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 kind 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!

Booked and Busy subscribers have exclusive access to the Booked and Busy Bonus Room on Facebook. This free group provides checklists, templates, guides and videos to get and keep more clients so you can make more money while helping more people!


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‘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!

Booked and Busy subscribers have exclusive access to the Booked and Busy Bonus Room on Facebook. This free group provides resources (including a seasonal tax prep checklist and helpful links) for getting more clients so you can make more money while helping more people!

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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!

Booked and Busy subscribers have exclusive access to the Booked and Busy Bonus Room on Facebook. This free group provides resources designed to get and keep more clients so you can make more money while helping more people!

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The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same


It’s become a January tradition for me to do a marketing audit. It takes about fifteen minutes and provides a wealth of information about which marketing activities are attracting clients and which ones aren’t. This allows me to do more of what’s working and less of what isn’t, saving me time and money. Here’s how to do your own:

  • First, count the number of unique clients (not total appointments) from any given month.
  • Then note how each client came to you. If they were referred, how did the person who told them about you come to you? Work backwards until you get to the original referring client. Everyone they have referred will go into the same category.
  • Next, define five categories. For example, I have all clients who heard about me from promotions I did myself in one category. This includes chance meetings, flyers, promo gift certificates, etc. If these are your main marketing techniques, define five different things you’ve tried.
  • Once each client is classified, add up the number of clients in each category. Divide the number of clients per category by the total number of clients from the month to get a percentage.

If your practice is just getting started, doing this every three to six months will make those initial marketing efforts more efficient. Once you’re established, it’s still a good exercise to do once a year to monitor and adjust. I anticipated some changes this time but they weren’t what I expected.

  • Groupon is STILL the leading regular client generator for me (35% this year compared to 40% last year), even though my last deal ended almost a year ago and I redeemed the last voucher in October. Of the twelve regular clients who visited last month who found me on Groupon or were referred by someone who did: nine are from my original campaign in 2014 (of those, two bought the single session, four bought the three pack, and three were referred); two came from my first campaign in 2016 (both purchased the package); and one came from the second deal I ran in 2016 where I experimented with a single 60-minute or 90-minute option (she happened to buy the 90-minute but this strategy did not perform nearly as well as a single and a package).
  • My website has moved up the search engine enough that I’m consistently on page one when searching ashiatsu massage Denver. This increased the number of clients who found me via the Internet from 6% last year to 21% this year. That’s a huge jump! My early SEO techniques played a big part in moving me up from the beginning, and getting set up on Google My Business has taken me to the next level. I learned how to do that from this webinar (it’s an affiliate link so I’ll be compensated should you sign up).
  • Friends, coworkers and clients I knew before opening my current practice accounted for 15% of visitors last month (down from 30% last audit). Three were clients in a previous life, and two were referred by a friend and former coworker. Of the referrals, one is a now monthly regular (this took years to happen) and one was from out of town.
  • American Specialty Health comes in at number four with 12% (just above 11% last year). This variation is probably due to the total number of clients I saw rather than an actual increase since I haven’t been on their provider list since 2015. Basically, this company is a third-party health insurance partner that contracts with wellness practitioners for discounted benefits to their members. It has been a great source of high-quality referrals. I discontinued my affiliation with them because I had switched to ashiatsu exclusively and the people who were calling wanted something more traditional. Otherwise, I would probably still be one of their providers.
  • The final spot is shared by two categories at 9% each. I created a separate category for an ashiatsu therapist who referred clients to me last summer when he started nursing school. Although I’ve seen a handful of them only once, three became regular monthly clients. The other category is my own promotions, two of which I did early in my practice and one that I started late last year. The older promotions were soliciting a physician’s office and gift certificates for Every Body Deserves a Massage Week (one regular client each). The new promotion is on Facebook and I’m excited to announce it is actually paying off! I promise I’ll share the details in my next post.

So what will I do now based on this audit? Depending on how busy I stay, I may do another Groupon campaign. I’ll definitely keep doing this new Facebook promotion as long as it continues to perform. I purchased ad space in an exclusive golf magazine a couple of months ago that will be published quarterly starting next month and will be available to members of three country clubs near my office. My hope is that it will give me the opportunity to provide demos at some of their tournaments this summer. As successful as digital marketing has been for me, I feel the need to connect with my community in person. My next marketing audit will reflect the results of this plan and help plot another course to keep growing the practice that I love!

Which of your marketing efforts are getting the best results? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

Booked and Busy subscribers have exclusive access to the Booked and Busy Bonus Room on Facebook. This free group provides resources (including a template to do your own marketing audit) designed to get and keep more clients so you can make more money while helping more people!


Posted in Groupon, Marketing, Web Design | Leave a comment

A Different Approach To Raising Prices


An inevitable business decision that I’ve struggled with over the course of owning my practice is raising prices. Earlier this year, I found that I still wasn’t earning enough to get where I want to be financially. I knew a price increase was necessary, but I also knew I needed a different approach than I had used in the past.

