everything I know about business taxes, I come up with something else. That’s because there’s SO much to know about handling them! I’ve have learned all of these lessons the hard way but am now free from the burden of constantly being behind.

My struggle with my business taxes began in 2015. Since I had started my business in late 2013 and worked as an employee most of that year, I actually got a refund when I filed in April for the previous year. In 2014, I was working at a massage franchise part-time while I grew my practice, so my business earnings were still fairly limited and I had federal income tax withheld from my paychecks. The amount owed when I filed in April 2015 was manageable.

But 2015 saw explosive growth in my practice! I left my side job early that year and all the money I made from then on came from my practice. When I did my taxes for that year at the beginning of 2016, I was seriously distressed by the amount I owed the IRS. I had accomplished my goal of earning a living exclusively from my own practice; I just hadn’t planned how I would keep up with the taxes very well.

I knew I needed a consistent strategy to make estimated tax payments throughout the year, so I started transferring a percentage of my income to savings each week. At the beginning of each month, I make an electronic payment via Direct Pay to stay on top of this expense that gets away from me so easily. I began doing this in May of 2016 and it has worked really well. The only problem was that I hadn’t made any contributions from the first four months of the year, so I still owed a chunk of change when I filed last year.

The IRS only allows you to make estimated payments for the previous year through mid-January. Since my payment schedule starts after I file, this gap needs to be filled to stop using my credit card to pay the shortfall. This year, I’m continuing to move money into my savings every week just as I have been. I’m stockpiling it so I’ll be able to cover any debt owed when I file, then I’ll go back to monthly payments through the end of the year.

This may not be a perfect system, but it’s sustainable. There’s a chance I may have a small penalty for underpaying my estimated taxes but it will be far less than the interest that accrues on my credit card. As much as we may despise paying taxes, they’re the reason we have such a good life in this country. I’m willing to do my part, especially when I’m able to continue earning a living in the practice that I love!

How do you manage your estimated tax payments? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

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Getting Seen on Facebook for Free

Ah, Facebook. I resisted using it for my business until 2015. Unfortunately, I missed out on the golden age of free, wide-spread distribution of promotional content. The geniuses behind Facebook realized that businesses would pay to be seen on their platform if organic reach declined, so they continue to adjust the algorithm for business pages to encourage it. But I’ve discovered a way to get around that.

After reading a blog post from Cindy Iwlew of Bodywork Buddy, I got an idea. Her post was about getting more Facebook reviews on your page by asking clients to check in when they visit because they get a prompt to write a review the next day if they do. When you check in on Facebook, that post goes to the news feeds of all of your friends (depending on their settings). That means when clients check in, that post goes to all of THEIR friends. It sounded brilliant, but would it work?

I didn’t even know how to check in but figured my Facebook savvy clients would. I did know that even those with the best intentions would need a small incentive to follow through consistently. I decided to have a monthly contest with a prize of $10 off the winner’s next massage.

So I started asking each client if they use Facebook on their phone. Those who said yes were then asked if they wanted to check in to enter the drawing. The majority jumped at the opportunity (and I learned how to check in so I could show those who didn’t know how).

This process has taken a bit of babysitting to get established. At first, clients wouldn’t remember to check in and I often forgot, too. If that was the case, I would text them asking if they had checked in and letting them know they still could if they wanted to. Now that it’s been a few months, we’re all getting trained and most are doing it when they arrive (but I still text them if it doesn’t come up while they’re there).

One glitch in this system is that I’m not notified when someone checks in unless we’re friends on Facebook. I prefer not to friend my clients to maintain a professional boundary (if they send me a request I accept it, but I don’t send any). I concluded that I just had to trust them if they said they had or would. Even if they don’t once in a while, I’m getting a free testimonial every time they do.

I keep a list of those who check in on my phone. They get an entry each time so those who do so more often have a better chance of winning. At the beginning of the next month, I pull up the list, close my eyes and touch the screen. The name the cursor ends up on is the winner. I text them to let them know they won (and ask them to remind me if I forget), then set a calendar reminder for their next appointment (in case they forget). They also receive a $10 referral credit for new clients who name them as their referral source.

Since I started doing this in September, I’ve given away $40 in credits. I guess that means it’s not technically free, but it’s resulted in one new client who has come in twice and a gift certificate sale. As long as I’m in the black, I’ll continue doing this promotion to get more eyes on the practice that I love!

What Facebook promotions have worked well for you? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

Posted in Marketing, Social Media | Tagged , , | 2 Comments