Slashing the Website Building Learning Curve

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I’m surprised by how many massage therapists I know (online or in person) who don’t have a website. In today’s world, consumers are using online searches to find service providers more than any other method. If you don’t have a website, people looking for a massage online will never find you and your practice may be perceived as less professional by those who learn about you otherwise. If you’re afraid you don’t have what it takes to build your own website, let me reassure you (you learned anatomy, right?).

Self-hosted websites have come a long way. Most are quite inexpensive (ABMP offers a free website as a member benefit), fairly easy to set up and provide support so you have someone to help when you get stuck.

Not only is a self-hosted website more cost effective than having someone else do it for you, you have complete control of what goes where and how it looks. You also have the flexibility to change things whenever you want to without waiting for your site manager to get around to it. Do a little research and ask other massage therapists what they use to guide your decision.

If building your own website feels overwhelming, start with just one page that includes:

  • What you do and who you can help.
  • Where you practice and how much you charge.
  • When you’re available and how to book an appointment.
  • A testimonial from a happy client.

As you get more comfortable with your hosting program, you can expand. There’s no magic number of pages but too many may be confusing for visitors. Less text per page means less scrolling on a desktop computer.

Have testimonials on every page rather than just one so no matter which page a prospect sees first, they’ll be able to read about how amazing you are from someone besides you. Client testimonials are the equivalent of online word-of-mouth. To make them even more appealing, ask clients who submit them for a photo of themselves, too. This makes the writer more real and persuasive. Have links to any other reviews for your practice (Yelp, Facebook fan page, etc.) to increase credibility.

Break up text with photos or videos to make your site more visually interesting. A picture of yourself, the outside of your office and your treatment room lets people know what to expect. Actual photos and videos of massage can give an erotic impression, so choose these wisely.

Create a content purpose map* by linking text to other pages on your site. Consider the top three actions you want visitors to take on each page and create links to those pages to make your site easier to navigate. This keeps visitors on your site longer which improves SEO.

Go to your website on different devices to be sure it’s mobile friendly. I used to have a short version of my Twitter feed  in my sidebar until I saw it was the first thing visible on a smartphone. As cool as I thought this feature was, no one looking for a massage on their phone wants to know what I posted on Twitter more than what I do and how I can help them.

Have links to policies rather than posting them in plain sight (with hidden active pages). Our cancellation policy may be important to us but can be a turnoff to potential clients. I include this link in the confirmation and reminder emails clients receive as well as on my scheduling page.

Be sure to back it up! Once you get your website pages completed, copy and paste each page into a document that you can save in case it ever crashes. This will only take a few minutes and make rebuilding so much faster and easier should the unthinkable happen.

Having a website is essential for being accessible to those who are looking for us. I knew nothing about building mine when I started and I hope what took me years to learn streamlines the process for you. Taking the leap into something new to benefit my practice strengthened my confidence as a business owner and was a key step to having a practice that I love!

If you don’t have a website, why not? If you do, what tips do you have? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

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*For a detailed description of the content purpose mapping process, click here.

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How Sick Is Too Sick To Work?

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A couple of months ago, I read a post from one of my favorite bloggers sharing her philosophy about not working when she’s sick. The main point of the post was the importance of having some cash stashed to cover vacation and sick days. What struck me most was her hard-core stance on cancelling her appointments even if she’s a little sick to protect the health of her clients. As luck (?) would have it, I got the chance to play with this myself when I became sick last week. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

I had just returned from a few days out of town. I had already taken four days off, including a weekend which can be my busiest days (I work Saturdays and Sundays, and take Tuesdays and Wednesdays off). The day after I arrived home, I felt a little stuffy. This happens often enough and goes away after a couple of days using a saline sinus rinse in addition to taking Emergen-C and a decongestant. That was Wednesday, and the congestion continued through Saturday. That’s when the coughing started.

My sick policy states, “If I have cold symptoms but feel well enough to work, I’ll call you to ask if you want to keep your appointment.” I hadn’t contacted the clients I saw the days I was congested but felt compelled to let those coming on Sunday know I definitely had a cold. Note that I felt pretty good overall, so I had a hard time justifying not working if clients wanted to come in. I texted my Sunday clients, saying I had been congested for a few days and had just developed a cough. All of them wanted to keep their appointments unless I felt worse the next day. I didn’t, so I worked a full day.

I still felt okay Sunday evening and my symptoms were about the same, so I notified my Monday clients. They all opted to keep their appointments unless I felt worse. By the end of Monday, my voice was going and by Tuesday morning, it was gone. Literally. I had laryngitis.

