Massage therapy is an effective and important component of today’s health care, and should be compensated accordingly.
So why, then, do so many massage therapists struggle to earn a living wage, much less massage wages that allows them to live a life that includes abundant security, relaxation, self-care, education, adventure—or whatever else they may desire?
The answer seems to be money mindset, the attitude toward the financial aspects of running a practice, such as fee-setting, marketing and sales.
Mix in the difficult emotions sometimes related to money, such as shame, guilt and fear, and then add the tendency to view oneself as a healer rather than as a businessperson, and we have a toxic brew of good intentions combined with poor business practices—and poor business practices result in poor massage therapists.
MASSAGE Magazine has convened business advisors and expert therapists to offer advice on what you need to understand—and do—to create a financially healthy massage practice
Don’t Be the Cheapest Therapist in Town
Sales is not a swear word, and money is not evil. Money is necessary to make a living doing what you love.
There is nothing unenlightened or greedy about making money as a massage therapist. So many of us had, or have, a seriously disempowering relationship with money. That’s all just got to go.
We also have this attitude of massage has to be affordable to everyone. I totally disagree. Your business has to work for you first and foremost, not your clients.
Don’t make the mistake of charging what you think others can afford. (I call that climbing into your clients’ wallets.) What they can afford is none of your business.
Also, don’t charge based on what other therapists around you are charging. Therapists are constantly lowering their rates to compete with other therapists, and it’s destroying our industry. We’ve trained the public to go with cheap massage on demand.
Coffee, cigarettes and pizza are cheap and on demand. Massage therapists should not be any of those things.
Your rates should be based on what your business needs to make from your services in order to pay all expenses, taxes and your salary. Do the math—and whatever that number is per hour, just be worth whatever it is.
For example, solving a particular, common problem or being known for a specialty will enable you to command higher prices and set yourself apart in a sea of massage therapists. Then, you’ll attract clients who want to work with you—not just with the cheapest therapist in town.
Your practice is a business. First and foremost, you must get really clear that it’s not enough to be a skilled therapist in order to succeed on your own; you have to learn how to run a business, and you have to learn to love the numbers. Your practice needs to make money for you to keep running it.
Rebecca de Azevedo Overson, L.M.T., is founder of “The Art of Building a Successful Massage Practice” Facebook Group and a prenatal massage educator based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
High Massage Wages Mean Moving Beyond Passion
Running a business requires more than passion. Many massage therapists know exactly why they went into the field of massage—typically, because they want to share the benefits of massage, help others or just simply love the field.
Those reasons should not be confused with why you chose to start a business, because they are not the same. (In fact, all those goals related to becoming a massage therapist can actually be achieved while working as an employee.)
If you do choose to run a business, you must invest the same time and passion into learning and strengthening basic business principles as you have into learning and practicing your techniques, because providing a great service does not guarantee a successful business.
Take courses that develop your business skills to support the hands-on skills you’ve learned. Financial literacy, marketing and establishing a solid system of service standards are critical to every business.
Many massage therapists readily invest time and money into developing their massage skills and neglect the things that will help keep the doors open. The belief that if you learn new techniques clients will find you is a naïve mentality at best.
As a massage therapist, you’ve given yourself the tools to be a great health care provider. As a business owner, your practice needs the tools to successfully deliver your skills to the waiting public.
Kamillya Hunter owns Spa Analytics, a business that offers strategic consulting to the massage and spa industry nationwide.
Stop Taking Tips
Three years ago I made one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made to support the growth of my practice. I stopped accepting tips.
Say what? No tips?
There were always awkward moments around tipping. Clients didn’t know if they should or shouldn’t tip, how much of a tip was too little or how much was too much.
I found that clients with lower incomes were the ones who added something to the total and those who had higher incomes rarely, if ever, left a tip.
This was a pattern that I didn’t feel quite right about. After 14 years in the business, I opted to remove that awkwardness from the equation.
How did I do it?
I looked at all my revenue numbers. Being self-employed and the only therapist in my business, I wanted a clear picture of how much the tips that were coming in affected my bottom line.
You know what I found?
That while tips made an impact, the amount of income they generated wasn’t enough to not look at shifting completely away from accepting them.
I created a flat-rate system that included an increased rate to reflect what someone would pay if they left a tip. I was very clear that this wasn’t a tip-included price; rather, it was a flat rate that allowed clients to know exactly the amount expected of them, every time.
