Our massages take care of other people. Our massage practices take care of us.
Imagine your massage practice, if you are self-employed, as a house with two rooms. One (imaginary) room is where we practice massage. Everything about it is focused on delivering excellent massage. Since a client is central to delivering massage, this room is client-centered.
The second (imaginary) room is where you run your business. Everything about it is set up to allow you to manage your business as well as you can. Since you only need (and usually only have) you to do that, this room is you-centered.
When we talk about self-care, we always talk first about our physical body. Stretching, sleep, nutrition, weight training, etc. The encouragement is often couched in terms of your ability to continue to deliver massage to other people, about being a massage therapist. Even when we talk about other aspects of self-care it is still couched in terms of taking care of yourself so you can continue to deliver massage to other people.
In truth many conversations about self-care are centered on that first room, the massage room. That’s not wrong. We do need to take care of ourselves if we’re going to keep doing massage.
But what does self-care look like in that second room? Self-care, in this side of the house, is about you taking care of yourself as the owner of a business that exists to take care of you. It’s the things you do so you can continue to do business well.
Here are some suggestions for self-care on the business side of the house.
1. Bring Money Into Your Heart & Awareness
It’s not unusual to have a complicated relationship to money even though money is literally of neutral value. The only value it has is what we bring to it. If you can observe the thoughts and emotions that come up when you think about money you’ve got a clue to what value you’ve assigned to it over the years. What does that look like for you?
We often relegate “money stuff” to the back of our minds, to the when-I’ve-got-some-spare-time part of our to-do lists or to the last minute. That may be comfortable in the moment but it’s unlikely to lead you to a business that will take care of you.
You’ve probably heard some variation on this: Where you put your attention is where your energy goes. If you want to practice self-care through your business, you have to bring money into your heart with love and into your awareness without judgment. To bring it into your awareness you have to pay attention to it, every day.
To bring it into your heart it needs to matter to you in equal measure to serving your clients, which is going to be a challenge for some of us because it means we have to matter to ourselves in equal measure to serving our clients.
2. Embrace Income
The goal of any business is, first and foremost, to generate income. Yet how many massage therapists have trouble making “profit” a priority (answer: too many of us)?
When you are struggling for money you are more likely to make ethical missteps out of anxiety or worry. Without a healthy income stream it’s difficult to house, feed and clothe yourself. You are reluctant to take time off when you’re sick or worn out. You can become obsessed with the money you don’t have and end up viewing clients primarily through the lens of how much money they bring to you.
In short, it’s hard to take care of yourself.
Structure your massage career, as much as you can, to make enough money to meet your financial needs. But that means you have to….
3. Know How Much Money You Need
When you are self-employed, you have to earn enough to support you and support your business. How do you figure that out?
Start with you: How much money do you want to take home/pay yourself from your business? If your goal is to support yourself entirely from your massage practice, that may be a large-ish number. If you are the second or third income in your household, it will probably be less.
If you’ve been in business a while, you can look at your bookkeeping and figure out what percentage of your earnings goes toward business expenses. If you’ve just started a massage business assume, 50% of what you make goes back into the business and 50% goes home with you.
If you know how much you want to take home and you know what percentage of your earnings goes to business expenses, you can do some simple math to determine how much you need to make to meet your goals. You’ll find information about how to do that in the accompanying article “Two Specific Steps to Financial Self Care.”
Doing this calculation brings your financial truth into your awareness. These numbers are your reality. If you accept and embrace the honest truth about what you need, without judgment, you bring it into your heart as well.
4. Structure Your Practice to Make the Income You Need
There are many ways to determine your rate for a one-hour massage. More importantly, there are better ways to make that decision than “what’s everybody else charging?” (also known as the going rate).
Since you know how much income your practice needs to make in a year, you can do a little more math and figure out how much you need to charge for a one-hour massage. You also need to look at what session lengths you offer; what prices you charge for seated or outcall massage; what discounts you offer, remembering that discounts take money away from you; and whether you’ll sell products or teach. These are all part of your income structure.
Your bookkeeping tells the story, the biography of your business. What went well. What didn’t. When your plans were just right. How your personal life affected your business life. It’s all there in the pages of your bookkeeping.
Your bookkeeping is your friend. Keep up with it! Take time to know your numbers—profit, loss, net worth, etc. You can’t make good business decisions if you don’t know your business.
5. Get Educated
Take the time and energy to learn how to do business well. You can do that through books, college courses, small-business support organizations, online seminars and a host of other ways.
