Category Archives: Marketing

Gobsmacked

Gobsmacked: adjective: shocked, astounded, astonished.

Gobsmacked is my favorite word of late, and unfortunately, myself and many other people in the massage world have been gobsmacked recently, to learn that a colleague who was admired and trusted has let us down. I am addressing this because I have had a very public relationship with this person. I have appeared on a blog she owns for several months, which incidentally she refuses to remove my picture from, as well as the pictures of the other women on the blog who would also like to be removed from it. It’s a childish and petty game designed to continue the illusion of credibility by association. She has announced many times over the past couple of years that I am her mentor. I am also addressing this now because I have just now received a thick letter from the MN Attorney General’s Office suggesting additional avenues of complaint for those who have been affected.

The first inkling I had that anything was wrong was a couple of months ago. A therapist attending a class I taught stayed after class to discuss a problem. She had ordered a book (and received it). Months later, she noticed another charge on her credit card. When she questioned it, she was told it was for shipping for a book–one that she had not ordered. It took several emails and messages to get the money refunded. Still, since that was the first report I had personally heard of any problem, I viewed it as an isolated incident.

If only that were the case. About a month ago, I started receiving emails with similar–and in some cases much worse–stories from therapists reporting incidents of unauthorized charges as high as $850 appearing on credit card statements.

There have been reports of therapists waiting as long as six months for books that have been paid for to be shipped, which they have been told were backordered. The books are actually print-on-demand from Amazon’s publishing arm, Createspace. There is no such thing as a back order. You pay, they publish and ship immediately. I have published four books there myself. I order books, they arrive within two to three days. That’s how it works.

There have also been many reports of therapists paying $350 for websites she was offering to build during a promotion, many of which are reportedly sub-par, full of grammar mistakes, have non-functional features, and to the un-web savvy out there, many have not realized that they were not the owners of their own websites, but rather that ownership was retained by the contractor. I received an email from her stating that anyone could request to have their website returned to their ownership. I have also personally seen correspondence that was extremely rude and hostile to a person who had requested that. I have received reports that websites that were ordered (and paid for) months ago have still not been put online, but when the person tried to cancel, were told that they could not because work had already started on it.

Other complaints have included the inability to access webinars that have been promised at the rate of one per day, for a total of 260 webinars…most people have said that they were only to access 8 webinars and some were not able to access any at all. She was also making the offer to do social media marketing for massage therapists, and most were disappointed to find that the posts did not cover the subject matter they had asked for, were again full of typos and/or incorrect grammar, and were not made the frequency they had been promised.

To add fuel to the fire, a newspaper story of a 2010 arrest for swindling a Mankato, MN businessman started circulating on Facebook. Several resourceful massage therapists, including myself, started doing a lot of investigating. I personally called the man who had her arrested. I have also personally spoken with or emailed with numerous massage therapists who have lost money and received no goods or services.

I have also received reports of taxes prepared that were not signed and no PTIN number provided. If that has happened to you, here is the complaint form. If you paid ANY amount of money to have your taxes filled out, the preparer is obligated to sign and provide the PTIN on the return. You may also report that to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, 600 North Robert St, Saint Paul, MN 55101.

In the event that she represented herself to you as being a CPA, as she did to many, you may also complain to the Minnesota Board of Accountancy, 85 E. 7th Place, Suite 125, Saint paul, MN, 55101.

According to the letter I received from the MN Attorney General, those who have been affected should file a complaint with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, Attn: Sheriff Matt Bostrom, 425 Grove St, Saint Paul, MN 55101, and with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, Government Ceneter West, Suite 315, 50 West Kellogg Blvd, Saint Paul, MN 55102.

The Attorney General also suggests filing a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Health, Office of Unlicensed and Alternative Health Care Practice, POB 64882, Saint Paul, MN, 55164.

If you have transacted business over the Internet and you have not received the goods or services that you have paid for, you may report that here.

You may also file a complaint with the NCBTMB.

When you use the complaint form, you must quote the section of the Code or the Standards that have been violated, so I am going to provide that here:

Code of Ethics:
VII. Conduct their business and professional activities with honesty and integrity, and respect the inherent worth of all persons.

Standard IV covers Business Practices. In your complaint, you should quote Standard IV and then whichever of these applies to the transactions you had.

d. accurately and truthfully inform the public of services provided

e. honestly represent all professional qualifications and affiliations

j. not exploit the trust and dependency of others, including clients and employees/co-workers

The worst of these offenses is ignoring customers…the massage therapists who believed in her and sent her their hard-earned money. The same story prevails over and over–that therapists who have contacted her to ask where their goods and services are have been ignored, blocked from her FB pages and messages, been thrown out of groups that she had organized on the Internet because they dared to question her, and have been subjected to her failure to return emails and phone calls.

I spoke to the person these accusations have been leveled at on the phone after all of this blew up on FB, and she told me that she was going to contact all the people that she owed goods and services to and make it right. A later communication from her told me that in fairness that I should mention that many people have ordered things from her and received them, so I will. A still further communication from her stated that she has hired attorneys in five states and a PR firm.

Any company can have customer service problems. My company could have a customer service problem. However, I am the owner of the company, and the burden falls on me to do anything about it.The buck stops here.

This is not the kind of post I enjoy making. There is nothing fun about seeing dozens of massage therapists out their money and disheartened over someone they believed was going to help them. There is nothing fun about seeing a colleague who is creative and smart fall from grace. The sad thing is, if all this energy had been applied to delivering what people were promised, she’d be a millionaire by now. I urge you, if you have been affected by this, to take the time to report it to the proper authorities. Your failure to do so will just make it easier for others to be victimized in the future. I cringe to think that someone right out of massage school has had, or will have, this kind of introduction to professional massage.

Cherie Sohnen-Moe and I have recently collaborated on an article that is appearing in Massage Today about how to avoid being a victim of Internet and other scams: An Ounce of Prevention Can Save You a Lot of Heartache.

AMTA: Supporting Massage Therapists for the Affordable Care Act (or Not?)

