Guest Julie Marciniak shares the path her own career has taken as a massage therapist and educator and how great palpation skills and anatomical knowledge can translate into excellent marketing for your massage practice. (Don’t forget to check out her blog here for inspiration.)
Sponsored by the Center for Barefoot Massage
Sponsor message This episode is sponsored by the Center for Barefoot Massage. The Center for Barefoot Massage offers myofascial Ashiatsu, or “FaschiAshi”, continuing education classes as well as Fujian mat work. Their focus explores how to use deep fascial and stretch therapy techniques with your feet rather than your hands. They have class tracks that will allow you to niche down within the growing market of barefoot massage and help you to specialize in the aspects of barefoot work that you become strongest in. So you can really customize this. They are looking for driven, anatomy-loving, lifelong learners to dig their heels in. You can visit massagebusinessblueprint.com/barefoot to enter to win a free day of training. That’s massagebusinessblueprint.com/barefoot.
Allissa Haines Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Massage Business Blueprint podcast, where we discuss the business side of massage therapy. I am one of your hosts today, Allissa Haines. I am sans Michael, but I am with a phenomenal guest I am really excited to talk to. We have Julie Marciniak, who is an instructor for the — I knew I was going to mess this up immediately — the Center for Barefoot Massage. Because I’m looking at this robust, robust bio. (Laughter) Hi Julie.
Julie Marciniak Hi.
AH Thanks for joining us today.
JM My pleasure.
AH I’m going to tell people a little bit about you and then let you expand on that.
AH Julie graduated from the Carolina School of Massage Therapy in 1992, so she has been doing this for a while. And after 10 years of that, in 2002, she had some — was concerned about the repetitive wear and tear on her body and learned Ashiatsu barefoot massage training — took the training. That has saved her career. And then she went on to enter Rolfing training, which is super cool and I want to hear more about that, and started doing more and more with Ashiatsu barefoot and teaching.
Julie, what did I miss? What are the important —
JM Well, I can’t even remember all that I sent you. 27 years is a long time, and things just kind of — you just kind of forget over time, and it’s just like, oh, yeah, I did that. Oh, yeah, I did that too. So yeah there’s a lot of years there to — that could take up a whole podcast. But anyway.
AH Well, let’s start kind of with a little bit of how — I love hearing how people got into massage. What were you doing before you found massage and how did you get into massage?
JM Oh, gosh. Bless my parents. Well, I went to four years of college, Carolina, thought I wanted to be a doctor, thought I wanted to be a physical therapist, and nothing worked out. So I’m still cruising along in college running up all those loan bills and then just dropped out on my fourth year. I got put on probation, actually. The chemistry and physics kicked my butt. So just coming from a small farm, local place, and then going to a huge university like UNC Chapel Hill, I just got lost and just couldn’t find my way, so I dropped out. I was bartending, actually, and going through a little local monthly thing that comes out and there was an ad in there about massage school. And never had a massage in my life and it was like, ooh, that’s interesting. And so $5000 — so I signed up and my parents about freaked out. All they knew about massage at that time was like, you know, there’s these illicit places called massage parlors. And oh, my gosh, she has really gone off the deep end now, was probably what my dad was saying. But anyway, I graduated and here we are.
AH That’s so nuts. That’s so funny. I love doing these interviews because I am finding so many people started massage school without ever having gotten a massage in their life (laughter), which is such a leap of faith. Like, I have no idea what this is, but let’s do it.
JH I know. Stupidity.
AH It worked out pretty well for a lot of people.
JM It worked out for me. (Laughter)
AH So tell me what has your career been like in that 27 years? Like, where did you start?
JM It was hard. You know, back then, we’re talking 1992 — yeah, 1992. So there wasn’t a Massage Envy. The only thing you had were, like, hair salons that had a little room for massage and they’re like oh, yeah, come massage here, and we’ll pay you $30 an hour or whatever. So it’s kind of like a contractor. And then I did a brief little stint with a physical therapist here in Durham. And then I found out this — about this really cool opportunity in Raleigh, which was like 20, 30 minutes away, for — where a physical therapist, and his wife was a massage therapist, they trained massage therapists in Travell Trigger Point. And he worked with workers’ comp, auto accidents. And so large team of massage therapists — I mean, there were like seven, eight of us, I think, at one time — and we did — we worked on clients. We were trained in trigger point, ultrasound, and stretching. And we had 15 minutes with each client that came in that was originally assessed with the doctor. So they came in, in the door, you know, trigger point work, you know, stretching, and the ultrasound all within 15 minutes. So it was like, quick — really really quick. So and that was — it was great. It was an awesome learning experience. I got my first set of Travell Trigger Point books for 20 bucks —
AH No way.
