Things I Want to Tell You

There are some things I’ve been wanting to tell you about.

I want to tell you that I’ve been walking. For fitness, not just transportation. Not fast and not particularly far. But some. And enough. There’s a great little park near me, I saw the last pile of snow there last week. I felt hatred at it and admired its perseverance at the same time.

sno

I want to tell you that I’ve never seen a winter like this one. Not necessarily weather-wise, but in spirit. It’s been crushing. It has beaten us down like none I’ve seen before.

I want to tell you that I got smoked by my friends and their toddlers at candlepin bowling last week. Smoked.

bowling

I want to tell you that I’ve been hustling to get more clients on my table. And it’s sort of working. Today I got invited to a BNI meeting. I don’t love them, it’s been years since I went to one. But in the interest of pushing myself, I’m going.

I want to tell you that I loved teaching at NERC. It was a weird but secret prestigious victory that my Sunday morning class was full. And attentive. I want to see the evals but I don’t, because I’m thrilled with the feedback I’ve gotten directly from attendees and I don’t want to be heartbroken.

I want to tell you that when I was preparing for NERC I found myself capable of more productivity and creativity than I though possible. and i’m trying hard to keep that going.

I want to tell you that I’ve been standing up for myself. Diplomatically, even.

And that I’ve failed to stand up for myself a few times and immediately regretted it.

I want to tell you that my clients are hilarious.

pogo text

And that I listen to The Moth when I walk and this episode made me ache, and this one made me giggle, and this one sucked. me. in.

I want to tell you that with my 39th birthday in sight I’ve never been happier. And I’ve never been less happy. I am confused and intrigued and inspired by this. I’m cool with that.

And that Greg and I went to a play at a cheesy little community theatre and it was so much fun. SO much fun, because when I was feeling icky, I could nap all day and not worry about cleaning my house because Greg is the kind of friend I don’t have to clean my house for.
greg
I want to tell you that getting an email marketing plan together may just be the smartest thing you can do for your practice.

I want to tell you that I just passed 9 years in practice and I still get a little nervous when a new client walks in the door. Sometimes when a regular client does, too.

I want to tell you how that nervous feeling is a little bit the same as it was 9 years ago. But it’s mostly different. It’s more excitement now and less fear. Well, it’s a more confident fear, that I can handle what walks in.

I want to tell you that I took the high road. I probably won’t always, but I did on one occasion and I feel good about it.

I want to tell you that I whined to a colleague today about being busy, and when she told me to ‘not put too much work’ into my project with her, I laughed inside, because hers is the project I’m most excited about. Then I reminded myself to stop whining.

I want to tell you that many of the people I think of as trailblazers in massage are also my friends. And volunteering made that possible.

I want to tell you that I’m sad that I’m not an AMTA member anymore. And as I wind down working for some chapters, as I build committees to replace me so I can step away fully, I’m mourning that loss. (I also want to tell you that if you’re a CT or MA chapter member and want to train under me to learn some crazy marketable skills and also feel great about volunteering, you should email me right now.)

I want to tell you that I’ve finally figured out what this whole Blue Streak endeavor is supposed to be. But I won’t be showing that to you right away.

I want to tell you that I’m clearing time to make that happen, but I’m not putting deadlines on it because I’m going to do it right, from the ground up, this time. That may take awhile.

I want to tell you that this work, this somewhat odd job we have, where we touch people, is really, really important. You know that already, but I want to remind you. It can be hard to hang on to that when we’re tired, when the rent goes up, when you miss a spontaneous get together of friends because you’ve had a client scheduled for 3 weeks and you just can’t cancel.

I want to tell you that because you are a massage therapist someone is sleeping better tonight. Someone is handling the news of a death a little better. A kid who didn’t before is hugging their parent. Someone is creating their next great masterpiece without pain. Caregivers are keeping kids healthier.

I’ve been wanting to tell you about all of this, but I’ve been kinda busy doing it, taking your advice and hustling to get clients on the table. And it’s working. So thanks for that.

My very own nostalgia video

-or- It’s a snow day and no work shall be done.

In a move of marketing brilliance, Facebook is running a 10 year birthday campaign that includes a video retrospective, made up of highlights from a user’s profile.