The Affordable Care Act goes into effect on January 1, 2014. This stands to have a major impact on the ability of massage therapists to be reimbursed by insurance. The 1300+ page document includes language prohibiting discrimination against licensed integrative health care practitioners.

Diana Thompson, well-known educator, author, long-time AMTA member and past president of the Massage Therapy Foundation, recently shared with me a letter she sent to the BOD of AMTA, expressing her concerns that the organization is not supporting the movement of massage therapy into the mainstream as a health care choice. In the letter, Thompson went so far as to call out AMTA for not operating according to their own bylaws, which include the mandates that the organization is, among other things, to

(D.) Promote legislation that supports and upholds, and oppose legislation that harms
and damages, the massage profession;

(E.) Protect and preserve the rights of its members;

(H.) To advocate the rights and interests of persons seeking massage therapy as
health care;

Thompson was moved to write the letter to the BOD after a recent meeting of representatives of CAM professions, held at Bastyr University in Seattle. After the meeting, the purpose of which was to discuss the ACA, Cynthia Price, PhD, LMP, who attended on behalf of the Academic Consortium for Complimentary and Alternative Health Care stated in her report to Executive Director John Weeks:

I was very pleased to attend the Region X/ACA meeting on Monday held at Bastyr this week.  It was a very informative meeting and a nice first step to bring clinicians from different CAM and Medical disciplines into one room together who all want to be better informed and care deeply about this topic.   Deborah Senn did an excellent introductory presentation on the ACA and the current concerns regarding the language that may put CAM providers at risk for inclusion/coverage.  With the exception of the massage representative from the AMTA, all the clinical speakers were excellent and very supportive of the ACA and interested in doing everything possible to support coverage by practitioners within their discipline.  These clinicians expressed similar concerns regarding the ACA and how it may or may not affect CAM services.  There were also clinical examples provided about how the ACA may positively impact certain disciplines, particularly NDs who provide primary care… On a side note, I am very concerned about the position of the AMTA…”

Winona Bontrager, President of the Board of AMTA, responded with a letter to Thompson that stated:

“We have spoken with some other people who attended the recent HHS meeting.  Some of those individuals were there representing other groups and of course our chapter members, and none of them came away from that meeting with the understandings you put forward.  We have no idea how Cynthia Price arrived at the statement she has made to you.”

Thompson also stated in her letter to the BOD that Price had specifically asked that Chris Studebaker, AMTA’s Director of Government and Industry Relations and the person who was representing AMTA at the invitation-only meeting, not be invited to attend future meetings, and that others besides AMTA should be invited to better ensure accurate and professional representation of the interests of massage therapists.

These are serious accusations. AMTA’s response is that Studebaker’s statements at the meeting were conveying the results of AMTA’s last member survey, which revealed that about 50% of the membership has no interest in third-party reimbursement. Bontrager, speaking on behalf of the BOD, stated that Studebaker is being unfairly blamed for things he did not say. Thompson states that she stands by her accusations.

Thompson also stated that she spoke to AMTA leaders about the need for support and action regarding the ACA on at least a couple of other occasions, notably at the last AMTA National Convention in Raleigh, NC and again at the IMTRC held in Boston earlier this year, and that both times was given “wait and see” and “we’re not ready” responses by the leadership.

This entire brouhaha brings to light several issues and bigger questions. First, lest there be any confusion here, even if the ACA results in every massage therapist in the country being eligible for third-party reimbursement, no one is going to be forced to accept insurance. Anyone who wants to keep operating a cash-only practice will be able to do so.

Second, if 50% of AMTA’s membership doesn’t want to participate with insurance clients, that means there is also 50% that does. Since the 50% who don’t want to are not going to be forced to participate, what about representation for the half of the members who do want to?

Third, I must agree with Thompson that this is not the time to “wait and see.” This is the time to be proactive. I will point out the position statements approved by this organization that clearly demonstrate the health benefits of massage therapy! If we can make that more available to the public who have insurance that would pay for it, shouldn’t we be doing that?

Diana Thompson is a long-standing and dedicated member of AMTA. She was instrumental in gaining the right for massage therapists to file insurance in the state of Washington, where 90% of AMTA members do bill insurance. I don’t believe she is on a witch-hunt at AMTA. I believe it came from genuine concern that a major voice that should be speaking out for us is not doing so. Her letter cited the research from AMTA’s own 2009 consumer survey that showed that 97% of massage recipients believe that massage should be considered as health care.

The field of massage therapy has been experiencing growing pains for quite some time. There are concerted and combined efforts going on right now to raise the quality of education, to raise the quality of teaching and education, and to raise the image of massage in the eyes of the public. AMTA has made many efforts in the past on behalf of the membership, and I urge them not to drop the ball this time.

CE Providers React to NCBTMB’s New Approval Plan

In the past couple of weeks since the NCBTMB unveiled their new plan for CE providers, which includes doing away with organizational approval, the reaction of providers has for the most part been very negative–and frankly I’m not surprised. The long-standing organizations who are providing quality continuing education approved feel, for the most part, that the organization they have supported for many years is throwing them under the bus.

Some of the main concerns that I  have heard are from providers who have created proprietary classes and who have trained and approved their own instructors to go out and teach their work. They are now faced with the instructors that they have invested time and money in training and marketing classes for going out on their own, taking copyrighted teaching manuals and proprietary handouts with them, and acting as if they are under no obligation pay the percentage or per-student charge that they have agreed to pay as teaching members of the organizations. Those same instructors who have been mentored and marketed under our organizations are now saying “we’ll just be out on our own after 2014.” They are making it clear that they feel free to take our proprietary materials away with them—because the new rules are basically blessing that—and never give the organization that put them where they are another dime.

Those who have organizational approval do not want unqualified people teaching for their organizations and misrepresenting their good names, and have gone to considerable effort and expense to make sure that is not the case. While there is certainly nothing wrong with requiring us to provide proof of that, taking all instructors from under our organizational umbrella and putting them out there on their own is also going to create logistical nightmares. The organization has been responsible for collecting and maintaining registration forms, evaluation forms, etc. and issuing CE. In the case of Upledger, for example, now instead of one organization handling those administrative tasks, there will be more than 100 separate instructors keeping up with that. The organization will have no control and no more quality assurance that they will be able to exercise.

