Back in 1999, I took my passions for personal training and massage therapy and put them under one roof in order to maximize my time and grow my business. Like many personal trainers in the early years of their careers, I had been spending too much time moving from one in-home session to the next; my days were spent driving in circles between clients’ homes and local fields. I felt like a traveling circus with little time efficiency and an entire mobile gym stuffed into my 1987 Volvo. Soon after this, I opened my center—Fitness Quest 10.
Fast-forward to Fitness Quest 10 today and massage therapy is one of our top revenue streams, behind personal training. Would you like to offer massage therapy in your business? Whether or not you choose to become a certified massage therapist yourself, you can immediately benefit by adding massage to your business structure. The new service will improve overall client results, add new revenue streams, increase client retention, give you creative options for packaging services to attract new clients, and bolster the mind-body component of your business. Here’s how you can incorporate massage into your business.
Types of Massage
The following kinds of massage therapy work well in a personal training studio or fitness center setting:
- Swedish (relaxation)
- deep tissue
- myofascial release
- Optimal Performance Bodywork
- Rolfing® Structural Integration
- Zen Bodytherapy®
- soft-tissue release
- Active Release Techniques®
It is important to define your massage therapy services in a way that encourages the interest of a broad clientele. If you focus too much on recovery work or sports massage, you may lose members of the general community who rely on massage for relaxation and gift giving. These potential new clients often choose the gift of massage therapy for friends and family members throughout the year. Spend time learning how to present your services to existing patrons and also prospective clients—that is, members of your local community who may be purchasing services at a local day spa because it feels more familiar.
Here are some essentials for including massage in your business:
Define Your Own Role. Identify what you want your role and your involvement to be. Do you want to be a practitioner of the work? Attend massage school and complete the necessary hours for state licensure or national certification. Do you want to remain purely in the role of manager or owner? Even if you don’t choose to become certified as a massage therapist, I highly recommend that you attend a short course or weekend workshop sponsored by a legitimate program. Doing so will help you understand some of the basics of massage therapy and will make you a better manager of new services for your clients.
Hire Only the Best Certified Therapists. The best therapists are typically those with the highest credentials and education combined with a true desire to help people. They have a great “touch,” wonderful intuition, compassion, a professional appearance and the ability to create a relaxing environment. They also possess solid follow-up and customer service skills.
Create a Soothing Environment. Provide a separate massage room that is at least 9 x 9 feet (10 x 10 feet or larger is ideal) and is designed to be relaxing and therapeutic.
Market Massage. Promote and market massage therapy as part of your business and part of your business culture. Your belief in massage is your greatest selling tool.
Hiring and Paying Massage Therapists
You can hire massage therapists as employees or retain them as independent contractors. Seek the guidance of your business adviser when making this choice. However you choose to add them to your team, begin by communicating the needs of your clients. Be sure to include your massage therapists in team development activities (meetings, branding through team attire, etc.).
Independent Contractors. You may want to allow independent contractors to rent or “sublet” space in your facility. You can rent using a daily fee or a percentage
of earnings from sessions. Typically, a near-even split would be a place to begin
negotiating. For everyone’s protection, document the arrangements in a written contract. Include your expectations in regard to the handling of discounts, specials and complimentary sessions. For instance, if the therapist offers a client a complimentary session, neither the business nor the therapist is paid. (If space is tight, this scenario may require further discussion.) If the business offers a client a complimentary session as a gift, then the massage therapist is paid an amount that is agreed to in advance and written into the contract.
It’s important to ask the following questions when determining the pay structure for an independent contractor:
- Who is responsible for linens and laundry?
- Who is paying for the lotions, oils or any other aromatherapy products used in a session?
- Who purchases the music to be played during a session?
- Who is collecting the money after a session?
While an independent contractor typically is responsible for all aspects of his or her business, it is important to discuss these subjects prior to the start of a relationship and to document all agreements in writing. As always, have the contract reviewed by your legal adviser.
Employees. You may want to consider hiring your first massage therapist as a commission-based employee. Under this arrangement, compensation is based on bookings, so the risk to your business is reduced. It is also possible to pay therapists at a different hourly rate for other duties, such as administrative support, if you would like to encourage last-minute appointments (which would require having a therapist on-site during regular hours).
