Outcall Service and Safety: Preparation is the Key to Success
By Sandra Gill
Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, June/July 2000.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Providing outcalls to massage consumers can be both rewarding and lucrative. Outcalls can provide income when times are lean and offer a variety of both settings and clients. However, outcalls are potentially the most hazardous activity massage therapists undertake.
What is Outcall?
Outcall service simply means the massage therapist is going to the client, instead of the client coming to the therapist. Outcall service may be provided in the client's home, an apartment or townhouse, a hotel, a resort area, a business office or some other location. Oftentimes therapists utilize outcalls for their special needs' clients, including those who are homebound, less-abled and terminally ill.
Outcall service may be marketed to a variety of target groups. A basic name and telephone listing in your local telephone directory under "Massage, Therapeutic" will allow potential clients to contact you. A "Letter of Introduction" explaining your service may be sent to local hotels, lodges, executive inns, temporary housing, health clubs, athletic facilities, homeowner associations, Welcome Wagon (and related groups), bridal planners, etc. These letters should be followed up with a phone call and/or personal visit. Develop a referral relationship with the hotel's front desk manager or concierge, and managers of other businesses who may provide both referrals and pre-screening.
The fee you charge is, of course, at your own discretion. However, remember to factor in your travel time, setup and take-down time, the personalized service, as well as the wear and tear on your vehicle, equipment and body. Check out the prevailing rates in your area, but only let this be a guide. The fees you charge must fit into your business plan. This is also the time to develop your policies on check acceptance, credit cards and package discounts. It may be helpful to accept credit cards. Contact your bank or other resources to investigate this service.
As with any business endeavor, preparation is the key to success. Develop a brochure which provides an introduction to your practice, how you may be contacted, a list of your modalities and philosophies, your fee details, and a clearly stated policy regarding ethics and client behavior. The brochure should also set boundaries for appropriate behavior. This brochure will be given to every client so they understand your practice. You will also need standard marketing materials such as business cards, flyers, letters and advertisements. Make a few magnetic business cards for regular clients so your phone number will be handy for those "spur of the moment" sessions.
Screening - A Critical Step
Whether your practice is based in your own office (either in an office building or in your home) or providing outcall service, the first key to success and safety is screening. Most clients will telephone to inquire about service, fee, availability and outcalls. Use a telephone call log book (the two-part NCR forms are very nice) to document all calls. This begins a written record of communication with your potential client. The phone call log book will allow you to go back to a call several months prior to retrieve an address or name.
Next, a phone screening form will help to ensure you have all the pertinent information from the client. Basic information such as name (first and last), address, home and work phone numbers, and occupation begin the list. Then inquire who referred you or where the client heard about you. Will you be working for the individual client or will a business be picking up the tab? Why are they calling? Of course for a massage, but why do they want a massage now? Stress? Injury or illness? Celebration? Relaxation? Get specifics and jot this down on your screening form. Inquire if they have had previous experience with therapeutic massage? Where? When? How was the experience? What expectations do they have from the massage? If the answers don't sound legitimate, continue questioning. Be professional and courteous, but don't be afraid to be blunt. Many people still believe that massage, therapeutic or not, is a euphemism for sexual favors. It is better to be clear with a client than to have miscommunication regarding the type of service you provide. Listen to your intuition. If the preliminary screening is making the hairs on the back of your neck rise, listen to your body. There is no penalty for using caution. Do not take the appointment.
There are many euphemistic phrases used throughout the country that allow the caller to infer sexual favors without actually stating their request. These phrases are used, in part, by the caller to protect himself/herself from a police sting operation. Common phrases used include, "Will you help me out if I get excited?" "Do you provide erotic massage?" "Will you massage my buttocks because that gets me excited?" "What will you be wearing during the massage?" "What do you look like?" "Can I massage myself during the session?" "Do you work the groin area?" These phone calls can be quite upsetting and frustrating. Take time to role-play your responses with a colleague or friend. I answer calmly (while gritting my teeth), telling the caller that I do not provide that type of service and that therapeutic massage is for healing and injury rehabilitation. I wish them goodbye and hang up. I keep a record of their name and phone number (if they have given it) in my phone call log book. I have had a caller try several times under different names, but the same phone number. The log provides crucial information for your local authorities to work with if the situation becomes problematic.