Because I chose to offer discounted packages at an incredible price in the beginning to get more clients (three 60-minute massages for $99), I’ve had to increase my package prices a few times over the last four years. Although this strategy was well received, the time came when I realized I needed more consistent income than I was making selling packages. That’s when I restructured my frequency incentives rather than raising prices across the board.

But this time was different. I needed to earn more per appointment so an overall pricing increase was in order (I’ve only raised my fees overall once before). The biggest fear of raising prices is that we’ll lose clients. Most likely, we will lose those who are already stretching their budgets to get massage from us. I wanted to be mindful of their circumstances while setting up a new fee schedule that would serve me for awhile so I wouldn’t be facing the same dilemma next year.

Price increases are a delicate dance. They’re a balancing act between our needs and those of our clients. It can also be uncomfortable discussing them with clients, so much so that many therapists never raise their prices! I’m completely aware of how being on the receiving end of rising expenses feels and wanted to make this adjustment as smooth as possible.

I DIDN’T choose January 1st as the effective date.  I know it’s customary to raise prices the first of the year but since credit card bills for holiday spending might compete with massage funds, I decided to raise my prices in October.  I also avoided raising prices in the summer when people are taking vacations and buying back-to-school stuff.

I DIDN’T increase prices equally for all services. The clients who have budgetary restrictions are typically the ones who book 60-minute sessions less frequently and the clients who book longer appointments come in more often. This indicated that those who book longer appointments have more discretionary income.

I DIDN’T send emails to everyone announcing the price increase. Instead, I displayed the new frequency discount prices on the white board in my treatment room from the beginning of September through October. As regular clients came in, I asked them if they had seen the new pricing that would begin October 1st and if they had any questions. If they didn’t see it, I explained how it would affect them (not everyone in my practice).

I DIDN’T display the current price next to the new price on the white board. What other people are paying has no bearing on what any individual deems affordable for them. Not one person asked me about the increase in pricing for services they don’t book.

I DID add a “New Prices 10/1/17” link to my automated confirmation and reminder emails so anyone booking an appointment (who bothered to read the email) would know about the change in fees. I still have it included and will probably keep it for another few months. I want clients who haven’t been in for some time to know that their massage will cost more before they commit so they aren’t caught off guard at checkout.

I DID keep a few package options that offer a very slight discount with no expiration date. This gives an incentive to some of my less frequent clients and I’m surprised by how many have sold. I also took 30-minute sessions off the menu since so few were being booked.

So how did it go? After comparing the number of appointments and earnings for the last two quarters of the year, I found that I saw less clients but brought in more money for the three months since my price increase than the three months before. A big piece of loving my practice is feeling good about the compensation I receive in exchange for the service I provide. I couldn’t be more pleased!

What strategies have you used to take the sting out of raising your prices? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment/comments link to share. Thank you!

Booked and Busy subscribers have exclusive access to the Booked and Busy Bonus Room on Facebook. This free group provides resources you won’t find anywhere else for getting more clients so you can make more money while helping more people!




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The Best Word-of-Mouth Marketing EVER!


I’ve had a lot of new clients the past few months! Many have found me on Google (way to go, SEO!), but I’ve also had a plethora of direct referrals (which is awesome since I think all of my Groupon vouchers have been redeemed). Since this client acquisition source is highly coveted among massage therapists and other wellness providers, I wondered if clients who were referred by someone they knew were more likely to rebook than Groupon clients. I was surprised by my findings.

Since June, I’ve had fourteen new clients who were referred by a friend (3), neighbor (1), relative (1), fellow congregation member (1) or another massage therapist/bodyworker (8). Honestly, I’ve never given much thought to where my personal referrals came from or if certain sources were better than others. Now that I’ve compiled the data, I’d like to share a few insights (granted, this sample size is small but it does give some useful information).

Network With Other Massage Therapists

A few months ago, a well-established ashiatsu therapist in Denver texted asking if he could refer his clients to me because he was beginning nursing school. Of course I said yes. He had sent me clients in the past when he was traveling or booked up and had gotten good reviews about my work from them. Interestingly, he has never received a massage from me (we set up a trade but he has yet to collect his half or use his referral credits). Regardless, I’m grateful for his confidence in me. In addition, a friend who is a massage therapist had carpal tunnel surgery recently and sent some of her clients my way while she recovered.

There are many reasons why our peers might refer us: illness/injury, travel, different business hours, moving or downsizing their practice, etc. Those who are near us are especially valuable because location is an important component to client commitment. Google massage therapist + your zip code or search them out on Yelp. Look for someone who has a similar focus or philosophy, and either contact them to trade or book a session with them. Having 2-3 of these relationships will serve everyone involved.

