Massage mobile apps continue to grow 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-apps 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-app company that offers additional 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-apps companies, to answer your questions about putting your skills to work in this marketplace. This guide has been updated to reflect changes in the mobile massage market as of July 2019.
How Massage Mobile Apps Work
Most massage-app 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-app 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 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-apps company you are dealing with.
The Big Question: How Much Money Will I Make Working with a Massage-App Company?
Naturally, before jumping into working on demand via a massage-app company, 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 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 massage-app 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-app 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.)
MATAGO, a massage-app industry newcomer, gives therapists 100 percent of the session price — clients choose their date, time, location, and the price they’re willing to pay, and therapists name the price of each session, said Lori Thomas, MATAGO’s chief marketing officer. Then the app matches them up.
“The massage therapist selects the minimum price that they require for that specific treatment; the slider below it will correlate to the list price the client will pay,” she explained. The difference between the two equals 20 percent, which goes to MATAGO.
Thomas also noted that therapists have a lot of flexibility with session prices within MATAGO. “MATAGO provides freedom and control: they get to set their own price,” she said. “You can charge different[ly] for slower days or shorter days or specialty massage.”
Zeel, a massage-app 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.
Namaste New York also collects a percentage of each session fee, but Wald declined to share the exact numbers.
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.
Will I Have a Flexible Schedule?
Flexibility is a huge reason for the success of massage mobile apps 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 a Company Ensure My Safety as a Massage Therapist?
Therapist safety is a top priority for massage-app 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.
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.
MATAGO verifies licensing and credentials, fully vetting every therapist to be sure they’re qualified to practice in their state, said Thomas. (Right now, MATAGO is only available in certain areas of Florida, but they are rolling out in several other states by January 2020; the company is beginning with states that require fingerprinting of MTs for licensing.)
What Qualities and Skills Do I Need to Succeed as a Mobile App 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.”
Thomas noted that MATAGO is suitable for both beginning and seasoned therapists.
“It’s all about the massage therapist — how can they make more money, have more freedom and have more control over their business?” said Thomas. “So we’ve come up with things to support that, to support both the experienced massage therapist and the up-and-coming massage therapist.”
Do I Have to Go on an Interview?
With most massage-app 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.”
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.
“Every massage therapist and client using our service participates in a dual rating system so our therapists can get feedback about the clients, while the clients can see feedback from other clients about the services provided by each individual therapist,” notes MATAGO’s website.
Soothe, Bishop said, offer 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 where you communicate directly with clients to set up appointments instead of relying on the company to match you up, ratings are an especially big deal, as they are one of the factors clients use when choosing a therapist.
Will I Enjoy Working for a Massage-App 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.
Many 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.”
MATAGO takes its company branding out of the picture. “MATAGO is an opportunity for the massage therapist to build their [own] brand,” Thomas said. “You do not wear a MATAGO T-shirt when you go to a session. It’s freedom to work where you want, when you want and with whom you want to work.”
Am I Ready to Work for a Massage-App Company?
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.
As technology continues to evolve, on-demand sessions will continue to represent an opportunity for massage therapists whose skills and characteristics are suited to working for massage app companies.
About the Author
Allison Payne is associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and Chiropractic Economics. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine and massagemag.com, including “The Toxic 20: California Might Ban Certain Cosmetics” and “Massage for Children: Global Ambassadors Change Children’s Lives Through Touch.”