happy little biz

Hey Massage Therapists: Here's how you survive in a crowded market.

I remember back in Massage Therapy school, one of the things our teachers always told us was to never sign a contract that had a ridiculous 'non-competition' clause.

If you haven't heard that term before, a non-competition clause says you can't open a similar business (like another massage therapy clinic...) within a certain distance for a certain period of time. For example, a contract might state that if you were to leave the clinic, you wouldn't be able to open another massage business within a 3 kilometers radius of their clinic for a period of 1 year, or potentially face legal action.

The ins and outs of whether these clauses are truly legal aside (we all know I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not the best person to ask about these things anyway), they're common in a lot of 'associate' therapist contracts. I'm pretty sure every one that I signed in my years as an RMT had a non-compete clause.

They're common, many RMTs don't like them, some choose to ignore them, and they're often a hot topic of conversation, especially with new grads looking for their first clinic job.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself WHY these things are so common? Why we don't like them? Why they continue to exist?

The obvious reason, of course, is that they're worried about competition and about someone 'stealing' their business. They (usually rightly) assume that if an existing therapist opens up a clinic right across the street, they're going to lose some business to that new clinic. Not just clients that therapist has been seeing for a while, but potential new clients, who might be attracted to the other clinic first.

That's fair. Everyone has bills to pay, no one wants to see their business driven out of the market.

But let's look deeper at this.

If you were a potential client looking at two massage therapy clinics in a certain location, how would you choose between them?

Well, you might choose based on which one has availability that day, or which one has late hours that suit your needs. But what if they both offer same-day appointments and after-work hours? Then what? Do you just draw a name out of a hat?

If we take away all of the 'matters of convenience' factors when choosing which business to give your money to, what are you left with? How do you choose?

Chances are good you're going to choose the business that you feel most comfortable with. The one who has the more appealing website, or that talks about having extensive experience with the types of treatments you need, or that has a super hilarious voice mail message that made you laugh.

This is your key to finding good clients for your business, even in a crowded market. Even when there's another clinic two doors down. Even if they have longer hours or more same-day appointments. Those convenience factors only get you so far. It's you that makes the difference. It's making connections with people. It's specializing in a way that is unique to you.

So how do you specialize?

At [insert name of clinic here] we specialize in massage therapy, cranial sacral therapy, deep tissue massage, hot stone massage, and pregnancy massage.

Is that specializing?

We specialize in massage therapy, physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy...

Or is that?

Sorry all you health care, wellness, and holistic businesses out there. I see you guys do this all the time. Hell, I did it myself when I was massaging! You make a big list of your services and say that's what you specialize in. But I probably don't have to tell you that all massage therapy clinics offer essentially the same kinds of services. All multidisciplinary clinics? Same thing. And this applies to anyone with a service, from childcare to gymnastics coaching to accounting to, yes, web design.

That isn't specializing.

Specializing is more than that. It's taking your story, your approach, your ideas, and putting that into your business. It's finding your voice. It's using your personality and life experiences and blending them into your business. And that's something that no other business is going to have.

Maybe you'll get known as the clinic that plays rock music and has funky art on the walls and serves espresso in the waiting room, because that's how you roll. Maybe you'll be known as the 'go to' spot for athletes, because everyone who works there is an athlete too, so knows what it's like having a training schedule, special diet, and sports-related injuries. Maybe you'll be known for being a 'tell it like it is' therapist, who has a clientele who know they can trust you to be real about things and not sugar coat anything, because that's your personality - both in and out of the clinic.

What's your unique story? How is your approach different from others? Why should people care?

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't be concerned, at least a little, if competing businesses open close to yours. In my 'hood here in Toronto, we've recently seen three new dental offices open. Three. In a few block radius. I'm sure all of them are concerned about the future viability of their offices.

But if they work to differentiate themselves from the crowd, by showing how they are unique and what they have to offer is worth checking out, all three of them have the potential of surviving.

It's not just about proximity. Location. Convenience.

People have choices. Why should they choose you?