I went online to find out more about laryngitis and learned that it is commonly the result of a virus. This made sense considering my symptoms the last few days. Laryngitis itself isn’t contagious (although it’s super inconvenient), and the recommended treatment was OTC pain reliever (to reduce inflammation) and resting my voice. I have a long-time client I see at her home once a week. I texted her to see if she wanted me to come over in spite of my symptoms (I still felt fine). She said she thought she might be getting sick, so she cancelled.

I’d only had one cancellation out of nine clients who had been given the option. But I started wondering if I should have let the clients I saw the first three days of being congested know before they showed up for their massages. I texted most of them (two were out of the country), telling them I had acquired a cough and laryngitis since their visit and asked them to let me know if they came down with similar symptoms. Only one of them said she may have caught my illness and told me I didn’t need to apologize, “#%@* happens”.

So what is the best policy? According to medicinenet.com, typical contagious periods for colds and flu are from one day before symptoms appear to up to two weeks. That’s a lot of massage clients missing out on something that helps them enough to risk getting sick. It’s also a long time for me to take time off if I’m feeling well enough to work (trust me, I’d cancel in a heartbeat if I felt like I should).

I feel good about continuing to let clients know what symptoms I have so they can make an informed decision but I’ll start earlier next time. I’m continuing to do so as my symptoms linger. I’ll also follow up with those I haven’t yet in case I need to re-examine my policy. For now, I’m not changing anything. Clients can decide for themselves if they’re comfortable being in a small room with me for an extended period of time. Allowing clients to choose what’s best for them is how I roll in the practice that I love!

What’s your policy regarding treating clients when you’re sick? If you don’t see a comment box, click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

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Timeless Tax Prep Tools and Tips

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When I began my blog in 2015, one of my clients who is a massage therapist told me she wanted to know more about taxes. I bet she’s not alone. That’s why I have continued to document my progress as I’ve gained control over my self-employed income taxes. Each post has a link to a FREE Tax Preparation Documents Checklist to get you organized. May this walk down memory lane take the fear and guesswork out of your taxes once and for all!

You’ve Heard About Death and Taxes…

Anything commonly compared with death is scary. This post contains helpful links to explain estimated taxes along with a simple payment process to keep you on top of them. You can enjoy a little Beatles music, too!

My Tax Preparation Plan (Part One)

This post outlines my system from the start of the year until the filing deadline. Breaking anything down into steps makes it more manageable. By starting early, you’ll have a clearer picture of where you are and have more time to find ways to save or make money should you owe.

 

My Tax Preparation Plan (Part Two)

I learned a lot doing my taxes for the year my practice took off! You’ll find money-saving tips as well as my formula for setting aside funds for those pesky estimated taxes throughout the year. For business owners, every season is tax season.

 

Achieving Estimated Tax Payment Mastery

The tax challenges during my first two years in business have been stressful. I share what I’ve learned and what I’m doing now to make my dread of filing taxes a thing of the past. I’m not sure if tax preparation will ever be a truly zen experience but I’m working toward it. 🙂

 

Need help with your taxes? Use this FREE Tax Preparation Documents Checklist to get organized! Once you sign up, you’ll get a series of emails with tips to take your taxes from to-do to done.

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What’s Your Biggest Practice-Building Mistake?

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We all make mistakes. Often, they lead to valuable lessons. Since I can only share so many experiences to make your massage business journey easier, I’ve enlisted the help of these wise and generous massage therapists, educators, marketing experts and bloggers. Enjoy!

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Jamie Johnston, The Massage Therapist Development Center

I took the first job offer I got right out of college. I didn’t look for a job or apply anywhere. I didn’t actually seek out a busy clinic or even think about what different clinics would provide as far as marketing, reception, linen service or even variations in rent agreements.

My sport massage teacher offered me a spot at a local rec centre. I thought it would be awesome. The treatment room was right on the side of the gym, I’d have access to exercise equipment, the pool, the sauna, everything. Then I started, and I waited and waited and waited.

They had never offered massage therapy at the centre before. I was fresh out of college with no money, no marketing experience and no patients. I didn’t really realize that I would be in business by myself and starting with absolutely no referrals or patient stream. I should have looked for a busy clinic to work at, so that I could then learn the business side of things while actually generating an income.

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Elefteria Mantzorou, Flow Wellness & Training

My biggest mistake in the beginning was investing money on flyers. I should have invested this money on internet marketing, like Google and Facebook ads.