I have never looked back.
Although it often surprises those clients who are used to adding a tip, they always appreciate the flat rate. Many clients come back because they know ahead of time what to expect to pay.
There is an element of respect that comes from clients when you are confident enough in your services to eliminate accepting tips, and that respect results in more bookings. Eliminate tips, and within a short period of time your revenue will increase more than you thought possible.
Judy Stowers, L.M.T., C.S.T., is an educator, and an expert in exercise, massage, flexibility and stretching. She owns Apex Bodyworx, LLC, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Be the Specialist
The massage market has become saturated with low-priced massage. This has been a great benefit for growing consumer awareness and making massage more mainstream, but it has led to a major challenge for the career-minded therapist: Saturation within this industry means there are too many therapists doing too many massages for too low a fee.
In fact, the average median salary for massage therapists has actually gone down over the last two decades.
I have always believed that where there is great challenge, there is great opportunity. Although rates have taken a hit, there has never been a better time as a massage therapist to make a bigger change in yourself, your career and your future in this business.
The massive opportunity you have right now is to find a niche, master it and brand yourself as a specialist in that niche.
Specializing gives you power over your career and shifts the control of every therapy session to you. When you give someone a massage, they are in charge. “Don’t get oil in my hair,” the client might say, or “Spend a little more time on my feet today.”
When someone enters a specialty practice, they are there to learn and to listen. They are there for your expertise. Additionally, as a specialist, you can charge a premium fee for your one-of-a-kind service.
Forget about marketing that technique you thrive at; instead, identify what condition or aliment you are best at correcting. For example, if you are a great myofascial therapist but just happen to fix shoulders better than anyone else, become the expert shoulder therapist in your area, the one people seek out.
Most therapists can provide a great massage, but few can change someone’s life. I’m not discounting the benefits of a great massage, but there are too many places to get cheap and affordable massage therapy today.
You must stand out and do something nobody else is doing if you want a real and lasting career.
Paul Ruth is an educator and therapist who founded Mojo Physio and Neuromuscular Performance Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona, and who specializes in Neuromuscular Release Therapy for pain relief.
Take Off Your “Poor But Pure” Badge
Money matters can easily get tangled in a web of emotions because of not knowing how to relate to money in a healthy way or because you didn’t have the opportunity to learn money smarts when you were growing up.
Many massage practitioners struggle financially. Whether they own their own business or work as an employee, they find it a challenge to get ahead. This often takes the shape of practitioners proudly wearing the “poor but pure” badge because they’re uncomfortable with money or fear that financial prosperity will somehow corrupt them.
Besides contributing to financial insecurity, this attitude can lead to questionable business practices.
These same practitioners can experience difficulty in charging appropriate fees for their services, and many are uncomfortable charging anything at all. Or they get angry if people think their fees are too high. Employees can become resentful over the disparity in their massage wages versus the charged fee.
This misconception can occur because they haven’t factored in the true costs the business owner incurs in setting up and running the business. They only look at the $100 the company charges per session and the $35 they receive. They forget about the thousands or even millions of dollars the facility cost to build and maintain.
One step you can take to improve your finances is to disengage the notion of your self-worth being tied to the fees you charge. Your self-worth should be constant, regardless of your finances. You provide a valuable service and you should be compensated for that service.
Fee structures vary greatly depending on the type of work you do, where you’re located and the type of clients you want to attract. Your fees also need to reflect your costs. Yet, the bottom line is that most people can only afford a certain amount of money to spend on massage, regardless of what you want to charge.
For instance, if you live in an area where the average family income is $45,000 per year, few people will be able to afford $100 per session on a regular basis. Most will find half of that amount challenging.
You can charge higher rates if your target markets are affluent, if you are the only person in your area who specializes in a highly desirable type of work, or if you only want to work with a limited number of clients.
Cherie Sohnen-Moe is a writer, coach and workshop facilitator based in Tucson, Arizona. She is the author of Business Mastery and the co-author of The Ethics of Touch, and the immediate past president of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education.
You Must Work for Success
It’s no secret that massage therapists are among the lowest earners in the health industry. The U.S. Department of Labor puts the median salary for massage therapists at $39,860 for annual massage therapist pay in 2016, but I’ve heard estimates as low as $26,000. That is absolutely heartbreaking!
