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How to make $100,000 Per Year
A Successful MT Shares Her Magic Touch
By Meagan Holub
The first seven years of my massage therapy career left me broke and burned out. I often fell short on rent for my tiny studio apartment and suffered terribly from constant fevers and exhaustion. But through perseverance, dedication, and some creative entrepreneurship, I was able to turn my career around, become a successful business owner, and work with some of the most discriminating clients in the world, all while getting back my health and vitality, and more importantly, learning to love being a healer again. Here are 10 tips that helped me along my path.
1. Compensation for Healers
You can earn $100,000 next year as a massage therapist, while working fewer hours. It’s true, and it’s the premise for my book, The Magic Touch: How to Make $100,000 Per Year as a Massage Therapist.
There are several ways you can work fewer hours per week as a massage therapist and still bring in $100,000 per year (with a year being 11 months in these estimates, and a one-month vacation). You can increase your work by focusing on insurance-reimbursed clients, high-end clients, or outcall clients (see Make More, Work Less, at right).
Adding a product line, such as offering organic spa products to your clients, could add an additional $1 to $1 million per year. The earning potential is based on your passion and willingness to succeed. Seated massage is another great way to expand your company and contract with other MTs. Many companies, hospitals, athletic events, and assisted-living facilities are eager to have one or more therapists massage their clients on a regular basis.
Everywhere you look, there are opportunities for building yourself a successful practice. You need only be eager, confident, and motivated to teach people about the amazing benefits of massage. And, if you become specialized at treating certain conditions, be sure to advertise to the groups of clients who get these conditions most. Golfers, basketball players, runners, and computer technicians—they each have specific symptoms derived from working repetitively at their trades or hobbies. You could be the one MT in your area known for working successfully with these folks. In turn, you will greatly increase your marketability and potential to charge a specialty rate for your high level of professionalism and proven skills. There are many ways to layer income coming in to increase your hourly wage, while not increasing your workload. All it takes is a desire to think creatively and take action.
2. Dress For Success
The pioneers of our profession were able to wear whatever they wanted. For those practitioners working in spas and hotels, the polo and khaki uniform may be expected. Today’s MTs have many more options. Looking your best will set you apart and improve your self-confidence. I recommend dressing for the clientele you want to attract. Wealthy people are used to expensive stuff: luxury cars and designer clothes. Be a natural extension of the luxury life they live and you’ll be a natural choice for their massage needs. Dress on the level of your client, trim your nails, avoid wearing unnatural or strong fragrance—your clients will notice. This is part of the secret of generating referrals. They might not tell you, but trust me, clients will tell their friends if your appearance or hygiene don’t meet high standards, thereby killing your potential for future business. It is not enough to be like everyone else in any business. If you want to be a success, you have to look the part.
I know of one LMT who went from making $80,000 a year to $20,000 a year, in part, because he refused to change his style. He kept wearing the same tired khaki and white shoe uniform and ignored frequent complaints about offensive body odor. Can you imagine losing $60,000 in income for refusing to wear deodorant? How you dress can directly impact your income. The truth is, it doesn’t matter how great your touch is if you aren’t bringing clients through the door.
3. The 9-to-5 Myth
Opening your schedule between 6:00–7:30 p.m. can earn you $33,000 or more additional income per year. If you want to work with celebrities, VIPs, and high-paying clientele, you’re going to have to be flexible with your schedule. No exceptions. Often it’s the early bird and the night owls in this industry who really do get more “worms.” In fact, many of our clients work 9-to-5 and need to schedule outside of those hours. Not accommodating these clients is throwing a lot of potential income away. Did you know that many MTs charge a premium for working before 9:00 a.m. and after 8:00 p.m.? It’s true. And their clients are happy to pay it.
Think about this scenario, even without adding an additional premium to your pricing: if you were to agree to just two extra massages a week, at the rate of $125 per massage, you would make an additional $11,825 per year. Now add an additional 30 minutes plus a $15 tip to one of the massages for a total of $200. Add two more $125 massages to your week. You have gained an additional $27,197 to your yearly income. All you did was say yes to four additional massages per week for this extra money.
Consider opening a time slot for a client at 6:00 p.m. and cut an hour back from somewhere else. That appointment will fill up immediately. Make sure you fill it up with new clients or ones who can’t see you at any other time due to work schedules. For this valuable time slot, don’t schedule clients who have the ability to be flexible. It won’t take long before you have a client in that time slot every day that you are available. Let’s do the math: $100 per hour x 5 days per week x 4.3 weeks per month x 11 months per work year = $23,650 per year additional income.
