You'll make the most money when you work for yourself. However, that's not the most secure route. That's why many massage therapists fresh out of school start by working for spas, health clubs and hotels that already have built-in client bases. But you pay for that security: Establishments will typically take a cut of 30 to 50 percent.
The typical rate for massage is $40 to $60 an hour. One way to build a client base quickly is to charge less than the going rate when you're first starting out. Main, for example, charged $35 per hour at first and worked his way up to his current rate of $60.
If you multiply $50 or $60 by eight hours a day, times five days a week, the income potential looks good--real good. But that's not how massage works. "Nobody does 40 hours or they'll burn out. It's physically demanding work," explains Sweeney. "Full time is generally 15 to 20 client contact hours per week."
Besides, there are plenty of other things massage therapists need to tend to. "I do massage for about 15 hours a week, but I really work 50 hours a week," says Clark, noting the "hidden" chores like finances, paperwork and washing linens that take up the bulk of his week.
Scared that you might charge too little--or too much? Check out The Price is Right for info on how to get your prices right on track.
The Purpose of Massage Therapists
Massage therapists are all too aware of their counterparts in the sex trade. One way to head off any misconceptions about the kinds of services you provide is to be upfront on the phone. "If I suspect the caller is looking for something other than what I do, I ask if their doctor knows they're coming for massage and ask what they hope to get out of it," Main says. "The questions screen them out."
Another tactic is to work only with referrals, as Lewis does. "I pretty much know everyone who calls," she says, "and they know what I do."
In the end, the bottom line is that massage therapists are there to make lives easier. If that appeals to you and you're not looking for big bucks--the income typically ranges from $20,000 to $100,000--then massage therapy might be for you. "You have to want to touch people on a deep level," Main says. "You're not going to get rich doing this, but you'll make a living helping people and having a great time."
- American Massage Therapy Association, (847) 864-0123
- Associated Bodywork Massage Professionals, (800) 458-2267; the organization offers, among other things, a free booklet called Thinking About Career Options? with information on financial aid, industry trends and so on.
- Massage: A Career at Your Fingertips (Enterprise Publishing) by Martin Ashley
- Massage Therapy Career Guide For Hands-On Success (Milady Publishing Corp.) by Steve Capellini
- NaturalVillage.com Inc., (206) 789-8289
Work It Out
If you thought massage was just massage, think again. According to ABMP, there are 156 different types of established bodywork techniques. Here are 10 of the most popular:
- Deep Tissue
- Myofascial Release
- Rolfing R
If she had her druthers, Andrea C. Poe, a freelance business writer, would spend more time on the massage table and less at the keyboard.