It’s catchy, it’s fun, and it’s causing lumps in throats and adorable bouts of nostalgic weepiness across the country.

After watching my own video I realized they did a damn fine job of curating and featuring the things that have been most important in my life for the past 7 years.

The opening two pictures are my 2008 AMTA-MA Chapter Meritorious Award, and the third is a picture with Harold Packman, an amazing and hilarious massage therapist I met when he came to teach for us. My great-niece makes an appearance, there’s a fabulous shot of my friend Melanie and I after conquering a run up and down the Gillette Stadium ramps in the July heat, a reminder of how much I adore my job, and more than one photo chronicling my friendship with Greg. I estimate 90% of the video is related to my massage friends and events. This makes sense. In the absence of offspring, I am able to throw myself into work I love, and I have the freedom to play with my massage friends often. This pleases me, I love my work. It also ignited my recurring “Shit. Am I codependent on my work? Do I have a life outside of massage?” concerns.

Then I started watching my friend’s videos. I appeared in Greg’s, in a photo of our post meeting/class scotch ritual. And in Jaime’s, holding her baby. And in Angela’s, before and after a 13 mile stroll together and then one with fancy drinks. Her video was rife with clips of accomplishments from kids who have changed my world. (That’s when I… ummm…got something in my eye.)

I had been thinking so hard about what’s in my life, I kinda forgot about the other lives that I’m a part of. And I am part of many.

You understand that it’s about Relationships, Allissa.

That’s what Michael has said to me nearly every time I’ve questioned if I should have anything to do with teaching marketing. The answer to any question about marketing usually comes down to relationship-building. Do you understand what your people need? Do you really, genuinely care about finding the answer? Will you serve?

Not sell, convince, or persuade. But inform and serve.

For a long time I thought I had to serve in a particular way. I thought I had to volunteer through certain channels. I thought I had to conform to the typical Online Business-y/Sell ebooks model. Turns out that was all crap. We’ve build something very different here. This little Blue Streak community spans organizations, modalities, and an ocean or two. We do it with brains, and humor, and love. And we do it well.

So then I thought, what would the nostalgic Facebook video of my Blue Streak page look like? Facebook isn’t doing it with pages, so I had to make my own. Enjoy. And thanks for coming along.

Liability Insurance. You needs it.

ID-10039916I am a firm believer that the best marketing move you can make is to run a really responsible business. That seems like a no brainer; of course you want your business to be responsible. You want a great reputation in your community and you want clients to trust you and recommend you to their friends.

But running a responsible business involves more than just looking professional at work, having a clean office, and showing up for community events. It means taking care of the stuff that isn’t obvious and apparent to clients. Things like a securely locked file cabinet, making client notes in accordance with your state’s rules, claiming all your income, and having great general, professional, and product liability insurance.

It’s been a hot topic lately, so let’s talk about insurance. Specifically, where you can get it, how much it costs, and what exactly you’re getting.

I put the question out to the masses the other day and did some scouting around on my own. What I learned is that I needed to know a whole bunch more.

For example, did you know that some policies have maximums that are shared among all their policy holders? It’s called shared/universal aggregate. So if it’s a $6 million individual annual aggregate with $10 million shared, that means that if a whole bunch of people with that same insurance company file claims before me, and they max out the $10 million, I’m screwed. Is this likely? No. But do I want to risk it? Hells no. What if the biggest oil manufacturer in the world puts out a bum batch of oils that starts killing clients with a certain wacky allergy? Do I want to be worried about shared aggregates when one of my clients gets sick from the icky oil? Again, hells no.

Perhaps I’ll decide to marry into money retire and end my career and hence, end my insurance. But then six months later a former client pops up to say I busted her rib. If I have occurrence coverage, I’m fine. Even if I no longer carry the policy, I did when I busted the rib, so it’s covered. But if I have claim-made coverage, I’m screwed. If the policy is not active at the time the client makes a claim, I’ll have to ask my sugardaddyfor help sell my Corolla and get back to work to pay for her medical bills. And her lost wages. And probably other things I’m not thinking of right now. Yikes.

