Massage Therapy Careers: 17 things I wish I had known sooner!

Hindsight is 20/20, in all industries anyone could say they wished they would had known something sooner in their career. What I have found in our careers as massage therapist is that, when we first start out there isn’t a “here’s your diploma, now go forth, change lives, and make lots of money”.

Our industry is all over the place and as a new massage therapist you could take your career in a million different directions. With so many directions, it’s easy to make a mistake or two before you find your way. I have been a massage therapist for 14 years and I can tell you, for me I wish I had started my own business sooner.

Being your own boss might not be your dream as it was mine, maybe your passion will lead you to working in a doctors practice or a chiropractors office. Maybe your journey will lead you towards becoming a reiki master or you might be interested in learning everything about aroma therapy and herbs.

Whatever your dreams are for you’re massage therapy career, it is inevitable you will have that moment when you will say “I wish I had known that sooner”. During my massage therapy career I have had some ups and downs, so I would like to take this opportunity to share with you what I have learned over the years and what I wish I had learned sooner.

Don’t try to start your own massage therapy business right out of school:

This statement will likely go against what most massage therapy schools will tell you, but from my experience I have learned, you need EXPERIENCE . Starting your own massage therapy business is an amazing goal and it is definitely something to shoot for if that is your dream but you first need to crawl before you can walk.

Right out of massage school you will likely only know the basics, unless you had prior knowledge in holistic health and bodywork. For the majority of massage therapist entering the workforce you will need to hone your skill set and build your confidence level up. Many massage therapist are timid in their early years and that’s to be expected.

For that reason I think if you want to start your massage therapy career off on the right foot, you should find a place of business that most fits your personality. For example, if you are more into the spiritual side of massage and you find energy work interesting, you should find an alternative health spa or medical facility that specializes in that.

Maybe you are really into sports massage and deep tissue therapy, in that case you should talk to a local physical therapy office and see if there is room for you there. Finding the right mentor is sooooo important.

If you can find a person or a place that feeds your artistic side or intrigues you interest in the science aspects of massage then you are well on your way to finding your niche in the massage therapy industry. 

My best advise is to find someone in your area that you respect what they are doing in our industry and learn from them. Having a great mentor will enable you to learn how to help clients more efficiently and learn how business works; you need to watch, listen, and learn!

Everyone is not your client:

It took me many years to be OK with the fact some people will not like my style. I specialize in deep tissue, sports massage, and stretching. So if someone is wanting a gentle relaxing massage, then I’m not their girl, and that is OK. I would get so irritated in my early years at Massage Envy when they would put someone with me that was clearly not my client.

When you work for a company it is really important that you are on the same page when it comes to what you are comfortable with. For my situation I could decrease my pressure to accommodate most people but if you are a massage therapist who doesn’t feel comfortable with deep tissue massage then that’s a problem?

Then you are put in  a situation where you either have to perform the massage and risk hurting yourself or tell the client you do not do deep tissue and they can proceed with the massage if they want to. It’s a awkward situation and hopefully wherever you work they are understanding of the modalities you are comfortable with.

It is my experience, massage therapist are people-pleasers so it is not in your comfort zone to be confrontational, but this is your body we are talking about. Your body is your career and you need to protect it, if you can’t do a certain modality then don’t do them! If you want to learn that modality or learn how to safely do deep tissue then take a class, but please don’t work outside your comfort zone. It’s your body, not there’s!

Being an employee does not guarantee stability:

When you are first starting out, you need clients bad, massage therapist only get paid if they are massaging. If you work is a spa or chiropractors office that is slow, guess what, your paycheck isn’t going to look so good.

I hear this all the time with newbies, you need to research your prospective employer and see what kind of reputation they have. Trust me there is plenty of massage business to go around so if the place you are considering doesn’t have a good following, RUN!

Also, newbies often have this idea that if they are an employee they don’t have to work for it. Make no mistake, if you want to eat, then you need to work to establish yourself wherever you are. When I decided to change states I was leaving a clinic I had been at for 8 years with a HUGE following.

I was the most requested therapist at my location, I did all the training, newbies came to me with any questions they had, I was the “big man on campus”. OK that’s great but guess what, I moved to a new client in a new state and nobody had a clue who I was. My first day at my new client I got on there Facebook group and I wrote a little bio of myself.

