Do you ever feel like you have a sign on your forehead that says “Free Massage?” Every day on my social networks, I see massage therapists talking about being asked to do free massage. “Come and do free chair massage at our event and it will get your name out there….” never mind that you’ve been practicing for 15 years and your name is already out there. I recently saw on FB post where a chiropractor wanted someone to come to his office and do a week’s worth of free massage so he could get the client feedback and decide whether or not he would hire the person…I guess he thought she just wouldn’t need any rent money or groceries that week. If he’s located near a massage school that’s turning out graduates or an area that’s saturated with massage therapists, he could feasibly keep the “audition week” going for a long time–and quite probably billing insurance for the massage that he’s not even paying the therapist to perform.
At the massage school I attended, back in the day, we were required to perform 25 hours of community service…free massage on a deserving population. 15 years later, I still don’t mind performing free massage on a deserving population. I occasionally volunteer time to what I think is a worthy cause. I once gave weekly massage to someone for almost a year because he had spent nearly a year in the hospital, his medical bills were in the millions of dollars, and he just plain needed the work and couldn’t pay. One of my staff members has given a lot of massage at an abused women’s shelter. Another did deeply discounted work on someone who was seriously injured and didn’t have any insurance, and many of us have done that kind of thing at one time or another, for nothing other than the warm fuzzy feeling of having helped someone.
If there is an event going on that I think we need to have a presence at, I will pay staff members to do chair massage; I don’t expect people to work for free. We just can’t and/or won’t go everywhere we are asked to go. If the event is more than ten miles away from my office, I’m not really inclined to go there. There are plenty of massage therapists in our county, and if there’s a health fair that’s all the way at the other end of the county and plenty of practicing therapists between here and there, I’d rather let one of them have it.
I have recently been receiving invites to an event in Shelby, NC. That’s 25 miles away from here and I know at least half a dozen therapists that practice there, so I’m not going to go encroach on their territory. The last time the organizer called, I told him he was wasting time by continuing to call me about it and suggested he contact therapists from that area. I also turned one down that was relatively close, but on a holiday. When the woman called me, I said, “thank you, but our staff members want to spend the holiday with their own families that day.” Not only do they want us to do free massage, they also want us to pay them for a booth to do it in.
Sometimes MTs are distressed or hesitant about saying “no,” because “it’s at my mother-in-law’s church,” or “one of my clients asked me to do it, but it’s 30 miles away,” and that kind of thing. If you’re a new therapist, or an old one who’s feeling torn on this issue, then here’s the answer: “Thank you for thinking of me, but I already have clients booked for that day.” Or you can say “Thanks, but I don’t give my services away,” with no excuse. You don’t need an excuse.
If you have the time, and so much money you don’t have to worry about paying your bills, then feel free to give away all the massage you want to. Say yes to everyone who asks. You’ll probably get some business out of it, but keep these thoughts in mind: Some people will do anything just because it’s free, that they would never think of actually spending money on. Some people who are already consumers of massage and already have their own therapist of choice will sit down and get the massage, again, just because it’s free. And many times, people don’t place much value on something they get for free.
If you need an actual return on investment for your time, then you need to pick and choose what you’re going to participate in. Realistically, you stand a much better chance of getting business from an event that’s 5 miles away from your office than one that’s 25 miles away from your office. Some events, like an annual festival, attract a lot of people from out of town that are never going to become clients, but you’ll have to massage them along with any locals who might potentially become clients.
Your dentist isn’t going to do your root canal for free. Your doctor isn’t going to do your appendectomy or deliver your baby for free. The plumber, the electrician, the washing machine repairman isn’t coming to your home for free. You can’t walk into Walmart and load up on free goods, but for some reason, many people seem to expect that massage therapists are always available to give it away.
Here’s the reality check: most of us have overhead directly related to our work. It also costs money to get educated, to get licensed, and to keep up with continuing education requirements. It costs money to run our homes and our lives–just the same as it does for the people who are soliciting us to come and do free massage. We have mortgages, car payments, student loans, and debts to pay. We need food and utilities and medicine and school tuition and child care just like everyone else.
Doing free massage is sometimes a good marketing opportunity. It’s always providing a public service, and you should do it only when you genuinely want to. Don’t allow yourself to be talked into doing it when you don’t want to, and don’t allow yourself to feel guilty for turning anyone down.