By Gary Eaton, LMT
When talking to massage school students and prospective students of massage therapy, there is one question asked more then all others combined; How much money can I make as a massage therapist?
Recently I was talking with a group of massage students preparing to graduate.I was asked to speak to them about the rigorous state board exam they were about to take and attempt to help calm their fears.In reality we spent much more time on the topic of how much money they could expect to make working as a licensed massage therapist.
My honest answer to them?It depends.Yes, that is correct.It depends. Sounds like a cop-out answer, but it is the best there is.
You see, there is no “correct” answer.You can go check out massage organizations and they can give you the government statistical breakdowns on how much therapist make, but that is just an average.You must understand that a majority of therapist don’t work at massage full-time (even the definition of full-time for massage therapists is up for debate – I consider anyone performing 15-20 hours a week of massage full-time).Many have a separate full-time job and only perform massage on the side.These part-timers skew the averages.
For those few working as a massage therapist full-time, it depends on how much they work, where they work, as well as their market, their marketing skills and even their abilities to run a business.Success actually has less to do with massage skills.That being said, you still need to have the skills to satisfy your customers in order to succeed.
The first factor to consider is how many hours you are going to work.Again, there are no 40-hour work weeks in massage.I personally average about 18 hours of hands-on massage a week.This is on the high side, as much more than that and burnout becomes a problem.So the number of actually hours of massage you can perform is one factor.
The industry you work in also makes a difference.Working for yourself is always going to pay better, assuming you have enough of a clientele to support you and don’t give your massages away.Renting a space can be relatively inexpensive, and if you control your overhead and keep the clients coming in the door you can make an exceptional income.I know a therapist averaging 15 hours of massage a week who makes over $100,000 a year.But she is the exception and performs very specific massage techniques, has been a therapist for over 20 years and charges a premium.
Starting your own business can be too much for most people, at least in the beginning, so many new therapists go to work for someone else.Where you go to work has a much bigger impact on your income.Some industries pay better than others, but there really is no standard.
I personally work at a clinic that has a couple of chiropractors.I have a separate practice that shares expenses, but I have a built-in network of referrals and I have been busy since day one.It seems to be the best of both worlds to me.
If you go to work for a spa, the pay depends on the quality of the spa.Some pay great, others not so much.Chiropractors historically have not paid well, but that has changed over the last couple of years as they see the benefit of combining massage and chiropractic adjustments.Another option is a massage clinic.These can be great places to sharpen your massage teeth, but the pay will vary depending on the clientele and how busy the clinic is.
One note here, and maybe I will do an actual post on this later, but the newer massage franchises are not the best places to work when it comes to pay.You can expect to make $15 or less an hour.The franchises can be a good place to gain experience, particularly if you don’t have any business acumen, but don’t expect to make a lot of money and you will want to watch your hours and not work too much.Franchises are notorious for burning out therapists by making them work long hours at lower-than-average pay.I personally wouldn’t recommend it, but that is just my opinion.
There are also resorts, cruise ships, hospitals and a variety of other areas to work as a massage therapist, and they all have their pros and cons.The pay rate can vary dramatically based on location and clientele.
One other consideration when figuring out how much you can make as a massage therapist is your market.If you live in New York City your per-hour rate for a massage will be much higher than if you live in, say, a suburb of Lincoln, Nebraska.Location makes a big difference.
I live in an area where the average price for a one-hour relaxation massage is about $65.But I could easily find someone to give me a massage for $30, or I could go to a high-end spa and pay $130.As a therapeutic massage therapist, my rates are, on average, $90 per hour.
So, how much can you make?Like I said, it depends on where you live, work, and how much you can realistically charge.That being said, it is very realistic for you to make at least $20-$25 per hour starting out.If you start your own business you can make much more.The biggest question is, how many hours per week can you actually work, hands-on, doing massage.
As you can see, there is no simple, straight-forward answer to how much money a massage therapist can make.The reality is you can make a little or a lot.It all depends on you.
Gary Eaton is a licensed massage therapist and writer living and working in Portland, Oregon. He manages a thriving therapeutic massage practice and is a featured writer for Massage Schools Guide.