The organizations and schools that sponsor CE workshops at the national, state, and local levels will suffer from these changes as well. This is also financially crippling and over-burdensome to smaller organizations who may not teach that many classes each year. When it comes to education, quality and quantity are not the same thing.

The notion that having people turn in all their lesson plans as proof that they are a competent teacher is also flawed. My publisher hires me to write lesson plans all the time to go with their textbooks and for career schools who want customized plans. I’ve written at least 20 this year alone. If you have the money to hire me, I will write one for you. It still will not make you a competent teacher. A well-written lesson plan doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re a great teacher; it indicates that you are either a competent writer, or that you hired someone like me to write it for you. Requiring people to send in a video of themselves teaching would be more indicative of whether or not they are competent, since the organization obviously cannot afford to vet every class in person.

In response to the outcry since the NCBTMB announced the plan, they have stated that they will consider some of these issues on a case-by-case basis. I would like to know how they plan to carry that out with volunteers—volunteers whose qualifications to judge us we have no knowledge of, as they are not releasing the names of the people on that committee. Are they experienced educators? Are they trained in teaching methodology? Are the research literate? We don’t know; we can only hope so.

I find it necessary to bring up that the reason the NCBTMB changed from vetting individual classes years ago was because the task became too overwhelming for the paid staff to handle and getting volunteers together to do it caused the process to move at the pace of molasses. It is unacceptable for someone to wait six months—as has been common at several points in time—to get their approval or denial. It is very apparent from the latest 990 filing that the NCBTMB cannot afford to hire new staff and that they will indeed be depending on volunteers until such time as this might generate enough money to enable that. This is one of the service problems that has come very close to knocking this organization to its knees in the past, and they do not need to go backwards instead of forward.

Considering things on a “case-by-case” basis also leaves this organization open to accusations of favoritism, if not worse. The massage community is a tight-knit and close community, in spite of the fact that there are thousands of us. Those of us who are organizational providers tend to attend the same events, and travel in the same circles. What you allow for one, you must allow for all. To do otherwise is simply unethical and unprofessional, and the first time it comes to light, and it certainly will, that any consideration given to one has not been given to all, it is going to be another public relations nightmare for the NCBTMB. I don’t think they can stand to have many more of those.

Let’s look at a few facts.

There are currently a half dozen states with their own CE approval process. The NCBTMB is not the only game in town…and it is that same complacency of thinking that has resulted in the FSMTB kicking their butt with the MBLEx. I would not fall into the mistake of thinking that the Federation isn’t willing to step up and do something about CE approval as well. They may seize upon the dissatisfaction of the current environment; they already have the infrastructure, and big cash reserves at their disposal. The Federation doesn’t “need” the money, and the perception here from providers is that the NCBTMB is trying to bail themselves out of the red with this plan.

There is no evidence to support that regulation, including requiring CE, has contributed to the safety of the public. There have always been unethical and incompetent practitioners, and for that matter unethical and/or incompetent CE providers, and they will continue to exist, regardless of the amount of rules and regulations. Look at how things stand in other professions. There are 17 states that don’t require nurses to obtain CE. There are 10 states that don’t require PTs to obtain CE. Even MDs have 7 states that don’t require them to obtain CE—but all three of these professions are licensed in all 50 states.

Other than the 30 or so of us (including myself) who were present at the meeting the NCBTMB convened in Chicago to discuss this issue a couple of years ago, there has been no attempt to gather the input of the (hundreds of) providers that are currently under the auspices of the NCBTMB.  I believe this organization is in need of our support, not our animosity and distress.

I urge them to abandon this plan, and gather input from a much broader slice of the profession before considering such drastic measures again.

Report from the World Massage Festival

I just returned from attending the World Massage Festival in Las Vegas, and what a blast! I’ve been attending this annual event for several years, and this was the best one yet. My husband, Champ, accompanied me, and we really had a fabulous time. This event is like a family reunion every year, so I really enjoyed seeing so many people I know and don’t get to see often. The Festival was held at the Tuscany Casino and Hotel, which turned out to be a wonderful place…I think my suite was as big as my house.

We arrived on Sunday and I spent the afternoon helping out at the registration desk with our fearless ringleader, Cindy Michaels. Cindy is Mike Hinkle’s better half; Mike cooks up all kinds of great ideas and Cindy puts them into action.  Jenny Ray and Janelle Lakman, the Sacred Stone Medicine ladies, were also working registration so we all had a big time visiting in between. Sunday night was the Hall of Fame ceremony, emceed by Judi Calvert, and it was very enjoyable. This year’s honorees are Cindy Ballis, Karina Braun, Eric Brown, James Charlesworth, Scott Dartnall, Robin Fann, Irene Gauthier, Sally Hacking, Ryan Hoyme, Andrea Kelly, David Kent, Mark Lamm, Paul Lewis, Rena Margulis, Karen Menehan, Angie Patrick, Donald Peterson, Sharon Puszko, Art Riggs, George Skaroulis, Kevin Snedden, Cherie Sohnen0Moe, Les Sweeney, and Ruth Werner.

Monday morning, I was honored to participate in a Student Day panel with Lynda Solien-Wolfe, Cherie Sohnen-Moe, David Kent, Joe Bob Smith, James Waslaski, David Otto, Ryan Hoyme, Michael McGillicuddy, and Angie Patrick. I hope I didn’t forget anyone! The students were so appreciative; all got a goody bag, there were lots of door prizes, and one lucky soul got a starter kit–massage table, massage chair, rolling stool, bolster, sheets, and all kinds of products.

Monday afternoon, I taught my Educated Heart ethics class, which was well-attended by a great bunch of therapists. Champ and I had dinner with Lynda Solien-Wolfe and Joe Bob Smith and we had a great time.