Now, if I were you, I would go one step further and only schedule 90-minute appointments in that time slot. Up-sell to the client by telling them it is your most coveted time slot. While we all covet our personal time, consider if that 90-minute time frame is so important that you would forgo bringing in significant additional income every year because you refuse to work within it? Reexamine your schedule and figure out how much money you can earn from a few small tweaks to your current availability and you may soon be changing your schedule.
4. Target Marketing
Massage therapy is a recession-proof business if you focus it on recession-proof demographics. While working with the world’s wealthiest clients has its perks, it is just as financially rewarding as it is emotionally fulfilling to have a clientele of regular folks. Personal injury protection (PIP) and Labor & Industries (L&I) claims provide consistent income and the necessity for them doesn’t decrease in times of economic downturns. People get injured when the economy is up and when the economy is down, without discrimination. Statistics show that 62 out of 100 blue-collar workers take time off work due to illness or injury in their lifetime. A majority of these workers suffer from traumatic injury to the body. Massage is an effective component of treatment and health insurance or L&I insurance may cover it. You do, however, need to be careful dealing with insurance agencies as some paperwork will likely be required to get you started.
There are a number of necessary, but simple, tips to becoming an approved L&I provider and effectively dealing with insurance companies. For example, did you know that something as simple as responding, “She’s feeling better, thank you,” to an insurance agent’s seemingly innocent inquiry of, “How is (client’s name inserted here) feeling?” can get your client’s treatments cut short? It’s true. Be very careful that your words are not misinterpreted when speaking with the insurance adjusters, and be diligent about getting reimbursement within 30 days, as required by law. Recognizing the opportunities in this sector, educating yourself about how to deal with insurance companies, and adjusting your marketing to speak directly to the niche that needs your treatment is an excellent way to set yourself up for success.
As for your VIP clients, they may be immune to financial uncertainty. Remember to take the time to build and nurture the higher-paying client base, maintain your image accordingly, and you’ll be the go-to MT for these financially stable folks. If you master marketing to both demographics, you will never be affected by the economy again.
5. Dos and Don’ts
If you haven’t been practicing the following tips, I encourage you to start now. I have interviewed the highest-paying clients from around the world and time and time again I hear the same complaints. It’s never too late to reevaluate your own practices and do some essential tweaking in order to please your loyal clients and attract new ones. If you can learn to please the most discriminating clientele, you can turn the more appreciative individuals into devoted regulars.
Accept credit cards
It’s not difficult. You don’t even need any extra equipment; you can process cards over the phone and have the money directly deposited into your business account. I cannot stress how important it is to offer this option to your clients. Don’t make them remember to stop for cash before their session or you risk making a last-minute appointment a hassle instead of a luxury. Especially in these economic times, many clients prefer to put expenses on their credit cards to reap more benefits than they would paying with cash.
Refrain from energy work unless requested
You may believe that a form of energy work is exactly what your client needs, but unless he or she has asked you for it, your good intentions may be completely misread. Consider that your energy work may be perceived as you being delusional, disrespectful, lazy, or scary. I am a Reiki Master and I never give energy work where it is not requested. It is simply disrespectful of others’ beliefs. You must always remember that your opinion of what others need is just that—your opinion.
Avoid oil unless requested
Oil can stain clothes and sheets, and contrary to popular belief, it does not wash off skin or hair easily. I prefer a hypoallergenic lotion. It’s fragrance-free, easy to clean up, and doesn’t absorb too quickly, thereby increasing the time your hands may remain in contact with the body. Your clients will appreciate you choosing products with their needs in mind.
Refer to customers as clients
Many of my clients tell me being called a “patient” implies they are sick. They don’t appreciate it. The typical client gets a massage for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is to relax. The idea of seeing a doctor is not the least bit relaxing to most people. But this is the subconscious train of thought that goes through your clients’ minds when you call them patients. Also, it creates expectations that you can provide medical care outside of your scope. The label also isn’t appreciated by many physical therapists, chiropractors, or doctors—all of whom are your networking candidates.
Do watch the clock
When you begin your practice, it can be difficult to accurately judge the duration of each massage. But not only do you run the risk of making the client late for an important date when you run long, you also short-change yourself. If you really feel a particular client may need work beyond the allotted time, wait until about 10 minutes into the massage and ask if they’d like to extend the session. This way they will be sure to say yes if they have the ability to do so.
In school you likely learned to drape in a complicated and restrictive manner. Often clients feel you’re inexperienced when you use techniques that require multiple steps, lots of effort, and accidental exposure.
6. Lucrative Listening
As MTs, we have a unique opportunity to learn much just by listening. The successful businessperson adapts to clients’ needs. Never ignore the opportunity to learn something valuable and respond to your clients according to their needs. My clients return again and again because I treat them as individuals with unique needs and I never put my needs before theirs.
