An image of a massage therapist massaging a client, with the word "affordable" stamped over it, is used to illustrate the concept of affordable massage therapy.

How many times have you found yourself in awe of the power of massage, of its ability to make a huge difference for someone in how they are living in their body? When you find yourself in that place of awe, it’s not a big step to “I want everyone to be able to experience this!”

The reality is many people can’t experience it because they can’t afford it. You could reduce your rates to the point virtually anyone could afford massage, but what about your financial needs?

With some planning, you can offer affordable massage to clients without destroying your own bottom line. You don’t have to offer it full-time. You may offer it every now and then as a special event. You may offer it on special set-aside days. You can also, if it makes sense for you, structure your entire practice to be affordable.

There are some great reasons to offer affordable massage and some less-great reasons. To make sure you’re on the “great” side, ask yourself several questions before you jump into the affordable massage waters to make sure you do it well and sustainably:

Are you making enough money to meet your business and personal needs? If you aren’t making ends meet, take care of that first. Making massage accessible to people while being unable to take care of yourself will not work in the long term. Feed yourself first.

Why do you want to do this? Depending on how you choose to be affordable, you could be making significant changes to your massage practice. Get crystal clear on your motivations before you make major changes to your practice. When you set your reasons down in black and white you can see the strength of your thinking and how well it aligns with your practice.

What do you mean when you say “affordable” massage? How do you define affordability? Is it pegged to the income of a certain group? Is it based on the going rate for your area? Is it based on what you can afford to pay for a massage? How low do you need or want to go to meet your goals? I define “affordable” massage as massage that is significantly¾at least 20%¾below the going rate for your area.

Who do you want to offer affordable massage to? Are you envisioning offering affordable rates to everyone? To a specific community? To current clients, or can new clients qualify as well?

Is this the best way to make a difference? It’s easy to jump to free/inexpensive massage as the first answer to everything. If you are trying to support a community, movement or cause, is this what they need most? Can you speak up in your role as a community business? Can you make a direct donation? Yes, massage is great but it’s not always what someone needs most.

Your answers to these questions are, in effect, a mission statement for the affordable massage part of your work. When you take the time to answer these questions, you’ll have guidance on how to think through your choices.

And you definitely have choices! I know about a dozen different ways to do this but, really, you are only limited by your imagination. Here are some of my favorites.

Three Price Points. Offer three set prices and allow the client to choose what they will pay. For example, $50/$70/$90 for a one-hour massage. Usually, therapists will set the middle or upper price point near what they would normally charge/the local going rate.

Price Range. This is very similar to the Three Price Points method. The difference is that rather than offering set prices, you allow clients to choose their rate within a range. For example, clients can choose to pay anything between $50 and $90.

Income-Based. You set your prices based on incomes, but without regard to a specific client. For example, everyone making $30,000 might pay $30 for a massage while everyone making $60,000 pays $60. You’d make your pricing known as part of your marketing. You’d have to decide if you need verification of income or if you will take the client’s word for it.

Sliding Scale. This is similar to Income-Based except clients have to ask for a sliding scale fee and you decide on a case-by-case basis whether to offer it. You will need to ask for their household income. You may want to ask for more information specific to their cost of living.

You’ll need to decide what sort of formula or tiers you’ll use with the information you get to set their rate. You may offer sliding scale for a limited number of sessions for a client or for all that client’s sessions going forward.

Scholarships. Similar to Sliding Scale, clients apply to be considered for lower-cost sessions, either short-term or long-term. Because the client needs to apply, you can control how many scholarships you are offering at any one time.

As with sliding scale, this is usually needs-based and you will need to decide what percentage of your appointments in a week can be lower-cost. You also need to decide how many scholarships you will have active at any one time.

Pay What You Can. This is the most dramatic form of affordable massage¾you literally let the client choose what they can pay that day.

You may set a lower limit (how would you feel about being handed a $1 bill after an hour massage?) but otherwise you’ll never know in advance what you’re going to get. You have to be very committed to the idea of affordable massage and you need to be in a position to not need a predictable income from your work.

Speaking of income, how you approach these choices depends on your financial flexibility.

• If you don’t depend on your massage income to meet your own financial needs, you can do anything you want.

• If you need your massage income but you’ve got some flexibility, you can try many of these options.

• If you need every bit of your massage income to meet your personal and professional expenses, you are likely to offer affordable massage only as a special event.

Here are some things to think about with all these choices:

• Will you accept tips or offer any other discounts (for example, a first-timer discount)?

• Will you offer this for all session lengths or limit it to one session length?

• Will you offer this as a special event (the anniversary of opening your practice, for example), on special days (perhaps one Saturday a month), or all the time?

• Will you offer this only to clients you know have financial constraints or will you offer it to everyone?

• If you offer affordable massage to everyone, how will you feel when someone pays a lower rate and you suspect they can easily afford more?

Be Ready to Talk About Affordable Massage

Believe it or not, clients can be uncomfortable paying you less than you are worth. Be prepared to explain both how you are affordable and why. This means explaining the logistics—“here’s how it works”—but it also means sharing your motivation. You can draw on your answers to the five questions I listed earlier in this article for the language to use to explain your motivation.

Include the information in your marketing (especially on your website) but also be ready to explain it in person. You want to be able to share your information confidently and calmly. This can be more difficult than you might expect the first few times. You may still find people who hate making these kinds of decisions and will adamantly insist you tell them what to pay. Think through how you will respond.

Feed Yourself First

Despite what this article may suggest, I don’t believe everyone should offer affordable massage. Like many of the important things in life, you should do it if you feel a special call to it and are in a place where it won’t harm your practice. The first rule of affordable massage is always Feed Yourself First.

If you want to keep your business dealings straightforward and simple, then these kind of affordable massage options may not be a good idea. If you have dreams of growth that won’t accommodate these kinds of plans, then go and grab that dream!

If you do feel the call to offer affordable massage, however, let your imagination and your reality come together to create something you can be proud of and enjoy.

Kelly Bowers

About the Author

Kelly Bowers is the owner of the Healing Arts Business Academy. She is the author of four books: “The Affordable Massage Handbook,” “The Accidental Business Owner,” “Can I Deduct That?” and “Between Doormat and Diva.” She is a regular presenter with AMTA, an instructor in professional training programs, and an NCBTMB Approved CE Provider. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. She practices (NC license 16669) in Durham, North Carolina.