Use the checklist on your screening form to ensure you communicate your expectations to the client. This may include draping, cleanliness, non-sexual, drugs or alcohol, cancellation and no-show policies, oils/lotion, allergies, special needs, etc. Will anyone else be at the location - a husband/wife/significant other, companion, friend, children, caretaker? If you have special needs, such as allergies to pets, this is the time to inquire. When asking for directions, check about parking, admission into gated communities or security buildings, stairs and/or elevators. If the outcall is to a hotel, get the room number and hotel's front desk phone number. After receiving directions, find out where you will be setting up. Make sure the client understands how much physical room you will require for your table and use of good body mechanics. If you use music in your session, does the client have a way to play music where they will receive the massage?
For your supplies, remember the hiking maxim of "keep it light." Carry no more than is required. Invest in a lightweight, portable massage table, case and rolling carrier. Make sure you put your name and business phone number on the bottom of the table. Other supplies include sheets and face cradle cover, several bottles of lotion/oil (in case you forget one at a previous appointment), lotion/oil holster (if you use one), a cell phone, your personal organizer, business cards and your brochure, music in different formats (CDs and cassette tapes), a small music player (optional), change for payment, credit card supplies (optional), cleaning supplies for the table, and personal items. These items may be conveniently kept in a medium-sized rolling suitcase. Most importantly, always keep your car keys on your person. You may consider using the client's blankets and pillow for warmth and bolstering, instead of hauling these around. In your vehicle, have clean sheets, a laundry bag for dirty sheets, a calling card for pay phone, maps of the area, food and drink.
Dress professionally, comfortably and conservatively. Avoid having too much "skin" showing since this may send a mixed message. Carry a change of clothing (I gave a session in a very warm house and I perspired heavily. I had another appointment.). Be prepared for unexpected changes in the weather.
If your situation allows, look for a vehicle that will allow you to easily transport your table and other supplies. A van, truck or SUV may provide easier access at the rear or side to load your table. Consider an automatic transmission and power steering to save wear and tear on your body. Your vehicle will, in essence, become your office. Keep your vehicle in good running condition to avoid breakdowns. Join an auto club for help when those breakdowns occur. Magnetic signs on the doors will provide advertising and clear identification of your service, but are easily removed when you are "off-duty." Most mileage is tax deductible, so take the time to track your mileage accurately. Office supply stores sell a nice little notebook specifically for this task.
Telephone the client prior to arriving. This allows you to verify the phone number and name you were given. If providing service at a hotel, check-in with the front desk and hotel security first. Verify the client's registration and let the front desk know when you should be leaving. For security, you need to develop a check-in system. This is where the cell phone comes into play. Invest in a quality cell phone that will meet the needs of your area. Purchase the car recharging cord so the battery is well-charged. When you arrive at your appointment, survey the area. Again, if your intuition says something is wrong, LISTEN. No massage session is worth your safety. Call the client and cancel.
Have a Plan
Here is a suggested safety plan using a backup person:
- Communicate with your backup person all the necessary emergency numbers. Prior to leaving for your appointment, make sure your backup person knows the name, address, phone, etc., of where you are going.
- When you arrive at the outcall location (before you enter), call your backup so they know what time you arrived and tell them you will call them back as soon as you are setup.
- Go inside, meet the client and complete a brief interview. (If the client is intoxicated, leave.) Hand them your brochure which states your policies and discuss this. Some therapists have a signature line to clearly set the boundaries. Again, if your intuition tells you something is weird, leave. One tactful way to exit is to suddenly become "ill;" call your backup person after you have left. If you feel comfortable, setup. When you are ready, call your backup while your client can hear you and say, "I'm starting with Mr./Ms. Xxxxx at xxxx address. I'll call you when finished at approximately xxxx." This will notify the client that you have someone looking after you who knows where you are. Once again, always keep your vehicle's keys on your person. This can't be stressed enough.
- If you forget to call your backup person, they should start calling you back in about 10 to 15 minutes. If you don't answer, they should send for help immediately. When you are finished and have left, call your backup and let them know you are safe.