The question that begs to be asked is why.
Log in to social media, and you will hear a plethora of excuses. “Daily deal sites are undercutting everybody,” “The franchises are devaluing the industry” and “My school didn’t prepare me” seem to be the most popular—but do they actually hold up?
As an educator in this field, I am fortunate enough to know hundreds of successful therapists, many of whom are making $75,000 to $100,000 or more annually practicing massage.
How have these individuals beat the horrendous odds of our profession? More importantly, how can you join their ranks?
After many conversations with these top earners, one major trait stands out: These high-earning therapists view themselves as businesspeople first and as massage therapists second.
Naturally, they view challenges through the eyes of a businessperson rather than as a therapist. They see franchises, and ask, “What can I do that they can’t?” They see daily deals, and simply target a different demographic.
They are clear that their massage school’s only responsibility was to prepare them to be a therapist, and it is up to them to learn business skills.
They are devoted students of business, and have invested considerable time and money into learning the crucial subjects of marketing, networking and sales.
They know that every service professional in every industry needs to invest in these subjects to truly thrive—and that we aren’t above that rule simply because we are involved in health care.
Additionally, they never fooled themselves by saying things like, “If I put my intention out, they will come” or “My massage sells itself.”
While these phrases may provide temporary comfort to a person not wanting to learn actual business skills, they don’t pay the bills—and they definitely don’t lead to success.
Success takes failed marketing efforts. Success requires doctors not returning your calls. Success demands the feeling of rejection after failed rebooking attempts.
You have to work for success.
If you want to earn more money as a massage therapist, start viewing yourself as a businessperson first. Do what successful businesspeople do: Invest your time and money in learning business skills.
Scott Lindquist, L.M.T., is an educator and owns Massage Therapy Success Academy in Omaha, Nebraska.
Conquer These 5 Fears
If you want to be successful in private practice, knowing how to market effectively is crucial; however, marketing knowledge by itself won’t help you if your fears get in the way of marketing your services.
These are the top five fears of massage therapists that halt their success:
1. Fear of rejection. You might fear that people don’t want your therapy services, and you might think this is because you’re not good enough at what you do.
It’s true: Most people won’t want or need your service, just as most people don’t purchase any one particular product or service—so you must find those people who do want or need your massage.
Once you’ve successfully helped many clients, you’ll realize that rejection is part of marketing.
2. Fear of disapproval. Perhaps you’re afraid that potential clients and peers will judge you negatively when you market. When you focus on serving others when marketing as opposed to promoting yourself, you won’t worry as much.
3. Fear of failure. If you fear failure, you might avoid taking the risks necessary to succeed. Business success involves taking calculated risks. There are never any guarantees.
You will fail some of the time. The key is to learn from your mistakes and move on.
4. Fear of being viewed as aggressive. This fear stems from a misconception that you must be pushy to attract clients.
However, when you shift your mindset to see that marketing is about building mutually beneficial relationships with referral sources and offering free information to potential clients, this fear will dissipate.
5. Fear of being seen as self-serving. This fear stems from the notion within the helping professions that you’re supposed to focus on your clients’ needs and not your own. In addition, you might believe that promoting yourself is the same thing as bragging about yourself.
However, if you believe you have a valuable service to offer and there are people who want and need that service, you are actually helping those people when you educate them about your service.
Juliet Austin of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is a former psychotherapist who has been helping healing professionals develop successful practices since 1999.
Attract the Clients You Deserve
Money. Often referred to with envy, sadness, guilt and fear more than appreciation, happiness or gratitude, money can be a touchy subject.
Why is that? Is it because you think givers and “healers” don’t deserve to be rewarded for our hard work? Or that being paid well takes away from the integrity of what you do?
Perhaps you think that by charging too high a price, you’re somehow selling out or becoming too commercialized. Or, do you believe there is a certain nobility in struggling?
If any of these negative ideas or others like them are the basis for your money mindset, it’s time to heal this area of your life. By doing so, you’ll actually be more effective with all your clients.
When you struggle to pay your bills, make a decent living or cover your basic needs, you drag that hole of scarcity into every session, sucking away your energy and attention from the person on your table.
