What is fair pay for massage work?

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What is fair pay for massage therapy work? This is one of the biggest questions I see in our profession.  Let’s get to the bottom of this!

First of all what each person needs and wants to make is different. While one therapist might require a certain amount per year to live comfortably another may be just working for extra money or to gain experience. Obviously they would have completely different perspectives of what is fair and right. We also all have different ideas of what is most important to us. Some therapists want to work straight through their shift and go home. Others, like me, NEED our breaks, especially lunch in my case. Work environment, co-workers, scheduling, freedom (ability to set your own schedule and days off), and being treated with respect are other issues that rank higher than money in a lot of cases.

Next the type of business and overhead should be considered. Do you want to work somewhere that provides a certain environment and amenities for your clients? Do you want to work at a bare minimum type of office environment? Do you want to work somewhere that bills insurance for your services? Do you want to provide all of your own supplies? Some of your supplies? Do your own marketing? Do you want to work somewhere with front desk support? That is a lot of variables! It’s easy to see how there are big differences in what therapists are paid.

Lastly, let’s be realistic. Most massage programs are around 600 hours for a diploma (yes, I know some are more). This is about the same amount of hours as an esthetics or nail tech program. Massage Therapist, Esthetician, and Nail Tech ENTRY LEVEL salaries are $15,000 – $20,000 per year. What I don’t understand is why MT’s think they are deserving of so much more income with similar levels of education.

Of course what you earn is largely up to you. There are many Massage Therapists making $40,000 per year and some even making $80,000 plus. Those therapists likely took on the risk of starting their own business and the responsibilities that go with it. Keep educating yourself, gain all the experience you can, and don’t take the first job that comes along if you don’t think it pays enough (or take it and keep looking). Make the most of the situation you are in. Reschedule your clients so that you are busy everyday. Sell upgrades of more time or enhancement services. Learn the retail products so you can recommend them. Market yourself so clients are asking for you (very valuable to a business owner). Ask what the criteria is for getting a raise. Start a business plan and start saving to open your own place. We don’t have to settle for less but we do need to know what it takes to be more, to be successful.

So, what is fair? Only you can answer that question for yourself.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Laura Allen

    I’ve tried to give this same reality check myself, Gael. There are 26 states that still only require 500 hours of education…and many massage schools are very guilty of giving their students the unrealistic expectation that they’re going to get out of school and be making $75 an hour. The number of MTs making over $80,000 a year is miniscule. 70% of graduates are quitting the field within two years.

    Somewhere between the “I just want to help people” and the “I just want to make $$$” is a happy medium, where most are making a sustainable living, but not getting rich. Success is relative and it’s whatever it is to the individual. An entry-level MT may be making $15-20 an hour. That beats minimum wage, for sure, but many are convinced that’s not what they signed up for.

    Compared to the money it costs for a 4-year college degree, massage school is relatively cheap. The sense of entitlement that many have after one year, or even six months, of massage school education, that they should be getting paid the big bucks is distressing. It isn’t rocket science. For most careers that do require a college education,people don’t start out at the top of the heap. They start out with an entry-level salary and have the opportunity to grow from there. Massage therapists need to realize they don’t know everything right out of the gate, they don’t have the experience, and the advanced knowledge that comes with practicing for years. They still have the opportunity in front of them to gain that, but thinking they should get right out of school and demand top salary is just unrealistic.

    As a business owner who does pay my people fairly (lowest pay at my office is $30 an hour), if you choose to go that route, you’ve got to be prepared for the overhead and the reality that the buck stops with you. A big repair, having to replace the washing machine, bad weather knocking you out of work for a week and numerous other situations can interfere with your money-making plan. People need to go into that with their eyes wide open, but many do not, and can’t figure out why they failed. Educate yourself before you get started, and have a Plan B.

  2. Ezralea robbins

    This is a great list of questions to ask! I just have to say THANK YOU! For the sensible article on pay. As a therapist in this business for over 20yrs a employer and coach. I am amazed sometimes at the demands of pay therapist expect “because they are worth it”. Unfortunately most of the time they don’t understand that you get paid $60+ an hour when you run your own shop. And have to pay your own taxes. I agree that 1 years worth of education does not equate to a $80k income. Massage school is equivalent to a AA degree. LMTs need continuous education to reach top paying goals.

    I very much value team players In my business. And have a strong belief that we need to educate and stabilize the industry so that career growth is possible.

    I get quite baffled at the idealism of therapist that will only work for x$$s but then will return to a 4yr ($40k) nursing or PT degree so they can make less $$ but get benefits. ???