“Rick” is my dream client. He is kind, funny, generous with tips, and gets a massage at least 25 times per month. He buys massages for friends and family members and he loves to develop long-term relationships with MTs all around the world. During our first session, he told me a story about the practitioner I was replacing, an MT he’d been going to for 10 years. This woman had recently begun pushing her beliefs on Rick, telling him about how scattering flowers on her friend had cured her of cancer, and other stories Rick considered “woo-woo.” After repeatedly asking her to keep these beliefs to herself, Rick finally stopped the massage and asked the MT to leave and never come back. I estimated how much money she had lost—approximately $1 million over the next 20 years—all because she felt her needs of sharing her opinions were more important than her client’s needs of expressed comfort. Each and every day, MTs lose valuable client relationships and all the referrals those clients would have sent their way by not learning this simple lesson. Don’t let it happen to you. Be the MT who listens and earns the clients’ trust (and the million bucks).
7. Budget Marketing
Wouldn’t it be great if every dollar you spent on marketing came back twofold, or more, guaranteed? One of the best ways to attract new clients without losing a penny is through referrals. I call it “direct advertising” and it’s already a common practice in our profession. Many MTs, some with less hands-on ability than you, are making a lot of money using this method. Direct advertising requires you to provide a referral fee or equivalent massage to any professional who refers you clients. You could, for example, pay $750 in cash, gift certificates, or massages for every $5,000 worth of business sent your way. Midwives, yoga instructors, personal trainers, and hotel concierges are examples of the kinds of people who are already referring clients. I urge you to take advantage of these resources. If you don’t, I guarantee you, someone else will.
8. VIP Clients
Becoming an MT to the stars is a great path to financial success. Breaking into this niche is not nearly as difficult as you might believe and you don’t need to live in New York or Los Angeles to do so. It’s likely that films crews are working in an area near you and they are the pathways to A-list clients. I know of one MT who made it his specialty to give seated massages to visiting film crews. Even if massage isn’t in the production budget, you can likely convince the unit production manager to let you bring your chair or table on-site and offer cash massages to the crew. You can find the unit production manager on the site of any production filming in your area or by visiting the website of your state film commission and looking up the name of the film or commercial.
You certainly don’t have to wait until the film crews have already set up camp to get started. Get your foot in the door months before they arrive, and while they are in the planning stages, with a headshot and a professional resume. Film crews work hard and are grateful for the service, and directors and producers are grateful for the stress relief you bring to the set. Once you’re in the door, it’s the perfect opportunity to pass out cards and meet producers, directors, and actors. After you’ve landed the first one, it’ll be a snap to get repeat business and add others to your roster.
9. Quality Deep-tissue Massage
I’ve had clients brag to me that I couldn’t possibly go deep enough to treat them. These folks proudly display their bruises and boast of their tolerance for pain. Likely what these clients have experienced is an MT burying her elbow into generalized tissue, instead of accurately targeting injured muscle. Instead of creating a release, this method actually causes a desire for even more pressure, leading a client to adopt the “harder is better” mentality. I never accept their initial attitude as a challenge to go as hard as I can. I use this opportunity to properly educate the client about effective deep-tissue massage. Checking in with them along the way, I sink into the exact site of the pain, barely applying pressure. It usually only takes about 5 percent of my strength before they declare “enough.” At this point, I explain that previous MTs likely lacked intuition or proper training in deep tissue techniques. By going slow and listening to the client, I am able to zero in on the injured tissue and provide relief. This brings the clients coming back time after time.
10. Say Yes
This might be the most important aspect of your success. Notice that these ideas mentioned in this article are about saying yes. Yes to working early or late, yes to marketing, yes to new opportunities. It’s also about getting others to say yes to you. Having the right combination of style and professionalism will get a yes from the VIP clients. Perseverance and persistence will get a yes from film crews and concierge. Rejection is a part of any business. Hear it now, prepare for it, and get used to it. But remember that a no isn’t a permanent answer; it’s really just a “not right now.” Keep saying yes to yourself and soon you’ll hear others say it to you. And more importantly, you’ll begin to see why those no responses eventually turned into better opportunities in the long run.
Meagan Holub is a licensed massage therapist to the stars, author of The Magic Touch: How to Make $100,000 Per Year as a Massage Therapist (Olive Vine Press, 2009), and CEO of 1 800 MASSAGE, LLC. She spends free time designing modern and mid-century living spaces, traveling abroad, and resides in Los Angeles, California, with her tiny black Pomeranian, Olive. You can befriend Meagan Holub on Facebook and purchase The Magic Touch on Amazon.com.
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