Working for someone, whether at a spa, health club, large massage clinic or franchise, provides a nice vantage point for you to see elements of how a particular business is run, which can help prepare you to set up your own massage career .

A massage therapist, Elaine, contacted me to say she was moving to a new city and wanted to know what she could do to stand out from other therapists applying for the position she wanted in a massage therapy center.

This therapist had already determined working for someone else was what she wanted to do.

Many massage therapists aren’t aware career goals can be reached in the context of working as an employee or independent contractor—as long as the therapist excels as an exemplary worker.

Some massage therapists are cut out to be their own boss and run their own show. If you are a solo practitioner, you have the opportunity to create your own business model and fulfill your vision of designing your dream practice.

If you work alone, you also might need to work with attorneys and investors, apply for business and retail-sales licenses and permits, negotiate a lease or mortgage, and more.

When you run your own business, you call the shots and you get to experience the celebrations and achievements—and you also experience the challenges and losses.

Another choice

Working for yourself has advantages, but also many headaches and no guarantee your business will generate enough income to make it past the first year.

Instead of starting your own business, you may choose to work for someone else. This can be a great choice, especially at the beginning of your career, because it will give you hands-on experience and help you fine-tune your client-relation skills.

Working for someone, whether at a spa, health club, large massage clinic or franchise, provides a nice vantage point for you to see elements of how a particular business is run, which can help prepare you to set up your own business, should you choose to go that route.

Is it a good fit?

I advised Elaine she needed to not only do her professional best during the interview, she also needed to be sure the job was a good fit for her—that it was a position that would help her reach her ultimate career goals.

Ways of determining the suitability of a potential job include judging if the environment—high-end spa or down-to-earth health club, for example—appeals to you. You should also make sure the work status—employee or independent contractor—is agreeable to you.

Next, find out who the clientele is, whether blue collar or affluent, for instance, or seniors or athletes. Research if the business offers a type of massage you want to perform on a regular basis. A spa that focuses on Thai massage and lomilomi probably won’t be a good fit if your interest lies in rehabilitative massage.

Ace the interview

If you choose to work for someone, the first step is to get the job, which sounds easier than it sometimes is. Many factors are at play in whether or not a therapist will even be interviewed, much less chosen for a particular position.

The interview begins the moment you first make contact with a business. A smart business owner looking to hire a savvy therapist will consider everything about the candidate, including the professionalism of any written letter or e-mail and the speed at which he or she responds.

She will check references, educational history and work experience. You might be invited to an in-person interview and asked to provide a hands-on demonstration.

The therapist must, of course, also be a good match for the business in terms of outlook and attitude. In fact, the most important aspect of cultivating a positive employer-employee match is attitude.

Fitting in

When a business makes a hiring decision, its administration is looking for someone who won’t just do a job, but who will contribute to the success and growth of that business.

Unfortunately, some massage therapists come into a working relationship with what employers consider a bad attitude. The bad-attitude therapist believes she gives a great massage and wants to be compensated handsomely for it.

Her perspective is she provides the most important part of the service. She is probably not aware of all the behind-the-scenes work that went into having the opportunity to provide that great massage.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. After speaking with hundreds of business owners, the same main attribute was repeatedly mentioned as to what an employee can do to keep her employer happy: Be an honest, open, supportive team player.

When you adopt this simple yet vital attitude, you will become a highly coveted employee, which will lead you to higher financial compensation, more professional choices and a happier career.

“Unless [the employer is] asking you to do something unethical or that could put themselves or you at risk, you must be able, in the moment, to put your clients’ needs ahead of your own,” explains Michael Gansrow, LMT, chief operating officer of Massage on the Go USA, which contracts with more than 200 massage therapists.

“There is almost no problem that cannot be solved with effective communication,” he says, “Be open to feedback about your performance. Be honest and up front about your desires and goals.”

Spa consultant Julie Pankey of North Berwick, Maine, employs up to 50 massage therapists at a given time. When asked what makes an invaluable employee, she says working as a member of the team—pitching in to help out wherever needed, even if that means folding laundry or replacing toilet-paper rolls—is essential.

Another element of being a team player is striving to get along with your co-workers.

“Stellar therapists must see each other not as competition, but as colleagues,” explains Tatiana Tchamouroff, owner of Ninotch retreat in Bethesda, Maryland, and McLean, Virginia, who has employed more than two dozen massage therapists over the course of her career.

“When therapists work together as a team and leave out competition for clients, the culture at work is more relaxed, productive and fun.”

It’s also key to respect the person who employs you, the person who takes all the financial risk of running a business and provides you a paycheck.

Don’t come in with a “What’s in it for me and how much are you going to pay me?” attitude in the interview.

Also, “don’t underestimate how much the owner can teach you about possibly running your own business one day, especially when the owner is a working massage therapist,” says Sandy Saldano, L.M.T., owner of Therapeutic Kneads in Highland Park, Illinois, which employs several massage therapists.

If you are already an employee or independent contractor in someone else’s business, look at how you’ve been contributing to your work environment and see if you have been participating with an open heart and a willingness to be a member of the team.

Take some time to really think about whether you are best suited to work for yourself or someone else by considering your strengths, weaknesses, skill set, abilities and goals.

Strengths that play into working in private practice include being a self-starter; determination to succeed even when things don’t go as planned; the ability to have a vision for your business and see the big picture and small details required to create that vision; and the ability to wear many hats and juggle tasks.

Strengths that play into working for someone else include being a team player; enjoying following another’s direction and implementing another’s vision; preferring to not have to think about work when the workday is finished; and the ability and desire to move into a supervisory or management position.

Employment Status

When you work for someone else, you will be hired as either an employee or independent contractor.

It is important to be aware that when you are hired as an independent contractor, you are still in business for yourself and can basically negotiate any arrangement you want.

Many therapists and massage establishments mistakenly misclassify their workers by treating them as employees in what they expect and how they require them to perform, but call them independent contractors to avoid taxes and worker’s compensation requirements.

When a business you work for tells you what to wear, provides equipment for you, collects payments from clients and then pays you, or creates such rules as no-show or cancellation policies for you, it is treating you as an employee.

Mix and Match

Some therapists might prefer to create a hybrid career for themselves, where they create a dream practice supplemented by a part-time job.

There are many reasons to do this, including filling in slow days in a massage schedule; providing you with an opportunity to experience day-to-day contact with other employees; and offering the opportunity for a consistent income and benefits, such as paid days off, medical insurance and 401K retirement plans.

A massage therapist has the luxury of creating her dream work scenario. With franchise locations opening up every day, health clubs offering massage, and day spas and medi-spas increasingly popular, a massage therapist can take advantage of the best of the self-employed and employed worlds.

Designing your dream job is possible—with thought and consideration to what type of person you are and where you will be happiest.

About the Author

Irene Diamond, R.T., is a rehabilitation therapist and founder of Active Myofascial Therapy—The Diamond Method, and a Massage Therapy Hall of Fame inductee. She is dedicated to taking businesses from good to great with her strategic insight and knowledge.


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