But taking my word for it is not going to help you here. You need to learn what all of this means and make your own decisions. Luckily, the good people of ABMP have an ebook on exactly this. It’s easy to understand (not at all sales-y, so calm down) and will walk you through what you need to know.

I think it speaks to the quality of this company that they are cozy providing all the details, definitions, and/or comparisons for you.

You’ve also got to consider the modalities you practice and be sure the insurance you choose covers what you do, and that it covers you in all the different places you work. Also, I’m kind of attached to my supplies and equipment and I’ve got an office full of multiple tables, chairs and a ton of supplies, so I need a policy that can include property insurance, at the amounts I need.

Your needs are different than mine, so I’m not going to give you a recommendation. I’ve given you the tools, you need to figure it out. You’ve got the knowledge Enjoy!

*this post was edited on 1/30/14 to remove a link to a resource I decided wasn’t fantastic. Sorry about that.

Image courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why I’m Leaving the AMTA

broken heart chalkboard guyAfter 9 years of membership and volunteering, I’m leaving the AMTA. It’s been a long time coming and there are many, many reasons for this decision. I won’t bore you with the full list, but recent changes and my upcoming renewal deadline have prompted this decision. Many of you are members, many of you are volunteers in state and national leadership positions. I think we’re all getting hoodwinked, and I think you should know about it.

But let’s lay down some history. I joined as a student, because a few teachers were members and they suggested it. I went to my first conference in 2007 and immediately became a volunteer.

I love the state chapters. I love them. I love the people I’ve met and the volunteer work I’ve done. I love that my chapter has a host of benefits well beyond what national AMTA offers. Along with a lobbyist to help us fend off attacks from crappy legislation and other professions looking to limit our scope of practice, we’ve got a health insurance broker, financial planner, lawyer for work-related consults, and top notch continuing education for $50 a day.

As I became less enchanted with the policies and attitude from National, I’ve stayed a member because I love the local network and my chapter, (and all the New England chapters, really) is pretty great.

But AMTA has made some changes recently, and they matter. You can read the details about those changes here and some interesting discussion on Laura’s facebook posting here.

In a nutshell, they are eliminating the mandatory chapter fee a member pays as part of the membership dues and chapter budgets are taking the hit. 

In a series of conference call presentations, chapter leaders were told that changes were being made in order to be competitive in pricing with other organizations. Membership numbers have been decreasing and this is a concern.

Also, leaders were told that the varying chapter fees (each chapter determines its own fee and the membership votes on it regularly) were confusing to members and potential new members.

Further, some chapters do not spend all of their budgeted money every year, leading to a surplus of funds not being used, and instead being saved. This is an issue when trying to maintain a IRC 501(c)(6) status like the AMTA holds.

For those reasons, the mandatory chapter fee previously added to the $235 membership dues is being removed, and new and renewing members are being offered the opportunity to make a voluntary ‘donation’ to their state chapter (or any other state chapter) above and beyond that dues. ( added 1/27 9:30am: chapters will still receive a portion of dues, I believe about $32/member.)

So let’s be clear: after these changes are instituted, the amount of money that national receives from dues has not changed. Chapters are absorbing the loss.

Chapters will lose a huge chunk of their operating budgets. My chapter will lose about $90,000 a year. That money has been providing direct services to members. Services that we use. Daily.

I am not okay with this. Taking money away from state chapters is a crappy way to fix the problem of falling membership numbers. The chapters are the power behind the AMTA. The state chapter network is what differentiates the AMTA from other organizations and what makes a therapist pay more money for a membership when they could pay much less for just liability insurance elsewhere.

The best way to stay competitive with other organizations and insurance providers is not to drop the fee, it is to provide a better product. We all learn this in basic business skills: Don’t compete on price.

If varying chapter fees are a problem, the solution is not to eliminate the fee and punish the chapters. The appropriate solution would be to standardize the chapter fees.

If the amount of money in chapter reserves is problematic, AMTA could simply instruct their chapters to limit the amount of money in reserves to a three to six month operating budget and require that anything left not earmarked for a specific initiative such as licensing, etc., be donated to their favorite massage research organization, or to a smaller chapter, or returned to national AMTA, even. Instead, they are choosing to penalize all the chapters, not just those who are under-spending.