If there are two rooms in your house you need to be well-educated in both of them. Make business education part of your education budget, even if you don’t get CEs for it.
Build a support network of small-business owners just as you would for your professional life. Hire a business coach when you need one.
When you know how to do business well and correctly, you have less anxiety around business and less fear. Anxiety and fear lead to bad decision-making and make it less likely you’ll take care of your business tasks.
6. Make Time For Your Business Activities
Too many people do business in the dribs and drabs of time they have in between everything else in their lives. That gets you a dribs-and-drabs business.
The things you need to do to run your business require time. Set aside specific time for common business activities—marketing, bookkeeping, updating business plans, etc.—just as you set aside time for clients. It dramatically increases the odds you’ll stay on top of those activities. Having a specific appointment for a business task also helps you focus on it, which helps you do it well.
7. Create a Pleasing Business Space
Have you put a lot of thought into the space where you see your clients? Have you put equal thought and care into the space where you do your business activities?
Having a pleasant space in which to do your business—including having the things you need, like filing cabinets, shelves, calculators, etc.—makes it more comfortable to be in that space. If half our life is going toward taking care of our business, shouldn’t we have an inviting space in which to do that?
Everything you do to take care of the business side of the house is fundamentally you taking care of you. Make the business side of the house as comfortable and productive as the massage side of the house. You deserve it. You also deserve the income you need. The next section of this article will lay out exactly how to determine the fee you should charge per session.
The Two Questions You Must Ask to Know How Much to Charge Per Session
When you are self-employed, you have to earn enough to support you and support your business. How do you figure that out? With two specific answers to these questions: “How much income do I need?” and “How much should I charge to make the income I need?”
These calculations I’m giving to you are simplified, but they are a place to start thinking about how much your practice needs to generate for you to take home the money you need.
“How much income do I need?”
How much money do you need to take home (pay yourself) from your business? If your goal is to support yourself entirely from your massage practice, that may be a large-ish number. If you are the second or third income in your household, it will probably be less.
The first step is to open up your bookkeeping.
Take a look at your expenses, at what you have to spend to run your business. How much, on average, have you spent in the last few years to keep your business going? (Yes, you can skip 2020.) If you are new and don’t have several years of information, assume 50% of what you make goes back into the business and 50% goes home with you.
Do the same thing for your income. How much, on average, have you made in the last few years?
Got those numbers? Now you get to do a little bit of math:
Expenses / income = your expense percentage.
For example, if you make $25,000 a year on average and spend about $11,000 to keep your business going, your math would look like this:
11,000 / 25,000 = 44
You spend 44% of what you make on your business expenses. That means 56% is your “take home” percentage; 56% of what you earn can go home with you.
Now translate that into “How much do I need to make?” That math looks like this:
Take home pay / take home percentage = your income goal
So, let’s say you need your business to generate $40,000 in take-home pay. Your math would look like this:
40,000 / .56 = 71,429
Your business needs to make a little over $71,000 in a year for you to take home $40,000. Whether you love that number or hate it, it’s your financial truth.
“How much should I charge to make the income I need?”
There are many ways to determine your rate for a one-hour massage. This way is more specific to you than “What’s everybody else charging?” (Also known as the going rate.) Here are three simple steps to give you some idea of what your rate should be:
Divide the amount of money your practice needs to make by the number of weeks you’ll work in a year. That’s how much you need to make each week if you have four non-working weeks a year.
$71,429 / 48 = $1,488.
How many hours can you realistically—and healthily—work in a week? Multiply that number by .8 (because, on average, a busy practice is 80% full). For example:
20 x .8 = 16.
Divide the answer from step #1 by the answer from step #2. That’s what you need to charge per one-hour massage (at 16 massages per week, working 48 weeks per year) to make $71,429 a year and bring home $40,000 annually):
$1,488 / 16 = $93.
Numbers don’t lie; this is your financial truth. You can see how that figure compares to your marketplace and then make decisions about what you might need to do to make those numbers a reality for you. Hint: you can charge more than the going rate if you position your practice appropriately.
About the Author:
Kelly Bowers is the owner of the Healing Arts Business Academy and is obsessed with helping massage therapists gain the business skills, knowledge and mindset they need to build the practices they want so they can live the lives they want. She does this with humor, simple language and compassion. She is an author, educator, presenter and practicing massage therapist (NC lic. 16669). You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr. She lives and works in Durham, North Carolina.