JM Yes way. I still have them. And one of these awesome heating pads, like medical-grade heating pads for 20 bucks, so it was just like woo-hoo. And I think I got paid like 15 bucks an hour, so it worked our butts off, but I learned a lot. And at the time, it was really beneficial and it kind of set the tone for my massage practice because I got really good at working with chronic pain.
And there’s one thing that always stuck with me that he did, and it kind of relates back to today’s topic. But he would teach us anatomy, and specifically we were trained in neck injuries and back. So he would teach us these trigger points and specific insertions and origins, and at any time — his name was Jerry Gonyeas (phonetic) — and he would walk into the office and walk into a room and sit down and say, okay, palpate levator scapula, trap, dut-dut-dut-dut-dut-dut-dut, and just fire them off, and you had to immediately just palpate within a couple of seconds. So and he would just repeatedly do that so you had to get really good at diagnosing and palpating really fast. We only had 15 minutes with each client, so there was a method to his madness, and so that’s where I learned a lot of what I do or the basis for what I do.
AH And how did that evolve — I know you told me previously that you, after about 10 years of that, of trigger point work and deep tissue work, you developed thoracic outlet syndrome. So tell me what happened there and what you did with that.
JM Well, I only lasted with him for about a year and a half or two, and then I realized that it’s like, I’m making 15 bucks an hour. If I saw like two or three clients on my own, I could make this and not be killing my body. And so I did. I went out on my own, started my own practice and went through all of that shenanigans, which back then was kind of crazy because I was like the only massage therapist at the time to set up an ad in the Yellow Pages. And I was right under Tom Cats, so you can imagine the calls that I got.
JM That was before they separated — massage was all under one tab. So and then that’s where they — a couple years later, they finally separated it into massage and then massage therapy or licensed massage therapist, something like that.
JM So just a couple years of that working out on my own, I just attracted a lot of people who had pain or just liked deep tissue massage, and me being, at that time, probably about 86 pounds, I really prided myself on being able to bring it and just, you know, bring them to their knees on the table, you know, if I wanted to. And so but it kind of backfired on me in a couple years.
And then I had an auto accident that compounded the issues that I was having. So I started actually walking on guys backs that came in that were just really big guys and I was just like oh, my gosh, how am I going to do this? And so I’d just step up on the table and I had really low ceilings at that time and I could just touch the ceiling while I was standing on them. So I didn’t have any bars, I had no clue what I was doing, none whatsoever. And then one day I saw in — I can’t remember, some massage magazine, AMTA magazine or whatever — we only had one, I think, at that time, that I saw someone teaching Ashiatsu. And I said, that’s what I want to do. That’s what I’m doing, so I want to do it better. And so flew out there and I’ve been doing it ever since.
AH And at some point you got your Rolfing certification as well, right?
JM Yeah, I — a couple years of doing Ashi, I just kept evolving in that. But my personal issues with my body had kind of already gone a certain way and didn’t seem to be reversing itself even with taking the stain off of my shoulder girdle. Working less with my hands and working with my feet more, I was still having a lot of issue with thoracic outlet, headaches, stuff like that. I started getting massage on a weekly basis and this went on for, I’d say, about a year.
And then I found out about Rolfing, had never heard of it, somebody recommended it to me, and they said, it’s a type of bodywork, it’s really painful, but it lasts longer than massage. So I was like okay, I’m in. So found a guy here that did it and started going through the series. At first I wasn’t convinced after the first couple of sessions because my pain kept coming back, but as we completed the series and then about six months later — it was really weird how it happened because it was just like one day I was always in pain and then the next, it was like, wait a minute, I don’t have that neck pain. Where’d that go? So it was like after my body just had a chance to integrate all the work that we had been doing, it finally settled down and it was like, wow.