Flyers are good for promoting food services only, I think. So save your time and money, and DO NOT print flyers!

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Susan L. Miller, Susan Miller Health Concepts LLC

I would say I didn’t create a marketing plan. Now I have one in the works which includes weekly specials and lots of social media.

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Felicia Brown, Spalutions

Thinking I knew everything and finding out I was wrong. If I could do it all over again, I would listen to people who had done what I wanted to do (or something similar) and learn from their mistakes.

I would also never let pride alone guide my actions or decisions. I learned the hard way that you have to set goals for your business and make sound decisions that support those. Just because “an amazing opportunity” comes up does not mean it fits with your goals or business!

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Laura Allen, LauraAllenMT

The biggest mistake I made in building my practice was paying my staff more than I paid myself. My business quickly grew from myself and another therapist to eventually including a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, an esthetician, and up to 6-7 massage therapists at a time. When I started out, I thought many of the therapists I knew who worked for others were underpaid, and I had the noble intention of being that great employer who paid very well. I did that for several years too long. I was the one taking all the business risks, doing all the marketing, and paying all the bills, and my two busiest therapists made more money than I did. I finally realized I deserved to be paid more than the staff members. I had to change my business model. Mistakes are great learning experiences!

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Caylon Ellis, Caylon Ellis Therapeutics 

The biggest mistake I have made as my practice grows is not standing firm behind price increases after making substantial time and financial commitments to continuing education. I do have some clients that have been there with me from the beginning that I have grandfathered in as a thank you for their continued support over the years as I strive to further develop. I feel very comfortable with that decision, yet I still find myself wavering with my new rates for new clients. I believe undervaluing the time invested in constantly researching and taking continuing education courses as that factors into a session is a common mistake. My intention for this year is to own my rate, taking pride in all that I have done to get to this point, and I encourage other therapists who are building a practice to do the same!

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Deanna Sylvester, LMT and Chief Operations Officer for Sohnen-Moe Associates

When I first started out, I advertised to the general market. I put an ad in a local, weekly paper and hung up flyers in coffee shops all over town. Unfortunately, my promotions talked about massage in general and didn’t speak directly to anyone in particular! I wasted time and money, and generated very little leads. I finally realized how important it is to choose specific target market(s) and focus marketing materials on my ideal client. Once my promotions talked directly to people with chronic pain conditions and mobility issues, I began to attract the clients I wanted.

A large part of my early practice involved out-calls. I would show up with my table and set up wherever and however the client wanted. One day I was instructed to set up in a spare bedroom. By about 10 minutes into the treatment I was having an extreme allergy attack. I asked, “You don’t have a cat, do you?” The client replied, “Sure do, and this is the cat’s room.” We had to stop the treatment and move the massage table out into the dining room as I explained about my allergy to cats. I learned my lesson well that day. As soon as I got home I developed a phone interview checklist for my out-calls that included a list of allergens.

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Rajam Roose, Massage Business Marketing Services | Grow Your Massage Business

In the 16 years of working as a full-time massage therapist, it is amazing to think how forgetting one detail led to the biggest mistake I made in my massage business. Not thinking to do this one simple thing ended up costing me a few thousand dollars! When I looked for an office in San Diego, I chose a neighborhood where people were very interested in health and had money for regular massage appointments. I found an office with hard wood flooring, 20’ vault ceiling, and a skylight. It was gorgeous and about half the price of other offices in the area.

I went in on a Saturday to meet with the owner and look at the space. It seemed perfect! I was so excited to finally find a place, I signed the lease that afternoon. I started moving my things in on Sunday and it was Monday when I came in to organize that I realized my mistake. Can you guess the mistake I made?

The building was incredibly noisy. I could hear everything going on in the building. There was no insulation in the walls and I could even hear the fellow in the office next door giving out his credit card info over the phone! It was so awful, I wanted to cry. I should have come in during the week before signing the lease and I would have immediately discovered how noisy it was.

But the lease was signed, so I learned everything I could about sound dampening and over the next couple months ended up spending around $3K on sound dampening materials. Turned out to be a gorgeous office and one of my favorite locations to work, but it was the biggest and costliest mistake I made in all my years of being a massage business owner.

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Cath Cox, cathcox.com

Early in my first practice, I would go in during my scheduled time if I wasn’t booked to wait for walk-ins. I did get one client this way.  Although I could no longer accommodate him as I got busier, he refused to book ahead and eventually stopped coming. Although he paid a few phone bills for me, I now know I would have grown much faster by using that time to network and market myself directly to clients.