Some clients will feel this and react accordingly. Some just won’t come back. Others will try to fill the hole for you. They’ll tell you—sometimes too often—how talented you are. They’ll bring you food or clothes or furniture, or tip you more than they should to make up for the fact that you don’t charge enough. (Boundary issues, anyone?)
Still other clients will have their own money issues triggered by your beliefs. They’ll complain about your prices and look for every discount and opportunity to pay less.
You’ll see them begrudgingly feeling torn about scheduling another session, because although they say they need massage they also say they can’t afford your services.
In truth, you can’t afford to have them as clients, because after nearly every session, you’ll feel tired, frustrated and resentful, probably because you worked harder and longer than you should have, believing you would just prove to them what you’re really worth.
But they’ll never pay more, and the cycle will continue.
If you really want to help your clients, heal yourself in every area of your life, including the area of your money issues. You’ll all profit from this important investment you make in yourself.
Felicia Brown is the owner of Spalutions and provides business and marketing advice to massage, spa and wellness professionals.
Put Yourself Out There
Of course you must be good at what you do, and capable of delivering a client-focused massage with the excellent technical and soft skills necessary to build repeat clientele.
As important as all that is, success really boils down to one simple directive: Continually invest in yourself and show up with a smile and a good attitude.
Investing in yourself by showing up can look like myriad things. It may mean signing up for a continuing education workshop, arriving at work early to ensure you are prepared, or demonstrating truly being present for each and every client you work with.
It could also mean setting aside 10 percent of your massage wages in a savings or retirement account.
There are many mornings where it is difficult to get out of bed. It’s easier to just sleep in, skip that phone call or networking opportunity, or not spend the time and money taking a workshop.
Overcoming this resistance can prove to be difficult but will immediately begin reaping rewards.
Continually showing up with a good attitude attracts people to you. Those people will have the knowledge, information and connections you will need to further your career.
Many times, you might feel like you can’t afford the investment. There will be 100 reasons to not put yourself out there—but in my opinion, out there is where the true magic happens.
How will you invest your time, talent and emotional energy toward your success in your profession? I hope you will commit to a lifetime of investment in your most valuable resource: you.
Eric Stephenson, L.M.T., is director of massage education for educational company imassage.
Develop Additional Revenue Streams
While money cannot buy happiness, it certainly can make your day-to-day circumstances more comfortable. I often hear massage therapists say they are uncomfortable with charging more for their services or raising prices when the time comes to do so.
While I can understand the heart-based motivation behind this thinking, consider this: Your bank has no problem raising your interest rates on loans and credit cards.
Continuing education is not always free, and your power, water, cable, gas and food budgets are often stretched to the max. Factor in your mortgage and rent, and you can easily see how important making enough money to comfortably cover your needs becomes.
I suggest a deep-dive analysis on the prices you are charging, and also what you can do to provide yourself additional streams of income outside the massage services you provide.
If you are still charging the prices you have always charged, then it is a good idea to look at what the market bears in your area and adjust accordingly.
An increase of just $5 to $10 per client can net you a nice raise, and this is an amount at which many people will not even flinch. Set a date you would like to put the change into effect and notify your clients in plenty of time before the date arrives.
If you have regular clients, it is likely not because you are cheap, but because they prefer your services to others’. Those people who feel you are their therapist, period, will likely not begrudge you this price adjustment.
Another great way to add revenue to your practice is retailing. Whether you sell self-care tools, candles, scrubs, blankets, analgesics or other self-care products, the best advice is to sell items in which you believe strongly to be effective and that you would use yourself.
Making sure your retail items speak to you as a therapist and that you feel confident in them when speaking to their usage and efficacy will take the pressure off of those of you who don’t like to sell.
These products will easily become natural extensions of your practice and bring you an alternate stream of income without compromising your treatments.
Angie Patrick is the director of Corporate Sales for Scrip Companies/Massage Warehouse.
Replace Bad News with Good News About Money
Do you worry about money? Do you earn and save less than you’d like? Do you owe more than you’d like? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to awaken your prosperity consciousness.
The bad news: Your money rejection complex operates daily, blocking additional clients, money and opportunities.
The good news: When someone wants to give you something, just say, “Thank you.” As the Italian proverb goes, “The money you refuse never does you any good.”
The bad news: You have negative tapes that play repeatedly in your subconscious mind that limit your client roster and money supply. The good news: Just as you turn off your CD player when leaving home, you can turn off these tapes and transform your negative training.