Most of the day Tuesday, I spent in the exhibit hall. I worked a little in the Sweet Serenity booth–speaking of which–I was determined to win the fabulous quilt so I bought 30 tickets. All the proceeds went to the Shriner’s Burn Center and over $1200 was raised, last time I got the count. Ryan Hoyme and I did a book signing of our new Manual for Massage Therapy Educators. I woke up with a crick in my neck, and James Waslaski and Bruce Baltz both worked on me. We had lunch with Bruce and Ryan and Yvette Hoyme. Tuesday night was the awards ceremony. David Kent was the keynote speaker and he did a fabulous job. David is an emotional speaker. Enid Whittaker jumped up on a massage table and did a Bonnie Prudden warmup and she was great! Vivian Madison-Mahoney received the Legislative Award. ABMP was honored as the Association of the Year (again!). The wonderful Michael McGillicuddy was named Teacher of the Year. I was personally surprised with receiving the Distinguished Service Award. After getting home at 1:30 this morning, I am going blank on the rest of the winners, but I’ll be sure to announce them on FB as my memory returns!

By Tuesday night I was feeling slightly under the weather. I slept in Wednesday morning, and Champ attended James Waslaski’s Pelvic class in my stead. He loved it. I ended up having a late breakfast with Judi Calvert, owner of Hands On Trade Association and the premier massage historian of the world. At noon, when all the classes broke for lunch, the drawings took place. One lucky winner received an Office Makeover package worth over $11,000–and I did indeed win the quilt! I was thrilled to death!

I would have to say that the highlight of my trip this year was meeting Mark Lamm of Bio Sync, and his beautiful wife Leah. Mark has been my FB buddy for several years, and I was shocked to find out that he is 84 years old. He looks at least 20 years younger than that and is just one of the most vibrant people on the planet. He did some work on my aching shoulder and it was amazing. HE is amazing. Leah and I snuck out to the restaurant for a little while and I felt as if I’d known her my whole life. They are both just beautiful people. Mark is committed to teaching at the Festival in 2015. I’ll be there!

Other highlights, and there are just too many to name, but I was glad to see my buds Scott Dartnall, Eric Brown, Christopher and Xerlan Deery, catch up with Lori Ohlman of the NCBTMB, Dari Lewis, Stephanie Beck, the totally awesome Judith Aston, and all the other folks I only get to see once or twice a year. The vendor hall was jumping this year…I got a few goodies myself! I also met a few of my FB buds: Andrea Lipomi, Bert Davich, Rob Flammia and saw some of my NC peeps, too, like Jake Flatt.

Wednesday night, I attended the Board meeting of the Massage Therapy Alliance of America. I’m not on the Board; I just take care of their website, but I love this group of dedicated people. They are stewards of the Hall of Fame and advocates for the rights of massage therapists. Then we had a late dinner with Mike and Cindy, Darcy Neibur and her husband Dennis, and Mike Hinkle’s parents, who are always helping at the Festival.

The World Massage Festival is come as you are. Leave your suit and tie behind and be casual. The instructors and class offerings are top notch, the price is as low as they can possibly keep it, and the atmosphere is all about family and friends. The 2013 Festival is being held on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. I will definitely be there!

The Snake Oil Medicine Show

There’s nothing earth-shaking in the world of massage politics on my radar this week, so I’m just going to make a few observations. I know that I am about to step on more than a few toes here, but it must be said.

I’ve got a few thousand massage therapists in my social networks (FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +). In the mornings, when I’m drinking my coffee, I visit those sites and scroll through to see what people are up to. I like to read that people are having success with their clients, enjoying their work, being active in their communities, growing their businesses, volunteering, and a lot of wonderful things that massage therapists do.

What I don’t like to see is what I call the Snake Oil Medicine Show. There’s a popular band here in NC by that name, so I’m stealing it for this blog. According to Wikipedia: The phrase snake oil is a derogatory term used to describe quackery, the promotion of fraudulent or unproven medical practices. The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with questionable and/or unverifiable quality or benefit. By extension, the term “snake oil salesman” may be applied to someone who sells fraudulent goods, or who is a fraud himself.

There are a lot of products (and practices) out there that have no proven benefits at all, and many that have in fact been proven not to have any benefits. Massage therapists seem to be particularly gullible to falling into the trap of not only using them personally, but also promoting them and selling them to their clients. I don’t know the real reason behind this phenomenon, but I can guess at several: 1) The therapist is not interested in scientific evidence and buys into the hype on the product’s website. 2) The therapist is desperately looking for something to bring in additional income. 3) The therapist has a genuine desire to help people, and truly believes the wild claims made by whatever company is selling the product, and thinks that it’s a duty to share it with clients.

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I am interested in the evidence-informed practice of massage, and that I’ve been on a mission to bust the myths of massage. This problem goes beyond that; and if I tried to bust every unscrupulous product out there, I’d never have the time to write about anything else. There are a lot of “quackery” websites on the Internet that have done most of the work for me….if only people would read and believe. But the fact is, you can hit some people over the head with scientific evidence, and they’re not going to believe it.  They’re too attached to that “detox” machine, or that dietary supplement, or that special water or whatever it is that they’re selling. Paul Ingraham, one of my favorite writers on the Internet, has written about a lot of these things (see www.saveyourself.ca) Dr. Stephen Barrett has had his Quackwatch site up for years (www.quackwatch.org). Another favorite of mine is a water myth website, found at www.chem1.com/CQ/

I’m not a scientist, or a very technical-minded person. Fortunately, I have some friends and acquaintances who are. I have often asked them “Can you explain to me how ____ works?” The usual answer to this question is “It doesn’t.”

As I said at the beginning, I’m about to step on some toes here, but then again, I do that on a regular basis, so what the heck. Here are the facts on detox foot baths, and may I say, yes, I have in fact used one myself in years gone by:

There is no way an electric current passing through a part of your body can distinguish between “good” molecules and “bad” molecules (“toxins”), most of which are electrically neutral anyway.

The skin is impermeable to all but a few chemical substances; there is no evidence that any that are found inside the body can pass through the skin to the outside, with or without the help of an electric current.

All but a very few of the “toxins” produced as metabolic products are colorless— suggesting that what you see during these “treatments” is put there for show.

