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Massage Today
June, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 06

Creative Strategies to Boost Your Business

By Ann Brown, LMT

Years ago I realized the truth behind the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. I find that so many people, either personally or professionally, are "insane" by that definition.

They want a different outcome or they want a different life or they want more business, but they are almost paralyzed to know how to make a shift, to redefine themselves a bit and to attract what they truly want. Do you know anyone like this?

Massage therapists are no different from most people in that it's easy to get stuck in a comfort zone. They want to serve their clients and enjoy a nice living through that work. You likely didn't become a massage therapist because you enjoy sales or looked forward to the tasks that come with running your own business. But, in order to be successful – and, in some cases, simply survive when times are lean – you have to look at your practice in new ways and that might mean leaving your comfort zone behind.

As a spa director of a large resort spa in the Midwest, I found out quickly in 2008 how doing the same thing we'd always done could mean failure. Like many businesses, ours dropped pretty drastically in late 2007 and we had to adjust quickly to get back some of the business that simply wasn't coming in the door anymore. Our team was providing the same great massage and experience that we had been since we opened in 2000, but we had 18 percent less business. Factor in the same fixed expenses and we were left with – you guessed it – less profit.

Less profit not only meant less money to the bottom line for our spa as a company, but it also meant fewer massages and, therefore, less money for the therapists. We had to become creative quickly, and we had to play a game that we had not played before: Discounting.

business - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark In the resort spa business, up to this point back in 2007, almost no one had to discount and we were all riding high on volume and full-price paying clients. But after the sharp economic downturn, we had to react to retain the same staff, keep them engaged and enable them to maintain a similar income. I sat down with staff and together we came up with a more comprehensive wellness program than what we had been offering. We designed the program to facilitate a relationship between the guest, the practitioner and the spa and give them some incentives to come back and see us again. These incentives included some discounts with expiration dates, but they also included some complimentary perks so the client felt their experience was a value.

Our new program featured customization and personal attention, including some complimentary seminars and specific reading materials focused on our guests' interests of weight loss, stress reduction, better sleep, etc. We wanted to offer a wellness service they could not afford to do without, so we focused on wellness and prevention and shared as many statistics and studies about massage and its benefits as we could. We even added two complimentary hydrotherapy circuits a day at the spa so that clients could learn about thermalism, the effects of hot/cold water contrast, and the benefits of baths and hydrostatic pressure. We conducted reflexology classes for couples so they could "take" the experience home with them and feel that they could take better ownership of their own wellness/prevention.

When developing new, creative ways to bring in more guests, promoting a percentage off or the dollar amount of savings isn't the most important thing for success. How your clients and prospective clients perceive the value of your offer is what it important. In fact, you might not even have to take anything off your regular price. Offer the use of your sauna or give them a choice of essential oils for their specific program like weight loss, stress reduction, skin firming or better sleep so that the treatment is specific to their needs and helps them reach their wellness goals. Add-on's like these really do work.

So you may be wondering if we made up that 18 percent right away? No, we didn't. But we did come close to 10 percent and we discovered something else out ... word of mouth marketing really works! Guests don't often find such personalized experience in a resort spa, an environment that more often sees once-a-year guests instead of weekly or monthly regulars. Once guests discovered the value and the greater level of care and intent they could receive at our spa, they were hooked and talking.

business - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Of course, word of mouth marketing isn't a new campaign to follow. It's not a campaign at all. It's a way of doing things. It's a way of thinking about what you do so that you build the potential for this to spread into everything you do. What if all the clients you gave a massage/treatment to last month were given an incentive for a friend to visit your business, and what if 20 percent of them handed it to a friend? You might take in a little less revenue for the work you perform for those friends, but you bring in new clients (who have the potential to return and pay regular price) without an up-front marketing expense.

How many times does a client call your business and ask, "I want the best massage therapist, please," Or, "I have heard Joe is good, is he? I really want someone good." Clients want to know that the money they spend with you will be worth it and that comes down to getting the right person providing the hands-on service. They want the best therapist in order to get the best value and the best way to find out where to go is through testimonials from a friend. Equip your clients with incentives to share with friends and you'll be targeting great prospects. If they are friends with your current client, they're likely fitting a similar profile. These friends may walk in the door with a discount, but by booking a treatment with your business through the recommendation of a current client, they are ready for a relationship, not just a one-time visit.

Andy Semovitz, author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, offers four rules for success:

  • Be Interesting.
  • Make people happy.
  • Earn trust and respect.
  • Make it easy.

Make incentives easy to give because if it feels like work, your client is not going to do it. If they feel they have to "sell" to their friends, it simply won't work because they simply will not do it. So, make it easy and make it a nice offer. Give them a reason to want to share about their massage experience with you so they can speak first-hand about the oils or sauna or how you added 15 minutes to a normal 60-minute massage.

Look at the clients coming into your spa as a walking, organic sales force for you. Help them to help you. Maybe you have a CEO or local executive who comes for weekly massages. How about an incentive that he can share with his employees? Again, this doesn't have to be a discount but should be a personalized offer, specific to his company, something that feels like a value to him and them. His word-of-mouth testimonial seals the deal when he shares the offer with his employees.

Want to increase your reach even more into a new area? Research companies that operate near you. Which ones hold the best prospects – those that may need your wellness touch and/or have the income level that fits your target market? Visit the HR director and offer her a complimentary, sample treatment to find out about what you can offer the employees in exchange for a write-up in the company newsletter or the opportunity to distribute a special offer. You've introduced her to your business and set up the opportunity for a testimonial that could speak volumes.

I do want to mention social media for two reasons: 1. we can all get hung up on it and 2. it is helpful. It makes things more efficient. It helps word of mouth spread more quickly. It helps get the word out on a much bigger scale. But it's easy to get worked up wondering what is the latest, greatest thing and thinking we have to be everywhere – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, you name it – but being on every available social media outlet is not a magic answer to bring in more business. Take a strategic approach to how you want to foster your relationships with clients online. Consider how to best enable your clients to share their experience at your business with their friends. To start with, find out where your people are already hanging out and then participate in that platform. Covering one social media platform – the right one for your clients – is worth much more than a mediocre showing on multiple social media outlets.

Strategy should always start with assessment – whether for social media marketing or your life in general. If you need a new direction, look at the habits and practices that are right in front of you. Stopping to take that look is the first step to stopping the insanity of doing the same things you've always been doing. It's the first step in getting new results for your business and your life.


Ann Brown, a licensed massage therapist, is a member of the International Spa Association's board of directors and serves as spa director at Spa Shiki at The Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, Mo. She also provides management consulting services through Spa Insight Consulting.

 

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