Massage on demand is growing rapidly in the U.S. and across the globe.
The business model first mega-popularized by Uber, the ride-on-demand app, has flourished due to people’s increasing desire for nearly-instant goods and services at the touch of a smartphone icon, as well as their rising interest in natural health and wellness.
A number of companies have launched in the massage-on-demand space, capitalizing on consumers’ desire to schedule a massage without much advance notice, as well as to provide clients with therapists who have been vetted and approved in some way prior to booking.
“People need to find a creative way to take care of themselves, with high levels of stress, and a limited amount of time, and the demands of modern life,” said Julie Wald, co-founder of Namaste New York, a massage-on-demand company which also offers other wellness services such as yoga, Pilates, personal training, nutritional coaching and meditation.
For the professional massage therapist, the rise of these services represents an opportunity for flexible working arrangements and the chance to make some extra money, but providing massage through these channels carries with it some unique challenges as well.
MASSAGE Magazine has created this comprehensive guide, including input and advice from several massage-on-demand companies, to answer your questions about putting your skills to work in this marketplace.
How Massage On Demand Works
Most massage-on-demand companies operate in the same basic way: Potential clients use a website, app, or messaging to specify an appointment date and time and other details about the massage they would like, and the app matches them up with a massage therapist who is available and qualified to provide that service.
The therapist travels to the client’s location, bringing along a massage table, linens, lubricants and any other tools needed.
Typically, a massage-on-demand service will use some type of screening on both the client’s and massage therapist’s side to ensure that their identities are verified; some also ask therapists to check in and out of appointments and follow other security protocols to ensure personal safety.
Payment is handled through the website or app, and the on-demand company usually receives a cut of the session fee, either a flat rate or a percentage. Tips are either pre-factored into the session cost or are added on by clients at the time of service.
These business practices vary depending on which massage-on-demand company you are dealing with.
The Big Question: How Much Money Will I Make Working with a Massage on Demand Company?
Naturally, before jumping into working on-demand, you’re probably wondering how much of each session fee you get to keep, especially if you’re currently self-employed and used to keeping 100 percent of fees, plus tips, for yourself; or if you work as an employee and are used to receiving only a portion of the fee plus tips.
Keep in mind that when using an on-demand service, the administrative tasks that you might have to do as an independent therapist may be handled for you; not having to do these tasks may be worth whatever portion of the fee the company keeps.
For example, you won’t have to handle marketing (other than maintaining a profile page if the company offers that); apart from accepting or rejecting appointments, you won’t have to go back and forth with the client to work out a date and time; and if there is a payment issue with a client, the company deals with it.
How much time you might otherwise spend dealing with these tasks can help you figure out if the on-demand business model works for you financially.
If you are used to working as an employee, transitioning to on-demand work may also mean you need to invest in necessary equipment, such as a portable massage table, and adjust to living with a more irregular income.
Massage-on-demand payment structure varies widely depending on which company you work with, but most of the company representatives MASSAGE Magazine spoke with claim they allow therapists to collect a larger portion of the fee than they would if they were working as employees of a business. (If the company sets the session fee, it will vary depending on your geographical location.)
Zeel, a massage-on-demand company with service available in more than 75 cities, pays the massage therapist about 75 percent of the fee paid by the client.
“Therapists are compensated very well when they’re working on [our] platform,” said Eva Carey, Zeel’s national community director.
At Soothe, therapists are typically getting 70 percent of whatever the company collects, said Jeff Bishop, director of marketplace operations at Soothe, which offers service in more than 60 cities.
“In some of our smaller cities, you can get a massage for 99 dollars an hour,” said Bishop. “Our larger cities are about 140 dollars an hour; the average in there is about 110.”
Soothe also runs a business-to-business program, Soothe at Work, which offers massage in workplace environments; rates for massage therapists who work in this program vary based on Soothe’s contract with individual businesses. “It’s actually our fastest-growing segment,” Bishop noted.
In addition to finding out how much of the fee you will collect, it’s also important to know if you will receive tips, or be reimbursed for expenses such as parking, before you take appointments from an on-demand service.
Namaste New York also collects a percentage of each session fee, but Wald declined to share the exact numbers.
On-demand massage service Numi uses a different pricing structure, adding a flat fee onto the session price set by the therapist and then collecting that fee when the client pays. While this adds to the overall session price, it does allow you to charge what you know you’re worth.