You can in fact put a zucchini, or nothing at all, in the foot bath, and the water will still turn color. I have personally witnessed this happening. Then we’ve got the “alkaline water” products, including a well-known MLM company that sells filters for about $4000 bucks. That’s a European vacation, folks. Not only that, but the actual components of that water filter can be purchased at any home improvement or hardware store for about $35. Here are the straight facts on that, and YES, THIS IS WRITTEN BY A CHEMIST:

“Ionized water” is nothing more than sales fiction; the term is meaningless to chemists.

Pure water (that is, water containing no dissolved ions) is too unconductive to undergo signficant electrolysis by “water ionizer” devices.
Pure water can never be alkaline or acidic, nor can it be made so by electrolysis. Alkaline water must contain metallic ions of some kind — most commonly, sodium, calcium or magnesium.

The idea that one must consume alkaline water to neutralize the effects of acidic foods is ridiculous; we get rid of excess acid by exhaling carbon dioxide.

If you do drink alkaline water, its alkalinity is quickly removed by the highly acidic gastric fluid in the stomach.

Uptake of water occurs mainly in the intestine, not in the stomach. But when stomach contents enter the intestine, they are neutralized and made alkaline by the pancreatic secretions — so all the water you drink eventually becomes alkaline anyway.

The claims about the health benefits of drinking alkaline water are not supported by credible scientific evidence.

“Ionized”/alkaline water is falsely claimed to be an anti-oxidant. It is actually an oxidizing agent, as can be seen by its ability to decolorize iodine (see video).

There is nothing wrong with drinking slightly acidic waters such as rainwater. “Body pH” is a meaningless concept; different parts of the body (and even of individual cells) can have widely different pH values. The pH of drinking water has zero effect on that of the blood or of the body’s cells.

If you really want to de-acidify your stomach (at the possible cost of interfering with protein digestion), why spend hundreds of dollars for an electrolysis device when you can take calcium-magnesium pills, Alka-Seltzer or Milk of Magnesia?

Electrolysis devices are generally worthless for treating water for health enhancement, removal of common impurities, disinfection, and scale control. Claims that “ionized” waters are antioxidants are untrue; hypochlorites (present in most such waters) are in fact oxidizing agents.

Claims that “water ionizers are approved for use in Japanese hospitals” are misleading: these “approvals” merely attest to the machines’ safety — that they will not electrocute you! My understanding is that the Japanese Health Ministry is highly critical of therapeutic claims made for alkaline water.

And yes, I have also drank alkaline water…several clients and a part-time staff member insisted on my trying it, and I did, but I can’t say it did anything for me that regular water wouldn’t have done.

What about the Chi machine? Actually, I used to house sit for a friend who had a Chi machine, and I would lie down in the floor and use it every time I was at her house. I personally found it very relaxing, and it felt good. In fact I would usually zone out and have a little nap while the machine was running. However, the big claim made about it is that it “maximizes the body’s natural absorption of oxygen.” Really? It’s shaking your ankles back and forth. How is that doing anything to maximize the absorption of oxygen? Can’t I just lie down and shake my own ankles and do the same thing without spending that $399? The websites touting the Chi machine go on about how cancer can’t survive when you’re fully oxygenated, disease can’t get you, parasites will disappear, and all illness will leave your body if you just have enough oxygen. The way I see it, I’m breathing, so I must have enough oxygen. How much more do I need? Am I going to breathe MORE if I shake my ankles every day? I don’t think so.

Shall I go on? There are so many dubious products out there, I could stop writing about the politics of massage altogether and have enough fodder to go on for years, but I’m going to stop here, for now. I’m sure those of you who sell the heck out of these machines will write in and tell me what a moron I am. Maybe ONE of you will perform a thorough scientific examination of the facts and decide that you’ve been hoodwinked into spending a few hundred, or a few thousand, dollars on something that doesn’t work, and you’ll quit trying to sell it to your clients. That would be nice.

References:

Foot bath

Alkaline Water

Chi machine

 

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

I’ve spent the past couple of weekends teaching at AMTA meetings; first in SC and this past week in Alaska. One of the classes I taught at both meetings was “Using Research to Market Your Massage Therapy Practice.” I’ve been on my research soapbox for a while now. The big question is, “Who gives a flip about research?” My answer to that is, inquiring minds want to know.

Except when they don’t want to know. Consider this: IF research validates an idea, a theory, or a belief you’ve had, doesn’t that make you happy? Don’t you want to give a thumbs-up and shout “Yes! I knew it all the time!” That would make anyone feel good, wouldn’t it?

So when research shows something that’s contrary to what we believe, we don’t like that. We don’t want to accept it. We don’t want to listen to it. We want to act as if it doesn’t exist, or that it applies to everyone except us.

I’ve been surfing PubMed this afternoon and reading interesting studies. I don’t have any research to back it up, but my educated guess is that maybe, just maybe, 20% of massage therapists actually read research studies…or even know what the difference is in a peer-reviewed study performed within the parameters of scientifically accepted procedures, as opposed to website hype making all kinds of unfounded claims.

I’ve also been on a roll lately looking at some of the more dubious products that are out there that massage therapists buy into, and foist upon the uninformed public. Some of my favorite (NOT!) claims are: Causes detoxification. Regulates the endocrine system. Flushes your lymphatic system. Gets rid of cellulite once and for all. Causes you to lose weight without making any effort. Contains negative ions. Balances your chakras while simultaneously regenerating your brain cells and your liver and revitalizing your sex drive. Makes your body totally alkaline. Connects more strands of your DNA…I could go on all day, but you get the picture.

Most people, if they’re going to buy a new car, do a little research…they want to know the gas mileage, the safety rating, the bells and whistles they get for the money they’re paying. And they wouldn’t buy a house without checking out the foundation and whether or not there’s mold in the basement. But the same people will buy some whacky, over-priced gizmo that doesn’t have any basis in reality and couldn’t possibly do all, if any, of what it claims to do, without doing any research at all, other than reading the hype that appears on the website or listening to the sales pitch at a multi-level marketing meeting.

