In this first episode of my Featured Practitioner series, you’ll hear from a specialized massage therapist who applied her passion for sports, yoga, and helping people to regain functionality.
Beth Petersen, LMT of Unwind Bodywork
Beth’s Niche: Thai Massage for Adults and Athletes with Chronic Pain & Tension
I first met Beth at a workshop I hosted called the “Develop Your Strengths Meetup.” It offered business owners in Sioux Falls a chance to discuss and apply their StrengthsFinder results.
Beth attended several times, and we discovered a shared passion for applying our strengths in the healthcare industry.
When I moved to the West Coast the following year, Beth and I kept in touch. She read some of my articles about the dangers of Multi-Level Marketing (MLM). She, like me, had briefly joined an MLM but realized that it was predatory and cult-like. The “miracles” claimed by MLM companies do not align with Beth’s formal education as a Licensed Massage Therapist, and she believes this confusion could lead patients to making dangerous decisions about their health.
Last year, Beth launched her own Massage Therapy business, called Unwind Bodywork (formerly Unwind Yoga & Bodywork). She focuses on a very specialized area: Thai Massage for individuals who experience chronic pain, as well as athletes with sports recovery goals.
She typically sees men and women ages 25 to 55 who are in pain, are athletic, or both.
You may recognize her from a previous post, The Specialized Massage Therapy Practice Niche.
I invited Beth to share her thoughts on choosing a niche business market as a Massage Therapist.
Here is a summary of what we discussed in the interview.
Beth Petersen, LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist)
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, United States
Niche Focus Analysis
A “Triple Niche” is a way of constraining your business marketing in several ways, so that your message is targeted and clear to Ideal Customers.
Here is Beth’s Triple Niche:
- Strategic Marketing Goals:
Financially responsible with no business debt,
low overhead costs,
ongoing professional training,
create business boundaries
Adults and athletes
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, United States
- Health Condition & Symptoms:
- Treatment or Technique:
- Body System or Area:
Back, neck, shoulders, hips
- Delivery Method:
Limited office hours and Thai Massage Jam community event
- Patient Interests:
yoga, sports and athletics, no-debt business, community involvement
Beth’s Niche Summary
Thai Massage for adults and athletes with chronic tension in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Interview with Beth
Q: Why Did You Enter a Healing Profession?
As with many healthcare business owners, Beth’s interest in the healing industry started with a personal experience.
In her words,
“One of my first jobs out of high school was working in a group home with adults who have physical and developmental disabilities. I wanted to empower my clients to live as independently as possible. One of the ways I did this was by encouraging them to complete their physical therapy exercises.
“I noticed a direct correlation between these exercises and the ability to get around better, complete activities of daily living, and feel less pain. This had such a powerful impact on me that I decided to focus my career on helping others to get the same results.”
Q: What are Your Qualifications?
“I graduated from Saint Paul College’s [Minnesota] Massage Therapy program in 2013 and got additional Thai Massage training in 2017. I’m currently in a program with over 250 additional hours in Thai Massage.”
Q: What Makes Thai Massage Different?
Once a Licensed Massage Therapist completes their training, the world is open with possibilities for practicing in a variety of settings and using a number of techniques. Find out the 27 Niche Ideas for a Specialized Massage Therapy Business.
Before even starting her own business, Beth decided to specialize in one primary technique. In addition to being one of the few practitioners to specialize in this type of massage in the Midwestern city of Sioux Falls, she is also very selective about the types of patients she serves.
Here is what she says about it:
“Thai massage is done on a mat on the floor, fully clothed. There’s no cream and no glide motion. It’s really different than the typical massage that Westerners are accustomed to. Instead, I use mobility, deeper compressions, and lengthening techniques that are more effective for relieving chronic tension and tightness. The results last longer than other treatment methods, because I’m working with the body and not against it; it retrains the muscles.”
“I love the fact that Thai Massage includes stretching, mobility, and compression. It helps clients to get lasting relief from pain.”
“Something else I love about Thai Massage is that my clients tend to feel more energized after a session, since there is no cream or oil. It’s easy to go on with your day without feeling greasy or bogged down.”
“Trauma can trap energy in the body, whether from a car accident or broken ribs or assault. It’s important to be aware of how we hold energy in and how to release it. The right type of massage can help the body heal after trauma.”
