This must be the message someone shared because it seems that every massage therapist keeps getting asked to work events for free.
If you’re new to events or don’t have much experience with them, I want to help you all understand when it’s entirely appropriate for brands to ask you to attend for free, pay you to attend, ask you to pay to attend.
Before I begin breaking down each situation, I want to first make a few things clear.
You as a business owner have the right to decline when approached to participate an event. There is no rule that says just because someone asks that you must say yes.
Second, and this one is important to remember, if a brand or event coordinator is contacting you to participate in their event ask them how they found you. Most times when coordinators are seeking businesses to be at their event they’re searching the same places the general public would. Whether it’s through a search engine, social media or word of mouth, ASK THEM HOW THEY FOUND YOU!
Too many times I keep seeing therapists fly off the handle on folks who approached them to participate an event for “free.” That company could have been referred to you by a very important client who LOVES YOU. Don’t burn two bridges with one flame.
Finally, start looking at events as exactly what they are…marketing opportunities. Whether you’re being paid, paying, or “working for free,” any event you attend as a business should be one that aligns well with your brand AND has attendees that represent your ideal client and target market.
So now let’s break down the 3 different situations.
Events Where You Are Paid
If you are participating in an event for a fee, the company paying you is your client. It is very fair for the company (client) that contracted you to ask that you NOT charge, solicit or sell anything their attendees. It would be completely inappropriate for you to charge their attendees if the company has paid you to be in attendance and provide massage. Tips do not count as charging but should be discussed with the client. They may not want you to encourage tipping. Many clients who hire you in this capacity will tip you as well. It’s best to discuss gratuity prior to agreeing to participate.
An example of this type of “event” would be an employee appreciation day at a local law firm. The company pays you to to provide 10-15 minute chair massages to interested employees for 8 hours. You should not set up a sign that says $1/min if the company has already paid for your time. You should not set out a tip jar unless the client says it’s okay.
Paying To Participate
If you remember, I said events are marketing opportunities. As you know, not all marketing opportunities are free. If a company asks you to pay to participate in their event, this is not a slap in the face to you as a professional therapist.
Most event coordinators are tasked with finding sponsors. Sponsors pay to have access to certain events. They can offer something to be given to the attendees, have signage/logo present, have a vendor booth or anything else the coordinator is offering! In all cases, the company that wants their brand to be in front of the attendees will pay for that opportunity.
If you are presented with this opportunity, ask as many questions as possible and do some research. You’ll want to find out how many attendees they are expecting, what are the demographics of those attendees and a list of other sponsors that will be present. You want to make sure the attendees are going to be good potential clients and that the other companies present are compatible with the services you provide as well.
In this situation, it is completely acceptable for you to charge for the services you provide. However, this should be discussed with the event coordinator prior to committing and paying to attend the event. Most likely they will approve of this, but it’s best to get confirmation.
Being Asked To Provide Massage For Free
Being asked to provide free massage should not immediately invoke a negative response. Event coordinators are likely trying to pay attention to their own bottom line. The entire event might be free to the public and it may not be in their budget to pay for services like yours. Sometimes events like these are for charity.
There is a common belief that coordinators ONLY ask therapists for free services. That is 100% untrue. Many coordinators attempt to get as much as they possibly can for free or at a very discounted price.
Ideally their event is full of people that are likely to buy from you and will convert to regular clients. It is your responsibility to do some research, ask questions to make a better informed decision of whether it is worth your time to attend.
This is also an acceptable situation to charge attendees for any services you provide. Do not assume charging is okay. It’s best to discuss the terms of agreement before you commit your time.
Whether you’re paying, getting paid, or “working for free,” there is no guarantee that you will get new clients from any events. Some turn out great and yield lots of clients, others turn out to be a bust with not even a single new lead.
The tables turned
I’ll end this article with my own experience from the other side.
A few years ago I was tasked with hosting an open house at a massage studio I managed. The week before the event, I contacted every place I could possibly think of to offer free items that we could raffle to our attendees.
I contacted hotels, chiropractors, doctors offices, restaurants, caterers, and local gyms. I probably could have got a few more if I had more time. Most of them said YES!
Every single one of them that said yes gave something for free.
So here I was. A massage therapist asking companies to give me free stuff for my event. They could have said “NO I DON’T GET PAID IN EXPOSURE.” They could have said “EVERYONE ALWAYS TRIES TO DEVALUE MY WORK.” They could have said any number of things that massage therapists accuse all those other event coordinators of doing to them and it would have been completely untrue.
I wasn’t devaluing or disrespecting their business. I was simply working within the budget I had and found companies that I thought were a great fit for my clients and our event.
Of course it wasn’t as simple as calling them up and saying “Hey give me free stuff.” It required a bit of pitching. But once I figured out what to say, I was able to secure bigger and better products. My ability to pitch was especially important to obtain free night stays from hotels, free annual gym memberships and getting doctors offices to actually hand out our marketing materials later on.
So the next time you’re approached or contacted by a company and invited to their event, begin with these 3 steps:
- Find out how they heard about you
- Find out how many attendees they expect and the demographics
- Find out what other sponsors will be in attendance
Those are the important factors when deciding whether to participate in an event. If the event doesn’t align well with your own brand, there’s no point in attending whether they’re paying you or not.
Kamillya Hunter is the owner and founder of Spa Analytics. She encourages independent owners to focus on The Details That Matter when running a business. She’s a mom of two, an army wife, author and a self diagnosed “Spa Junkie” who lives, eats, breathes and sleeps the personal service industry.