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I am constantly being asked, "What is THE best way to market my practice?" Alas, as much as I would love to give a concrete answer to that question, it is impossible. No one-size-fits-all formula works. The marketing venues you choose are best determined by your target market(s). The trick to marketing success is determining what is important to your potential clients and informing them how you can meet their needs and goals. Of course, some activities tend to be more effective than others.
Setting the Stage
Marketing techniques can be divided into four major acts: promotion, advertising, community relations and publicity. Promotion involves the activities and materials you produce to gain visibility. The money invested is indirect (e.g., it costs money to print business cards; it does not cost anything to distribute them) and the activities are often free of cost. Publicity is notoriety given you or your business, usually for an event you have done or are about to do. Advertising differs from publicity and promotions in that you must pay directly for your exposure such as a radio spot, a display ad in a magazine, or a billboard. Community relations are goodwill activities you do to create a positive public image for you and your business.
Successful practitioners include a good mix of promotion, advertising, publicity and community relations in their marketing plans. The methods available for marketing your practice are vast. You do not have to go the traditional route, and it is unnecessary to spend a lot of money (although it is so easy to do). The crucial factor for selecting a marketing venue is: Does it appeal to your target market? Many years ago I heard a speaker talk about how we must learn to broadcast on station WIIFM (What's In It For Me?). This is particularly true in marketing. Your marketing endeavors need to convey to the recipients exactly how you can help them.
Promotion is the most popular form of marketing for massage therapists, mainly due to the low cost and easy implementation. Some of the most effective promotional techniques are: networking; holding open houses, presenting workshops and demonstrations; writing articles about your services or general well-being for local newspapers, magazines and newsletters; having booths at community events, health expos and state fairs; sending direct mail pieces and newsletters; providing your services at conventions, store openings, sporting events and at malls during the holidays; obtaining referrals; offering specials and incentives; wearing massage apparel; and having professional brochures and business cards. Personalized items such as pens embossed with your name and logo also fall under the category of promotion, even though they are commonly referred to as specialty advertising. In this article we explore several of these promotional techniques.
Hosting open houses is an excellent stage for promoting your practice. Open houses provide low-stress, relatively inexpensive opportunities to meet your neighbors, network with allied practitioners, introduce potential clients to your services and products, and inspire current clients to increase the amount or type of treatments they receive.
People often avoid hosting open houses for fear that no one will attend. The following steps help ensure a successful event:
- Decide the purpose, priorities and goals of each open house. Incorporate an educational element such as a presentation (on stress reduction techniques, self-massage, or stretching), or a demonstration of a specific technique, product, or piece of equipment. Make sure that the educational segment's duration is under ten minutes and perform it several times throughout the open house.
- Envision the event and outline the flow of activities. If possible, create a theme such as "Spring Rejuvenation." (Refer to MTJ Summer 2000 issue for tips on presentation skills.)
- Compile a guest list of specific people and include general categories such as all the allied health practitioners in a half-mile radius or people with fibromyalgia.
- Pick a good date and time. "Good" depends on your office location and the flexibility of your intended audience. For instance, if your office is surrounded by other professional practices, and your main purpose is to network with your neighbors, perhaps an open house during lunchtime or one that takes place midweek from 4:00 p.m. till 6:00 p.m. might be most appropriate.
- Design attractive fliers. Use an attention-grabbing headline, describe the planned activities, and highlight the benefits of attending. Always offer some type of freebie that everyone receives (e.g., "All guests receive a sample of XYZ product.") and offer at least one major door prize such as a free session. Also boost attendance by mentioning that refreshments will be served.
- Distribute fliers. Hand deliver them to the nearby offices. (This is also a great opportunity to introduce yourself and network.) Post them in places where your intended guests are likely to see them such as bulletin boards in specialty stores. Mail fliers to potential guests (e.g., your current client list).
- Send personal invitations to key guests and follow up with phone calls.
- Post an announcement on your Web site.
- Send press releases to the local print publications.
- Place reminder calls to key guests several hours before the open house.