- When you have finished the session, received payment, and (perhaps) rebooked, leave on time. Many clients will want to chat, fix you coffee, tea or a light meal. Clients sometimes forget you have provided a service (albeit, a wonderful service) and are not a guest. They have free time, so why not visit for awhile? This "visiting" costs you time and distorts the client/professional relationship. Be courteous and explain to the client you have to leave for your next session to arrive on time.
While an overwhelming majority of outcalls are legitimate and safe, you must always act to protect yourself. Just because a client was appropriate the first time does not ensure proper behavior during future sessions. If at any time during the session you feel uncomfortable or threatened, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. Leave your table and supplies and just get out. Drive to a safe place and call the authorities. Write down what occurred, what was said, events as they happened, actions taken by the client and by you, etc. Let the authorities (police, sheriff, hotel security, etc.) retrieve your items. Your brochure will provide the authorities with proof you had clearly communicated standards of behavior to the client. Provide yourself with some type of self-care to release from this negative experience. Talk to colleagues, friends, family, counselors and work on releasing. It is not your fault someone behaved inappropriately.
A majority of massage therapists are women and the world is much different for women than for men. This does not mean men are free of risk in any situation. It means all of us have innate survival skills we sometimes suppress to fit societal roles and business situations. It is difficult to turn down a potential client when bills are due. Evaluation of risk is how we protect ourselves, "...so one way to reduce risk is to learn what risk looks like."1
Gavin DeBecker, author of The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence, lays out these manipulative techniques used by disreputable people:
- FORCED TEAMING - This is verbally implying trust prematurely; guiding the conversation into one of "We're in this boat together;" inventing a shared purpose where none really exists. Recognize that you do not have to "team" with anyone you do not choose.
- CHARM AND NICENESS - Charm is a learned ability, not a personality trait; niceness is a conscious decision. Charm can be quite smooth and deceptive; remember that a smooth talker is not necessarily a trustworthy person.
- TOO MANY DETAILS - Often when someone is lying, they will include too many details. The details seem to make the story more credible. These details can confuse the listener's mind into forgetting that this is still a stranger with an unproven track record. Remember to remain focused on the main message of the speaker.
- TYPECASTING - Using a mild insult to make you want to prove them wrong - "Oh, you're one of those people who never accepts help?" Resist the label, don't let someone manipulate your actions; you don't have to prove anything to a stranger.
- LOAN SHARKING - Assisting a person (who did not ask for assistance) to create a "social debt." This is usually accompanied by Typecasting and Forced Teaming. Do not fall into feeling you are in a stranger's debt. Remember, "he approached me, I did not ask for help."
- UNSOLICITED PROMISES - A promise is used to convince you of their intentions, but it is not a guarantee; be suspicious of an unsolicited promise. Remember, "why does this person need to convince me?"
- NOT HEARING THE WORD "NO" - When someone ignores you saying "no," he or she is either seeking control of the situation or refusing to relinquish control. Do not negotiate with the person. "No" means "No." Remember, "No" is a complete sentence.
While many readers may recognize that the above signals can also be interpreted as bad pick-up lines or an inept attempt at conversation, it is best to listen with both your mind and your intuition. When it comes to danger, your intuition is always right in at least two important ways: 1) It is always in response to something, and 2) It always has your best interest at heart.2
Outcall massage therapy is a valuable and profitable service that may be offered to the public. As with any niche, there are unique facets to providing outcall service, including marketing, supplies and safety. It is very important to respect yourself and be responsible for your safety. Outcalls have potential hazards and risks that prior preparation can help you avoid. Your personal safety must be foremost when providing therapeutic massage.
Sandra Gill, NCTMB, MA, operates her practice, The Right Touch, in Thornton, Colo. She retrained professionally as a massage therapist at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy after being downsized from Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site (RFETS). She taught health and safety training for seven years, as well as completing National Council Safety Supervisor, Total Safety Culture and Dupont Managing Safety programs. Gill is also a licensed State of Colorado social studies teacher and has her master's in secondary education. She may be contacted at Outspoken1@aol.com; http://members. aol.com/Outspoken1/.
Author's Note: My gratitude to Amy Farnan, director of Prevention Services, Rape Assistance and Awareness Program [RAAP, P.O. Box 18951, Denver, CO 80218-0951, www.raap.org] for material regarding personal protection. My gratitude to my colleagues for their suggestions, anecdotes and feedback.