    I don’t get on many forums because the distain for massage employers is ridiculous coming from LMTs that feel entitled to every cent of the client doles out for a treatment. Unfortunately it feels like while I fronted my money and risked everything for my own career growth and my team. The ones complaining and calling spa owner money grubbers fail to apply math formulas that keep an establishment open.
    In our coaching programs the first thing we start with us operations and $$s. Weather you work for yourself or others. If you ask the right questions
    And do the math against expected appointments. You will find the right fit for your interest.

    1. Nicole

      My hat is off to you! I wish a calculator was used when demanding a salary that took me 17 years to attain.

  3. Laura Fisher

    First of all I do understand all of your points! I believe that the minimum people are charging is too low for our industry.

    Employers that are paying $10.00 and hour or a split and they might be advertising $29.99 introductory massages.

    The Employee is required to work 9am-5Pm they only get paid for the Massages that they preform.

    In the county that I reside in you are required to have a County License as well as your State Board and a Business License.

    There are a lot of people that don’t have what s required by laws and ordinances so therefore will work for nothing so therefore it is undercutting the Therapist that do what is required and pay what their required every year to keep the standards higher as required.
    There is a reason Therapist give up! I don’t want this just to be a job! I want to be well known for helping people and be respected in my community.

    Thank You

    Laura Fisher

  4. Rebecca

    WOW I’m shocked that MT’s were put in the same category as a Nail Tech and Esthetician.
    It is the mind set that you are presenting here in this information that is causing MT’s to give up and move on.
    I have been a LICENSED MT for 16 years. I’ve worked at Spa’s, Chain’s,Casino’s, Chiro offices, and it all the same.
    We do not respect what we do and do not expect top $. for our industry.
    Shame on you! Publishing this crap is harmful. Look up the history of Massage. Respect your self! You do deserve top $.
    Did you get any sales for your “Access the FREE Massage and Spa Success Toolkit, Free training and Ebooks” writing this Crap?
    Support your fellow MT not criticize them!

    1. Gael Wood

      Well I’ve been licensed 20 years, plus I’m an Esthetician and a Nail Tech, we aren’t more valuable then they are. The point of my article is to encourage people to be worth more and then to ask for more. “We don’t have to settle for less but we do need to know what it takes to be more, to be successful.
      So, what is fair? Only you can answer that question for yourself.” Most therapists don’t finish school with the skills they need to be a top earner, that’s why I teach the classes that I teach. 🙂 I don’t make any sales of my free resources, they are free and all designed to help massage therapists make more money!

      1. Shannon

        This part “…The point of my article is to encourage people to be worth more and then to ask for more…” could probably have been highlighted better. That is not the overall focus that I read in that. I will agree that continuing education and additional certification is very important for increasing your worth (particularly as I am a CEU junkie). However I see many therapists becoming injured and during out quickly because of trying to get past those 15-20k incomes that they cannot afford to actually live on by working more hours than their bodies can handle. Nor do I see employers encouraging or rewarding that additional training although fortunately clients may. Additionally I can earn the income you listed at a full time minimum wage job so why go to trade school at all? In fact I used to manage a small store (without any degrees at all) for more than that. While I do feel that nail techs are generally as well trained as us I think part of what bottoms out their industry are all the unlicensed workers they have to compete with. Certainly something that should be addressed and that I sympathize with. Usually your posts and articles seem very encouraging and helpful but lately there seems to be an underlying tinge of bitterness that is not particularly motivational. Note: Upon re-reading selections out of order I think that if the last paragraph had been the first. Followed by going into the likely income of self-employment and it’s associated risks versus the lower income but lower risk of working for someone else it would have set a different and more favorably received tone. Perhaps closer to the one you intended.

      2. Gina Ferrie

        But a LMT can be hired in a hospital or in the medical field. I believe they should get paid more than an Aesthetician and a nail tech. We are taught way more in depth about the anatomy and physiology of the body. No comparison. I am also a licensed Aesthetician too.

    2. Laura Fisher

      Thank You very well said! I am not going to work for bellow standard. I will work until I build up a great client base and I will fight to change things as far as the fact that other businesses are trying to take advantage of Massage Therapist and causing them to not be able to make a living in their chosen profession.

      Thank You

      Laura Fisher

      1. Wayne

        What should a massage therapist make a day, hour or whatever?