So that was just another wow moment in my career, and that’s where I told my husband, again, I said, I got to learn this. And the only problem with that was I had two kids in, oh, gosh, I had a baby and then I had a little boy. Ben was in elementary school. My husband was in national guard and he had already been deployed once to Iraq, and he said, when do you think you’re going to do that, honey, because it’s out in Boulder and the classes are like two months long? And he had just come back from a deployment — so he only gets deployed every five years or so — and so I was just like, well, I could do this month, and he was like, you are not leaving me with these kids in school. (Laughter) So I said, wait a minute, you’ve left me for a year where you’re deployed, all on my own, and he’s like yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. And so we finally worked it out where I went in the summertime, so it took me three years. My first summer it was only two weeks for accelerated learning. If you’re already a massage therapist, you can attend that two weeks in Rolfing school without having to do the two months. And then the next two years, I did my two-month training in the summertime, so — and I lived in Boulder, Colorado for the summers, so —
AH That must have been terrible going off to learn and not having any children with you and being able to be by yourself. (Laughter)
JM It was awful. (Laughter)
AH That sounds heavenly. (Laughter) That’s awesome. And how great that you had the support to to that and you were able to be able to find a solution that worked for your family. That’s a tricky game. So tell us what your life and your business and your work is like now.
JM So right now, I own Bull City Soles in Durham, North Carolina. And just a couple years ago, I decided to go the employee route. I had said for the past 20 — what 22, 23, years — never — I will never — I will never, ever, ever have employees. So never say never.
AH How’d that work out for you?
JM Yeah, right. So I just — it just came to a point where it was just like, you know, I love this work, but there’s only so much I can do. And I was training a massage therapist and I was just coming across — I was training massage therapists in barefoot massage and just saw what environment they were in and different scenarios and it was like — I thought at the time I was like well, I think I have something to give. I think I have something to teach some massage therapists that I can help in Durham spread barefoot massage and just help people in chronic pain. So I kind of delved into it; I just kind of dived into it. I didn’t know squat. I knew squat — to correct my English.
But I just jumped it like I do most things and here I am four employees later. Still have two. Still working. I’m still learning a lot about having employees, but I knew I didn’t want a contractor because from what I’m read, really people just don’t do it right when it comes to contracting massage therapists out. And the one thing that stuck out in my mind when I was going through the questions of contractor versus employees was control. So I knew that I wanted control over the outcomes, for the most part, of session, treatment, what was provided and how it was provided and what atmosphere it was provided. So I said, okay, that’s — employees it is.
AH Good for you for doing that the right way. I know it’s such a scary concept, but —
AH — but it’s really the best way to go if you want that control and you want to be able to say, this is how I want a massage performed, this is what I want you wearing, this is — I want these business hours and — good on you. That’s a really big deal.
JM Yeah, it’s a pain in the butt, but by the end of the day I feel really good about it. And we’re still learning here; we’re still evolving. But I’ve got a great team right now that I have a lot of confidence in. We’ve done a lot of training. We’re in the process of hiring another therapist, so I’m just finding that slow growth is better —
AH Absolutely. And, you know, going with a contractor or renter route is also a pain in the but, so I don’t think there’s any great loss of time or energy going the way you did, so —
JM (Indiscernible) I rented rooms for quite a while and for probably ten years. And that was another one of my decision-making things was like, well, I’m already doing this, I’m already doing this, and I’m already doing this, but I’m not getting paid for it, I’m just getting rent on this space and there’s only so much I can charge for rent for this space, so that was another process.
AH So tell me — this is the question I like to ask people because it — I find the answers so interesting. What — if you were to win the lottery today, tomorrow, what’s your fantasy plan? What’s your fantasy job or location or training or not to work at all? What would you do with that? What would it look like?
JM I would spend it. (Laughter)
JM On (indiscernible) probably. I can’t see me not working. I love what I do. I’m becoming to realize — I turn 51 this year — that I need to work a little bit less than what I do because my body is just like oh, my gosh, you’re killing me. But I think that’s just a matter of pacing and learning what I can handle, you know. But if I won the lottery, I think that I would just like to upgrade my space. And I love flotation devices. If I could ever have a space where I’d have a couple of those and have those included into therapy, I would love that.
AH That sounds awesome. I have been wanting to check them out for a while. Yeah, I can’t wait to try it.
JM It’s fun. I like it.