“[Massage therapists are] able to choose their own price and then they earn 100 percent of that price that they book,” said Alex Rowe, Numi’s co-founder and CEO.
Because therapists join the service free of charge and set their own prices with Numi, users of the app have the opportunity to review different therapists and session rates before selecting an appointment, versus other apps that may automatically select a therapist and charge a set rate.
“We show you a list of all the providers that are close to you; they have their ratings and profile picture and profile description of the services they offer, and then as a customer you’re able to choose the therapeutic providers you’d like for your appointment,” Rowe said. “In real time, you receive price quotes from the therapists provided that are available for your appointment.”
Rubzy, the newest massage-on-demand company we spoke with, also allows therapists to set their own prices, collecting a 10 percent fee when a first-time client books, and a 5 percent fee for repeat bookings, said founder Chris Raschko.
“What we charge them, the fee, is very low,” Raschko said.
Will I Have a Flexible Schedule?
Flexibility is a huge reason for the success of massage on demand as a business model—clients love being able to fit massage in whenever their schedule allows, without much advance notice, and therapists enjoy the ability to fill in gaps in their schedule with paid work.
If you’re a massage therapist looking to excel in this market, you must be flexible, especially if you aim to make a significant portion of your income via on-demand work.
Working on demand can allow you to schedule massage appointments around your other obligations, including taking a break for a while if you need it.
“There is absolutely no schedule obligation. [Massage therapists] work at will, which means we do not keep track of how many times they say no, or if they’re not interested,” said Carey, of Zeel.
“We have therapists that go out on maternity leave, they’re taking care of sick family members, they go to Europe for the summer,” Carey said. “Whenever they come back, if they want to start responding to appointments again, they’re certainly welcome to.”
Many therapists love the flexibility. “I’m actually back in school right now for nursing, which is a very intense program. Even after I graduate from nursing, I fully intend on using Zeel,” said massage therapist Kaylee Hoekman.
“It’s perfect,” Hoekman said, “because if I have a lot of exams that week or something, I can just go a little lighter, and then I can go harder the next week. So I’m 120 percent in control … massage therapists like that. We like having our freedom.”
Hoekman admits that having to be flexible can sometimes be challenging, since she has to be ready to work at a moment’s notice on days when she doesn’t have class and is available to see clients.
“When you’re planning on taking appointments, you can’t have anything too strategically planned,” she said.
Madlen Wagner, also a Zeel massage therapist, agrees that the unpredictability of on-demand work, and thus of your income, can take some getting used to. “Today I might get two appointments, tomorrow I might get nothing, and the day after I might get nothing,” she said. “Then the following week might be a lot.”
For therapists who look for more routine working hours, some on-demand companies also offer therapists the chance to work in corporate environments providing massage for employees, such as in the Soothe at Work program. Zeel also takes on workplace contracts through its Corporate Wellness Program.
In addition to on-demand services and corporate contracts, Zeel also partners with spas to fill empty therapist positions or augment their permanent staff. This works well for spas that might otherwise have to turn away clients during busy times, Carey said.
“Spas are able to utilize Zeel to supplement whatever number of therapists that they have as employees,” said Carey. “So, if they have an employee that has to go out for back surgery, or go out on maternity [leave], or maybe they have a large group, and everybody wants a massage at 11:00.
“They can use the Zeel booking platform, and have [licensed] therapists come in to supplement whatever demand for sessions that they have,” Carey added.
How Will an On-Demand Company Ensure My Safety as a Massage Therapist?
Therapist safety is a top priority for massage-on-demand companies, though each handles the details a bit differently as far as client screening and therapist security during appointments.
Soothe starts on the customer end, vetting new massage clients fairly extensively. Bishop said they use a special software program to assess the “risk” of a client when an appointment is requested.
For example, if a client asks for an appointment at a different address from the address on his or her credit card, a customer service representative would call the client for further information. Credit card numbers are also compared to a government block list to prevent fraud, he added.
“We do a lot on the front end to make sure that the customer we’re bringing in is as high quality as possible,” Bishop said.
Therapists are also asked to check in and out of appointments via mobile device and tracked via GPS during appointments, he said; if a therapist fails to check out, Soothe will attempt to contact the therapist, then the client, and then the local police if they cannot verify the therapist’s safety.
“We have a 24/7, 365 operation center that is always open to assist any therapist with anything that may come up during an appointment,” Bishop said, noting that more than half of Soothe’s full-time staff is dedicated to monitoring therapists during appointments with clients.