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Brenda Blakesley, Southwest Ashiatsu Massage & Bodywork Academy

The biggest mistake I made is not planning for business to be as busy as it was, including having as many records to store! I think knowing that if you’re not into computers when you become an independent contractor, definitely hire a company, download a program, or get digital immediately! One issue I struggle with is that half of my records (from the first few years in business), are kept in paper format in files, and the other half are all over the place in too many different areas.

In retrospect, I would have bought a new computer, taken it to an accountant, and paid them to install Quickbooks, set it up for me, and then teach me the few steps it takes to use it. As it is now, to implement one of those handy programs, it will take a solid week to get all the information input (sigh). That’s why I procrastinate and am still using old, illogical methods of record keeping.

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Personally, I don’t believe there are really any mistakes. Our journey just needs an occasional course correction. What I love most about these stories is that every contributor is going strong despite their less-than-perfect experience. Building a thriving practice that you love takes time, tenacity and connecting to your vision on a regular basis. Thank you all for sharing!

What’s YOUR biggest practice-building mistake and what did you learn? If you don’t see a comment box below, click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

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To Discount or Not To Discount

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The topic of discounting massage services has come up recently in a couponscouple of Facebook groups I’m a member of (Massage Success Group being one of them). It seems there are two main camps: those who never discount and those who do so freely. Since I believe there are many ways to have a successful practice, the question isn’t whether you discount or not but WHY you do what you do.

I absolutely respect providers who never discount their services. Sometimes, though, this strategy can backfire and create lack instead of abundance. As long as your philosophy feeds your soul and your business is successful, then all is well. If not, consider:

  • If it comes from a fear of being perceived as unskilled or unprofessional.
  • If you’re afraid of being taken advantage of.
  • If you’re seeking a certain demographic only to find it’s not a good fit.

Discounting freely can also be a detriment, especially if it comes from:

  • A lack of self-worth.
  • Fear you won’t have enough clients if you charge too much.
  • A competitive attitude toward other massage therapists.

I discount almost every service I provide simply because it works for my business. My goal is to meet clients where they are because as much as we may not like it, massage is not considered a basic necessity by most of them. The easier it fits into their budget, the more likely they will visit frequently.

I want clients who come in often enough to truly benefit from massage, which is similar to working out. If you only work out occasionally, your level of fitness isn’t going to improve. Getting a handful of massages a year is the least number most clients I’ve worked with can receive while building on the last session’s progress.

By offering a discount to all clients who visit every month (or more) I’m giving them incentive to stay on schedule. This keeps me busy and in demand, which also gets some clients who are slow to commit on board because they can’t get in unless they book ahead. The more appointments I have booked, the more money I make and the more people I help.

Offering discounts doesn’t affect the way clients perceive the treatment you provide. After a lively Facebook discussion about referral discounts, I asked my clients if they thought the massage they receive is a luxury, therapy or both. None of them answered “luxury.” They value the results they get and know it’s important to stay on track to maintain them.

The trick to making this work is to set your regular fees high enough that the discounted price brings in adequate income for you. Clients like to feel special and being a member of this “club” creates that vibe. You can still have price increases or change the percentage of discount as your schedule fills or financial needs change. Clients who love you and whose lives are better because of the time you spend together will navigate those changes as your practice evolves.

One discount I no longer offer is a first-time client discount. I found it didn’t attract enough of the kinds of clients I enjoy and work well with. Instead, I charge my full fee for the first appointment. If the client returns the next month (or sooner), they get a discount on both appointments at their second visit. This generally keeps those interested in ongoing treatment coming (especially Groupon clients).

Regardless of where you stand now, you can always switch sides or find a happy medium. However you decide to run your business, it will serve you as long as your motivation is based on being of service rather than fear. I’m confident in my abilities and honored that many of my clients make sacrifices to stay on their treatment schedule. Providing the best massage I can while giving incentives to visit often is the foundation of the practice that I love!

Do you offer discounts or not and why? If you don’t see a comment box below, click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

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Why Cost Per Client Doesn’t Matter

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If you’ve ever questioned my business philosophy, this may be mad-hatteranother one of those times. One of my clients who is also a massage therapist asked me if I knew my cost per client. My answer was no. At first, I felt like I was dropping a huge ball by being so out of touch with my business. But I decided in that moment that it doesn’t matter.

Cost per client equals how much it costs to provide a massage to each client. Three expenses that determine that are marketing, supply and fixed costs.

