You’ve heard this good advice perhaps one hundred times: As a small business owner, you must “get out there” to network and forge strategic business partnerships.

So now it’s 101 times. But before you release a long, anguished sigh, it may help to know that many massage therapists share your anxiety – and even your fears.

The fact is, marketing – and networking to forge strategic business partnerships fall under the umbrella of marketing – may require climbing out of your comfort zone. After all, who would blame you if you’d rather invest your valuable time and energies into your massage therapy practice – working with clients instead of scouting for new ones?

Admittedly, a few gentle shifts in thinking are in order, even if you’re a reasonably social person and enjoy working with people. (And you probably do, given your profession!)

For starters, there’s no doubt that as the business owner, you are very best ambassador there is for your business – period. Yes, other people (such as a marketing assistant) may serve you well. But no one knows your business like you do, and no one can express your passion and commitment quite like you can.

Another potential shift in thinking? Try to approach marketing as an investment in your business instead of an activity that detracts from it. Like all investments, of course there is some risk involved. But the payoff – in terms of new and loyal clients – should reward you handsomely for years to come.

To help mitigate the risks – especially the risk of wasted time – devise a strategy for networking and forging strategic business partnerships. The key here is to develop reasonable and realistic goals, based on an honest assessment of the time you can afford to make in your schedule.

This is precisely where massage therapists tend to go awry. They over-commit, quickly grow frustrated and eventually want to throw their marketing materials (and maybe even their marketing assistant) right out the door. So start slowly – say, by devoting 5 percent of your work week to marketing activities. If you work about 60 hours a week, this amounts to three hours a week. If three hours seems impossible right now, by all means: Adjust the number accordingly. Just make a regular commitment to “marketing time” so as to set yourself up to succeed. Then devise a smart strategy that includes:

Networking at Chamber and Community Events

While most people gravitate to people they know at events, mingling with and staying put with the same group means missing out on opportunities, which is why you’re networking in the first place.

So greet familiar faces and then introduce yourself to new people, getting to know them and allowing them to get to know you and your business. Invite them to your spa or practice – a surefire, low-pressure way to make an impression. Then be sure to follow up the very next day by email to remind them of your invitation. If, after a week, you still haven’t received a visit, make a friendly phone call. The law of averages dictates that after so many of these contacts, several of these newcomers are bound to become regular clients.

Volunteer your time – and remember the reasonable 5 percent rule – to a chamber committee or event that truly interests you. Volunteers are valued commodities at virtually every chamber and community group. Your “problem” may very well end up being having to decide which committee or event to join so that you don’t over-commit.

Forging Strategic Business Partnerships

Flip through the chamber of commerce and other business directories to identify people whose goals seem to overlap with but do not compete directly with your own. These people might include chiropractors, physicians, physical therapists, personal trainers and human resource directors at local companies. Set up a get-acquainted meeting with these people to see how you might pool your resources and work together to mutual benefit (sometimes referred to as crossover marketing).

Organize a promotional event with your strategic business partner (which should, over time, double your exposure to new customers). You don’t have to stage an expensive event to get the attention of the community at large, but, as you probably know, food is always a helpful draw. For example, host a pancake breakfast with the pledge of showing people how they’ll “flip” for your services and that of your strategic partner. (It may sound corny, but it will be remembered.)

In time, you just might find that marketing is not only necessary, but also rewarding, enjoyable and downright fun. Your time could be rewarded with a new source of clients!

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