Many new practitioners start their careers as employees with plans to eventually build a business of their own, yet one of the trends I am seeing is many of those therapists continue to work full-time or at least part-time as an employee even while developing a private practice.

Many new practitioners start their careers as employees with plans to eventually build a business of their own, yet one of the trends I am seeing is many of those therapists continue to work full-time or at least part-time as an employee even while developing a private practice.

Working as an employee provides many potential benefits, including:

• The possibility of walking into a full practice with little marketing required of you

• Being part of a team; providing a larger scope of services for your clients’ well-being

• Starting out with a ready-made professional image; reduced paperwork (there’s usually an office manager)

• Health insurance

• The ability to focus on hands-on work

• Access to better and more varied equipment and supplies

• An excellent built-in referral base

Laundry service

• Paid training; and

• An office staff that does the scheduling, places confirmation calls and handles financial transactions.

Further, employers are responsible for all facility liability, overhead costs, marketing, financial management and business operations. 

Types of Massage Jobs

Massage therapists have a variety of employment options to choose from. According to the MASSAGE Magazine 2020 Reader Survey of massage therapists:

• 72% of respondents work independently in their own practices

• 11% work in a shared practice with other therapists

• 17% work in a mobile massage practice

• 9.25% work in a massage franchise location

• 14% work for a chiropractor or in another medical office; and

• and 17% work in locations including medical spas, day spas, retirement communities, gyms and hotels.

(These numbers don’t add up to 100% because some massage therapists work at more than one location. Nonetheless, a tremendous amount of massages are given at places that hire massage therapists.)

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states there were approximately 167,000 paid massage therapy positions in 2019, with a 21% projected increase between 2019 and 2029. (I will note, however, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its effects could skew those figures, and we don’t have a clear view of employment opportunities going forward.)

The BLS also states that in 2020, the median per hour rate paid to massage therapists was $20.97 and $43,620 per year (up from the 2016 report of $19.23 and $39,900).

You have to be cautious in looking at statistics like this. For instance, $20.59 per hour might be low as it does not include non-reported tips and benefits, and the yearly pay was calculated by multiplying the hourly pay by the number of hours in a typical full-time job (2,000). Yet, most therapists do between 15 and 25 hours of hands-on work per week. Also, I suspect a high percentage of those 160,000 jobs are part-time.

Find the Right Massage Job

It’s good to reflect on some questions before beginning to look for a massage job.

One consideration is the amount of time you want to work. Some people want to work full-time while others choose to permanently work in their field on a part-time basis (they either have another career, are raising a family, or want to pursue other interests). Others want to work part-time at two or more venues, honing their craft and seeing a variety of clients.

You should also consider your past jobs and what fit well for you (and what didn’t). What did you like about them? What didn’t you like? What do you wish they would have been like? Does the thought of getting a job excite you or fill you with a sense of dread? Do you enjoy working as part of a team? Do you enjoy focusing primarily on client well-being? Do you prefer the convenience of an office support staff and less paperwork? Do you like the idea of someone else handling marketing and business logistics? Can you easily conform to a set time schedule?

Your responses to such questions will help you determine if working as an employee is the right choice for your temperament and life goals. If so, I have some tips on what to consider before taking a job offer.

Job longevity and satisfaction correlate to the level you can support a company’s mission, its corporate culture and its operating procedures. For this reason, you need to research potential employers. Visit their websites and social media pages to get a sense of their image, the range of services they provide and the fees they charge.

Pay particular attention to how they describe their staff and note if they list their current therapists and staff bios. This provides a sense of how the company views its staff — will you just be another number to them or an integral part of the team? Also, notice if they just give a list of services or if they include ample descriptions of what each service entails and how clients can expect to benefit from each treatment. This indicates how well they market their services, which can impact the number of appointments people make.

Contact your local schools and colleagues to get feedback on employers. Refrain from asking broad questions, such as “Did you like working there?” because what might be a great environment for one person could be unbearable for another. Ask specific questions about the things that are important to you, such as:

• What is the best thing about working there?

• What is the worst thing about working there?

• What are the sanitation protocols?

• What types of PPE does the company provide?

• How are clients pre-screened before sessions (particularly in relation to COVID-19)?

• How much time is allocated for sanitizing between sessions and who does it?

• What is the dress code?

• What are the attributes of practitioners who have been most successful here?

• How would you describe communication between management and staff? 

• What is the scheduling flexibility like?

• What kinds of breaks do you have between clients?

• What types of clients tend to frequent this establishment?

• How are practitioners expected to interact with clients, in terms of greeting clients and placing follow-up calls, in addition to the actual treatment?

• How does management handle client complaints, particularly regarding sexual misconduct?

• What advice do you have for doing the best job possible and developing a career in this type of setting?

• What advice do you have about rules and personalities, for adjusting to this environment and management?

• What do you suggest I do while in school to increase my odds of getting hired by this company?

The Successful Massage Job Interview

Once you have found several companies that seem to be a potentially good fit, visit each location, if possible. If not, then you will need to gather the following information during your job interview: if the location is easy to find and in a safe neighborhood; the other types of businesses nearby; the way you are greeted when you walk in the door; if the waiting room is comfortable; if the business sells products, and if so, if the products are ones you could recommend; what types of sanitation protocols are in place; if there is evidence of a strong team environment; and whether or not you get a sense this is an environment where you would enjoy working.

The most important element in an interview is connection. While the interviewer will be asking a lot of the questions, it’s your responsibility to adapt your responses to highlight your strengths. You also get to ask questions. Start with questions that build rapport, such as, “What was it about this company that made you want to work here?” or “What does the company value most?”

Next, review the questions listed above, and then ask about their compensation and career advancement tracks. Close the interview by telling them why you are a good fit and how you can help them meet their business goals. The last step of the hiring process is the sample massage you’ll provide the manager or owner — and for that, you can let your hands do the communicating!

About the Author:

Cherie Sohnen-Moe

Cherie Sohnen-Moe is a recognized expert in the area of massage, business and marketing. She has worked in the massage field since 1978 and is the author of the textbook “Business Mastery” and co-author of “The Ethics of Touch” and “Retail Mastery.” She is also a MASSAGE Magazine All-Star, one of a select group of innovative therapists and teachers who are educating the magazine’s community of massage therapists in our print magazine, on our social media channels and online.