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Two Financial Paths for the Massage Therapist

21 Oct 2022 8:07 AM | WSMTA (Administrator)

By Elizabeth Jane Brooks, LMT, BCTMB and Dagmar Growe, LMT

We at WSMTA hear many complaints from massage therapists regarding how difficult it is to make enough money to support themselves and their families through massage. As seasoned massage therapists, we would like to pass along some advice which we hope you will find helpful.

With massage there are basically two paths to earning money, working for someone else or working for yourself. Another way to look at it is, there’s the easier way and the harder way. Let’s examine the two paths.

The Two Paths

When we first graduate from massage school we have some knowledge but we are inexperienced. A great way to gain experience is to work for someone else, such as a clinic or a spa. They can send you a steady stream of patients, helping you to gain experience. This usually comes at the cost of low pay (anywhere from $15 to $40 per massage). Therapists that stay working in this type of arrangement tend to overwork trying to make ends meet. Many therapists become burned out or injured, and end up leaving the profession.

If the newly graduated massage therapist decides to work for themself, the struggle is in getting a steady stream of patients. However, if they are able to gain a few good sources for referrals to their practice, the income will be much higher than what is received if working for someone else. This, too, comes with the cost of having to learn all the behind-the-scenes work like setting up a business, advertising, purchasing, billing, taxes, etc., all at once and often in isolation.

For most therapists, working for someone else is easier at first, but in the long run it is more strenuous and less financially rewarding. While working for yourself requires an investment of time and energy that is not necessarily immediately rewarded, it eventually offers more freedom, flexibility, and income.

A good suggestion for someone just starting out would be to work for a clinic for 1 to 2 years and then branch out on your own after gaining some experience, because the best way to make a lot of money with massage is by working for yourself. It is not hard to learn how to manage your business but it does take time and steady devotion. Therapists who are willing to do their own scheduling and billing can operate a business at very low cost which means a high profit margin per massage. It does require a certain amount of entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness to manage fluctuating income. Paying for the training you need from those that have successfully created a busy practice, and investing in building one's skills to set oneself apart from the competition, are well worth the money. You will save steps and time, and make even more money than those trying to reinvent the wheel by learning everything on their own.

However, therapists who do not want to work for themselves do have options for increasing their income. Here are some examples:

  1. Branch out and start your own practice part time.

  2. Remain working for your employer and negotiate a raise for your work.

  3. Get a job working at a high end spa, which normally pays better, plus, the tips are usually quite generous.

  4. Charge for extras, like hot stones, arnica application, aromatherapy, herbal packs, etc., and negotiate with your employer that the income generated goes to you not the employer.

Where it All Leads

It is interesting to note that the entire field of massage therapy over the last 20 or so years has shifted from predominantly self-employment or independent contractors to employment. Some of this has been driven by legal changes, specifically enforcement of labor laws regarding independent contractor status. The medical field in general has seen a move towards larger clinics with employed providers - there are hardly any independent doctors or other providers left. What sets us apart from most of the medical field is the fact that our patients are more likely willing to pay out of pocket for our services. In addition, we do not need lots of staff and office space. 

However, if less of us are willing to take the risk of independence, if less of us are willing to fight for our profession, to engage and be involved with making the rules that determine our scope of practice and our rights to practice, if more and more of us are happy to let someone else handle these things for us - we may find one day that we will no longer have the opportunity to work on our own. Earning a good living with massage therapy may have become a thing of the past.

We hope this sparks a few ideas to explore and ends with you making the money needed to more than survive, but to actually thrive.

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