Nonetheless, this craptastic decision was made in executive session of the National Board of Directors last year and announced to chapter leaders this fall. ‘Executive session’ means the meeting is closed. No one outside the room is supposed to find out who introduced the idea, who said what, and how board members voted. And once the vote is taken, all board members must speak only the party line, and not express any dissenting opinion. (Which is a whole other issue. How am I supposed to decide who to vote for if I can never know what an incumbent candidate for national office actually thinks about any particular issue? Coupled with the ‘no campaigning’ policy, there is no way to place a truly educated voted. That’s just batshit.)

If AMTA staff was doing a stellar job of running the National office, making hardcore efforts to creating fantastic, useful training materials and real support for chapter leaders, making a genuine, educated effort to truly connect with massage therapists hustling at work every day, or representing us well in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, I could probably get on board. But they are doing none of those things.

AMTA is failing us. The National Staff is failing us. This Board of Directors failed us. Together they are failing the members, the volunteers, and the profession.

I decided that I cannot in good conscience be a professional member of the AMTA any longer. But I wasn’t ready to break up entirely. My plan was to get my liability insurance elsewhere, stay a supporting member of the AMTA ($95/year) and donate some money to my state chapter, hoping they still let me hang out at an occasional meeting. I was hoping that over the next year, AMTA would pull their crap together, and maybe I would want to go back. Sadly, that ain’t happening.

My membership is up for renewal at the end of this month. I called last week to change it to a supporting membership, and I was told that is not allowed. The supporting membership is only for retired or inactive massage therapists, or non-massage therapists. I cannot be a practicing massage therapist and be a supporting member of the AMTA. [Sidebar, I have unofficially been told that this is because the general public could be confused and think that I've got full membership and insurance when I don't, and that could harm the reputation and credibility of professional members. That's utter crap. Take my money, tell me I cannot display the logo on any promotional material or imply in any way that I am a Professional Member and call it a day. They already have rules and protocol for the display of the logo. This is neither complex nor earth-shattering. You can see the rules here, or checkout the screenshot here,  since you can’t see the rules without logging in to the site.]

So AMTA is now behaving like a petulant child. It’s all or nothing. They are shunning potential supporters (and their money) who choose to get their liability insurance elsewhere. Newsflash to the national staff and BoD: You are not an insurance company. You are a membership organization.

And on February 1, AMTA will have one less member. One less motivated member. One less volunteer. One less experienced, well-educated, well-spoken member who is respected in her own community as a massage practitioner. One less mentor and advocate and teacher.

You’ve got one less member. And I bet in the next year as renewal forms go out all over the country, AMTA will find there are many, many members right behind me.

Rules for comments: If I’m wrong, tell me why and how. If you identify with my experience, feel free to share. However, comments that involve a “one organization vs the other organization” attitude will be removed. You all know what I’m talking about here and I will moderate with reckless abandon to keep this conversation focussed. 

A follow up- Accepting outside gift certificates

Last week I published a post about accepting competitor gift certificates. I’ve done this in my massage business for years and figured it would be a cool idea to share with you.

As always, you all brought up a variety of questions, concerns, and ideas I had never even considered. You raised ethical and professional considerations, the feelings of the gift giver, and much, much more. It’s important to me that we all learn from each other. Moreover, it’s important to me that we recognize the endless variety of our businesses, our marketing styles, and the techniques we choose to employ. There’s an awful lot of gray area between right and wrong.

d'oh!I admit, I started to read some of the challenging opinions and my defense mechanisms kicked in. For a split second I considered all those questioning my business morals to be ignorant, self-righteous clods. Then I was embarrassed for being so naive as to not see the potential for ickyness in this technique. So I spent considerable time this week reading your comments here on the blog and in various discussion groups and threads on Facebook. I spoke with many colleagues and I had dinner with my friend and mentor, Greg. We discussed the issue extensively over his Black & Tan and my Monty Python’s Holy (Gr) Ale. Really. It was delicious.

We broke this topic down into both philosophical ideas and practical application. Hang on, here we go.

I chose a crappy title
I shouldn’t have used the word competitor. I rarely use that word when I talk about other businesses. I don’t actually consider any other practitioners or establishments providing massage to be my competitors. They are just other businesses. They do things that attract the right clients for them, and that’s different from what I do, and certainly not a threat to my livelihood. So moving forward, I’m going to refer to them as ‘outside’ gift certificates.

