You can’t build a business on one-off massage clients. It just doesn’t work. I mean,…
It’s an unfortunate and inevitable part of this industry. The dreaded happy ending requests, the “what’s your draping policy” or “I’m really hot, can I take the sheet off?” nonsense. As much as we might not like it as professionals, our industry is deeply linked with the sex industry. Massage has been used as a cover for prostitution for who knows how long. And while it can be frustrating to have someone make such a request, even violating depending on how the situation plays out, there are things you can do that can help prevent it from even happening in the first place, and stop it in its tracks if it does get to that point. So let’s discuss…
And before I dive in, let me just say, I’m going to be referring to male clients being inappropriate, but I know that some female clients can be just as bad, so this stuff still applies regardless, and I know I’m just going to end up saying it’s men throughout this blog, even though I’ve had my fair share of both to contend with over the years.
Ok, let’s get to it…
#1 Online booking needs some extra steps
I know there are lots of you out there who absolutely LOVE online booking, and heck yeah, it does save you a ton of time and all that, I know. BUT be sure that you have some extra identifying steps, screening protocols, or anything else that can allow you to know who’s coming in and make it clear what’s expected. Most online booking software has the capability that only returning clients can book online, or that their “booking” is merely a “request to book” not a guarantee of an appointment because you have follow-up screening steps in place – like you may require a phone call to go over their issues and figure out exactly what type of work they need, a questionnaire and policy form they have to fill out first, things like that. Those sorts of things are a great deterrent to anybody with ill intent. Same goes for requiring a full name, address, and credit card to be kept on file. The guys who are looking for illegitimate stuff, don’t usually want to leave that kind of information behind. So be sure you have those extra steps, those screening protocols in place to help deter and stop those guys in their tracks before they ever even make it onto the table. Just remember not to make things too crazy so that your average clients are put off by all the stuff they have to do to get an appointment with you. There is a middle ground here.
#2 Screen your clients
And this isn’t as simple as just talking to them on the phone to verify the appointment or something; really take the time to create a system around this. How exactly are you going to make sure that you cut those people off before they ever come into your establishment? When you talk with them on the phone or have a questionnaire for them to fill out online, get detailed about what problems they’re having, what they expect to get out of the massage, what their goals for treatment are, if this is something that may need a thorough treatment plan moving forward, things like that. Getting their identifying data is important, but so is asking as many questions as possible to allow for any red flags to be spotted early on.
Now, will this guarantee that you’ll never deal with some inappropriate requests? No. But it sure as heck will greatly reduce your chances.
#3 Check your branding, photos, marketing materials…all that stuff
Oftentimes, there are cues in your marketing that you may not even consider to be inappropriate, but may give the impression that you offer more than just massage therapy. This is especially true if you’re getting an unusually high amount of these types of requests. For example, the super cheesy stock photos that are plastered all over the storefront windows of those places, especially of feet….yeah, don’t use photos like that. Find quality, realistic stock photos or have your own done. We offer really beautiful and realistic stock photos as part of our membership program, so if you need some, check that out. Also consider the language; if English isn’t your first language or if you’re just not that great at grammar and such, have someone else look over your stuff to be sure it’s not sending the wrong message; considering that most of those illegitimate establishments have really broken English on their literature and signage, it’s often a sign to those shady customers that there’s probably more offered there than massage.
And this brings me to…
#4 Check how you carry yourself
There’s a few things I mean in this…if you’re the meek, soft-spoken, and in no way assertive type, you’re unfortunately more likely to be faced with these kinds of situations. Sorry, but these guys don’t usually want anyone who’s going to stand up for themselves, so they’re looking for that type. Work on your confidence, your assertiveness, and in general, carry yourself with that sort of posture and presence. It really does make a big difference. This also mean that you need to be very clear about how you present yourself and the boundaries you have. So, for example, when a new client would come in, I didn’t sit behind a desk or just say hi or whatever. Especially male clients, I would walk to them, shake their hand firmly, make eye contact, smile, and introduce myself. First, that’s just how I was raised…it’s a respectful and professional thing to do to me, but it also serves the purpose of making it clear who’s in control and that you’re not just a wallflower. I mean, it helps that I’m 6’ tall, that always threw them too, but in general you want to, not be overbearing, but still confident and in control from the very first interaction. This can also translate into how you speak and respond in conversation with them. Ask questions clearly and respond to them with clear explanations. For example, if they something and you’re not quite sure what they said or what they mean by something, ask for clarification. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Can you repeat yourself?” or “What exactly do you mean by that?” Firstly, this can help clear up any misunderstandings or awkward situations where they misspoke, where you might misinterpret something, or it can call them out and make them be very clear about their intentions so you can be very clear on your following actions.
And lastly, should you report it to the police?
So, if a guy makes an inappropriate request, should you immediately go file a report with your local police department? This is up for debate, and let me first say that every situation is different so there is never a blanket yes or no answer here. However, I think it’s important to make a clear distinction…there are two categories these types of people can be placed in. On the one hand, you have the guys who honestly are just looking to get off, for lack of a better term. On the other hand, you have guys who are threatening, forceful, aggressive, or flat out violent, or at least greatly seem to be capable of it. The first of those, those ones who are just looking for a fix, it really is up to your comfort level whether you report or not. I know some therapists who will readily report them. So be it. But I also know a lot of others, including myself, who will roll our eyes, get frustrated, but just tell them to go check the street corners instead. The latter though, the ones who are or very well may be violent, report those guys every time. Seriously. At the very least, you’ve made it known that this guy is a possible threat, and honestly, if that person has a record, the cops may very well take this more seriously. Because honestly, they often don’t really do much if a massage therapist is just saying “this guy asked for a hand job.” But if there is some act of violence, they’re threatening or aggressive in some way, it’s a much more serious allegation. Those people need to be reported, to protect yourself and others.
And I want to end with this…please, instead of just getting angry at anyone using a massage establishment as a front for prostitution, remember that the women who work in those places are often not there of their own free will. They are more than likely a victim of human trafficking and are forced into that life. So instead of getting mad and just wanting to call the police to report the prostitution aspect, why not call an anti-human trafficking organization who can investigate and work to get those women free instead of just sending them from one type of prison to another.