AH So let’s — that’s all the personal questions I have for you. So I’m going to jump into our halftime ad and then we’re going to get to your specific expertise topic.
Sponsor message But first I want to thank the Center for Barefoot Massage for sponsoring this episode. The Center for Barefoot Massage offers myofascial Ashiatsu, or “FaschiAshi”, continuing education classes as well as — I know I’m going to say this wrong, so I’m going to ask you — is it [foo-gee-in]?
AH Fujian mat work, as in “of Fiji”. Their focus explores how to use deep fascial and stretch therapy techniques with your feet instead of your hands. The Center for Barefoot Massage has class tracks that will allow you to niche right down within the growing market of barefoot massage and help you to specialize in the aspects of barefoot work that you become the strongest in. You can really customize this for your style. They are looking for driven, anatomy-loving, lifelong learners to dig their heels in. You can visit massagebusinessblueprint.com/barefoot to enter to win a free day of training. That’s massagebusinessblueprint.com/barefoot.
AH And as you’ve already figured out, Julie is an instructor for the Center for Barefoot Massage. Julie what do you — I’d love to get your feedback on this. What is — what do you love about teaching these barefoot techniques? What do you think is super valuable to the students?
JM Being able to offer a wider variety of tools that you can use, to me, is the biggest thing. Massage therapists, you know, in school, we’re just like hands, knuckles, elbows. And really, for those of us who are petite, or even females, you know, our shoulder girdles are only meant to handle so much torture, and just standing on the floor beside the table and then just trying to get through these layers of concrete that clients come in with, oh, my gosh, it’s it’s just like — you know, they ask themselves, there’s got to be a better way. There is a better way. And it’s just so freeing to be able to step up on the client — on the table and then just put your foot down and use your body weight, not just your shoulder girdle and leaning. But just the simple use of gravity is just so mind boggling, and it’s an awesome, awesome type of thereapy.
AH Sweet, thanks for — and actually that’s going to translate right into what we’re talking about today. We brought Julie in because she is going to talk specifically about great palpation skills and anatomical knowledge, but in a different way than what you normally hear. I know we hear a lot about how these skills are great for your hands-on work, and they are. But Julie’s going to tell us a little bit more about how great palpation skills and anatomical knowledge can help you in your marketing, which is, I think, really cool. So bring it, Julie. What do you got?
JM Oh, gosh, when I read that this was going to be the topic for discussion, I was like, oh, stink, what do I know about that? (Laughter) It was like, uh, duh. So I had to think about it for a while and then once I did start thinking about it it was just like oh, yeah, I do this. So like you said, it’s more than just one-on-one with the client, you know, how important your palpation skills are and your anatomy knowledge is. But when you touch clients, they can tell from the quality of your touch if you know what you’re doing, right? So but that confidence, not only is it key for you, but it’s key for the client in how they relate back and how they relate to others. So for you to be able to discriminately touch a client, treat it, and then help them with their awareness can make huge grounds in building your practice because anybody that you get out of pain or you help, they’re going to tell other people.
So relaxation massage therapy is great and I love it and it has its place. But there’s just so many people out there in chronic pain that the medical field just has nothing for them; they’ve failed them in many ways. So when you help someone with that and they leave you a Google review, a testimonial, and you use that, like, in our social media, you know, and people see that, they’re like, oh, my gosh, I’ve got to try this person out. So that’s, like, the best marketing ever that you could ever do.
AH So how — I’d love to think — I’d love to hear of some real-world examples of you or your therapists kind of being out in the wild and talking about massage and how do you approach — okay, so let’s say — I’m thinking of some examples here — you’re out at some event for your kid or something and someone hears you’re a massage therapist and they say, I — my doctor says I have sciatica. Is that something massage can be good for? Walk me through how you respond to those kinds of questions.
JM Okay, so what I would do is I’d be like, absolutely. So — and a lot of this, you have to think about interacting with the client and say, so what do you do? What have you done? Was this from an accident? Do you sit a lot? What does your job entail? So engaging the client on that level and brining them a sense of awareness so that they’re part of the equation and they’re like, oh, yeah, well, I do do this. Or I do this a lot. Or oh, yeah, my job involves this and this and this and then directing that back to the client and going well, do you realize that, you know, you’ve got a hip imbalance on this side versus this side and how that can — is whether it’s muscle or it could be disc issues and being able to explain that to the client. How is it different being a muscle issue, the piriformis compressing on the sciatica, versus being a disc issue in the low back with L4/L5 and how it could be coming from that, you know. And then they’d be like, oh, okay, when can I schedule an appointment?