Intent
It never occurred to me that accepting an outside gift certificate would be considered stealing a client. I’ve never practiced this technique with any nefarious intent. In my mind, I was making it easier for a potential client- with whom I had just made a genuine connection- to come in to my office. That’s it. But I see now how this technique could be perceive as icky, and we’ll be discussing some boundaries and scripts for keeping it real later in this post. We talk a lot about intent with our hands on work, I believe this applies, to a degree, with marketing as well.

But you’re giving massage for free!
One dude in a group even said, of a colleague who stated he was going to begin doing this, “He wont be making ANY MONEY. Just getting a massage. He wont be in practice very long…..He isnt very smart!” and “[He] is using bad business sense!” [sic] Then I got kinda Julia Sugarbaker on him and he went quiet. Hey, I have my moments, too. Baby steps.

Dissenters aside, you are not giving a massage for free. You are accepting an alternate form of payment. (FYI-I have a meeting with my tax guy scheduled in February. My first accountant years ago told me that accepting the gift certificate is a form of barter and should be recorded on your tax filing as such. I’m going to get my new guy’s opinion and get back to you.)

We don’t own clients (or potential clients)
If you get twitchy at the idea of your client seeing another therapist intermittently, or switching to someone else altogether, you’ve got the problem. Get your ego in check and get over yourself. You can’t be the perfect therapist for every client all the time. You just can’t. If you’re thinking more about what’s best for you instead of what’s best for that client, maybe you should consider a job change. We all have our moments of fear in running a business. But if you make decisions base on fear or jealousy, or let it cloud your therapeutic judgement, your problems are bigger than gift certificates.

Frankly, if one of my local colleagues gets pissy about me doing this, they are probably an asshat who I don’t want to play with anyhow. Sure, they could say nasty things about me, but more often that reflects badly on them, not me.

Once they are sold (or donated), we don’t own the gift certificate anymore
The recipient can do whatever the heck they want with it. Use it, regift it, use it as a coaster or birdcage lining. Selling gift certificates is a risk. If you’re threatened by the very notion of another therapist accepting your gift certificate and then coming to see you, pull yourself together. They simply met this person first, they are not the enemy. And if you pay your cards right, that therapist could be an ally and a referral partner. If that colleague is a jerk, they probably won’t ever come in anyhow. You got paid for the gift certificate already. Or you donated it and you’re not out any money anyhow. Move on, there’s nothing to see here.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about the week. But you all asked some very smart, tangible questions about the protocol, and the ethics of the technique in very specific situations. Let’s tackle that.

What if the gift certificate was a donation?
My friend Jill commented, “What happens when the gift certificate you are honoring is one that someone donated to a silent auction of some charitable organization with the notion they want to be charitable, and also have the opportunity to get their hands on some new clients to demonstrate their skill and hopefully retain the client as a paying customer. I’ve done that many times before as a marketing strategy and I think I might feel kind of badly toward a practitioner for derailing my marketing intention.”

Jill makes a great point. If I was to accept the gift certificate and throw it away, that therapist would never reap the rewards of their thoughtful donation. They may get a little goodwill from the event organizers who saw the donation, and the therapist certainly isn’t out any money, but they don’t get the new, potentially loyal client they were hoping for.

But this argument undervalues my potential relationship with the business or independent therapist I go to see. It’s no less valuable than that of a non-therapist new client. Frankly, it may be more valuable. I refer out like a maniac to good therapists I know. And I would get to know MORE of them if I could afford more massage.

I’m a massage therapist, but I’m also a client. My patronage is no less worthy than anyone else’s.

What about the feelings of the gift-giver?
Regifting happens. I have a hard time feeling bad for someone who gives stuff with strings attached. But I understand the idea here. Let’s say Jane loves her massage therapist, Bob. She tells all her friends about Bob, and for Christmas, she gives her very best friend Penelope a gift certificate for 90 minutes with Bob.

