Think Small

By Robert Chute
[Practitioner Parables]

The clinic owner had a principle and a plan. The principle was that everyone should be able to afford a massage. Nice and noble. The plan was to pay therapists at such a low rate that they wouldn’t begin to make any money for themselves until after the fifth massage of the day … every day. Uh-oh.

Five massages a day is the limit I’ve set for myself so that I can continue to work long-term. I would decline the offer to injure myself trying to turn a profit at said clinic. Call me a wimp, but I know my limits. And that may not be your limit.

Set your rates however you want, but make sure you don’t get beaten like a rented mule for no money. Get a calculator and figure out your costs. Now ensure your rates cover those costs, plus what you need.

Like many therapists, I only have so many massages in me each week and must charge accordingly. Pencil factories produce in volume, so pencils are cheap. Service providers working on one person for an hour at a time have to charge much more because we can’t solve poverty with volume.

Of course some have tried. One therapist, who described herself as a “massage athlete,” felt she had to grind out a high volume of treatments. I’m reminded of the exercise adage, “You can work long or you can work hard. You can’t do both.” Despite her athletic claim, she’s probably not a fembot. There’s a psychic and physical toll to working like a machine.

What kind of overhead was she carrying that she deemed a grueling schedule necessary? Maybe she needed to reduce the gold foil toilet paper budget. Did she need to hire more staff, rent out a room, or raise her rates?

Or—gasp of horror—did she need to think small? Thinking small is something we’re often told not to do, but big is not for everybody. Many MTs don’t share their toys or play well with others. They simply don’t want the hassle of employees, nor do they want to be one. These solo practitioners are happier without being part of an organization where everyone must be consulted before a decision is made.

One colleague expressed her frustration about having to manage employees and, as she put it, being The Man. As a sole proprietor, she looked forward to each day. As a clinic owner, she felt like she was always trying to make angry toddlers play nicely in a small sandbox.

Before you take the leap into clinic ownership with employees, make three lists: what you need, what you want, and who you are. The first list is non-negotiable. The second can be flexible. The third? That’s up to you.  

 Robert Chute is a massage therapist in his 16th year of practice. He has had employees in the past. The bodies have never been found. Contact him, if you dare, at