Of all of the topics that service professionals deal with, setting our initial rates and then deciding when and how to raise them is one of the most stress-inducing. There seems to be a general worry about talking about money with clients, especially on the part of massage therapists.
Our field tends to attract practitioners with high levels of empathy. This serves us super well when we are treating clients—and sometimes gets in our way when we need to handle our own needs. Our empathy can project a worry about making clients uncomfortable at the expense of charging what we are worth. And making rent.
I think I can ascertain a few things about you, since you are reading this…
• You care about your clients and the work you are doing.
• You did the work, finished school, and got licensed in your state to practice.
• You either think you aren’t good enough to charge more or you think you have to be “the best”
• You think that asking clients to pay will undo all the work we just did to de-stress them
I can tell you from experience that I’ve dealt with all of these feelings and worries in my career. I started out with my rates set a bit low, and then waited way too long before finally raising them.
I’ve examined a lot of the assumptions and worries massage therapists have over rates. What I now know is that, at its core, setting rates is simply a math problem. Everything else is a story we tell ourselves. Right now, that story is a drama for you. A drama in which one wrong choice is going to put you out of business. I’d like to help you change that story into a love story about yourself.
In order to rewrite your rate story, we need to lay out some common assumptions that massage therapists make and debunk their “truth.” If we can get clarity on what’s really likely to happen versus our projected worries, we can make choices for ourselves that allow both clients and therapists to get our needs met. So without further ado…
Assumption #1: Clients are uncomfortable talking about money. It’s true that you’ll run into the occasional client or potential client that feels this way; but most clients are regular consumers and have been purchasing things and services their whole lives. They have already done their research into what the service costs locally and decided for themselves whether they can afford it.
As long as your rates are not way higher or suspiciously lower than the rest of the therapists in your area, your actual rate is not likely to be the most important factor for them in deciding whether to book with you.
Clients are going to make their choice based on your reputation (reviews), your experience, your style, and how you present yourself professionally.
Some clients will look for the most experienced professional for their particular pain issue. And pay top rates for the service. (Underselling yourself could actually result in many potential clients think you aren’t worth seeing.)
Others will go the other direction and find the cheapest option.
Most clients fall somewhere in between those types. For the average client, how close the therapist’s office is to their home or work is probably the most important factor.
• Know the range of rates that other therapists in your area are charging. If you are just starting out, charging right around the average (or just above that) is a good place to start.
• Most clients are both comfortable with paying for your services and expect to pay.
Assumption #2: Raising my rates is going to cause clients to leave my practice in droves. It is true that raising your rates might cause a few clients to look elsewhere for your services. In my experience, however, it really will be only a few. Like maybe 1-2% max. If you do the basic math, a 10% rate raise means you can lose 10% of your clients and still make exactly the same revenue. Assuming you care about the work you are doing and your clients, you aren’t going to lose 10% of your client base. So, those few clients who decide they can’t afford your new rate aren’t going to put you out of business—and some of those lost clients will come back again later after they try a few other cheaper therapists and decide you and your new higher rate are worth it after all.
Now, let’s get realistic about rate raises. If you raise by a huge amount, you are going to lose a larger chunk of your client base. I’ve gone as high as a 20% raise (from $100 to $120) to correct my rates after waiting way too long to raise them, without a big impact on my client base.
Depending on circumstances, I could see raising rates as much as 25-30% once in your career, especially if you’ve avoided raising your rates for a long time. Since you don’t want to do this too often, however, I recommend a smaller percentage raise, regularly.
I started my rates a bit below average in 2007 at $90 per 60 minutes in New York City. I waited far too long (five years) to raise to $100, then to $120 (three more years). I now make a practice of raising my rates about every 18-20 months by about $10 per 60-minute session and $15 per 90- minute session. My last raise in September 2021 was from $185 to $195 for a 60-minute session. I still have a three-week waitlist for my table.
I announce rate raises to existing clients a month ahead of time and make it an opportunity for existing clients to buy packages to lock in their current rates for a while. Every single time I’ve raised rates over the last 10 years, my revenue immediately increased. Also, the number of new clients coming into my practice increased, not decreased.
Everyone else, at just about any other job, expects to get regular salary raises over time. Don’t you deserve to make more as you get better and more experienced at your work?
• Regular, reasonable rate raises will increase your revenue and grow your practice.
• While your new, higher rate might price out a small percentage of your clients, most will be fine with it. Many will actually congratulate you, saying “that’s great, you deserve it!”
Assumption #3: I need to be as good or better than my teachers in order to charge more. We all love to play the comparison game and compare ourselves to our heroes. If your teacher works in your town and charges at the top-end of the range of rates for the area, it is going to seem weird to potential clients if you set your initial rates as high or higher than that.
However, have you considered that your teacher has her own stuff about money and rates? They may be stuck in their own worries, and by not raising their own rates regularly, keeping the whole area market slightly depressed.
Also, by comparing yourself to your teachers, you are setting a bar that you will likely never meet. Your teachers are themselves expanding and growing and they probably started a decade to decades before you. You don’t have to get to their level in order to feel like you provide a valuable service to clients.
Instead of comparing yourself to the folks you admire and learn from, compare yourself to your clients.
Do you know more about the human body than they do? Probably a lot more. Do you know more about how massage therapy can help them? Probably a lot lot more. They are coming to you for that knowledge and expertise.
As a licensed professional, you are an expert on massage compared to most clients. Have some compassion and empathy for yourself and own your value. You can always learn new things and improve, but you are already worth what you charge—and probably worth more to clients than you think you are worth yourself.
Besides, your teachers probably have an eight- to 12-week waitlist for their table and can’t take any more clients without burning out. They did the work and grew their practices. They continued on to the process of educating the public on how valuable massage therapy is. And they taught you so that you could help even more clients. Charging what you are worth honors the care and work they put into training you—and giving yourself regular raises helps out the entire field by normalizing raises.
• If you finished school and got licensed, trust me, you are good enough.
• You don’t have to be the best.
• You are almost always an expert on massage and its benefits as compared to your clients.
Take the Next Step
Hopefully, this article has helped you soften some of the fears around your rates and got you thinking it might be time for a raise. I suggest thinking about a plan for when your next raise will be and then how often you will regularly raise rates.
If it has been a long time since you raised (three-plus years), try a larger correction raise of 20-30%, with a few months’ notice to your existing clients. If it’s been a year or two, try a smaller 10-15% raise. Most clients won’t even bat an eye.
For the few that might voice a complaint, ask them if they get raises at their jobs. Sometimes clients forget to connect your rates to your actual income in their minds and it’s okay to make that connection clear to them. You can also remind them that you’ve gained more experience and skills in the last few years and are able to produce better results in the same 60-minute session as you could years ago—and that’s worth more!
About the Author
David Weintraub, LMT, owns Bodyworks DW Advanced Massage Therapy, a pair of medical massage studios in New York, New York. Bodyworks DW is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-Approved CE Provider in New York and nationally. His small group live, webinar, and on-demand CEU courses offer training on advanced techniques, with a focus on improving assessment and treatment design to get better results with a wide range of clients.