  5. Helene Los Banos

    In the spas here on Maui, therapists easily make 50,000.00- year working 20 hrs a week. It is a coveted job that allows us to live comfortavly Nd atill have time to enjoy free time surfing, hiking, etc. $30.00/ hr is what a student straight out of school doing recent graduate massages at the school would earn. Expensive resorts, expensive massages so people don’t question the prices. A lot of therapists work in the resorts for the $$$

  6. Denise

    I have been licensed and owned my own massage practice as well as worked in the sports arena, five star resort Spas in vegas, local day spas, fitness centers, had an out call business, worked in Chiropravtors offices, did events and on site chair massage at conventions, and Physical Therapist office for 20+ years. You name it, I’ve done it. 20 years ago the price point for massage was an average of $65-$85. Ever since these discount chains started taken over every corner, they have devalued our industry. Their pay scale is ridiculous, and it causes every other local spa, chiro, PT etc to follow suite. It sickens me what is happening to our industry. And I want to mention that the pay of $15-$30 per hour is not an hourly pay. It’s per massage. When you do the math, the therapist ends up making about $10 per hour! That’s crazy! That’s just above minimum wage! Not to mention the brutal break down of our own bodies in the process, plus the costs of state, city/county licensing, CEU’s, insuranse etc., that we pay out of pocket for. Not to mention some places require you to wear certain types and colors of clothes we must pay for pulse some supplies. They also get FREE labor out of you by making you clean, do laundry, Market, etc when you don’t have any appts which they don’t pay you for. At least if your a nurse you get paid for the hours your working plus you get benefits, to respond to your comment in previous post. I feel that employers take advantage of us and can make the therapist pump out 6-8 or more massages per day usually 4-5 days a week, on busy times, but don’t feel you deserve a raise after years of doing this for them, then when it’s slow they get on you for not doing anything so they have you scrub down the spa and do chores! There is nothing more frustrating! So my suggestion would be to therapists, Stop accepting this industry behavior! And maybe, if we start respecting ourselves and what we do, then these places won’t have any employees to hire because we will all be working for ourselves or other therapists who get it! “You teach people how to treat you!” If you don’t respect yourselves how can you expect others to respect you? Learn as much as you can about everything massage! Don’t use continuing education as means to get your licenses, look at it as educating yourself!! Learn how to market yourself! Learn from people who already know how! Like Gael! There are many others as well! Learn what you need to learn to open your own practice! You can rent a room in PT clinic, a Chiro, an office suite, a hair salon, a nail salon, a gym for about $300 a month! And you charge $80, that’s only 3.5 massages per month! The rest goes in your OWN pocket! Do the math! It’s a no brainier! Be open minded and know your “WHY”! Never loose site of the reason you wanted to become a therapist! And GO FOR IT! We, as a community, can change this “stinkin thinkin” in our industry and we can start making the rules! We all have a voice! Get involved in your local AMTA chapters. Or other massage regulatory entities. We, as therapists, are the only ones who can demand our worth! Because, obviously, others think we are not worthy. Get your experience and move on to bigger and better things! You don’t have to work for the Massage Envy’s of the world! So DON’T! We should NOT be compared to nail techs and estheticians! I am a THERAPIST! And I don’t sit on a stool all day! Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I equate massage to shoveling for 40 hours a week! Pushing and pulling! Stretching and fighting the resisters! It’s very physical work! SO YOU and only YOU get to set your worth. It will take time and, lots of education, experience and muscle Greese! But YOU CAN DO IT!
    Denise Johnson, NCLMT, BCTMB

    1. Karl

      If you look at the Budget massage chains satisfaction ratings they are all bad & take advantage of areas in the US that don’t enforce the laws. You get what you pay for. We also have this problem in Loudoun Co Va., The sheriffs office will not enforce the Va. massage laws and we have no way to force him to. He is an elected official that answers to no one. At one time my county had a department that would check to make sure you had a County business license but this has now been deprecated too. The County board of supervisors are also completely screwed up and are not issuing business license so massage therapists are forced to not follow the county requirements. The board of nursing is useless in the area of enforcement of this new law too because they only look into issues with licensed professionals & not unlicensed ones.
      No one is currently enforcing this law and until then the degradation of the profession will continue.

  7. Angry

    What the hell! I cant believe what I am reading. Let me tell you why massage therapist should make more for the same level of training. The reason is because it’s labor intensive work! Your not takeing sheers and stroking manes or patting cheeks. If you are a real body worker you are half the time digging and pulling and stretching and pounding and indeed sweating. The money a massage therapist should make is not about the level of education or lack thereof but because it is hars work. I know someone who cleans houses and makes 100 for 2 hours and you dont have to go to school for cleaning. That is what is wrong with our industry. If I could sit on my minimus and stroke metatarsuls all day I wouldnt mind making chump change. Anyway, I work with athletes and they gladly pay you 100 an hour plus a 20 dollar tip. So do yourself a favor. Get off of this site build a linkdin and hit some retired athletes up and offer them a complimentary massage once they are hooked they will tell current players and voila! You are getting paid what you are worth!