The sad thing is, I don’t think most of these people are just seeing the dollar signs and thinking about how much money they can bilk clients out of. They just fall into believing these things actually work.

The Code of Ethics states that we are to avoid giving treatment when there is no benefit to the client and the only benefit is our own financial gain. It would serve everyone to think about that the next time they’re tempted to spend money on frivolous products with no proven benefits. If YOU want to lay out the big bucks for something and use it on YOURSELF, that’s one thing, but when you make claims to clients that this (machine, product, supplement, etc) is going to change their life, cure their disease, get rid of their pain, or whatever, that’s a clear-cut violation and one that you ought to be aware of. Do the research. Don’t just fall for every word on the company’s website and repeat that to the client like it’s fact. It isn’t.

E-mail Etiquette 101

I’ve had a few meltdowns over e-mail in the past couple of weeks. In spite of my attendance at one of Michael Reynolds‘ brilliant presentations on how to be an e-mail ninja and have a “zero inbox,” I confess I just haven’t gotten there. And I’m wading through a field of spam.

I have a good spam filter on all my email accounts, so basically most of those trashy emails advising you on how to enlarge your anatomy, how to collect the $40 million that the dead person in Nigeria has left you in his will, and offering to sell you cheap prescription drugs get trapped there.

What usually doesn’t get trapped there are all the unsolicited mailing lists and newsletters from massage therapists and other health practitioners who have taken the liberty of adding my name to their list. Most of them are people from Facebook or LinkedIn…they apparently just harvest the e-mail address from everyone they see on their networks, and add them on. That’s not a good thing. In fact, it’s just plain spam.

You have to ASK me in order to be added to any of my mailing lists. My websites have the little click-on feature for that, if you want to be added, but just visiting my websites is not going to cause you to receive any e-mail from me.

I use Constant Contact for my newsletters and group e-mail. I have it set to automatically give people the link to unsubscribe if they wish, and to allow people to share it on their networks, if they desire. It’s $30 per month, but I don’t have to be concerned  about removing people who ask to be removed; it’s done for me. If you are sending group e-mails to anyone, whether it’s from a company like Constant Contact or just through your own e-mail, you should have a simple link for people to unsubscribe. Some companies make it such a hassle, by sending you to a new website to create a new account and answer a couple of captchas, before they will allow you to unsubscribe to something that you never subscribed to to begin with. I think they count on it being such a hassle to unsubscribe that you’ll just choose to stay on the list.

The other thing you don’t have to worry about, when you use such an e-mail service, is failing to use BCC (blind carbon-copy)  for group e-mails. It will be automatically done for you. Some people do not realize–and others do realize it but just don’t care–that when you send more than one person an e-mail and you don’t use the BCC function, everyone it is sent to can see everyone else it is sent to, including their e-mail address. The cc may list the people by name, and not e-mail address, but by right-clicking beside the name, or in some cases hovering over it, you can see the address. That opens a can of worms–spam, not to mention exposure to viruses and worms. The most serious thing about it, for a massage therapist or any other health care provider, is your failure to maintain confidentiality. Some people cling to the idea that massage therapists don’t have to abide by HIPAA rules, but that’s beside the point. You are obligated to abide by the Code of Ethics, and safeguarding client confidentiality is a big deal, in case you haven’t ever noticed that.

According to the dictionary of computer-speak, SPAM stands for “Stupid Person’s Advertisement.”  When people turn on the television or open the newspaper, they expect to see advertising. It’s part of the deal. Does it have to be part of the deal on e-mail, too? Apparently so, judging by the amount of it that’s out there. I dumped my spam filter a moment ago, and in the two weeks since I dumped it last time, I have received 694 pieces of spam…in just one of my several e-mail accounts.

People sometimes use e-mail to inquire about a job opening at my facility. While it’s one thing to use emoticons, techno jargon and computer-speak on your FB page, don’t do that in a professional business e-mail. How does this look: “Dear Mrs. Allen, OMG, I saw your job listing and IMHO, I am the best person for the job 🙂 FWIW, I am a graduate of MMMS….” you get the picture. They’re not getting an interview with me.

I found an interesting website that lists the 32 biggest mistakes in e-mails. There are quite a few on the list that jump out at me. Spell-check, for one. Sending out your newsletter full of typos doesn’t do anything for your professional image. Using all bold and all caps isn’t good, either. Forwarding chain letters is another. People have good intentions, but really, just like some of the stuff people continually repost on FB, I’ve received requests to pray for someone who died a year ago. Why in the world would you send those to a business acquaintance?

In a nutshell, if you’re going to use e-mail to market your practice–and you’re missing the boat if you don’t–go about it in the right way. You want your e-mail marketing to be effective–and ethical.

Here’s the Plan

On any given day on my FB page, there will be massage therapists who are excitedly reporting an increase in their practice, talking about the big day or big week they just had, or some other joyful news related to their business. On any given day, there will also be someone posting that they’re closing up shop because they can’t make it, and taking a job they don’t really want because they have to have money to survive. And let’s be real, folks…none of us want to just survive. We want to thrive, don’t we? Be able to take a vacation, give money to charity, buy a new car when we need one without having a financial meltdown. All those things are hard to do when you’re worried about making the rent.

Nine times out of ten, it isn’t that they’re not a talented massage therapist that leads to their failure. Most of the time, it is a lack of careful planning that leads to the demise. Here’s a reality check:

Almost no business is profitable during the first year. Those folks who work from their home or who only do outcalls may be exceptions, but if you’re operating a massage business out of your own storefront, planning to do so, or  or even as a renter or independent contractor in someone else’s space, there are a lot of things to consider.

I’m going to get the independent contractors out of the way first. You are a self-employed person who performs your services in someone else’s space. You don’t have all the same overhead that a person in their own space does, but you still have certain expenses, and you’re working in someone else’s environment. They may–or may not–be throwing you a lot of business.  If you don’t have all you need or want, and it’s because you’re just sitting there waiting for the owner to do it all for you, you’re missing the boat. You still need to market yourself. That doesn’t mean taking out a big ad in the paper. It means you are actively engaged in trying to increase your client base on a daily basis, by networking, giving out business cards, getting yourself out there by performing community service, introducing yourself to people and telling them about the benefits of massage. Instead of blaming the owner for your lack of business, look at what you could be doing to increase it.

