January 26, 2012

How to Sell Without Selling Out

When massage folks work in spas, an ugly reality crops up: spas depend on sales of retail products and extra services for income. They expect their employees/contractors to sell to clients, and to get “good” hours and “good” rooms.

I, too, have worked in an environment where folks expect you to sell other things rather than just provide the massage service. Most of my peers were horrified at the prospect of having to sell anything because it was somehow bad to sell anything to clients. They were pure of soul and energy, so they should not have to do anything so visceral as to sell things. There were a lot of put-off therapists at my spa who considered sales “unethical” and were set to do what they could to get out of a sales requirement.

I wasn’t one of them. I had worked in other places where sales were part of the scene: a department store, a restaurant, etc. Sales were just means to help out by increasing the amount of income for the business to keep places going. At the restaurant, the owner counted on us to make things better. At the managers knew who sold what and how. The people who had higher sales got more money and more perks.

It also didn’t seem at all conflicting to sell products to clients. They, after all, are consumers of such things as massages and came in to the spa expecting not only services but suggestions on things to buy. Our aestheticians sold lots of things to their customers, little tiny jars of things that cost $25-$75 and they did not explode or melt or join the forces of the undead.

I was clearly in the minority, however. My colleagues felt sales to be dirty, like selling cars or children. One of the therapists quit, saying she was not going to do sales. The rest, well therein lays a story.

Meanwhile, I was perplexed. How should I sell? What should I sell? Where was I going to learn selling?

It turned out, the answers to my questions were right under my nose..

Authored by Susan Peterson, CAMTC, NCTMB

[see part 2 here]

January 17, 2012

Insurance Envy and Other Melancholy

I am not by nature a person who covets, or who spends a lot of time envying the fortunes of others. But lately, I admit, I have had insurance envy. And I look back to the days when I was a technical writer, an educational non-profit worker, an English professor, even a Starbuck's barista, and think, "Oh, I wish . . ." Even my childhood was privileged in that way--because my father was a doctor, I rarely even had to pay to see one, which is sort of like an insurance in itself.

Last fall, my husband was laid-off, and lost his insurance. Then we found out that I was pregnant, and I had certainly not planned on becoming pregnant until--that's right--he had a job again and could get insurance and could get me on that insurance. In my four-odd years as a massage therapist, the only time I have had medical insurance was the first full year I worked over 26 hours per week at a Massage Envy. My pay was nowhere near what it is now, mind, but that medical insurance was a definite benefit, something that we in this field all keenly recognize. I have never known a massage therapist yet who had medical insurance on her own behalf who did not work for a large corporation. I believe that there are probably a few massage therapists working for medical clinics, etc., who are lucky enough to have this coverage provided/available, but I have certainly never met one. In fact, most of the therapists I have met who have coverage, have it through a spouse or for the younger ones, a parent.

When I found out I was pregnant, the scramble began to find some sort of financial help, and frankly, I have never been so humiliated or frustrated. I swallowed my pride, and applied for DSHS. "No," they said, "Your family makes too much money. We might help you, though, in the event you spend more than $20,000." Ooh, that really helps, thanks. Once DSHS rejects you, you can apply for Basic Health, or you could if that was even available right now. Instead, I was lucky enough to get state insurance called Community Health Plan of Washington, for which I pay $186 per month. In return, I get . . . well, not a lot. See, it doesn't pay for things like sequential screening (two blood-draws, two ultrasounds), which a 41-year-old woman really needs, and which so far has cost more than $3500. Oh, and it has a $5000 deductible for what it does cover, based on the beginning date of the insurance and the birth of my baby. If my baby is born within 6 months of my insurance start-date, then the deductible is $5000. But if my baby is born 6 months or more after my insurance start-date, the deductible drops to $500. Of course, since I was almost 6 weeks pregnant when I realized that fact, and I had to apply and get rejected for DSHS first, then apply for Community Health Plan, and get accepted for that . . . well, it is unlikely she will make the 6 month cut-off. In fact, to add insult to injury, she will most likely miss it by about 1-2 weeks. After the $5000 deductible is met, I still have to pay 30% of remaining costs. The birth clinic wants it's 30% now ($1300), just in case; so heart-warming.

I love my baby; I don't blame her or begrudge her this ordeal. But sometimes I get so tired of working so hard to make the world a better place, a less painful place when sometimes the world seems to care so little about me. I traded the benefits of the corporate world for a more purposeful, healing existence. And yet what benefits those were: days to be sick, and yet paid; days to get snowed-in, and get paid; medical insurance to help insure that one sweet little baby doesn't financially cripple a whole family.

Sometimes I wonder why I, why any of us, put up with this. Many of us are highly educated, most of us are skilled and hard-working. Most of us are exhausted from working so hard that we find it almost impossible to get political, and none of us can truly afford this area; when I told my father in Arkansas--the man who was a successful OBGYN for over 30 years--what my prenatal costs were here, he thought I was kidding him. "That's highway robbery," he said. And it is. And how ironic, by the way, that so many people working as medical professionals cannot acquire affordable medical insurance on their own behalf that pays for more than accidental decapitation? That last part is a joke; it just isn't very funny.