    1. Gael Wood

      As someone who has worked as a nail tech, esthetician and massage therapist. I can assure you it is all hard work. If hard work equaled more money than any labor intensive job would be high paying, and that is not the case at all. Getting out there building a business and marketing yourself will earn you a higher wage, and you are responsible for every aspect of running your business.

  8. Back, 21 yeas ago when I graduated, when working for another entity, the pay for massage Therapists was a 80/20, 70/30 or 60/40 split, (where the Therspist made the higher number), depending on the type of business you worked with. Nowadays, this dynamic has flipped. Now the therapists are making the lower amount of the spilt. So instead of ya getting raises , we got pay cuts. And there is no way to get a raise in this industry unless the Company you work for raises their prices. So after 21 years of education, experience, being Nationally Certified and Board Certified, organizations pay me the exact same thing they pay someone just out of school or someone who only wants and only does Swedish all day! This used to irk me to no end when I worked in the resort industry. (It also happens in Chiropractors, Salons, Day Spa’s,, etc). Some therapists would think, “I only see them once! There is no reason to kill myself”! So they do the bare minimum, basic Swedish massage all day every day! While someone like me who specializes in Sports, Neuromuscular, Trigger Point, Myofascial rehabilitative work, gets paid the same thing just. Because we work in the same place. Now if this is a local place, I can build my clientele and have more returning clients who request me, however, more clients does equal more pay, but it also means more work. If you want to make a decent wage working for someone else, go to Resort Spas. They charge a lot of money for a. Service, so your percentage, since it’s low, will be higher due to the highly priced services. They also might offer health insurance, paid time off and possible 401-k. You will learn to sell retail, do spa services, and work some nights , weekends and holidays. But you will earn a decent living. More than any local spa, or Chiro office. Get the experience, learn as much as you can and if working for yourself appeals to you, you should be equipped to do so after a few years of working in the Resort Spa. Some therapists I know, stay in this industry and make lots of money and savings in their 401-K for retirement and stay in this industry forever. There are also possibilities for growth in other aspects of the Spa industry if you ever want to move out of massage into management or duel licensure. However, there is nothing more freeing and satisfying as being your own boss. You set the rules, you set the prices, and you set the stage for your worth!!!! No one will ever tell you again that your only worth 20 or 3O % of your hard work again! So my advise to those who are just getting out of s hook, or those who are struggling with low paid massage jobs, Don’t EVER stop believing that you deserve more! Find a way to get experience, and move on!!! If you have to work at different places and work more than one job for now to gain experience then so be it. Fill in at Chiropractor s offices! They pay more than chain spas anyway! Learn how to work with clients who are being treated with issues. Sign up to do chair massage events, do private massage parties, etc. expand your arena where you do massage! You will be surprised what opportunities might cross your path. Learn as much as you can about marketing! Join networking meetings and always have business Cards on you! Not your Company Cards who you work for, but order some of your own! When people call, you can tell them which location you will be working at that day they want your massage. Start planting seeds while working for these other jobs. Save some money so you will have what it takes to start your own place. Even if it’s just renting a room someplace. If your barely getting by, Open a savings account and put $10 a week in it. You won’t miss it, and it will be getting you one step closer to your goal! Go to business networking meetings! Decide your massage Niche and learn Everything there is to learn about it! So when your ready, you will know your target market!! Set yourself up for success!! And then you can demand your worth! And make what you deserve.

  9. Dru Shaw-Joyner

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have read most of your comments. I am a nail tech and a licensed therapist. I work long and hard at both…lifting legs, scrubbing feet, trying to get clients to relax their hands so I can polish them and worst pulling them to me if they fall asleep and listening to their daily situations, while fixing/repairing nails that someone else destroyed. Meanwhile our shoulders, necks and backs are suffering. I KNOW Therapist work hard but NAIL TECHS WORK HARD TOO. Don’t belittle one profession to feel better about your own…it is Not necessary.

    I am also in the process of opening a spa and before this process I didn’t understand all that is takes. I will pay my techs and therapist a fairly and treat them fairly also because I have been in their shoes. However, you guys won’t understand until you are the ones buying equipment, supplies, furniture, software, licensing an establishment, marketing, websites, payroll, taxes, cleaning supplies, and any extras afforded to Your clients that We bring in and have to pay you, the therapist. Spa/Salon owners aren’t as grubby as I once thought. They have to live as well and make sure you can to. You get your portion free and clear. Of course, you can rent a room…I have for years…but when you want to grow from there, remember your comments. I know the ones I have made, and they slap me in the face with every purchase I have to make towards the new business venture.

    Take the steps necessary, be patient and consider everyone’s position. And for Heaven sake stop being so mean and bitter, do the work you says you’re called to do. It will all work out.


    1. Gael Wood

      Yes! Well said, I could have written this myself. I thought I knew it all….

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