“A lot of athletes don’t stretch enough; but once they prioritize movement and flexibility, their performance and strength improve.”
“[My niche helps] clients learn how to stretch better. They learn how to use foam rollers or tennis balls for self-care. And they also learn new stretches based on the ones I use on them.”
Q: What’s Your Philosophy About Massage?
Beth shared that she worked for a larger company for several years, and the decision to start her own practice came from a desire to have more freedom in creating her own schedule, limiting which patients she sees, and being true to her beliefs about which techniques are most useful in bringing results to her clients.
She believes it is important to be aware of your own strengths, because this allows you to spend time on the tasks that energize you rather than exhaust you. One of Beth’s top StrengthsFinder talents is Empathy. This strength is an important component way to connect with the suffering of others.
I believe we can gain a lot of insight by stepping into the perspective of both staff and clients. (Read What Happened When I Became an “Employee For a Day”).
The Empathy talent is much more common in healthcare practitioners, but it can be misapplied and under-valued. Beth is able to balance the emotional connection of her strength with very clear boundaries around whom she will and won’t accept as a client, her schedule, the work she provides, and even how much money she spends on business expenses.
Read what Beth has to say about her business philosophy:
“My personality type is INFP. I’m an empath; I pick up on people’s energy. For some, this deep awareness can eat you alive. I use it as a way to connect with my clients.”
“Some practitioners use the old-school saying ‘No Pain, No Gain”; they put all their body weight on the client during treatment. And even if the client complains, they say ‘It’s supposed to hurt for the muscles to release.” That gets exhausting when you’re working long hours. It’s also ineffective for your clients, often causing the opposite effect.”
Who Inspires You?
Beth credits two people as her biggest influencers:
- Robert Gardner, a master trainer in Thai Massage
- Shawn Kitzman, a business coach for Massage Therapists (read his excellent article on choosing a business coach)
How Do You Run Your Practice?
Every business reflects the personality and beliefs of its owner. It takes courage to examine your perceptions and uncover the “surface culture” of how you think and why you make decisions as a practitioner. Once you do this, however,, you can recognize the potential problem areas that keep your business from growing.
(Read more: Understanding the Culture of a Company)
Beth is unique among massage therapists, because she started practice with a decision to stay out of debt, to offer high-profit services, and to limit her schedule… which has resulted in less wear-and-tear on her own body.
In her words:
“A lot of Massage Therapists have a mindset of being the ‘starving healer,’ with the belief they must be altruistic.”
“I think most Massage Therapists struggle to set professional boundaries in their business and home life. They give too much and end up feeling burned out. They bring work home.”
“Massage therapy training is not cheap. It takes a lot of dedication to get to the point where you know what you’re doing.”
“There are so many specialties in massage therapy: craniosacral, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, Indian head massage… The variety is a huge problem in the industry. Most MTs offer a wide variety of services but don’t focus on just one type and get really good at it.”
“I specialize in Thai Sports Massage because I’ve always liked working with athletes and those in pain. I understand how the muscles need to work for optimal performance, and I also empathize with people who have chronic pain. I believe Thai Massage is a good solution for both of these issues.”
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What’s the Secret to Profitability as a Practice Owner?
Profit is the engine that grows a business. Yet many healthcare practice owners struggle to generate sales and to see money as a tool, rather than a source of guilt. When a business owner actively avoids any discussion about money and feels uncomfortable receiving payment, I call this Transaction Avoidance Syndrome.
In order to create a niche that allows your practice to grow in a healthy way, it’s important to evaluate your own beliefs about money.
Read more: Analyzing Profit Margins
Beth has made a conscious decision to avoid getting into business debt. She has also increased her rates, which not only elevates the perceived value of her services but also allows her to be more selective about the type of patient she serves. The increased rates means that her clients perceive that her services have more value, which has the added benefit of generating more money in fewer hours of her time. This allows Beth to free up her schedule to do other things… such as further develop her skills, practice self-care, and enjoy the freedom to enjoy her life.
In Beth’s words:
“I’ve watched Massage Therapy companies struggle because the owner floods too much money into the building, and they get into a lot of debt. Then they overwork their staff, which makes them feel burned out and miserable.”