For those who are opening their own business, starting out without a business plan and a budget is a serious mistake. My advice is don’t take the plunge into opening your own business until you know you can survive for a year without a profit. When you initially open your business, you’re going to have a lot of one-time expenses–equipment, office furnishings, security deposits for rent and utilities. If you’re signing a lease, you’re committing yourself to paying rent (or a mortgage payment, if you’re buying.) You need to know what your monthly expenses are before you open the door.You need to include laundry, phone, Internet access, office and cleaning supplies, liability insurance, bank service charges and credit card processing charges, self-employment taxes–and that’s before you’ve spent any money on advertising.

I know that in my office, 52 massages have to take place before I’ve covered the monthly overhead. That’s my break-even point, and you need to figure out what yours is. But you can’t stop there–especially if you’re a single person or if your family is dependent upon a two-income lifestyle.  You also need to figure your break-even point for supporting your household.

Let’s say for argument’s sake your office expenses are 1500. a month. Imagine that at home, you need $500 for rent, $100 for  utilities, $100 for the phone, $200 for a student loan payment, $300 for credit card payments, $300 for groceries…then you’ve got clothing, medical care, insurance if you’re paying for that.  If you’ve got children, I don’t have to tell you how much that costs. So if you need $1500 to run the office, and $2000 to run your household, you need $3500 a month to cover your expenses. If you’re charging $60  for a massage, that means you have to perform 58 massages in a month just to make ends meet. That means you aren’t making a dime of extra money that you could spend on the previously mentioned vacation, charity, and any other extras you might like to have, until you’ve done 58 massages.  And if you’re self-employed and also having to take care of the cleaning, the laundry, the bookkeeping, and all the other things that go with that, be realistic about how much you can do.

You must also have a contingency plan…what if you don’t get those 58 massages during the first month, or the first few months? What if it snows and you miss a week at work, or you get sick and miss a week at work? What if your car needs an expensive repair, like mine did last week? Can you still meet your obligations?

In any business, and in service businesses in particular, the biggest mistake people make is sitting around waiting for business to come to them. Unless you own a funeral home, that’s a bad idea. Word of mouth is of course the cheapest and best form of advertising, but you have to get those people in the door first. And the chances are you don’t have a big advertising budget, so what are you going to do? These are just a few of the things I’ve done to increase my own business, and it has worked well for me.

I spend 30 minutes every morning on marketing activities intended to increase my business. That could mean working up a new ad, writing the client newsletter, calling clients I haven’t seen in here lately, sending out a welcome postcard to a new one, or any number of things, as long as it is something that will help spread the word about my business.

I am very active in our Chamber of Commerce (in fact, at this point in time, I am on their Board of Directors, but that’s a very recent development.) I’ve been active in it since the first week I opened my business. I attend as many networking functions, grand openings of other people’s businesses, open houses, etc. Why pay to belong to the Chamber if you’re not going to take advantage of all they have to offer? If you’re joining just to get a certificate on the wall that says you belong, then save your money.

I give a business card to two new people every day. You’re out somewhere every day where you have the opportunity to meet new people, or where you see someone you may already know–at school, church, the grocery store, the doctor’s office. Strike up a conversation with someone and give them a card. It takes three minutes.

Track your clients. Create a simple form on your computer listing the places you are advertising, plus referrals from doctors and clients, and ask each client, “Where did you hear about us?”  Write that down. If  a month or two has gone by and not one person says they’ve come in because of the ads you’ve been running in the Woman’s Weekly, it’s time to spend that money elsewhere.

Before you spend money on an ad, think about the potential return on investment. If you spend 100. to advertise in a regional magazine that goes to 5000 people, when you could spend that same 100. to place an ad in the local newspaper that reaches 50,000 people, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which one you ought to do.

These days, people expect every business to have a website. If you’re using some obscure url for a free site, they’re not going to find you. Spend the money to have a real website, one that is search-engine optimized and user-friendly.

You don’t have to be a financial whiz, or even a marketing whiz, to succeed in a massage practice, but you do need to take a realistic look at what you need to do in order to have a profitable bottom line. So before you start out, take a good hard luck at your budget and your personal financial situation…and don’t depend on opening a business to get you out of some financial mess you might already be in. And once you hang out your shingle, don’t sit on your hands waiting for business. Go out and get it. You can see more of my business tips, along with tips from Irene Diamond, Allissa Haines, Michael Reynolds, Felicia Brown, the Massage Nerd, and many more great educators on the Massage Learning Network.

Problem Solving in Your Practice

Every day, I get emails and calls from therapists who want some advice on problems in their practice. I usually can’t give an answer off the top of my head without questioning the therapist for further details, and visiting their website if they have one (and by the way, not having one is a problem in itself.) Even though two therapists may be  having the same problem, there are a lot of factors that are different from one practice to another, that potentially have a bearing on my answer.

The most common things people contact me about are clients who don’t rebook, and not having enough business in general. They will give me a list, of “I’m doing this, this, this, and this, and I’m still not making it.”

Let’s look at the first problem: Clients aren’t rebooking. There are a lot of reasons why clients don’t rebook. The biggest one is probably that the therapist doesn’t ask! Besides “Thank you,” the most important phrase for your business is “When would you like to schedule another appointment?” When I was a brand-new therapist, I was worried about appearing too pushy if I asked a client to rebook. Get over that immediately, and ask every one at every appointment.

If you are asking every client to rebook, and either they aren’t doing it at all, or it’s a very low percentage, I’d look closer into that problem by taking a searching and fearless inventory. Perhaps your technique–or your level of expertise–is just not what they were looking for. Not every person who gets a license to do massage is a great massage therapist. In my traveling around and getting massage in different places, I’ve had massage that’s mediocre, and unfortunately had some that was downright bad….then again, massage is a subjective experience. The massage that I thought was unskilled and sloppy might suit another person just fine. So how do you know?