Does that make sense?
AH It absolutely does. And I think one of the bigger powers we have as massage therapists is to be able to be the vernacular in between. Like information they might get from WebMD or their doctor is using terminology we don’t always understand —
AH — and versus stuff they hear from their friends about the nerve running through the butt muscle. And us being able to be that medium of, okay, let’s put this into — I don’t know that this term exists so I’m creating it — let’s put this into physiological perspective —
JM Yeah, I’ll explain it down to your level so that you understand it where you’re coming from.
AH Bring it up to a real health and wellness level, but down from the highly medical jargon approach. I think that’s a big part of our power in what we do and the importance in what we do. But do you do — do you coordinate with other healthcare professionals much? Do you find yourself talking to doctors or PTs or physiotherapists or anything like that often?
JM Not so much. I get referrals and mostly my referrals come from clients coming to me and me helping them with issues and then them going back to the doctor, you know, and the doctor saying, well, what did you do? Or going back and saying this used to bother you, does it bother you anymore? And they’ll be like, oh, no, I got that taken care of and they’ll be like, oh, well, what did you do? And so I’ve had lots of clients come back and tell me, oh, I told my chiropractor I went through the Rolfing series or I told my doctor that I started coming here for once-a-month maintenance and how my therapist was helping me with exercises and self-care stuff and all of that. So it’s more of indirectly these doctors and PTs and chiropractors hearing about us through their clients and then finding — they’ll give our card to them, and then they start contacting us or referring people to us.
AH So how else have you really harnessed your anatomical knowledge to use specifically in your marketing. Some other examples for us?
JM So I don’t — as far as just anatomical knowledge, I guess you could say I do little — I do little videos on social media, Instagram, Facebook, to get people interested. But instead of just shooting out muscles — this muscle, that muscle, gluteus minimus, medius — just sprinkling it in here and there is mostly how I use it.
And going back to the — talking about building your practice up and using the Google reviews, I mean, our best marketing has been from our Google reviews. We’ve gotten 91 five-star Google reviews, and a lot of that are people going back and explaining how we’ve helped them through these pain issues. And then I wrote a blog post a while back about how to find a great massage therapist because I’ve always had people ask me, well, you know all of this. How do I — if I’m traveling, how do I find somebody? I’m like, look at their Google reviews. Read their Google reviews. I stumbled upon a fact where it said, in 2017, a study revealed that 82 percent of U.S. consumers read online reviews before visiting a local business. So I mean, that’s pretty big.
So and to me just educating clients on their issues — on their chronic pain issues based through just my skillful touch, whether we talk anatomy or not, but them just being able to understand that I know what I’m doing and my treatment, that then they can go and they leave reviews or they tell people how it has helped them. So —
AH Yeah, and I’m looking — I did a little stalking on your Bull City Soles website. And I was crazy impressed with your blog. And specifically — because the most recent blog post that you have us is the “Is your sports bra giving you headaches?”
JM (indiscernible) guess is — that’s a good one. I forgot about that one that I (indiscernible).
AH (Laughter) I know. You write these things, you publish them, and then you just let them go. (Laughter).
JM Yeah. Always so much going on.
AH But I saw that it exists, and it is brilliant and I’m going to put the link to this in the show notes so everyone can see this because it is beautiful. And it opens with this great image: you’ve got the posterior view of the muscles of the head and the upper back, and you show an outline. You literally have drawn on this muscle chart where a regular bra sits on the shoulders versus where a sports bra sits on the shoulders. You’ve done a little bit of highlighting trigger points, you’ve shown where the acromium is, and you’ve shown how a regular bra kind of sits across the shoulders over the acromium, you know, that bony prominence, versus a racer-back sports bra that comes over the traps and really pushes on some already sensitive areas if you’re prone to these kinds of issues. And I love it.
It was such — it was a way to make some anatomical knowledge really accessible to a reader and demonstrate, listen, I know what I’m talking about, I understand how these weird little everyday things can impact how you feel. And within that same blog post, there’s a video of your doing massage to that part of the shoulder, to the traps, the levator, all the upper back muscles and fascia. It’s beautifully put together —
JM Oh, thanks.