I also reached out to other local Facebook groups introducing myself, I even walked down to the Fleet Feet that was in our strip and talked to owner and told them I’m new to town and I specialize in sports and deep tissue massage. I gave them some business cards and with in a few months I was fully booked.

You have to take the initiative in life, you can not wait for things to happen to you, you have to make them happen. I had a wedding to pay for and I do not have rich parents so if I wanted a wedding of my dreams I had to pay for it! It may be hard for you but if you put yourself out there, even just a little bit, you will gain so much in the long run.

Research your employer: 

It’s a bit easier if you know your area pretty well and you already have a good sense as to which places are better then other to start out as a massage therapist. If you are new to a area then you need to do your research before you start somewhere. You need to know things like:

  • Are they busy enough to support another massage therapist
  • What are there reviews saying on Google
  • Do you have to sign a non-compete
  • Do you have other duties other then massaging, i.e. laundry, schedualing
  • What hours are you required to work
  • Will you be commission and tips or commission only
  • Are you required to push products
  • Do you have to supply any of your own materials

The list could go on and on but you get the idea, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and please don’t say I need a job so I will take anything. Many places have a non-compete agreement that you will have to sign and that could really hurt you if you are unhappy and try to work somewhere else.

When you are sitting for your interview try to use your spider sense and read between the lines. I have talked with many spa owners and of course they will tell you there place is awesome but it is up to you to weed out the bull.

Don’t be afraid to give your opinion when asked:

This is something that gets a lot of newbies when they are first starting out. Clients will often asked you how did there body feel during their session or they might ask, how many treatments will be needed before they start to feel better?

This can be intimidating when you are starting out since you likely will not have a answer for them, this comes with time I promise. The best thing to do is be honest with the client and tell them you are not sure. If you feel like their body could benefit from more massages in a shorter amount of time, then speak up. People that are interested in massage, and they what to know your opinion, that’s why they asked especially if they are in real pain.

I tell all my clients that every body and situation is different, it will take frequent massages for a short while, along with some at home stretching but together we are going to figure this out. As previously mentioned I do primarily deep tissue and sports massage so I see a lot of injuries in athletes.

If you feel like they need to come back in a week, tell them that. Whenever I tell someone I want to see them for several session back -to -back I know what they’re think, how much?

That’s were confidence in your ability comes in. I can look someone in the eyes and tell them straight up one session is not going to “fix” a decade of neglect. If they want to get better then it’s going to take work. 9 times out of 10 I will get that client rebooked but if I don’t think they need to be as aggressive with there massages then I will be honest about that as well.

I rather be honest with someone and gain there trust with one massage then sign them up for sever treatments I don’t think they need. I mean if someone wants to come back week after week then I’m fine with that but I am honest either way it goes. You will built a better practice quicker with honestly and professionalism.

Boundaries, professionalism, and ethics:

You learned them in massage therapy school but now you need to apply them. Boundaries is something I have seen be a problem time after time and I to am guilty of being to lacks with my boundaries at times. Boundaries does not only apply to your clients but to your employers, your friends, and your family.

Being a professional massage therapist people tend to think this is a hobby for us and therefore friends and family members are likely to ask for freebies. If you give in to this pattern it’s bad news bears, like feeding a stray cat they will keep coming back for more.

Boundaries with your employer are important as well. If you only want to do 4 massages in a day then you need to make that clear. If you don’t do deep tissue massage then you need to make that clear as well. You have to be direct because people tend to not listen very well when they are hearing something they don’t want to hear.

You can not over-extend yourself and work beyond your abilities to please a client or your boss, your body is your career.

Boundaries with your client is the most important! People tend to get every attached to their massage therapist and they tend to over share a lot. Clients will ask your opinion on health topics that you have no business answering, so don’t! This could get you in lot of trouble if you try to diagnose someone.

Or if someone starts sharing intimate details about there personal life, i.e. affairs, marital troubles, you need to shut that conversation down. You want to be close to your client but not that close. Just politely tell them you don’t feel comfortable talking about those things in your office. Most people will respect that and if they don’t, you can fire clients, I’ve done it!

This goes without saying but anything sexual has absolutely no place in your office. I have zero tolerance for anything sexually related, if a client just hovers over something sexual in conversation I shut it down quick.

Do not be afraid to end a session if you feel uncomfortable with a client, your safely is the No. 1 most important thing above all else. If you get that funny feeling in your tummy then walk away, I mean it!

