As massage therapists, we tend to be givers by nature. But deciding how much to give our clients can be confusing. Some experts advise that we never give anything away (time, money, gifts, etc.), while others endorse discounts and freebies as standard procedure.

There are times when giving something away results in greater gains and times when it just costs us. So how do you know when to be generous and when to hold back? Looking at our practices from our clients’ point of view is an excellent way to create ways to give them more while protecting our own interests.

IS IT SOMETHING THEY’LL USE?

Small tokens of our appreciation can go a long way in fostering client loyalty. But giving away items that will end up in a drawer (or worse, the trash) doesn’t serve anyone. As much as we want to provide our clients with ways to compliment our work at home, many of these well-meaning gifts will go unutilized.

I used to give my best clients homemade bath salts, soaps and candles around the holidays to thank them for their business and promote self care. These items were inexpensive to produce and didn’t take much time. However, the responses from those who received these types of gifts more than once indicated that they hadn’t used what I gave them the year before.

So I thought about what I could give them that everyone likes and would use. Now I give all my clients who visit in November a $5 coffee shop gift card to celebrate my business anniversary. Even though I’ve done this for a few years in a row, the delight expressed upon receiving them hasn’t faded from those who’ve been with me long term. This once-a-year monetary investment is bigger, but the time factor is almost nothing and the gratitude is more sincere. It doesn’t discriminate by selecting only certain clients or promoting a religious tradition, and I’m confident the gift is actually enjoyed by the recipient (or someone else should they pass it along).

DOES IT EMPOWER THEM?

Having policies that give clients options puts them in control rather than imposing punishment. The classic example of this is our cancellation policy. Although our time is valuable and we want clients to respect it, life happens. Pushing too hard to validate our worth can backfire when clients leave due to one-size-fits-all policies.

I started out with a ridiculously lenient cancellation policy because a more conventional one was imposed on me by my former massage therapist. Although I understood why she enforced it, I didn’t feel it was fair. I had been a good client for years and wasn’t keen on being charged in full for something I hadn’t received. Perhaps my desire to work with her was already waning, but I stopped booking with her shortly after.

Needless to say, being overly accommodating didn’t go well. Not only did I miss out on income from short-notice cancellations and no-shows, but those clients became repeat offenders. So I modified my policy with a cancellation fee that’s about 40% of what they would have paid. I lost two established clients who had been allowed to slide a few times as a result of sticking to my new policy, compromising those relationships permanently over small amounts of money.

Now I give clients who have some history with me a choice when they miss an appointment: they can use a one-time forgiveness or pay that small cancellation fee. So far, everyone who has gotten this option has paid me. I haven’t lost anyone due to enforcement and they haven’t taken advantage afterward. Letting them choose has made all the difference. I get some compensation for the missed appointment AND maintain those relationships (with the steady income that comes with them).

DOES IT MAKE THEM FEEL SPECIAL?

Membership discounts for frequent visits entice clients because being part of an elite group makes them feel good. Helping them fit regular massage into their budget is something they welcome, and is an excellent way to get more predictable income from standing appointments. It’s the way you set up the discount program that makes it beneficial for you as well.

Make the discounted price what you need to earn instead of taking away from a fee that you require to make the living you deserve. Then set your regular fees higher. The clients who get the discount are more likely to remain dependable, lasting customers. Those who visit less frequently may get on board to take advantage of the exclusive offer. Charging more people a little less adds up to more money in the end.

Often, the fear of giving too much away leads to business operations with unrealized potential. How these “giveaways” are perceived by our clients is what determines how well they serve us. Considering how we would feel as a client and what would motivate us to do business with someone can reveal new opportunities to be generous in ways that give back.


Cath Cox has been a licensed massage therapist in Colorado since 1999 and is the creator of the Booked and Busy in 90 Days System™. Her mission is to heal the world by inspiring independent massage therapists to build thriving practices of their own so they can work authentically for as long as they desire. She currently provides ashiatsu barefoot deep tissue massage exclusively in her private practice. You can learn more about Cath and her journey at bookedandbusy.com.