Yes! You can make a living as a massage therapist, IF you are going to treat your massage practice like a real business.
Here is what I mean. . .
Running a successful business is not the easiest thing in the world (but it’s also not the hardest). For massage therapists, making a real living from a private practice requires figuring out how to balance the . . .
- in-person, working with our clients, retaining our clients work with the
- behind-the-scenes finding clients, physical space upkeep, doing the books, answering calls/texts/emails, keeping website updated, networking work.
It can seem daunting, but it’s do-able. And, finding this balance is the difference between practices that thrive and practices that get abandoned.
The beautiful thing about a massage business is that it really is very simple to set up and get running well.
Here’s what I mean . . .
- Once your website is set up, it doesn’t usually require a tremendous amount of updating or maintenance (as long as it is set up well the first time).
- The costs of running a massage business are very low. The large upfront investment of school, table, website, and reliably clean and comfortable space are offset by much smaller yearly investments in linens, detergent/bleach, and lotion.
- Once you have your base clientele, if you are focused on retention and maintain your most basic marketing pieces (clean, findable website and strong referral partnerships), you have to do very little to keep your practice humming.
So then . . . Why don’t more people have thriving practices that afford them a real living?
1. Most people think they are the exception to the rule. (Me! This was me!) Meaning, folks believe that if they . . .
- write their business plan,
- open their doors,
- tell everyone they know that they are in business
. . . then their practice will fill. Sadly, this is not how it works. (I still wish it was like this.) You do actually have to do quite a lot of work in the beginning to fill your practice. You have to catch some momentum, which takes a big push at first.
2. Most people are too scared to set their prices where they need to be. I’ve been a massage therapist for nine-and-a-half years and the majority of massage therapists I know are charging the same price they were charging on the day they opened their business (or are still working at a spa, chiro office, etc. when they don’t really want to be). It is possible, but very difficult, to make a good living if your prices are too low.
3. Most people are not willing to push their boundaries of comfort and find the right referral partners for their practice. I see it over and over again, massage therapists are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of building real relationships with other practitioners (who could be great referral partners!) because they are afraid of being “salesy,” “money-grubbing,” “inappropriate,” etc. Or, they are sticking with referral partners who are not sending the right kinds of clients.
4. More recently, as internet marketing and online business growth programs are literally everywhere, massage therapists are getting confused about their sales funnel. Trying to operate an online sales funnel as a massage therapist is a recipe for exhaustion, confusion, and not enough clients. Yes, you need an online presence. But you are an in-person therapist. You need an in-person funnel (remember #3 from above?).
Well, where do we go from here?
All of that said, once you have run the numbers (use this worksheet),you may find that even in a practice that is bursting full, you will not be making enough money to fund regular vacations, retirement, and savings. This is where some massage therapists get distracted. They stop building their base practice in order to start building passive income – but they do it a bit too early.
My experience, and after having watched this dynamic in others over and over again is: BUILD YOUR BASE PRACTICE FIRST. Get that really in hand.
If you keep track of what your clients are needing in your one-one work, then you will be able to craft group programs, retreats, online programs, etc. to meet their needs perfectly.
But, start with your base practice. This truly is where all of the good stuff comes from. And, it gives you the stability and reputation to successfully launch your other programs and increase your income even more.
So, to re-answer my first question. Yes, you can make a living as a massage therapist.
- Establish your base income in your full practice.
- Grow into larger chunks of income or “passive income” once you have yourself grounded and stable in your full, base practice. (Hint: no income is truly passive, so be ready to do lots of work on it when you’re first getting it started.)
- Stick to it! Building your practice is a lot of work in the beginning, but it gets WAY easier after the first push.
- ENJOY that you are making a living doing work you love.
As always, I would love to know your thoughts on this. Please share in the comments!
- Isabel Spradlin has owned her full-time practice since 2007. She has a deep drive to help other massage therapists and bodyworkers to create thriving businesses for themselves. For comprehensive programs to help you do just that, see the 'Programs' tab in the menu.
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