Professionalism: when starting your career as a massage therapist you must establish yourself. You do this by being  honest about what you know and what you don’t know. When you start your first job as a massage therapist it’s time to step up your adulting game. Be on time and dressed to work, speak to your clients in a professional manner and you will go far.

Ethic’s: charge the same price across the board, don’t just hick your prices for someone because you know they will pay it, that’s uncool. Having good ethics as a massage therapist will help your career if people know they can trust you and you are reliable. Overtime this will build into a great reputation and your business will flourish  from your hard work.

No Freebies:

Good lord, I see this question come up way to often. If you work for someone at no time do you massage for free! If your employer wants you to do a promotional event to advertise for them, they you better be getting paid. They may say it’s for the good of the company or whatever, bottom line, it’s illegally not to pay you, do not bend on this!

If you own your own business and you are just starting out then yes, you might have to do some free events to build traffic. I did an event at a Crossfit gym and it was a gold mine, still to this day the majority of my clients come from that gym. I did 3 four hour days at this gym and that translated to a thieving business.

I have an established business now and from time to time I will get a call to donate a massage for a raffle. My rule is one a year and it has to be for a cause or organization I believe in. It is important to give back, not only from a humanitarian stand point but it’s a good marketing tool as well.

Ask your worth: 

When you start out as a massage therapist chances are you are not going to make a lot of money right away, this is normal. However, after sometime you need to:

  1. Access your value
  2. What are you bringing to the table
  3. Are you being compensated enough

At year three for me I added up what I made for the year and what I made for the owner of the Massage Envy I worked for and the two numbers were vastly different.

On my next review I told the client administrator, I’m a good massage therapist,  I bring people in and keep them coming back so I think I deserve a raise. I had never been that upfront with anyone like that before and it felt good. She asked what I thought was fair so I told her want I wanted and she didn’t hesitate to give it!

I was shocked, all I needed to do was ask!

Self-care is mandatory:

Oh my goodness people, you need to take care of yourself. A career as a massage therapist is hard work, it is physically and can be emotionally draining as well. You need a massage as often as possible, find someone to trade with and get a freakin massage. For every 10 massages you give you should get a massage.

Just try your best and if you can’t get a massage at least do some simple yoga stretches and try to take care of yourself.

Avoid burn out:

Burn out can and will happen if you let it. The easiest way to avoid burnout as a massage therapist is by taking CEU’s and collaborating with other massage therapist. Some of the best online CEU classes I have taken where by a company called Allegra Learning Solutions, LLC.

Allegra Learning Solutions is always updating and adding new courses. It is a wonderful resource for massage therapist to learn and hopefully avoid burnout.

You should go throughout life with the mindset that you will always be a student. Read, discuss, practice, and embrace all the amazing modalities we have to choose from.

Find your niche and specialize in something:

If you live in a area where there are a lot of massage therapist it’s important to have a edge to your marketing campaign, this is where a lot of massage therapist fall flat. For me, I do sports and deep tissue massage with my focus on athletes. I found gyms that did not offer massage therapy and I cold called the owners and offered my services to there members.

Whatever your niche is, Cupping massage, reiki, or essential oils, you need to work that angle and market it like crazy! All over my website I have key words like, deep tissue massage, sports massage, stretching for athletes, this is called SEO. Your website is the key to it all and with out keywords, your prospective clients will not be able to find you.

You are not going to make every client happy:

I briefly covered this earlier but I wanted to circle back for a moment. By nature we want people to like us but when you are a massage therapist you have to be ok with a client choosing a different MT over you. Everyone wants something different and that’s ok, don’t focus on why someone didn’t come back to you, instead focus on those who keep coming back.

A negative mindset will get you nowhere in whatever industry you are in so stay positive and focus your energy on the clients who keep coming back month after month.

Don’t over look corporate chair massage:

Massage chair corporate events are often overlooked and you are sincerely missing out of some easy cash if you don’t start digging in this pay dirt. Not only is corporate chair events fast cash, it’s a great way to get a ton of exposure in a short period of time.

If you have just opened your massage therapy business you need to start cold calling businesses and talking to friends and family in the area. Lots of health related companies frequently have health fairs and they love massage therapist.

Around Christmas time is a great time to start calling companies as they are planning their end of the year parties. Somewhere on your website you should talk about massage chair events.

