(update 9/9/13: Reactions I’m getting on Facebook and in the comments here suggest that I haven’t been clear.
The image is making fun of my past self and other idealistic therapists who aren’t good with money. I do not suggest people should charge $25! I had hoped my post would explain why I think that in some areas where the cost of living is high, and office space is at a premium, even $100 would not suffice to cover the cost and a living wage.
Of course the price of a service depends on value for the customer, so I tried to explain this post is not about top-notch manual therapy, it’s about an “average” relaxation massage.
And last… I do value massage therapy highly, and I know of the benefits. I will not edit the post itself, since that would make a lot of the comments look strange, but I think I should have been MUCH clearer.
Please accept my apologies.)
When I hear “massages are SO expensive!” I just agree. Of all the different ways people can take good care of themselves, getting professional massage therapy is one of the pricier options.
And don’t worry… I will not get into cliches like “you get what you pay for” or “just consider how much you spend on things that aren’t good for you!”. You’ve heard it all before. It’s boring.
Personally, I don’t think people need massages for general health and preventive care. I know that a lot of my colleagues are rolling their eyes at me, but really: I don’t even like massages. For me, massage therapy is a treatment that is sometimes necessary, especially if I haven’t taken good care of myself.
For others, getting a good massage treatment once a month is the kind of maintenance they need, maybe because they have a stressful job that requires them to travel a lot, or they have insomnia, or they just have to spend a lot of time in weird positions.
I work on dentists, surgeons and other medical professionals who often have to spend hours on their feet, leaning forward, arms hovering awkwardly. Of course those people need some work. Some work. Not hours and hours of it. I offer short sessions that are just 20 minutes long, and that usually does the trick. If they have several problem areas, or they show up after years of “pushing through”, a whole series of treatments might be best. And yes, that’s REALLY expensive.
I’m not talking about specialized treatments by manual therapists with an addiction to education. Their work is expected to be expensive.
This post is about the kind of relaxing therapy that usually is a one-hour, full-body routine.
If you wonder “How come Massage Envy charges $49, and others charge double that amount? Are they just greedy?”, then this post is for you.
First: Don’t compare the 50-minute session to a real, full hour. Yes, they do say one-hour-session.. but they only give you 50 minutes of hands-on treatment, and when the hour is up, the next person is on the table. When in doubt, ask!
You have to be honest and calculate the price per minute.
Second: You forget about tips. Independent therapists don’t expect tips, but the chain stores push you very hard to pay an extra $20. So now you’re already at $69 for the 50-minute session at Massage Envy.
Third: $49 (+tip) is a special offer. It’s only good for your very first massage, and then it’s only for members who have committed to a strict agreement. A lot of independent therapists or businesses like ours offer memberships and package deals that lower the price per session significantly.
So let’s talk more about independent therapists, and forget about the chains. A lot of therapists dream of the day when they start working by themselves.
Here are three strategies to determine whether your massage therapist is charging a fair price:
1. Look at what massage therapists in the area are charging
That’s what most of us do, and it works–we just have to be careful not to compare apples and oranges. A business run out of somebody’s house will have a much lower overhead than a professional clinic. So don’t only check the prices you see on websites–know what type of business you’re looking at.
2. Estimate the overhead per week, and a living wage
Just roughly… think about rent in the area, business expenses like internet, phone, computer, website, other marketing, supplies, laundry, and divide the result by 20. There are few therapists who can do more than twenty sessions per week, because the time for other tasks adds another twenty hours, and there is the time between sessions, there are cancellations, and very few therapists really get scheduled for twenty sessions per week. Ten is more realistic.
You’ll also need to factor in time and money for continuing education, which makes your massage better, but is also required in most states.
If you figure $1000 per week should cover everything and pay a living wage in that area, a price of $50 per session seems fair. It’s different if the business has administrative staff or is in a high-rent area.
Here’s what I did in my first business:
When I opened my practice for naturopathic medicine, my sessions for bodywork and acupuncture were priced based on what my friends could afford. I asked for twenty Euro to cover a half-hour session, and usually I went past the half hour. Yeah, my boundaries weren’t the greatest, and I left extra time between sessions.
My one-hour sessions were theoretically fifty Euro, but few patients booked those.
I had established a sliding scale: people with little money would get longer sessions, and many of them would pay twenty Euro for the whole hour.
Normally a sliding scale looks more like this:
“My rates are on a sliding scale between $30 and $90 per one-hour session.”
Why isn’t the sliding scale a third strategy?
Isn’t it the nice thing to offer? The socially responsible thing?
Unfortunately not. A sliding scale rewards our worst clients, and punishes the best ones.
People picking the lowest price are often not the neediest, but the ones who feel entitled to grab every discount. Those are the ones who assume that massages are too expensive anyway–the ones who tell my staff, “But my therapist only charges $30 per session–don’t you want to beat that price?”
Now think about the kind of people who don’t have much money, but appreciate good work and respect professionalism. They would pick a price in the middle, or maybe even higher. It still would make them feel guilty, so whenever they could, they’d tip. Often they would apologize that they really can’t afford to come in more often.
Those wonderful clients would not choose the lowest price, because they don’t want to take advantage. And they would always feel a little bad (which kind of defeats the purpose of getting therapy in the first place).
Here’s the third strategy:
Consider how much massage therapists really work.
How much time is spent on daily tasks like
- Talking on the phone?
(This time includes scheduling and question-and-answer interactions with potential clients, as well as time spent on calls to other service providers, troubleshooting, and networking.)
- Sending and answering emails?
- Blogging, social media and other online networking?
- Networking in person?
- Planning and maintaining the schedule?
- Sessions with clients?
- Laundry and cleaning?
And how much time is needed weekly for
- Organizing the office?
- Bookkeeping, invoices, insurance billing?
- Ordering and maintaining supplies?
- Reading business books and blogs?
Now consider monthly and yearly tasks like paying bills, taxes, continuing education, and more.
What is a fair hourly wage, for an educated professional? A lot of massage therapists have college degrees.
They have to live with very little, even if they charge $100 per massage hour.
Most massage therapists can hardly make minimum wage if we consider all the time they spend working, instead of just the time they spend with clients.
It’s almost funny when I hear clients talk to the receptionist and say things like “Oh, so she only works four days a week? And she leaves at 1pm on Wednesday? Geez. I wish I had those hours.”
What is your experience in pricing? How much are massage therapy places in your area charging? Do you know what hotel spas and chains like Massage Envy are paying their therapists?
I know this is a VERY long post. But if you made it until here, I’d still love a comment.