At Fitness Quest 10, we have been successful hiring massage therapists as employees. A percentage split on earnings is identified based on experience, credentials, longevity and the weekly schedule. Compensation in the range of 35%–45% of earnings is typical. Although this compensation may be lower than that of independent contractors, there are more costs and benefits associated with being an employee (i.e., worker’s compensation, insurance, taxes, benefits and administrative support). Your massage therapists may qualify for benefits such as medical insurance, paid time off, educational allowance or a 401(k). A full-time therapist maintains a schedule of approximately 20–25 sixty-minute therapy sessions per week.
Integrating Massage Therapy With Training
If space is limited or you are not interested in expanding your team, you can still bridge the world of personal training with massage or bodywork.
We are now providing a new service—“Integrated Flexibility Sessions”—as part of our personal training program. These are like mini “massages” that we offer as 10-minute routines at the end of personal training sessions or as a separate 30-minute stand-alone service. The focus is on flexibility and relaxation using a powerful percussive massage machine called the DMS (Deep Muscle Stimulator). We integrate manual stretching, the DMS and Optimal Performance Bodywork techniques. Integrated Flexibility Sessions are appropriate for personal trainers since no “massage” is performed by the hands and, therefore, no special license is needed other than training on the equipment. The key here is the DMS machine. We were already offering hands-on, manual stretching at the end of personal training sessions, but we haven’t used the DMS until now. The feedback from our clients has been fantastic, and the DMS has provided an additional revenue stream for the business.
If you create a program similar to Integrated Flexibility Sessions, you won’t require a special treatment room. Just like our postworkout manual stretching, both the 10-minute and the 30-minute sessions are conducted on the gym floor. Trainers use a solid massage table and provide great results for clients.
Keys to Ongoing Success
For massage to succeed in your business, you must believe in it. Beyond your commitment and lots of hard work, here are some other keys to the program’s success:
- attracting, hiring, training and keeping great therapists or trainers
- promoting (and at times sponsoring) continuing education opportunities for massage therapists and personal trainers
- implementing systems and software to support accurate bookkeeping (i.e., Mind-Body Online)
- communicating clear expectations to all members of your staff
- seeking feedback from clients and providing continuous feedback to staff
- creating a winning culture and environment to live up to your promise of a fantastic client experience
- committing to your goal of providing excellence in massage therapy, whether the massage is performed by you or a member of your team
Attracting new clients often takes effort, persistence and creativity. Here are the best ways to market massage:
Promote Word of Mouth. This method is obvious, but don’t take it for granted. Ask your clients to “tell a friend.”
Establish a Referral-Based Program. Identify a formula that works for you, and have some sort of incentive program (e.g., free massage) for anyone who is successful in helping you build your new business through referrals.
Offer a Free Sample. Offer a mini massage or other free service. For example, we gave all personal training clients a complimentary preview of the DMS during their sessions for a month so people could experience the machine and see what it was all about.
Bundle Massage With Training. Create a discounted back-to-back package for clients who book training sessions immediately followed by massage appointments.
- Ashley, M. 2005. Massage: A Career at Your Fingertips (5th ed.). New York: Enterprise. How to open and market a massage practice, retain clients and handle the financial and legal aspects of the business are just a few of the topics covered in this comprehensive guide to a career in massage therapy.
- Beck, M. 1999. Milady’s Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage. Clifton Park, NY: Milady. Comprehensive and easy-to-read, this book focuses on the essential information needed to start a career as a massage professional. It covers massage techniques and therapeutic skills (including specialized massage), plus skills for client-therapist relations, communications and promotions.
- Finando, S., & Finando, D. 1999. Informed Touch: A Clinician’s Guide to the Evaluation and Treatment of Myofascial Disorders. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press. This well-written and concise text on myofascial pain addresses the relationship between myofascial pain syndromes, trigger points, movement and traditional Chinese medicine.
- Myers, T. 2008. Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone. Myers offers an accessible, comprehensive and holistic approach to the anatomy and function of the body’s fascial system.
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