Use keywords like:

  1. Massage chair events
  2. Traveling massage
  3. Chair massage services
  4. Massage chair corporate events
  5. Chair massage rates

This is what SEO is all about, if you can load your website with key words like this and many others. You will see your brand new massage business website out rank more established massage businesses in your area.

Don’t get stuck in a rut, open your own business: 

At this point in your massage therapy career I can assume you have a few years of experience and a few continuing education hours under your belt. Also at this point you are likely more confident in your abilities to give a therapeutic effective massage. During this time I hope you have really honed in on your niche that you would like to focus your business around.

Keep it simple at first, if you have grand dreams of starting your own clinic or spa and having a army of employees, it might be smarter to start with just you in a smaller office and build your following first. After you have built a strong client base, you have made a name for yourself, locked in your brand, mastered your website and marketing campaign. THEN you can start looking at larger spaces to rent or buy and start bringing in employee’s.

Something I have seen over and over with ambitious entrepreneurs is that they jump in the deep end before they have a solid foundation to build on. You must have an established brand before you start bringing on employees. If you can’t fill someones schedule, how long do you think that employee will stick around, not very long.

For this reason and many others I think by starting small and building your business up will serve you better in the long run. In no way am I saying “don’t dream big”, I am just saying to keep your overhead small in the beginning so you can focus on your clients and their health and not be as worried about your overhead.

Speak to your ideal massage client:

This is where having a clear vision of your niche comes into play, I will use myself again as an example. I specialize in sports and deep tissue massage so my ideal client is someone who likes firm to deep tissue massage. I also like to incorporate cupping massage and active release treatments in my sessions. So my ideal client is someone who would want those things.

If I got someone that called into my office asking for a gift card for their 84 year old mom who wants a nice relaxing massage then that would not be someone who I would want to work with. I can do less pressure but I would care to wager that person would have a much better massage experience with someone who loves nice rhythmic therapeutic massages.

I would then tell that person I think their mom would be suited to go else where and I would give them a referral to someone I knew and trusted. It is OK to send clients to someone you felt would be a better fit. This is both an ethical and professional way to handle your clients.

How to set up your business: 

The answer to this question is more complex then I will go into for this article, I will cover it more in dept in my next post but for now here are the basic first steps to starting your own massage therapy business.

Opening a massage business includes the following but is not limited to:

  • First you need a name, logo, and choose your colors (create your brand).
  • You need a massage business plan and you need to establish you financing
  • Open a separate checking account in your business name
  • Talk to your local municipality to register your massage business
  • Learn what permits will be needed to open your massage business
  •  Purchase renters insurance for your office or building (renters insurance is separate from your massage liability insurance)
  • Build a killer website and start marketing
  • Start a Google my business account (it’s free)
  • Sign up for G Suites, it costs but it helps organize you business and data
  • Build traffic and create engagement with your community (focus on SEO within your website)
  • Don’t be afraid to cold call gyms, chiropractors, doctors office ( I did!)
  • Reach out on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or nextdoor.com
  • Focus on your clients above everything else and your business will naturally grow

This was a condensed version of a larger topic that I will go into greater detail in my next article, so hang tight.

Start taking more advance continuing education:

OK, so you started your business and it’s growing and your making money now, at least I hope you are. Once your business is well on it’s way I would like to say it’s time to stop and smell the rose’s but that’s not my style. Even when you are running a successful business boredom and burn can happen.

This is why it is so important to be a life learner, taking CEU’s, going to conferences and participating in massage social groups can help keep you positive and optimistic about your career as a massage therapist. Whenever you are taking a class it doesn’t matter the subject just make sure the class says somewhere on it that it is an ACCREDITED CLASS.

If a course is not accredited then it runs a chance of not being eligible to count when it comes time to renew your license. If a class really sticks your interest and you know it is not accredited that’s fine as long as you know that upfront.

The moral of the story is to find classes that interest you, can benefit you and help grow your business. For more information on what each state requires click here and scroll down to heading, Different types of massage therapy continuing education.

That about covers it:

This article went on way longer then intended but that’s how I do things sometimes. I hope you found this information helpful and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. You have to enter your email to leave a comment but your email just comes to me and I promise spam mail does not live here. Hope to hear from you soon.

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After 13 years of massage therapy I have learned so much about the body and I want to share that knowledge with you. I will highlight a variety of products that are ideal for all types of bodies for personal use. I hope my insight will help you better understand your pain so you can take back your life and start living again!

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