AH — it’s this, here’s what we know anatomically, here’s how it relates to how you feel, and here’s how I work on those things. And you very specifically mention whiplash or chronic overload of the shoulders. If you hurt here, here’s one of the reasons why and here’s how I’m going to help you with that. And it’s a beautiful integration of anatomical knowledge in a really user-friendly way that’s super applicable.
And ditto that from very simple post from last summer that you have — that I’m sure you’ve forgotten about — that’s “4 ways to Healthier Feet.” And it’s a great post because it gives a lot of self-care tips, but it also approaches it as a, okay, so I did paddle boarding and it turns out your feet have a lot to do with this — which is something like, when you think about it, you’re like, well, of course they do. But it’s not the kind of thing you proactively think. You think paddle boarding, and I’m like, ugh, but your arms must hurt after a day of that. But if we use what we know about the body and our experiences to go a little deeper, it turns out that the feet matter, and you’ve given four really — it’s — I want to say simple, but I also don’t want to demean the value of this information (laughter). It’s simple information, simple things people can do to get their feet more balanced and in a better position to — better place to do the things they want to do. And it’s really accessible and important.
JM Yeah, and I think —
AH I’m sorry, go ahead.
JM That’s – and that’s a struggle. All of this social media and blogging and all; I love it, but it’s such a time sucker (laughter) because you’re trying to think, you know, it’s simple, yet it’s complex. And you’ve just got to bring it down to a level, not dumb it down, but just get it to a level where people can think about it and go, oh, yeah. Not where their eyes start glazing and they go, what? So, you know, finding that balance, I think, is important.
AH I can only agree that blogging and creating these kinds of materials for clients, potential clients, is a huge time suck, and it’s also one of the best ways to attract clients. So it’s definitely — there’s a balance. And I think if you can find the discipline to do it or find the resources to help you do it, that’s a huge deal.
AH And, you know, you’re trying to fill the schedule of all your employees now. So time well spent. I think a really good blog post pretty quickly turns into money in the back, which is a nice reward. Because it’s nice to give massage and be rewarded by people feeling good about the services you provide, but it’s also nice to have a big fat bank account.
JM Yeah, got to pay the bills.
AH (Laughter) At the end of the day, I need to feed myself. What else — are there any other thoughts you have about this you want to make sure we touch upon before we wrap it up?
JM Well, there’s another perspective that I wanted to come from. I know most therapists in here are massage therapist or solo practice or whatever working. But there’s another point to this that I thought about, and that’s coming from an instructor point of view. Knowing what I know about the anatomy and the body and then I see these other therapists putting pictures up on social media, and I’m the worst critic. I see these pictures and I’m going, what were you thinking? And, you know, they say a picture’s worth a thousand words. Well, what are you to think when you see a therapist standing on a body part that they have no business standing on? And so it just — to me, it’s like what does that say to the public about the safety of a modality and the therapist that’s looking for training? So I think we as therapists need to just think about those things when we put stuff out on social media what it’s saying to, not just the clients, but to our profession as well and how that represents us as a whole, so.
AH Yeah, I hear that. And I’m super Judgey McGee about what people put up. And I see pictures of massage in action or things in offices that make me cringe. Yeah, I hear you. We have a ways to go. And I also see so much great stuff going out there and I’m so heartened. I really loved visiting and stalking your website. I loved seeing — there’s a real — there’s a real great high level of therapist out there and I see more and more of it, and that’s really heartening too. To add that light note.
JM That’s awesome.
AH All right, thank you so much, Julie. I — this is I — it makes me want to go geek out in front of my anatomy book for a while, which is good. I’ve needed a little nudge to get studying a little more. Everyone, we are going to have — I will have in the show notes a link so you can learn more about Julie, Barefoot Center for Massage (sic), and a couple of her blog posts because I think they’re great and we can all learn something from them about how to incorporate more of our anatomical knowledge, to not be afraid of our knowledge, and sharing it with people in a way that can attract more clients and serve our clients a little better.
So as always, if you have any questions or thoughts for us, you can email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And that’s all I’m going to say.
Julie, thank you so much for joining us today.
JM Thank you for having me.
AH And have a great day, everybody.