“It’s actually statistically very, very low that there’s an incident with a client, but when it does happen we have zero tolerance for that—we’ll kick the client out [of Soothe] and we will support the therapist to any extent they need,” he added.
“We can’t be there with them, obviously, but we do everything that we can so they feel empowered, and that they have a partner in us,” Bishop added.
Namaste New York, said Wald, gets to know a lot about each client before matching them with a therapist. “There’s a whole deep intake process with our clients, so we know these clients before the massage therapist is going in to work with them,” she said.
“Massage therapists receive the information about who these individuals are, what their needs are, requests are. So it’s not happening in any kind of a blind fashion … our clients are known entities,” Wald added.
“We have a very rigorous vetting process of clients,” Carey said of Zeel, explaining that extensive questions are asked when clients set up accounts.
“Only those people whose identity can be verified are allowed to book appointments. We ask your date of birth, we ask for the last four digits of your social, the front and back of a driver’s license. So, what I’m able to tell my therapists is the person on the table is who they say they are, and obviously, that diminishes a lot of the nonsense.” Zeel therapists also check in and out of appointments so the company knows they’re safe.
Rubzy has a feature in which massage therapists can report potentially dangerous clients, but it does not currently screen massage clients who use the service; Raschko plans to change this based on demand from users.
“We’re going to make an option in the near future where customers can voluntarily get a background check, and if they do this, they’ll get a special badge on their profile showing that they are background check certified,” he said.
Numi does not screen clients, said Rowe, but encourages therapists to review clients’ profiles before accepting an appointment or offering their services, and to report inappropriate client behavior. Clients or therapists who misuse the service may be blocked from further use.
How Will Clients Know I’m Legit and Trustworthy?
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous massage therapists—or those posing as massage therapists—out there who offer illegal services that hurt the reputation of legitimate, professional therapists. This can leave some potential clients leery of requesting massage from someone they have never met, especially when they are inviting that person into their home.
To ensure clients can be confident in the therapists they welcome into their lives, Soothe does an extensive screening of every massage therapist they add to their network, as well as an annual background check each year a therapist remains in the network, Bishop said.
That yearly checkup includes verifying that licensing, credentials and liability insurance are up-to-date.
Zeel verifies licensing, that licensing boards have not taken any actions against a therapist, and that the therapist carries liability insurance, according to Carey.
While Numi does not conduct background checks on every therapist, it does collect the license number, massage school attended and state in which the therapist is registered, Rowe said.
The company then offers a more extensive verification process in which they verify all the information the therapist posts on his or her profile; once the process is completed, a special badge is displayed on the profile, so clients know when a therapist has been more thoroughly screened. Verified profiles show up higher in search results, Rowe added.
Rubzy does not vet every therapist, opting instead to check out credentials only if there is an issue reported with a therapist or therapist profile, but as the company grows more screening will be added, said Raschko.
“At first, I wasn’t going to do any vetting whatsoever,” he said. “It was just going to be a marketplace … the reason our fees are so low is because it was a self-monitoring type of system, where if people don’t want to get a massage or choose that massage therapist, they don’t have to. But since I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, we’re improving that.”
What Qualities and Skills Do I Need to Succeed as an On-Demand Massage Therapist?
Obviously, to succeed as a massage therapist in any type of work environment, you need excellent massage skills. To do well in the on-demand arena, you’ll also need skills that may not come into play as much when you work in a spa or private studio.
In addition to tip-top massage skills, Bishop said, Soothe seeks therapists who have “social skills and business acumen to be able to create a great introduction to Soothe, especially to our new customers who may have never had any at-home service like ours—either they’re a little nervous, they don’t know what to expect, they’ve maybe never had a massage—and it’s really important that a therapist can make that person feel at ease and explain the process.”
Zeel typically looks for seasoned therapists who want to add to their income. “We seek to work with really well-trained, experienced [people], [with] professional presentation, [who are] passionate about the work, and really committed to the industry,” Carey said. “Generally, it’s someone that already has worked for some time, and this is an opportunity for them to supplement other things that they have going on.”
Do I Have to Go on an Interview?
With most massage-on-demand services, the answer is yes.
“We meet every one of our therapists in-person,” said Zeel’s Carey.
Soothe, said Bishop, employs a network of recruiters to bring new people on board.