  • Marketing costs = the amount spent acquiring customers. This varies by client because not everyone hears about us the same way. If you’re not sure where your clients are coming from, perform a marketing audit. Then calculate how much each category costs by dividing the amount spent on that marketing activity by the number of clients it brought in. (One of the things I love about using Groupon is geting paid for all vouchers that are purchased even if they are never redeemed.)
  • Supply costs = the amount spent on sheets, oil/lotion, essential oils, music, laundry, etc. that are used for each session. This will be fairly consistent even if you don’t give everyone the same massage. Total up what you spent last month for these things and divide by the number of clients you saw.
  • Fixed costs = rent, utilities, phone, taxes, insurance… If your monthly client load varies, these costs per client will as well. These costs (mainly utilities) may also fluctuate seasonally. Calculate them monthly for a year and average to simplify the process.

The main reason to know our cost per client is to determincostse our pricing. We have to make more than it costs to provide our services to be profitable and stay in business. I don’t think cost per client matters because my bills get paid on a monthly cycle, not hourly. As long as I’m making enough to cover my living and business expenses, it’s all good. If not, I need to change something.

If more income is necessary, we have options. With a schedule that isn’t full, the best course of action is to do more marketing to attract more clients. Use your marketing audit to maximize your efforts by doing more of what’s most effective. Implementing a loyalty program may get current clients to book more often. A price increase may be the only way to create more revenue from a full schedule.

If you want to know your cost per client you should, but running your own business does not have to be complicated. As much as I advocate analysis, this seems like busywork to me. I’ve chosen to use my checkbook as my guide. So far, this method has kept the practice that I love going and growing!

What calculations have you found helpful or irrelevant for your practice? If you don’t see a comment box, click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

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Making Friends with Facebook Fan Pages

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When I was preparing to open my practice in 2013, I wasn’t on fb-logosocial media (not even Facebook). Everything I’ve read about marketing since then says something about having a social media strategy. What does that mean, how important is it and how can you do it?

I thought if I had clients following me on social media, they’d share my content and I’d get “referrals” from them. This gave me the idea to offer a social media discount to clients who followed me on Twitter, Pinterest or Google+ (the three platforms I had chosen to use). What I found is that engagement and sharing on social media has declined dramatically as it has become commonplace. After more than two years, I stopped offering this discount because it wasn’t bringing in new clients (it was discontinued when I introduced the Once a Month or More Club).

Last year, I finally created a Facebook fan (aka business) page because Facebook is still the leading social media platform (by far) for women aged 35-49. It seems to be the best place to focus my time and energy since 2013 research indicates, “the highest percentage of [massage] clients are age 35-49” and “More women get massages than men.”

Having a Facebook fan page is expected now, but what do you post and how often? I’ve tried:

The biggest block to a strong social media presence for me is time. As a massage therapist, it’s challenging because I’m working one-on-one with clients all day instead of sitting at a computer. If you have a fan page, you can schedule posts ahead of time using the drop down menu on the “Publish” button. This way, you can set aside a block of time when you aren’t serving clients to schedule new content (that goes to the timelines of those who “like” your page) without having to post in real time each day. Scheduled posts can be seen by clicking the Publishing Tools tab at the top.

fb-scheduled-post

It’s a good strategy to mix up the content of your posts for variety and visibility. If you post obvious promotional content more than once a day, Facebook’s algorithm actually makes it so less people see it. They do this so they can get more business owners to pay for boosted posts or ads. Boosted posts and ads can get expensive because you have to be consistent over a period of time to evaluate their effectiveness. Should you decide to try them, create a budget for three months and stick with it. I’ve only tried one boosted post that didn’t result in any clients but I don’t think that’s enough to determine how well they work.

How often you post depends on your goals. If you just want to maintain a presence, once or twice a month is probably fine. At least new visitors to your page will see that you add something occasionally. If your objective is to build a following and attract new clients, posting consistently 1-3 times a day with some boosting or ads will likely be necessary.

Social media accounts can improve SEO for your business but not necessarily your website. Regardless, any websites that have a link to yours give people more opportunities to check out your practice. They also provide other ways for potential clients to get to know you and current clients to write reviews.

Although I’ve seen lots of attention put on getting likes and followers, they do not equal acquiring clients. To date, I have not had one client tell me they found me on social media. I’m confident this is due to my lack of commitment to regular posting and choosing not to use Facebook’s paid advertising routinely. For now, I’m happy enough with the practice that I love as is, but knowing about these options may pay off down the road!

Have you had success building your practice with social media? I’d love to hear about your experience. If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!

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