There are some indicators. If the majority of people come out from the massage praising you to the high heavens, that’s an indicator. And if they don’t, that’s an indicator. If many of the people you’ve seen have referred someone else to you, that’s an indicator. And if they haven’t, that’s also an indicator.  Judging by comments I hear from successful therapists, most have a rebooking rate of anywhere from 50-100% (yes, some folks do have a practice that has evolved only to regular clients and standing appointments.) If your own rate is extremely low–say 20% or even less, that could be an indicator–maybe not of your skill in performing massage, but of something else.

The biggest complaint I hear from consumers is about therapists who talk all the time. Many people just want to get on the table and relax, not have a conversation with the therapist or just listen to the therapist rattle on. I’ve also heard complaints about people who had offices that were less than clean and cluttered with junk. And therapists who impose energy work or other non-massage practices on people who don’t want it…I had a client tell me that a therapist she saw walked around the table chanting before commencing the massage. And I  hear about therapists who are dressed so sloppily they could be mistaken for a homeless person. If any of that applies to you, you might want to take some corrective measures.

One mistake I often see with practitioners in general is so simple it jumps out at me–but it isn’t occurring to them, and that’s the name of their business. What does the name of your business convey about what you do? Does it convey what you do at all, or is it something that the public would see and say “Mmm, wonder what kind of business that is?”  I don’t want to pick on anyone here or insult any of the hundreds of MTs who are in my social networks by inadvertently choosing their name as an example, so I’ll just say I’ve seen some business names that had absolutely nothing to do with massage; the potential client who hears the name isn’t going to automatically associate it with massage, unless that is spelled out as part of the name.

I’m not picking on therapists who incorporate energy work–when that is what the client wants–but I will say this: are you trying to be known as a massage therapist or not? The other day I looked over the website of a struggling therapist, and the first thing I noticed was that Reiki was in the top spot on the menu of services. Massage was listed below the energy modalities on the list. If you’re trying to build your reputation as an energy practitioner instead of a massage therapist, that’s going to work for you. If you’re not, it isn’t. There are a certain amount of people who will immediately decide you aren’t the therapist for them and not read any further. This is also a problem with practitioners who do a modality that the general public isn’t really educated about. For example, if your business identity is Mary Jones, Craniosacral Practitioner, you are apt to attract the limited clientele that already knows what craniosacral is. If that’s what’s on your signage and your advertisement, you are not getting a message to people who are seeking a massage therapist. That’s fine–if craniosacral is all you want to do and you don’t care about attracting new clients.

I’ve heard a few other complaints from the public…like therapists who smell like smoke. Therapists who smell like garlic. Therapists wearing perfume. Sheets and face cradle covers that smell of old oil. Cats and dogs in the office. Therapists who ask nosy personal questions that don’t have anything to do with the massage. Therapists who try to pressure sell retail items or sign up clients for MLM companies. Therapists who go outside their scope of practice and give diet and nutritional advice, or psychological advice, when they have no qualifications to do so. The list goes on.

If you take your searching and fearless inventory, and you aren’t guilty of any of these offenses, then consider a few other possibilities. Did you do a market survey before opening your business? Did you ascertain how much competition is in the immediate area? Did you choose to open your business in an environment that’s already saturated? Are you charging a lot more–or a lot less– than your nearest competitors? Is there a parking problem? Are you in an upstairs office with no elevator? Is your entire office handicapped accessible? Do you keep regular hours, and are they plainly posted?

Simple mistakes are sometimes at fault. Like using your cell phone for business and answering with a “Hey, what’s up. Leave a number and I’ll call you back.” That should be “You’ve reached Laura Allen, massage therapist. Please leave your name and number and I’ll call you back within an hour,” or whatever is the shortest time frame you can offer.

The biggest mistake therapists make is sitting around the office waiting for business to come to them. You have to go out and get it. A lot of free business and marketing advice from myself and other experts in the field is available on www.massagelearningnetwork.com. If you’re struggling, don’t give up on yourself just yet. There’s a solution to every problem–and identifying that there’s a problem is the first step in solving it.

The Forgotten Flier

Do you use fliers to advertise your business? In this age of Internet marketing, you’re probably overlooking the humble flyer as a way to get the word out. Don’t count it out!

Fliers are cheap and easy to produce. You can make them yourself using Word, Publisher, or many other programs. You don’t have to be an artist to make a professional looking-flyer. Follow a few simple rules and you’ll come up with the perfect one for your business.

First, you want the flyer to attract attention. Bright neon paper will get more attention than a piece of white paper. Bold type that’s large enough for people to read easily is a necessity. A picture or graphic is nice, and it needs to convey the message. This is about massage, so don’t put a picture of a flower or a yin/yang sign–put a massage-related picture. Don’t use your own logo as the main picture unless it truly conveys that this is about massage. I’ve seen thousands of logos that without the wording, people wouldn’t have a clue that it was anything massage-related.

You want the message to be short and sweet: who you are, what you do, and where you’re located. Leave plenty of white space; in other words, don’t try to pack so much on it that it ends up looking like an overload of information. You want it to be easy to read. Have the headline be a call to action–not the name of your business. Something catchy like “Don’t Put up With Pain!” or “Get Rid of  Holiday Stress!” Your contact information should go at the bottom of the page. Most people are carrying around cell phones and can easily enter your number, or you can also put your name and number on pre-cut tear-offs on the bottom of the page. Don’t forget to use the spell checker.

Now that you’ve got the flier, arm yourself with a box of pushpins. Keep them in a manila envelope in your car. Anywhere you go you see a bulletin board, put up a flier. They’re free, so why not make use of them? It’s a no-brainer.

Is there a university or community college in your town? There’s usually a bulletin board in every hallway. The Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, community halls, your church, grocery and convenience stores, the library, the health food store–there’s just no end to the places where bulletin boards exist. Visit local schools and ask the receptionist to put one on the bulletin board in the teacher’s lounge–maybe offering a first-time discount or an extra 15 minutes with their first session. Avoid mentioning any short-term sales or discounts that have an expiration date or you’ll need to go around and change them frequently.Works for me!