“They start with a very brief online application that just essentially asks for their credentials,” Bishop explained. “Once they do that, [in] usually between 24 to 48 hours, either the local recruiter or the recruiter who’s managing that city will reach out and let them know about available times they have to set up an actual interview.
“The interview process is about two hours: a half-hour explaining Soothe, what we are, what on-demand really means; because that’s not for everybody and we recognize that,” Bishop continued.
“We also talk … about their experience, their background, where they’ve been, where they want to go, and after that we’ll break for our practical; we’ll do a 30-minute test massage to make sure that the quality is high,” said Bishop. “From there we’ll spend about an hour doing a technical onboarding so we can make sure that the therapist has all the tools they need.”
Namaste New York also requires an in-depth, in-person interview. “We deliver very personalized, customized care to our clients,” said Wald. “We’re looking for experienced and extremely skillful massage therapists, so our process involves a full screen, followed by a face-to-face experiential interview.
Numi and Rubzy do not currently require in-person interviews.
Will I Get Ratings from Clients?
Yes, clients have the option to rate you and your service—all companies MASSAGE Magazine spoke with offer some type of client feedback system—and some companies also offer you the chance to rate your clients.
Soothe, Bishop said, offers clients the opportunity to submit feedback through the Soothe app; this feedback consists of a five-star rating that’s broken down into four categories. The company shares these ratings with therapists, and follows up with clients who give their therapist low ratings.
“If a therapist gets rated a one star and they really have no idea why, we’re going to reach out to that client to figure out what happened so we can make sure we provide either another therapist that fits their needs better, or at least get to the bottom of why they had rated the massage so poorly,” Bishop said.
Soothe therapists can also rate clients; this information is only shared with the company.
For companies like Rubzy, where you communicate directly with clients to set up appointments instead of relying on the company to match you up, ratings are also a big deal, as they are one of the factors clients use when choosing a therapist.
Will I Enjoy Working for a Massage-on-Demand Company?
Working on demand, as Soothe’s Bishop mentioned, is not for everyone. You might try it once and decide it isn’t for you; you might try it and love it; or, it might be something you only do once in a while to pick up some extra cash.
The representatives of the companies with whom MASSAGE Magazine spoke all stated that most of their massage therapists use on-demand services in addition to other income streams.
“Most people use it to supplement their income,” said Bishop. “A lot of our therapists may work at either a competitor’s spa or they may have their own book of clientele and then they will still work for Soothe to pick up new clients.”
If it turns out you love the flexibility and income potential of working on demand, some companies, including Soothe, do offer perks to massage therapists who see clients frequently via the service.
“Therapists who are busting their butts for Soothe clients will be rewarded. That means that our algorithm will prioritize them in terms of receiving job offers,” Bishop said.
“We also invite a select group of therapists into a program that we call instant confirmation … mean[ing] that a therapist can set neighborhoods and hours they’re available. What we will do is instantly assign them an appointment there as soon as it comes in. They don’t have to go through the vetting process where they view the opportunity and accept it; it just automatically happens and they get notified.”
Wald told MASSAGE Magazine that Namaste New York is actively recruiting in response to client demand.
“We have a lot of work … for the right massage therapists, we provide an incredible career opportunity,” she said. “Massage therapists who work for Namaste really have the opportunity to engage in a healing relationship with clients, whereby they’re seeing them consistently over a long period of time.”
Wald said a long-time therapist in the Namaste network recently told her that “of all the different companies she works for … she really values Namaste the most because of the types of relationships she’s been able to develop with clients through the years, and the … high-integrity, intelligent, awesome people that we tend to attract as clients.”
Am I Ready to Work On-Demand?
The on-demand economy, which includes such businesses as massage and other health services, taxi-like driving, grocery delivery and many others, has more than 22.4 million users spending almost $58 billion annually, according to Harvard Business Reports, and growth in this business sector is expected to grow.
Massage therapists employed by on-demand companies work as independent contractors. For this reason, they should possess a liability insurance policy that covers many modalities and protects them in case of client accident or injury, while also offering identity protection and stolen equipment coverage.
As technology continues to evolve, massage, as well as other wellness services on demand, will continue to represent an opportunity for massage therapists whose skills and characteristics are suited to working in this challenging and rewarding arena.
About the Author
Allison Payne is a former online & associate editor for MASSAGE Magazine, and now a freelance writer and editor based in central Florida. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine and massagemag.com, including “Relax, Refresh and Rejuvenate: The Spa Day as Self-Care” (Sept. 28).
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