Handy Tips

We use our hands and arms all day, we massage therapists, so we should be taking the very best care of them, right?

So when was the last time you iced?

I can hear the reply: Oh, I don’t need to ice, I’m in great shape.


We are, in a way, baseball players, and we are just as good as our last few at bats. We should, like those guys on the diamond, be icing before and after our intensive activity rather than waiting for pain or tingles.

The cure for chronic inflammation leading to the major cause of massage disability – carpal-like pain in the hands and arms – is right in our refrigerators. Is your gel-pack lonely?

I was thinking about this the other day while reading about cryo-saunas. These are quick-freeze saunas that people jump into for about 45 seconds at 40 or so degrees below zero. The idea is to nail inflammation quickly before the cold does any damage.

The cryo-sauna does the same as the dreaded athlete ice-bath without much screaming. Plus you can buy a really big, cool machine and charge people for treatments.

Yet here we are, our one-time investment fridge ice-packs sitting idle. Ice is so cheap, so effective, so non-addictive, so good for us, etc. So when was the last time you iced?

January 10, 2012

Regarding the Future of Our Labor

It is an interesting question. Should massage therapy become a college degree?

It is a question that is being proffered by those who would like massage to become part of the medical care system, with regard to how little training massage therapists have in comparison to those in the medical field. Standing next to people with four, seven, and eleven years of college and post-college, should massage move on to a more formal education system?

I wonder.

One of the nice things about massage therapy is that it is an easy-in business. A technical course of a few months and one can be in the working field, depending on your state of residence. After initial training therapists can and do take more education, developing their niche as they see fit.

On the other hand, do they fit in with other professions that require much more training, and should they even aspire to such?

Education as an entry to the working world has changed over the past generation. Folks in the computer industry, at first, rarely had degrees. The internet billionaires are still “drop-outs.” Their inventive brains have made it possible to get college degrees on-line. Bill Gates himself has predicted the end of the four-year institution thanks to on-line education.

In big-firm finance, post-college degrees/Ivy League is the way to get in at big firms. Thanks, guys, for the last five years of recession.

Yet in medicine, and in education, college and post-college rule, not only as a training ground but as a way of differentiating those who make more to those who make less. Ask any teacher or nurse how much fun it is to go to school at night to get a degree. But the degree pays off immediately in salary. One wonders, though, when a PhD. is teaching kindergarten if it is a little crazy.

I am a college graduate, not in massage or health sciences but English, and my piece of paper sits on the wall above my computer. It was tough getting it, but it has shown employers over the years that I can finish what I started.

Did it prepare me well for my original profession, journalism? It certainly helped. I think I learned a lot more about working in the field in the first few weeks of employment at a daily newspaper than I did in four years of school. But the degree did get me in the door, and I know how to find things in a library.
So, are we just being a little insecure about the degree thing or should massage therapy “grow up” to a health-related degree? If it does, does that mean non-degree therapists are less effective than those with degrees? Or will they just be better-paid?

January 3, 2012

Intakes, Histories and Human Nature

I have been listening to clients for a few years now, and I am getting more impressed with the intake form as time goes on. I had a doozy the other day.

Intake forms are important for good massages, giving the person some time to reflect and think about what they want from their sessions. They also keep the therapist informed about rare contra-indications for some types of massage, and have our back in case people do not tell us pertinent information.

I’ve developed a “hot list” for intake-fillers. These are signs that will let you know to tread carefully, ask questions and find out what you need to know before doing a massage.

Mr. Quick:  He’s here for a massage, but he has not answered a single health question. He is such a healthy guy he does not need to bother with intakes. Tread carefully, this guy probably has a few issues he is keeping to himself. I like to pick the form up and go “Oh, you haven’t answered this section.” Then I go over the intake verbally and fill it out for him. Don’t be surprised when you find out he just rolled his sports car, or that he has blood pressure problems.

Evel Kneivel: This intake looks pretty bare, except for the area where you ask about pressure. The heck with “firm,” this guy will cross that out and write in “super-deep.” Oh, he hasn’t had a massage for a year and he just moved, but he wants his nickel’s worth. I like to ask if he doesn’t mind not being able to get out of bed in the morning and feeling like he has been run over by a trash truck. That usually gets us into a conversation about firm and its meanings. Later, expect a story about going to a spa for a massage and getting a 50-minute application of oil.

War & Peace: This person has had so many knots, achy spots, accidents and therapies, the intake is filled to the margins. Before you can ask if Bronsky has got to Moscow yet, this person asks to have it all fixed in one session. Hey, and make sure they relax, too.

Ghosty: This intake looks great until you get to the informed consent part. No checkmarks, no signature, etc. “Me? Oh I didn’t see that.” One of the consents I use is asking the client to say during the massage if they are uncomfortable in any way to let me know and I will address it right away. I started doing that after a client told me she quit her last therapist because the lady had a hangnail. Anticipating it during the massage ruined the experience. “Just tell me,” I say. “I won’t get all huffy and offended.” p.s. I mean that.

Hey, intakes are going to tell us a lot about clients when they come in, especially when they fill them out funny. Wonder what would happen if we ever started to analyze the handwriting.