Our blog has given a lot of attention to the use of technologies like online scheduling and social media in operating and promoting successful businesses. So, when I sat down with my friend Melissa Falvo to find out her success secrets, I was surprised to hear that she is not on Facebook, does not use an online scheduler, and has never paid for advertising. But her appointment book is always full!?! In fact, I have to schedule a month ahead of time to get a massage from her!
So, I asked Melissa, “What’s your secret?”
She gave me these three tips: have a plan, know your target market, and keep it simple.
Have a Plan
Melissa had a plan before she even attended massage school. She knew she wanted to be able to support herself financially, and still have a schedule that would allow her to be available to her children. More importantly, she wanted to have control over that schedule, so if she needed an afternoon off for her daughter’s piano recital, she could do so without inconveniencing an employer.
She did try working for someone else for a short time when she first graduated. This experience helped solidify the reasons for her original plan – her employer didn’t allow for schedule flexibility. It also helped clarify her vision. The employer required her to provide other services that she didn’t like doing. She realized that she would only excel if she stuck to what she knew and liked.
Know Your Target Market
Melissa began her private practice while she was still in school, working on friends and practice clients for free. Many of these practice clients were fellow runners she met through a local athletic supply shop.
Melissa had been a runner for many years, and knew the benefits of massage long before she ever decided to become a practitioner. Runners are always looking for ways to decrease the risk of injury, increase performance, and recover from injuries quickly when they do occur. Massage helped Melissa with her own performance and injury management. Knowing this made it easy for her to share her experiences with other runners. She quickly identified her target market – athletes and active people.
Sharing a common target market with the athletic supply shop offered Melissa some excellent promotional opportunities. She volunteers at sporting events sponsored by the shop. She and her partner offer free stretching and wellness clinics to the shop’s patrons. But she says that giving the owners and all their staff free massages was the most effective thing she did to create a network of knowledgeable supporters (and clients) that now tell other like-minded individuals about her services.
Indeed, athletes make up 80% of Melissa’s clientele. She develops relationships with her clients by talking to them about how they can improve their own performance and wellness. She doesn’t give directives, she listens and brings things to their attention, and she tells clients about things that work for her. She doesn’t always suggest massage either, sometimes she tells them they don’t need her anymore once they have recovered from an injury. By truly having her clients’ best interest in mind, Melissa’s clients know they can trust her. There is no bigger ally in business than someone who knows you are trustworthy.
Keep It Simple
Melissa doesn’t use an online scheduler, because she wants to be in control of whom she schedules and when. She doesn’t want it left up to online availability, and she says it’s too “impersonal” and prefers to talk to each client herself. And she always asks who referred them, and always thanks the referrer.
She doesn’t offer package deals or discounts or anything complicated to track. Her fee is her fee. Melissa believes that discounting her services for some people, or as part of a promotion or coupon, would actually devalue her services and confuse clients. If it’s $70 for a massage today, why is it only worth $40 tomorrow? Instead of discounts, she gives what she calls “random freebies” to her loyal clients every once in awhile, to show appreciation for their consistent and continued business.
She doesn’t waste time with social media or advertising. She would rather donate her time to give free massages at local events. In that way she is not devaluing her services, she is investing that time (money) in her business and her community. Melissa says that giving free massages is the best advertising you can do because “it’s the initial connection that brings people to you… anyone can choose a name from a phonebook or an online Google search or a flyer that you print. Letting someone know what your touch is like is priceless.”
Melissa isn’t totally technology-free. She has a cell phone she uses for calls and texts. She prefers texting with clients regarding simple questions and scheduling requests. That way she is able to quickly and quietly get back to them throughout her day between appointments. She never returns phone messages until the end of her day, or the next morning. But she makes all the calls herself. She usually follows up the day after an appointment to find out what worked for the client and what didn’t, always interested in improving her techniques and skills.
She also has a website, but she admits she doesn’t update it too often because new clients usually come to her through other clients or someone she knows. People do find her on the internet, although they still have to call to schedule an appointment so she can talk to them about their needs and expectations. This eliminates the potential for wasting time in her schedule with people who may not be a good fit, leaving room for those who are.
Some Final Advice For New Practitioners
- “Don’t try to do too much. Find something (a modality) you enjoy, look to see where you can be of service, and give it away. It will return to you.”
- “In the beginning, it’s easy to get emotionally drained. Have a support person you can talk to and process your experiences.”
- “Learn how to ‘fire’ a client, and don’t take things personally. You will not be compatible with everyone.”
I’m sure many of you have heard similar advice and similar stories. But if you still aren’t convinced that the simple approach works, let’s look at the numbers. In Melissa’s first year in business, her practice increased by 50%, and then by 50% again in the second year. By year three, Melissa maxed out her desired schedule, averaging more than 20 treatments per week, and is still going at that rate in her fifth year. Oh, and by the way, more than 95% of her clients rebook at the end of each session. Not bad. Not bad at all.
My friend Melissa Falvo, LMT is the owner of Balanced Bodies in Tucson, Arizona.