No doubt, Jane would be hurt if Penelope turned around and used that gift certificate with me because she met me at a chair massage gig before she made an effort to schedule with Bob. But in reality, that’s not gonna happen. WHen I meet Penelope at the Relay for Life and she’s sitting in my massage chair, she’ll say, “Oh, I have a gift certificate for Bob, but I keep forgetting to schedule!” I’m going to say, “Oh, I know Bob, he’s fantastic! Get scheduled already!” Unless she gives me some valid reason she doesn’t want to go to Bob, I’m never going to offer to accept the gift certificate anyhow. (We’ve got more about promotion and scripts below. Stay with me.)

You can use your discretion.

Promoting this offer
Back when I started, I think I had this offer buried in a page on my website but primarily, I promoted it when I was talking to people at community gigs and in the welcome email when someone subscribed to my emails via my website.

I promoted this to people who had already made a connection with me. I do think that matters a great deal. After thinking this all through, I probably wouldn’t suggest putting this on your website. There are too many technicalities to consider, too many rules you would have to state. In my email, and in person, I always just said, “I’ll accept an outside gift certificate, once per person, per year.” I did have a woman whose husband gave her a gift card to a local spa three times a year, even though she kept asking him to just get one for me. I think I took hers more often, but I really liked that spa, and I really liked that client. Eventually, I just said, “Do you want me to email your husband a link to my online gift certificate page?” And I did, but then they moved away, so I have no idea if that would’ve worked.

How do you determine the value of the gift certificate, and if it’s valid?
My friend Irene owns a larger practice with several practitioners and a receptionist, so she gets the info over the phone when the client books and has the staff call to confirm that its legit, and its value. She does a dollar-for-dollar value. So if the gift certificate is for $50, but Irene’s session costs $80, they pay the difference.

I operate on a more mellow scale. I have neither the time nor the inclination to do the legwork here. I’ve never been scammed and when I’m accepting this get certificate, it’s from someone I probably met at a public gig. There’s a connection established. My town is hardly small, but it’s small enough and I grew up around here. I’m two degrees of separation from everyone I meet. That’s usually been established, and it’s just not likely that this person, who is my 5th grade teacher’s brother, will try to scam me. I figure this is about the same risk as accepting a check for payment, and I don’t worry about it. Also, I’m lazy.

If the gift certificate is for a service “30 minute massage” I usually just do the even swap. I don’t worry too much about exact pricing. If it’s for a specific dollar amount, I do that.

These are choices you get to make, according to what’s right for your business. I don’t recommend being as lazy as I am if you’re going to get upset about being scammed.

Let’s get you some scripts
It’s hard to know what to say when these situations arise. You don’t want to come off as gross and client-hungry. But when it’s appropriate, you do want to encourage a potential client -with whom you’ve made a real connection- to get into your office So here are some situations and some scripts for you to build on.

In the Penelope situation
“Oh, I have a gift certificate for Bob, but I keep forgetting to schedule!” I’m going to say, “Oh, I know Bob, he’s fantastic! Get scheduled already!”  If she says she’s weirded out by seeing a male therapist, I’ll probably educate her about our training and draping. If she says she just doesn’t have time, I’ll probably say something about the importance of self care. In that moment, I’m Bob’s biggest advocate. I’m massages biggest advocate. But if she tells me, “Jane doesn’t realize, my religion prevents me from seeing a male therapist,” then I would most definitely make the offer to accept the gift certificate.

When it’s about discomfort
“Oh, my husband gave me a gift certificate for XYZ Spa for Valentine’s Day, but I’ve never had a massage before and isn’t it kind of awkward to just let someone you don’t know rub you?” Again, there’s an opportunity to educate a person about massage. So I would do that, and probably follow up with, “I think you should really give it a shot. But if you’re really uncomfortable with that and would like to come to my office, I would be happy to accept that gift certificate.” When she gets all, “Really?!” as people usually do, I tell her straight out, “I’ll go get a massage or a pedicure myself. No big deal.”

When it’s for someone you really can’t stand and would never refer to
We’ve all got some colleagues we would never refer to. Maybe her office is dirty. maybe you noticed she works really, really late and only sees male clients and what the hell was up with her being at her office with a client at 2am on a Tuesday that night you drove by when you woke up and  thought you left the space heater on at your office and got out of bed and drove there to go check and as it tuned out you didn’t leave the space heater on but really 2am on a Tuesday?! But I digress.

