Hi! I’m Cath Cox, the owner of Deep Heeling Barefoot Bodywork (formerly Get Deep Massage) in Centennial, Colorado. I’ve been a massage therapist since 1999. During that time I’ve worked for myself as well as other people, and in my experience being self-employed is the only way to make the living I want to. I’m sure there are wonderful spa and clinic owners who look out for their massage therapists and pay them an excellent wage, but I haven’t worked for any of them. I’ve worked in two day spas, a wellness center, an injury and pain management clinic, a sports medicine clinic, and a national massage franchise. Either I made a ridiculously low wage, was booked so few appointments I couldn’t make enough money, or was booked so much with so little time between appointments that I sustained injuries that became chronic.
I started my own practice straight out of massage school while working another part-time job (this was THE BEST STRATEGY for starting my own practice since I didn’t have another source of financial support). After two years, I was busy enough to support myself at my practice alone. Then I got married, bought a house and my husband went back to school. After six years in practice, I decided I needed a more predictable paycheck, so I taught high school PE and Health for five years while keeping a few massage clients on the side. I enjoyed the actual teaching I was doing, but the lifestyle of a teacher wasn’t for me (lots of work at home after full days at school and just not enough down time for me to restore). I went back to massage, but this time I chose to work for someone else because I thought I simply didn’t have the time it takes to build a practice again.
The only clients I saw at the first day spa I worked at were using Groupons, so I made $13 per one hour massage plus tips (ironically, Groupon saved my practice, but that’s another story). Granted it’s more than minimum wage, but that doesn’t make it a good living. I was a subcontractor there, so I was responsible for paying my own taxes, which made my actual income even less. The wellness center I subcontracted at paid better (50/50 split plus tips), but I only had a full schedule on the weekends and barely any clients on the weekdays I worked. Plus, they wanted me to be available at the clinic for my whole shift even if I wasn’t booked, but they weren’t paying me to sit around. This is where I sustained my first massage-related injury (left low back), doing six massages in one shift with fifteen minutes between clients (at least they gave us forty-five minutes for lunch).
The second day spa I worked at expected their therapists to perform seven to eight one-hour massages in one shift with fifteen minutes for a lunch break (yes, one fifteen minute break for the whole shift). The fifteen minutes between appointments was eaten up waiting for clients to get dressed, walking them out or to their next service, turning in paperwork, making notes, prepping the room, doing laundry and picking up the next client (God forbid you needed a snack or to use the bathroom!). They paid 24% of what the clients paid for their services plus tips, but deducted a $3 back bar fee per massage. As an employee, they paid my payroll taxes but didn’t provide any paid benefits.
The injury clinic paid $20 per one-hour massage and withheld taxes, but I wasn’t booked consistently. I loved the sports medicine clinic I subcontracted at, but again wasn’t booked enough to make it worth the drive. The massage franchise was actually my best experience although the pay was on the low side ($17 per fifty-minute massage plus tips). They kept me busy and only booked me five and a half hours maximum per shift with a thirty-minute break (if I stayed on schedule, which was impossible), but the short turn-around time between clients wasn’t enough for me to rest and I sustained another injury (this time, left shoulder). Interesting note: in all the time I’ve been self-employed, I’ve never been injured.
I believe my encounters are typical in this industry. The supervisors I’ve had are (for the most part) good people, but none of them cared about me and my future as much as I do. Being unable to meet financial obligations or physical breakdown drive many massage therapy graduates from the field within two or three years of graduation. After spending months in school and thousands of dollars I feel this is a huge waste, especially when there are so many clients looking for a therapist.
Some of my philosophy may be unpopular and unconventional, but I’m sharing my experience with the intention of helping more massage therapists make the living they desire (and deserve!) doing what they love for as long as they want to. I welcome your questions and comments, and sincerely hope to be of service to you. I recently learned the phrase (from Fabienne Fredrickson), “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Let’s rise together!
What’s your best or worst workplace scenario as a massage therapist/bodyworker? Please share it in the comments. Thank you!
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