You can turn your mind into a powerful money magnet. This strong affirmation helps: “My mind is a money magnet, money miracle and money machine.”
The bad news: You conduct your business as if resources are severely limited. The good news: You live in an abundant universe. Buckminster Fuller discovered there are enough resources on Earth for everyone to live like a millionaire. Claim your stake.
The bad news: If you doubt your massage talents, you probably doubt your ability to create a prosperous massage business.
The good news: Painter and poet William Blake said, “If the Sun and Moon would doubt/They’d immediately go out.” Let your light shine and check your doubts at the door. Then leave them there.
The bad news: Your family propagated persuasive negative money message when you grew up. Your mother’s most negative thought, combined with your father’s, formed an oppressive family money illusion.
Mine was, “Since you have to work long hours at jobs you don’t like just to make ends meet, you must spend your money very carefully.”
The good news: Once you discover this illusion, you can transform it by turning it on its head.
This is your liberating personal money mantra. Mine goes: “Since I now make an abundance of money doing the things I love, it’s fun to spend my money freely.”
Cary Bayer is a business coach, CE provider and author. His works include the Grow a Rich Massage Business trilogy.
Learn to Love Soft Sales
When you think of the word “sales” do you feel a little nauseous? Believe me, in the past, sales turned my stomach, too. But here’s the thing: If you want to succeed in massage—no matter if you work for yourself or someone else—you better be able to sell.
Yuck, I know. Who wants to be the proverbial used car salesperson? Well, you don’t have to be. In fact, you can be successful in sales by doing the opposite.
It’s called soft selling, also known as gentle persuasion.
Here’s how I soft sell to get repeat clients: I provide extraordinary customer care. This means I return calls quickly, allot ample time for the initial intake, explain my findings, and follow up with clients three days after the massage.
These simple acts of gentle persuasion create loyal customers and translate into five-star online reviews.
To bring in more clients, I do gentle persuasion with free demo massages. Free labor? Think “free advertising” instead.
I also target businesses in my niche market. For example, my niche market is runners. A while back, I approached a running store and offered free, 15-minute demo massages on a group run day. Guess what I did to sell my massage? You got it. I massaged the runners and provided extraordinary customer care.
In this situation, extraordinary customer care meant I had my massage books with me so that I could back up my findings.
I also demonstrated self-massage techniques when applicable and gave runners my business card when they had more questions.
Lastly, I set a demo massage schedule so that I’d be back in front of their faces regularly. I started off with every other week, and then I backed off to once a month.
The results? My niche clientele took off.
Becoming competent at soft selling is very doable. In fact, the barrier to entry couldn’t be lower. You don’t need to be extroverted. You don’t need any sales training. You can grow your clientele, build your confidence and gain momentum by just being you.
Mark Liskey offers free massage business education to massage therapists. He is also co-owner of PressurePerfect Massage in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Visit his website for a free course on building a massage business.
Balance Value with Reality
What is a useful attitude about payment for something of value? Money can be a measure of value, but value is subjective.
Fees set for massage therapy services can be whatever you want them to be, but if people cannot justify the value against the cost burden they will not spend their money on the service.
Many factors influence how much money someone is willing or able to pay for massage. Massage received frequently and regularly achieves ongoing benefit, and what a person will pay for a one-time experience is different from an ongoing expense.
For example, a fee of $75 per session, paid weekly, comes to almost $4,000 a year and so is a cost burden for most clients. This cost can be prohibitive for many people, regardless of value.
For others, this fee is an equal exchange for the value of massage. Answering the question, “How much money am I able to justify in my budget for massage?” can clarify cost burden versus value.
From the massage therapist’s perspective, how fees are set or what a fair wage is as an employee also has many variables.
Do you have family to support or do you support only yourself?
Do you want to work full time or part time?
You can be either an employee or self-employed and end up with similar personal income subject to income tax.
Each of us needs to determine how much money is needed to pay for the lifestyle we want. We have to earn enough or the value of being a massage therapist is diminished; however, we also have to remain realistic about earning potential.
The fee charged for massage therapy and personal sense of worth and self-esteem should not be connected.
Sandy Fritz is the author of textbooks including Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage, She owns and directs SCF Therapies, formerly known as Health Enrichment Center, massage school in Lapeer, Michigan.
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