Self-Sabotage, or How I Got Your Clients

There are some great massage therapists in my town (other than the ones who work with me), and this isn’t directed at them. But in every town, and mine is no exception, there are massage therapists who are thriving, and massage therapists who are barely surviving…many of whom eventually give up and go back to doing whatever they used to do, or find some other way to make a living.

Sometimes, a business just doesn’t make it in spite of your best efforts.  Setbacks happen that are beyond our control, sometimes serious things like a health crisis, or your spouse losing a job, or some other trauma and drama interferes with our lives and our plans. Sometimes the location just isn’t ideal, or you’re in an area that’s already saturated when you’re just getting started. Sure enough, these things can all be roadblocks to success.

It’s sad but true, though, that people commit self-sabotage, leading the clients they do get to keep looking for another therapist. If your client retention rate isn’t what it should be–or what you hope for it to be–take a good look at the situation. Over the years, I’ve gained many clients who told me they had seen another therapist, and decided to go elsewhere–meaning they came to me. Here are just a few of the comments I’ve heard:

“I really liked her massage but her office was a mess and the bathroom wasn’t clean.”

“I asked him to lighten up several times, but he kept saying, “I can’t, because this is what you need.”

“She could never start my appointment on time. She was always late.”

“She insists on doing Reiki on me at the beginning of every session and I don’t want it, I want the hour of massage I am paying for.”

“He won’t shut up. He talks the whole time.”

“He kept trying to sell me an expensive water filter.”

“She is always trying to sell me this juice that’s $50 a bottle.”

“She’s constantly having some personal problem that requires her changing my appointments.”

“When I was face down on the table I noticed a bunch of dust bunnies on the floor. Two weeks later when I went back they were still there.”

“He did some thing walking around me and banging on a little gong for ten minutes before he started the massage.”

“He told me he had to massage my breasts, it was part of the massage.”

“She answered her telephone during my massage.”

“She’s always telling me I need to do this detox program she sells.”

“She has some kind of aromatherapy oil permeating the air and it’s just overwhelming. Just because it smells good to her doesn’t mean it smells good to me.”

“He spent the whole hour talking about his divorce. I’m a psychologist so I guess he thought I would give him some free counseling.”

“She had her cat in the office. I’m allergic to cat hair.”

“She had her dog in the office and he barked at me. I’m afraid of dogs.”

“She was dressed really sloppy and barefoot.”

“The sheets just had some kind of funny smell.”

I could keep on, but I think you’re getting the picture. At least I hope you are.  The vast majority of the time, when someone tells me that they’ve left another therapist, it has absolutely nothing to do with their skills as a massage therapist. It’s lack of caring, lack of service, or lack of professionalism. If your office is clean and uncluttered, and you’re on time for your clients, giving them what they ask for and what they’re paying for, and presenting a professional persona, don’t give up. And if any of these things could be said about you, change your ways, if you want to cultivate the kind of satisfied clients who turn into regulars and send you referrals.  Otherwise, the people who come through your door are just going to keep looking for that therapist who meets their expectations.

19 Replies to “Self-Sabotage, or How I Got Your Clients”

  1. “She is always trying to sell me this juice that’s $50 a bottle.”

    OMG, I had the Xocai Chocolate people banging on my door for weeks. I couldn’t believe they wanted me to buy hundreds of dollars of this “special chocolate” to just give away and hopefully get my clients to buy. I thought the whole thing was shady. Even my mom told me that if I started trying to sell her on it, she’d never come back. Why do people think trying to sell all this other stuff during your session is appropriate?!?!?!

  2. Laura, this is so true. I have gotten clients from other massage therapists who were guilty of very similar situations.

    A big culprit that I often heard, in addition to too much talking, was how messy their waiting rooms or treatment rooms were. I actually wrote a blog post about this last summer called “See Your Business Through the Client’s Eyes –

  3. You’re so right, Laura. Very few people fail in their massage business because they’re bad at massage. It’s mostly stuff like this. You just need to clean up, show up, and shut up 🙂

  4. I have to say… I got the giggles reading this list! It’s awesome! Oh, it would be horrible to know that any of these things were said but I am sure it happens all the time!

  5. Thanks so much for the article Laura! I have heard some of these from clients over the years (re: other therapists) – most commonly the never stop talking comment. As more and more therapists incorporate essential oils/aromatherapy into their practice, I think it’s especially important to be mindful of people’s preferences and sensitivities. Just because an essential oil is pure and relevant to the situation doesn’t mean a client wants to be slathered in it. Kind of a pet peeve of mine, so I’ll stop there ;). Thanks again!

  6. Being a massage therapist myself I’m pretty forgiving on alot of issues. But the last massage I had the therapist kept telling me that I “just needed to go home and scream into a pillow to release some of my stress.” My life and private practice are going pretty well right now and I don’t need to do that. But he just kept on saying it. I felt that that was more of what HE needed to do. Oh well, he did some good myofascial work so I was happy for that but I won’t go back.

  7. My favorite response to me asking a therapist why he thought his business wasn’t really happening…
    “Well…I don’t have a table…”
    Now THAT would be a problem. LOL

  8. You are so right, many people forget the “Customer IS always right”. A clean office and attention to the patient/client is a must for a successful therapist.

  9. Respect for the client and their wishes is paramount.
    I work on a lot with the elderly and the disabled and I get comments about how their last therapist, the one they left, only did a general glide over their bodies instead of a more focused massage with appropriate pressure. I have had that exact experience as well.
    I’ve also heard that they felt the person was afraid of the issue being presented by their condition.

  10. What a great and cringe-worthy post! We ask on our intake forms what clients liked/disliked about previous massages. The top two answers are “Therapist talked too much” or “Therapist didn’t use enough pressure.” We’ve gotten lots of loyal clients who used to see other therapists because we respect the client’s need for peace and quiet during their session!

  11. Every time I read a post like this I get paranoid! But that’s a good thing, we all need to evaluate from time to time. But it is difficult to be quiet when the client won’t stop talking, I just can’t tell them to be quiet more than once.

  12. Great post Laura! I am guilty of talking too much, for sure. I have really had to learn to keep private things private and for me to have an accessible personality, I give too much information. I have had to 1) get a life and support system outside of my work, 2) get a life outside of work, 3) make sure that I work out and relieve stress. I think in a 17 year career it would be fairly impossible to have a professional life without rough spots. It would be nice if we made enough to have a back up plan so that we don’t have to work despite all that. There are days I should not massage. I have nothing left to give, struggle with suppressing my feelings all day to remain professional. I work 6 days a week to have a business that supports me and after 17 years and all the stories I hear in a day, my emotional plate gets very full. I love massage, and hope my clients forgive my bad days as much as I do others. We are not robots after all. I will be happy when I can work less.

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