Massage therapist smoothing sheets on massage table in treatment room.
Massage therapist smoothing sheets on massage table in treatment room.

How Working With An Established Massage Therapist Was Key To Newcomer's Success

By Danielle Galian, Editor
November 1, 2021

How Working With An Established Massage Therapist Was Key To Newcomer's Success

By Danielle Galian, Editor
November 1, 2021

Eliza Tilbor, LMT, graduated from Downeast School of Massage in Waldoboro, Maine, three years ago. Soon after, she opened her own massage therapy practice in the area. Though she achieved a milestone by becoming a massage therapy business owner, it wasn’t always the path she thought of taking.

In fact, Tilbor taught dance and was a choreographer through an internship with the Broadway Dance Center in New York for many years prior to becoming a massage therapist. “I’ve always been intrigued by the movement and strength our bodies provide,” she explains. That intrigue, reinforced by education and following her heart, led her to her true passion: helping others feel their best through massage therapy.

One of the first things Tilbor learned in massage therapy school was the importance of putting each client first. Listening, communicating, and being present was key—as well as the ability to put all of these to work in the real world with real clients. After graduating, Tilbor leaned into those lessons and took time to really think about how she envisioned herself in the massage therapy profession. How could she best serve her community?

Learning The Ropes: How Tilbor’s Relationship with Her Mentor Helped Shape Her Success

Like most success stories, true passion and a calling don’t always make success immediate. Often, leaning in to a trusted community and having a person who can help you navigate the pitfalls and celebrate your achievements is helpful—especially when they share your professional passion.

Luckily, Tilbor found these qualities in Deb Merrill, LMT, CMNT, ACE, who is Tilbor’s own massage therapist with 30 years of experience in the profession. Merrill’s passion for and willingness to share her experience with business, finance, technology—and, of course, massage therapy—combined with Tilbor’s openness and enthusiasm formed an unstoppable friendship that changed Tilbor’s life forever.

Merrill became an essential part of Tilbor’s finding herself in the massage profession, not only as her massage therapist but also as a veteran professional who could share her experience and expertise. “[Merrill] became a mentor and helped me build a foundation for my business,” remembers Tilbor.

Part of the work Merrill did with Tilbor included website development and advertising advice. Merrill notes that she sees young massage therapists struggle with their websites, domain names, and building a client base when first starting out—all gaps she can help close with her background in graphic and web design, a career she was in before becoming a massage therapist.“When working with Eliza on her website, I helped her take good photos of herself and her office, and provided additional guidance on her website content,” Merrill explains.

Merrill was also instrumental in helping Tilbor understand how marketing material like pamphlets and printed and digital shareable content can be used to help clients better understand the value and benefit of massage therapy. Today, Tilbor keeps a variety of offerings in her waiting room for clients to browse through, take home, or get more information and ask questions before their massage session. These practices help Tilbor showcase her knowledge of massage and build trust with her clients. “I am honored that my clients trust my judgement and feel that my office is a safe place,” she says.

Beyond business, however, Tilbor also benefited from receiving massage from Merrill, explaining that her own experience helped her better understand the baseline of offerings that she could also use for her own clients. From that foundation, Merrill helped Tilbor think more concretely about how she could position her practice as unique, like offering a flexible schedule. “Being available nights and weekends is helpful for many clients,” says Tilbor. “I also offer text messaging as a fast, easy form of communication.”

With a clear mission and better understanding of who she is as a massage therapist and what she can offer clients, Merrill let Tilbor use her massage therapy practice space to begin booking clients and slowly developing her own practice. “As my practice grew, so did my confidence,” says Tilbor.

This increased confidence paid off. She was recognized by her community last year, winning both the “Best of the Best Massage Therapy 2020” and “Best of the Best New Business” awards. She also received more than 500 nominations for “Midcoast Maine’s Best Massage Therapy & New Business.” For Tilbor, these awards give her a way to highlight not only her practice but also the benefits of massage therapy. 

Her practice also got a boost from Black Owned Maine (BOM), an organization that aims to bring awareness to black-owned businesses in the state. As the first recipient of BOM’s Small Business Grant last year, Tilbor received financial support that allowed her to make her marketing and advertising efforts more robust.  

Paying It Forward: For Merrill, Supporting the Next Generation of Massage Therapist Honors Those Who Helped Her

One of the reasons Merrill takes the time to work with younger massage therapists is because she understands the impact a good mentor can have on the trajectory of a massage career, mainly because she herself had the benefit of veteran massage therapists sharing their experience with her as she got her own foothold in the profession.

Merrill herself got into the massage therapy profession after spending her early days as a triathlete who at one time competed in championships, including the World Championship Hawaii Ironman Marathon. As an athlete, she became very familiar with the necessity of asking for help with injuries, which may be why asking for help early in her career seemed natural.

Annie Wyman and Susan Wesley, who Merrill says were pillars of support and encouragement, are who Merrill remembers when thinking of how she can help younger massage therapists get a head start in the profession. Similar to how she helped Tilbor get on her feet by offering use of her practice space, Merrill first shared an office with Wesley early in her career. “What I learned from them was to continue taking classes,” she explains. “Developing more skills keeps massage interesting and exciting, gives us the tools to help more people, and is the best way to connect with our peers and prevent burnout.” 

Today, Merrill continues to draw from her own experiences as both a client of massage therapy and a massage therapist, and she strives to be for other massage therapists what she needed—and was lucky enough to receive—when she herself was new to the profession. “Sharing your hard-earned knowledge is rewarding on so many levels,” explains Merrill.

Staying On Track: A Commitment to Continuing to Learn and Lean In

Tilbor, like many other business owners, is aware of the financial responsibilities that come not only when navigating a business but navigating times of uncertainty, too. “2020 reminded me of the importance of financial responsibility,” she explains. “Having a budget that I stuck to for the last three years prepared me to get through this year.” That financial preparedness also came with an increased understanding  of the importance of staying in touch with clients.

She focused on her mailing lists and started offering gift certificates, along with trying to be as available as she could be for her clients. Still, a rush to regain some of what she’d lost when COVID started forcing businesses to close for safety reminded her that she must stay at the top of her priority list, too. After sustaining an injury shortly after opening, Tilbor understood why massage therapists ought to set boundaries and take good care. “I can only help others if I take care of myself,” she explains.

Like Merrill, Tilbor shares a passion for education and helping the next generation of massage therapists not only be their best, but do their best for others. “I now understand that our flaws, strengths, and experiences allow us to connect and become stronger,” she says. “Sharing our experiences reminds us that we are not alone.” 

Did You Know?

If you’re new to the massage profession and need a mentor to help you kickstart your career, or if you’re a veteran massage therapist with knowledge to share, check out AMTA’s Mentoring Program. For more information, visit AMTA’s website.

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