When someone says, “I’ve got a gift certificate for HER I still haven’t used,” I say, “That’s nice, I know a few people who’ve been to her office.” And then I use the same judgement as the other cases above. I may or may not offer to accept the gift certificate (knowing full well I’ll never use it) depending on the remainder of the conversation.

So there’s that
We could come up with a zillion more facets to discuss here, but I doubt that’s necessary. The beauty of owning a massage business is that you get to call the shots. If this, or any marketing technique, feels icky to you, don’t do it. If you think it through, consider the ethics and boundaries, and decide you are comfortable with the practice, do it. There’s no rule saying you can’t change your mind later.

Once again, thanks for keeping me on my toes. I love you for that.

Image courtesy of stockimages / www.freedigitalphotos.net

Accepting competitor gift certificates. It works.

Note: this post ignited much discussion. When you’re done here, I encourage you to read the follow up post here.

When I started my practice I was constantly hustling at community events. I did chair massage for endless charity events, for groups of women who would stamp and scrapbook, you know what I’m talking about here. Even when I wasn’t working, if I was meeting someone new, the “I’m a massage therapist” line would naturally come about. As it should.

After a few typical lines of small talk about massage, my new connection (let’s call her Jane, because my imagination does not extend to inventing creative fictional character names) would often say, “I have a gift certificate for XYZ spa, I just haven’t gotten around to using it yet,” or something to that effect. No doubt, you’ve heard all the variations on this as well.

I would usually respond with a complimentary sentiment about that business and conversation would move along. I figured eventually Jane would either lose or use the gift certificate, then she would come to me in the future. And while that may have been true, I realized I could probably speed that whole process along

Before we dive into that, let’s step back and look at the situation

Jane is sitting in my massage chair or eating a hot dog next to me at a neighborhood BBQ, developing a relationship with me. She’s getting cozy with my style, hearing me talk in a non-salesy, relaxed way about how massage may help her plantar fasciitis or their teenager’s migraine issues. She’s not so freaked about the notion of taking her clothes off and letting a stranger touch her because 1. I clearly know what I’m talking about (read: I’m trustworthy), and 2. I’m no longer a stranger. Jane wants to come see me for massage.

But there’s an obstacle

Jane will never come see me as long as she’s hanging on to that gift certificate. In her mind, it would be wasteful to pay for a massage from me while she’s still got a free massage waiting for her somewhere else. The only thing standing between Jane and me is that darn piece of paper. So I’m taking the darn piece of paper out of play.

pink gift boxI accept competitor gift certificates. I’ll only allow one per person per year, but I’ll accept it for its face value as payment towards a massage. 

Now, when I meet a potential client and they say, “Oh, my husband got me a gift certificate for XYZ spa for Valentine’s Day, but I still have to use it.” I reply, “I accept competitor gift certificates! I would love to get you to my office when you’re ready to schedule.” When appropriate, I offer to schedule right then, or at the very least follow with, “Would you like me to put you on my email list? I do a quarterly newsletter, but I also send out an email when I have open appointments to fill.”

This rarely fails.The client is thrilled that they can use it with someone they already know. Jane comes in. She likes my work and becomes a once-a-month (or more!) regular for years and years. Even better, she sends her partner, their kids, her brother and buys gift certificates for all her kid’s coaches and teachers every year.

I take the gift certificate and get a massage or pedicure or facial. So really, I win twice in this deal.

It’s not rocket science, but it’s brilliant. It’s simple, easy, and it works. (I wish I could remember who gave me the idea nine-ish years ago, but I can’t. Consider this a general shout-out thank you to the universe for this nugget of awesome.)

Back when I was really hungry for new clients, I had this offer on my website, in my welcome email when clients subscribed, and I made sure my current clients knew so they could tell their friends should it come up. Nowadays, I don’t advertise on it so much, but when it comes up in conversation, I usually offer it.

So my question for you: Do you accept competitor gift certificates? Are their any similar techniques you use to get new clients in? I’ve never had it backfire, have you?

Image courtesy of tiverylucky / www.freedigitalphotos.net