Another fun, low-cost way to promote your practice and do good in the community is to give free massage at non-profit board retreats. I was hosting a two-day board retreat at my house, and knew that we would be extremely stressed after several hours of strategic planning. I arranged for two therapists to show up for a few hours in the afternoon when everyone would be working on their own projects or taking breaks. The board members were delighted (it was a surprise) and due to the wonderful treatments we received, we regained our focus, increased our creativity and accomplished a great deal. Plus the therapists secured several new clients!
In this example the therapists volunteered their services. Oftentimes boards have budgets for their planning retreats and can pay for massages. The organizers simply have to be introduced to this idea. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce for a listing of the major non-profit organizations. Also check the phone book under the following categories: Charities; Civic Organizations; Fund Raising Organizations; Human Services Organizations; Social Service Organizations; Volunteer Services.
Promote your business easily and without having to initiate conversations by wearing massage apparel. A therapist shared that she generates interest and new clients simply by wearing an engraved name badge with her name and the title of "massage therapist." I have heard numerous stories of getting new clients by wearing a shirt with a catchy phrase about massage or classy graphic image. A therapist reported that people always approach him whenever he patronizes his favorite restaurant wearing his custom designed polo shirt.
If they are attractive enough, your clients will wear your shirts and in essence become long-term walking billboards. A sports massage therapist related how she originally printed up T-shirts intending to sell them. Now she gives them to clients and wears them around town and whenever she is at a sports event. Her shirts are emblazoned on the back with an appealing petroglyph hand design with her company name (Hands On Therapy Massage), her name (Marlee Sondgrath, LMT) and phone number with area code (see photo). Over the front left breast is a miniature petroglyph hands emblem with her company name. People approach her asking questions such as, "Is that you?" "Can you recommend a good therapist?" "Is that your massage therapist?" This opening allows her to talk about massage and pass out her business cards.
To find a local supplier for customized apparel look in the phone book under Screen Printing or Uniforms. One of the major national catalogs for apparel is Valentino T-Shirts, Aprons & Uniforms, (800-448-7017). The companies that manufacture apparel specifically for massage practitioners include: Stress Away Systems, (800-562-1944); BBTEES, (888-522-8337); Hand Picked Products, (800-998-0695); Holistic Modalities, (800-689-6066); and the AMTA, (847-864-0123).
Incentive programs are designed to reward loyal clients and inspire referrals. They are also a great venue for encouraging new people to utilize your services. Traditionally, incentive programs involve some type of fee discount such as: 1) Prepay for 5 sessions and receive the sixth one free; 2) Get 20 percent off your first visit; receive a free half-hour session certificate for every referral.
Your incentive program need not be limited to hands-on work. Consider giving away products, seminar registrations, and adjunct services that are not too labor-intensive, such as paraffin treatments.
Choose products that align with your practice (e.g., self-massage tools, hot/cold packs, health related books, music, pocket reference charts, ergonomic devices) and high-end personalized promotional items such as visors, clothing, tote bags, and classy pens. Reduce your costs by purchasing products in quantity. Contact the manufacturers or major distributors of your favorite massage-related products and ask for their discount schedules. Further decrease your cost by joining with other therapists for volume purchasing. To find promotional items look in the phone book under Promotional Items, Premiums or Specialty Advertising. Some of the major national promotional companies are: Best Impressions, (800-635-2378), [www.bestimpressions.com]; Promo Unlimited, (800-748-6150); The Drawing Board, (800-210-4431); and Nelson Marketing, (800-982-9159).
Marketing never ends; it is an integral component of your business. Use an assortment of approaches in an ongoing, consistent manner. Plan on investing at least 15 percent of your time in marketing to maintain your practice and more to expand it. If you are just starting out, you may need to increase it to more than 50 percent. While I still have not found a magic wand to wave away all your marketing woes, keep in mind that there really are no tricks involved to marketing. Marketing is not about making your competition disappear or putting on illusions. Successful marketing is simply sharing who you are in such a manner that people can make an informed choice about utilizing your services.