“MTs are not usually very good business people. Most of them go straight from school to opening a business, and it can be hard to earn the money back and pay off debt. I have a strict budget and used the Dave Ramsey snowball technique to pay off my debt in less than a year.”
“My advice: you need to keep your costs low. Find a location that is affordable, and realize that you don’t need to invest in expensive equipment or a fancy brick-and-mortar storefront. I found my office through Craigslist, and has worked out really well. I consciously try to avoid debt.”
“There are so many ways to cut out the expensive stuff. For example, I don’t do traditional table massage, which eliminates the cost of a table, cream, and also the sheets that are required for Swedish or deep tissue sessions. I am also very niche in my market, which sets me apart. I keep all my costs low so I can make a profit.”
“Focus on your profit, the equity you build, and creating good boundaries. Prioritize making money. Increase your rates instead of offering discount services. Trust yourself. Practice self-care.”
Although Beth is based in a region where very few other professionals offer Thai massage, she finds that many people have never heard of this specialization.
Whether your practice is in a crowded market or a wide-open one, patient education (training people on what you do, how it can benefit, and why it has value) needs to be an important part of your marketing message.
Beth provides frequent videos and images on her Instagram page:
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Why is it Important to Limit Which Clients You Serve?
Setting purposeful limits is the most important step a business owner can take, because limits allows you to create a structure for how you will provide value. Having too many options actually harmful and results in a Paradox of Choice. By purposely setting boundaries around who you’ll serve, which resources you’ll use, and which ultimate goals you want to reach, your business is more likely to succeed.
A practitioner that does not set limits won’t have a focus point. Her or his message will become muddy; potential patients will have trouble explaining how they provide help, and why someone should seek their help instead choosing a competitor.
Beth echoes this philosophy on developing self-imposed limitations. Here is what she says about creating a niche practice focus:
“Specializing is so important in the Massage Therapy industry. What I do may not be the right fit for everyone, and that’s okay. I wish more business owners understood that you can’t please everyone; you just have to really give value and retain your ideal clients.”
“I’m picky about who I work with. Before scheduling a session, I have a client intake phone call or visit to make sure the person is the right client for me, and that I’m the right Massage Therapist for them.”
“If someone doesn’t get what I do, I don’t try to convince them. Getting word-of-mouth referrals is the best way to get new clients.”
Are There any Challenges to Working in a Niche?
It can be difficult to pick a limited field of practice. Even if you have fantastic training and the ability to solve a problem for patients, this doesn’t magically result in a successful business.
Beth face several challenges as a practitioner:
“I only take new clients who are a good fit for my niche. Some people either don’t understand it, or aren’t willing to try something new and risk not liking it.
When is a Niche NOT a Great Idea?
Although choosing a specialization in a saturated market is an excellent way to set yourself apart, there are a few times when you should consider a more generalized approach for your business. (Read more about Niche Markets here.)
In Beth’s opinion,
“If you’re not passionate about your niche, definitely find something else. Or if you are in a secluded area where the client base is already very slim, I wouldn’t recommend it.”
What are the Positive Effects of Picking a Niche?
There are many reasons to specialize your business, whether you’re a solo owner, contractor, or manage several locations.
Here is what Beth has to say about her decision to focus her Massage Therapy practice:
“Picking a niche is a lot easier than trying to compete with others who are doing the exact same thing.”
“Since I started this niche, I have
- increased my rates,
- lowered my costs by eliminating expenses,
- stopped overworking my hands and arms (which relieves my own pain), and
- have seen better results for my clients.”
“Some people who have been to Thailand or have had Thai massage in the past understand its benefits, and they seek it out.”
“A good strategic marketing plan can help you decide on the right market, how to give clients more value, and how to find clients who are good for you.”
As you have heard from Beth, running an independent practice provides a lot of freedom to create the lifestyle you want… but it also requires the discipline to:
- set boundaries with patients,
- know your worth (and charge accordingly),
- decide whom you will and won’t see, and
- keep expenses low and profit margins high.
Are you are a licensed provider with a niche marketing focus? Interested in being part of the Featured Niche Practitioner series? I’m always looking for practitioners to interview for upcoming episodes! To be considered, review the requirements and fill out a brief questionnaire.
Interested in hearing how you can reverse a toxic workplace? Find out more here.
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.