Not only have I received more referrals from fellow providers in the last few months, but those clients have returned with more frequency than any other source. Although the percentage of return visits is higher with new clients referred by friends, those who already have an established connection with a massage provider have proven to be more likely to become monthly clients. Rather than being competition, nearby therapists can be a valuable asset. Plus, you don’t have to woo them with lunch for their entire staff (which is expected when networking with physician’s offices).

Direct Referrals Outperformed Groupon (Maybe)

When I crunched the numbers, I was delighted that these referrals were so good! Since I started using Groupon, it has been the biggest contributor of regular clients to my practice (40% of total unique clients per month and 25% of my monthly income last I checked). I’m curious to see if that trend has shifted when I do my next marketing audit and income analysis.

Facebook Works (Finally!)

I’m hesitant to share the techniques I’ve been trying yet because it hasn’t been long enough to evaluate them. I’m hopeful I’ve finally found a way to actually get new customers on Facebook without paid ads (hint: it involves referrals). Stay tuned. 🙂

My most dedicated clients have found me in a variety of ways. Although I still believe that Groupon is the best tool to fill a massage practice faster, I’m always on the lookout for other marketing strategies that are easy and inexpensive. Until I can’t possibly schedule anyone else, the ongoing need to promote the practice that I love  remains!

What are the best personal referral sources for your practice? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment/comments link to share. Thank you!

Booked and Busy subscribers have exclusive access to the Booked and Busy Bonus Room on Facebook. This free group provides amazing resources for getting more clients so you can make more money while helping more people!




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How To Fill Those Pesky Same-Day Openings


I don’t know about you, but the closer it gets to an open spot in my schedule the less likely it is that someone will book it. You’d think with so much massage-on-demand popping up there would be more people looking for those appointments but that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve tried a few different things to keep those appointments from going to waste and have finally hit on something that works.

When I started my practice in 2013, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I was not on social media. At all. But it was impossible to miss all the articles and blog posts touting the necessity of a social media presence for your business. So I created accounts for Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ (at the time, it was supposed to overtake Facebook).

I had no idea what I was doing but dove in. One of the bright ideas I had was to post my same-day openings on Twitter at a discount to lure clients to fill my schedule. Honestly, I didn’t stick with it very long but have learned that Twitter may not be the most effective platform for communicating them. It simply moves too fast for anyone to see those tweets unless they are repeated relentlessly. Even if I wasn’t fully booked, I had better things to do than post the same tweet multiple times.

My next idea was to keep a cancellation list for those who I couldn’t book at their requested time. This has been a good strategy overall (as long as I actually have clients on the list). I keep a memo in my phone with the clients name, day and time they wanted to schedule and text them if that becomes available. But I still wasn’t getting as many short-notice appointments filled as I wanted to.

I finally joined Facebook in 2015. Again, I had no clue what I was doing but got the hang of it pretty quickly. Of course, I joined some groups and noticed that I received notifications when a new post was added to them (provided my settings for that group are set to All posts). This gave me an idea!

I now have a Facebook group where I post same-day discounted openings. I have a pinned post* at the top of my business page with a link to the group so established clients and newcomers alike can know about it and join. I also have a pinned post in the group that tells people to set their notifications settings to All posts to get every update. This has been the easiest and best way to get those hard to book appointments filled that I’ve tried thus far.

For example, November was a slow month for me. Not only were the first two weeks sparsely booked from the get go, a few regular clients had some out of the ordinary work and family commitments that they had to cancel massages for. I also had a couple of cancellations due to illness. I posted ten openings throughout the month (the most ever) and filled three of them for a total of $230 (including tips). Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that awesome, but considering not having the group would have likely resulted in me folding brochures or catching up on my YouTube subscriptions, I’m ecstatic!

I tend to be somewhat discriminating about the openings I post because I want them to be as rare as possible without denying myself the opportunity to help more people and make more money. I typically don’t post openings that are my first of the day because (1) it can be more complicated with my online scheduling and (2) if no one has booked my first appointment if the day, I have plenty of things I can catch up on at home (or sleep in). I always post openings in between booked slots simply because I’m already there and would prefer to give a massage than find a way to pass the time. If my last appointment of the day isn’t filled, I may post it in the group or decide to take off early depending on my energy level and income needs.

Having this Facebook group has not only served me but those who have challenging schedules or are quite flexible. It’s also a way to make massage more affordable for those who need a break or will visit more often when they’re getting a deal. Finally finding a solution to the problem of filling same-day openings has been a total win for the practice that I love!

How do you fill same-day openings? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment/comments link to share. Thank you!

Booked and Busy subscribers have exclusive access to the Booked and Busy Bonus Room on Facebook. This free group provides resources (including a video tutorial for setting up your own Facebook group) for getting more clients so you can make more money while helping more people!

*To pin a Facebook post to the top of a page, click the three dots in the upper right hand corner of the post and select Pin post from the drop down menu. To unpin it, follow the same procedure and select Unpin post.





Posted in Communication, Money, Social Media | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment