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The Business of Thai Massage: The importance of choosing a niche

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Editor’s note:

This article is part of a series on the business of Thai Massage. For more ideas on building the ultimate Thai Massage business please check out other articles I have written. One is about strategic networking and the other is about pricing. You can find them here and here.


If there is one topic I am really eager to share with all students and people who love to give Thai Massage it is how to gain more clients and build the business of your dreams. After more than 13 years in this field I have seen how some students have spectacular successes and many others much less. I think that there are several reasons many students fail to build the clientele that they dream of and two in particular stand out.

The first reason is that students often rely on the hope and faith method for building word of mouth. What I mean to say by that is that they know how great the massage can feel and they see such amazing results and get such wonderful feedback from their clients’ right from their very first practice massages. As a result the belief is that no matter who you massage they will spread the word and over time word will spread like wild fire. Similarly the clients who had such a great experience will rebook again and again.

In my experience of building a practice as well as coaching and working with students both of those hopes are spotty at best. Clients that you could have sworn would come back sometimes disappear and referrals that do come in tend to come from a small handful of your regulars who take up the cause and are able to convince their friends, family and colleagues to give your services a try.

At the same time I do think that fundamentally we are in a word of mouth business and that most of our best clients come through these means. This is also great because for the most part we are building businesses without much or any budget to spend on marketing and advertising. So I think it is reassuring to know that you can build something great without having to spend to do it.

That leads to the second reason students either succeed or fail and that is having a plan and sticking with it. While I do think we can build a great business through word of mouth tactics, I don’t think all word of mouth is the same. We have limited resources and outlets. We will not be able to massage 1000 people in a month let alone a year, so each massage and each effort we do give towards building our business needs to be strategic.

One of the things I teach my Thai 101 and 201 students is that a big part of building a great clientele is to choose a community or two to target and focus on. As much as we know how everyone can benefit from the power of touch and Thai Massage, when you are more focused and can become well known with certain populations it can really help to accelerate your practice and your bottom line. In my opinion when making that choice you need to be able to answer ‘yes’ and ideally ‘yes!!!’ to 3 vital questions:

1)      Who are you most interested in working with?

  • Some examples of groups include yogis, massage and wellness professionals (we need massages too!), the medical community (ex. Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who are known for working incredibly long hours), the university community (teachers, students and administrators), dancers, athletes, members of the corporate community and of course both the elderly and prenatal.

2)      Is there a big enough population?

  • While you might say that cabinet makers could really use massages, if there are only a handful of them who live in your town, then this is probably not the best group to focus on
  • It is best to focus on a group of people (or perhaps two groups of people) that can support your goals in and of themselves. It is not as if you’ll turn away those cabinet makers who come and find you, but it is not where you will put most of your marketing efforts

3)      Is there a real need?

  • Here is perhaps the most vital question. If there is a real need, such that a person in this community essentially cannot do without Thai Massage –once they find you- then you will have a vibrant pool of fanatics to both support you in the now and promote you through word of mouth to help grow your business.
  •  As such -and here is where some can certainly disagree- I often counsel my students not to focus too much on the general yoga community because the need is not inherently strong enough. As much as yogis -who are in relatively good shape- can appreciate what Thai Massage can do for them, as they are often dedicated to their own health and personal practice I am not convinced that the need is altogether strong enough. This hypothetical person might come once a month at most for a massage, but more likely would come every 2-6 months. There is no doubt many exceptions to this rule. For example if money really is not much of an obstacle, then this could change the reality significantly. Similarly people seeking out yoga therapy would be another possible exception – as long the total of this subset of the yoga population is strong in number in your community.

So what are some examples where the need is strong? Well there are many groups to choose from, but I would say the prenatal and elderly communities are two groups where you just cannot go wrong. These are two groups where people are at a stage in their lives where the need is huge. Furthermore the population is big and constantly evolving. What’s more there are so many programs and specialists who work with both of these groups and that means there are great people to network with and who can really help to spread the word.

And keep in mind that with the skills of being able to give a great Thai Massage in hand, you possess an amazing way to open the doors. When it comes to networking I think it is as simple as choosing a certain number of massages a week or a month that you are willing to give for free and then reaching out to strategic people in your community and start offering them massages.  As it concerns the prenatal community that could include midwives, obstetricians, educators etc. I also think that when you reach out it is best to be upfront about your intentions that you are hoping they can be a source of referrals and make sure to give them some business cards and all of your contact information that can be passed on (website, facebook page etc.) . Whether you offer some incentive or special to these people being referred is up to you. I think you should and I share my thoughts on the subject of pricing here. If you find it difficult to know what to say then the best thing you can do is to practice and practice some more until things become more natural for you. Try to script what you want to say (just don’t be bound to it) and practice and get feedback from friends and family you trust. And just keep doing it until you are as busy as you want to be and keep doing it –perhaps to a smaller degree- to help maintain your practice at those levels.

My last point on this subject is on some level to treat building your own business as you would any job. That is, you have hired yourself and you should decide if at the moment it is for part time or full time work. If you have 10 hours a week that you can dedicate to your new job then make sure to schedule your time well. If you are already giving a couple of massages then that leaves you 6 more hours for your networking endeavors. At the end of the day if you are both strategic with your word of mouth plan and you are disciplined in your approach you will succeed and you will get to do something you love and be the real beneficiary of having built it from scratch.

This article is part of a series on the business of Thai Massage. For more ideas on building the ultimate Thai Massage business please check out other articles I have written. One is about strategic networking and the other is about pricing. You can find them here and here.


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