In the past year-plus, virtually every massage therapist I know has taken a long look at their massage job and asked themselves, “stay or go?”
A massage therapist friend and I joke about advanced tapotement—having to bop someone on the head. The chaos of 2020 (which isn’t over, even halfway into 2021) has given massage therapists a solid round of advanced tapotement.
Some people decided to retire or move into a new profession. Some decided to stay but want change in how they’ve been working, including where they work.
If you are ready to look at a new “where,” follow this guide to the top 10 places therapists might secure a massage job. I have grouped these into two categories: massage-primary and massage-secondary: places where massage is the primary business and places where massage is a secondary part of their business.
Massage-Primary vs. Massage-Secondary Jobs
When a workplace is massage-primary, the things you need to deliver massage—space, supplies, tools and time—will be given priority because massage is its primary income stream. You may have leadership who are or have been massage therapists themselves. Management should understand the need for continuing education, license renewal and time between appointments.
When a workplace is massage-secondary, the things you need to deliver massage may not be given priority because massage is not the primary income stream. It’s secondary, or a supplement to the primary source of income.
You can’t expect leadership to be or have been massage therapists or even understand the needs of massage therapists. You may have to advocate harder to get what you need. You may have to educate leadership about massage.
We’ll look at both massage-primary and massage-secondary settings.
Private practice. This is the ultimate experience of self-employment. Whether in your home or in an office, there is only you. You get 100% of the control and income. You’re also 100% responsible for the expenses and all the behind-the-scenes administrative work, especially marketing. The biggest attraction to private practice is having full control over your work.
Multi-therapist / group practice. Working for someone else in a group of massage therapists. You may be an employee or an independent contractor. The practice can be as small as the two of you or as large as a practice with multiple locations and dozens of therapists. You’re often paid by a split (a percentage of each massage) but there’s less responsibility for things like laundry and marketing. If you’re an independent contractor you still need to maintain a separate practice (or at least try to) or you risk being mis-classified. Note: I discuss franchises separately.
Wellness group. This is similar to a group practice except there are non-massage practitioners such as yoga teachers, herbalists, acupuncturists, etc. While it isn’t technically massage-primary you may not have the same challenges of a massage-secondary setting. The needs of all the types of practitioners are ideally given equal or near-equal weight.
The biggest advantage is the ability to refer across different specialties and have a coordinated approach to client care. While very attractive, I see fewer wellness groups than any other type of massage-primary workplaces.
Franchise. These are international chains that primarily provide massage, often through a membership model. Individual locations are owned as franchises of the larger chain. The three most common examples are Massage Envy, Hand & Stone and Elements Massage.
You will be an employee with some of the expected benefits of employment but also with some of the lowest per-massage pay in the industry. Franchises work hard to fill your schedule and strongly encourage clients to tip generously to try to make up for the low pay. The quality of an individual franchise location is heavily dependent on who owns that location and who they hired as management.
Outcall or mobile massage. You provide massage at the client’s location—usually a home or hotel room. You have to bring all your supplies, including table, linens, oils and music, which can make this one of the more physically strenuous ways to provide massage. Even lightweight tables weigh 25 to 30 pounds.
You may be self-employed or an independent contractor for an outcall chain, such as Zeel or Soothe. This can be some of the highest-priced massage, potentially offering the highest per-massage pay, and tips are common—but it can also be the most physically difficult.
Fitness facility. Gyms, health clubs, training centers, etc. may have massage therapists to round out their fitness offerings. You can expect more clients asking for help with muscle pain and function, performance and soft-tissue issues, though not exclusively. The wider the demographic of people who use the facility, the wider your potential client base.
While the fitness facility may refer clients to you, you should also expect to function as a stand-alone business and market yourself to the fitness facility membership. Being able to connect with personal trainers can make a big difference in filling your schedule.
Medical setting. Medical settings can mean a hospital, but it’s more likely to mean another medical practitioner’s office, such as a chiropractor. It can be similar to working with a fitness facility in that many people will be coming to you for pain relief. Your work may be independent but you may also be expected to work in conjunction with the treatment plans of the larger business. You are also more likely expected to have a detailed knowledge of the musculoskeletal system. Tips may be uncommon.
Spa or salon. Spas and salons offer massage therapy as part of their menu of treatments. The pluses and minuses of fitness facilities and medical offices apply to salons and spas.
Because salons and spas often promote themselves as places for luxury, pleasure and esthetics, you are more likely to have clients who are coming to you with the same mindset. Two common challenges are having a room large enough for your work and noise and scents from other services provided. Tips are very common.
Corporate or seated. For this massage job, you take your work into someone else’s workplace that is on-site or in a corporate setting. You may be there as a one-time event or it may be an ongoing relationship; weekly, for example. While you might work through a company that provides on-site services. you’re just as likely to be there as an independent business. The most common way to work is with a massage chair. Sessions will likely be shorter than usual. Sessions of 10 to 20 minutes are normal. On-site can also mean working at events, such as bridal showers, farmers’ markets and health fairs.
Cruise ship. You will be working in the on-board spa. The hours can be long (eight to 12 hours per day), you are expected to clean and re-stock in your spare time, and you are strongly expected to push product sales. The on-board accommodations are basic and usually small. According to multiple sources, pay can range from $800 – $3,600 per month. Tips are common. Massage therapists don’t usually make this a career but a short-term option. The primary attraction is being able to travel while you work. (U.S. cruise lines are expected to remain off-line through most of 2021 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).)
Be True to Yourself
There are no “perfect-for-everyone” places to work. Your massage job will come down who you want to work with and what you want to do with your skills. You may want to choose more than one to diversify your income stream. Whatever you choose, be true to yourself and your goals as a massage therapist.
About the Author:
Kelly Bowers, LMBT (NC 16669), has been writing, teaching and speaking about the business of massage since 2003. Owner of the Healing Arts Business Academy, she is the co-author of “Between Doormat and Diva: How Massage Therapists Can Find the Sweet Spot Between Service & Servitude” (and wrote on this for MASSAGE Magazine) and “Can I Deduct That?” (both, amazon.com) and author of “The Accidental Business Owner” (Handspring Publishing).