It might seem crazy to ask if you are looking forward to the end of your career, particularly if you have just begun—but the question is intended in the most literal sense.

Are you looking forward, meaning do you have a clear vision of the trajectory of your massage therapist career path and how it will end?

As a wise businessperson in a hands-on field, you must map out a path to ensure that you end your career rather than your career ending you.

Some people refer to this as an exit strategy. A more fitting term may be a success strategy.

What happens when you are no longer able, nor choose to, work for one reason or another? You might sell your table, your equipment and perhaps (if you are lucky) your client list—and you’ll be done.

But what are you left with? Have you generated a substantial income and invested it properly so that it will sustain you for the rest of your life and cover all of your needs as you age?

Beyond survival, what kind of retirement lifestyle do you desire?

Harboring visions of a six-figure income and the freedom to do what you like in your later years (or sooner) requires a deep dive into the reality of how to get there. Here is an analysis of your earnings options and the key components to consider when crafting your success strategy

1. Maximize your hours.

When you are paid per hour of service you provide, the obvious way to increase your income is to work more hours and see more clients. Increasing your workload is dependent upon finding and retaining more clients, and getting them to return consistently and frequently.

Plenty of marketing strategies exist that focus on gathering and retaining clients. Keep in mind that it is easier to keep a client and increase loyalty rather than constantly finding a fresh stream of new clients.

Retention is key.

The reality is, there is a cap on the number of hours you can work without physically or emotionally burning out. When you reach that limit, your income has just topped out. What is the next step up the ladder of success

2. Increase your income per hour.

Aside from working more hours, the next option is to work the same amount but earn more per hour. An innocuous way to do this is to add value per service.

Up-selling or using add-ons increases your revenue while maintaining the same hourly rate your client is used to. Particularly for a new, less-experienced therapist, this strategy is worth embracing.

Consider add-ons or enhancements that are incorporated into your existing length of service rather than requiring additional time.

As you gain experience, you can increase your hourly base rate if you are a solo practitioner or an independent contractor somewhere else. (By definition, an independent contractor must set his or her own fees.)

As an employee, you are limited by the structure and pay increase schedule set by your employer. Discuss with your boss creative ways to increase service value and adopt pay raises.

Rewards for client rebooking and retention, tiered salary levels based upon experience and continuing education, or service enhancements and retail sales are a few ideas.

Still, there is a limit, determined by your location and client demographic, on what hourly rate the market will bear for services.

The discerning client is willing to pay more to a therapist with increased experience and education. Establishing yourself as the most professional therapist in the area eliminates the temptation to compete in price wars with other therapists.

When results stand out above the crowd, your commitment to excellence pays off

3. Diversify your skills.

Make yourself more marketable not only by increasing your massage skills, but also with additional licenses or certifications.

A dual massage therapist/esthetician is in higher demand for spa bookings. Likewise, a massage therapist/ personal trainer or yoga instructor will have more opportunities in a sports club setting. (Massage Magazine Insurance Plus allows massage therapists, bodyworkers, cosmetologists and estheticians be covered for 350+ services as well as dual licensed professionals for only $159 a year.)

Being seen in multiple roles within your practice environment affords greater booking opportunities and cross marketing all your services. Even in a solo practice, greater diversity enables greater income potential

4. Leverage others.

With even the most creative thinking, there remains a ceiling on your solo earning capacity. Leveraging other people’s time and labor allows you to multiply your earnings based on the number of treatment rooms and employees or subcontractors working for you.

Having rooms and therapists available, however, does not ensure you a steady stream of clients to fill your capacity.

Marketing is a never-ending process.

Along with owning your own facility comes greater responsibility including hiring high-quality therapists and front staff, controlling theft and turnover, managing multiple personality types, keeping a team motivated, overhead costs, payroll issues, worker’s compensation, benefits, and conforming to the legalities of employee versus independent contractor status.

While small-business ownership can be extremely rewarding, it is not always as glamorous as it seems, and the profit margin for a typical day spa is not huge.

Do your due diligence before becoming an employer, and hire a spa consultant who is well-versed in understanding the numbers. Consider also working on the management side of an existing spa prior to opening your own

5. Teach or write.

In performing services, you earn income reaching one-to-one. Teaching allows you to reach one-to-many and maximizes the use of your time.

To dramatically increase your earnings per hour, teach a class on stress-reduction techniques, self-massage or a couples massage class.

With proper credentials and position to offer CEs, teaching a technique class to other therapists not only increases your earning potential but also garners you reputation and respect, which may attract more clients.

Writing a book is another one-to-many source of income. E-books are popular and easy to market. With a popular topic, the sales of your e-book could generate a nice residual income.

Creating an online, do-it-yourself course or program takes the teaching one-to-many concept to a whole new level. It’s income earned without time expended after developing the program, also known as passive income.

6. Retail.

Product sales create additional revenue without additional physical labor. Look in trade magazines or peruse gift shops for ideas. Choose items that enhance health, wellness and relaxation, and complement the treatments you do. An esthetician or cosmetology license augments your massage practice by skyrocketing your retail opportunities.

Online sales, whether legal or fraudulent, may compete with your product sales. In the skin care industry in particular, diversion by unauthorized resellers on sites such as Amazon and Ebay is a huge problem.

The consumer does not know that illegitimate sellers may be pawning counterfeit, expired or diluted product, so it is your job to educate your clients and ask for their patronage to support you as a local brick-and-mortar business.

Consumers are click-happy and love online shopping no matter what, even though they may not really be getting the best deal.

Private labeling your products, if available, can circumvent online sales diversion because the products are available only from you directly.

In general, consumers are always intrigued by the next shiny ball that goes bouncing past them with catchy marketing, so invest in top-of-the-line products that get results. The absolute most-successful products are those that solve a problem for your clients and that clients need on an ongoing basis.

If you can’t afford the money nor physical space to stock inventory, seek out affiliate partner programs. You direct your clients to a dedicated link to order products, and you earn a small commission from the referral.

For the therapist who is just starting out, is an employee, or who has a small space, this option allows a foray into the world of retail without much effort.

Another retailing option is network marketing, which allows you an opportunity to provide great products to your clients and also allows you to grow a residual income toward your future retirement or luxury lifestyle.

Again, make sure the product is something that gets amazing results, provides a solution to your clients’ problems, is priced appropriately and is something clients want to buy every month because they need it.

Be judicious when talking about your products so that you don’t turn off your clients. Mention the product if it is indeed a solution to a problem they have discussed with you, and let the product speak for itself.

If the client is interested in the business opportunity, let him or her bring it up to you.

A client who feels hounded by recruitment for a business opportunity when they are coming to relax will go running for the hills, never to be seen again. Successful retailing in general is about recommending solutions rather than selling

7. Mix it up.

Some income-generating strategies defined in this article may fit better for you than others depending upon where you are in your career, skills and interests.

As your professional journey unfolds, mix it up and incorporate several strategies. Most importantly, envision where you ultimately want to end up.

Look forward to the end of your career, right from the beginning.


Pam Sebestyen is a 34-year-plus massage therapist as well as an esthetician (and admitted chemistry geek). She owns a solo spa in Northern California where she is passionate about helping clients attain optimal health and wellness from within and without.