, ,

New-PerspectiveSince I’m a massage therapy educator I try to keep my finger on the pulse of trends, reports, and articles that come out regarding the profession of massage therapy and bodywork. One thing I’ve been paying attention to are the polls that report the state of our industry, such as employment rates, how long someone stays in the industry and how much they are earning. Just recently I have seen some numbers come across that literally made my stomach hurt.

When I enter into a commitment with a student to provide an excellent training that will enhance the quality of their life, I take that to heart. I enter into an agreement with each and every one of my students to teach them to succeed. I am completely invested and attached to their success. My entire team is.

Recently,  some polls revealed that massage therapists were not making enough money to survive. I have also come in contact on Facebook with many massage therapists who are complaining about how little they are earning.  This has deeply troubled me, because I am trying to live with integrity. I could not stop thinking about the “fact” that I was selling this education with the promise of a dream that, according to these polls, was not going to come true. What was the most upsetting to me was the hourly wage the massage therapists were reportedly earning. This is not only having a negative impact on the Massage Therapist, but also on the public. If a Massage Therapist is earning sub-standard wages, the client is receiving sub-standard bodywork.

Here are some of those numbers that have crossed my desk:

The other day I had the realization that these polls did not represent my students and my program. None of my students had been surveyed. These surveys represented other school’s graduates, not mine. I considered the value of doing my own survey of my graduates, and that is what I’ve done.

Once the results were in, not only did I feel blameless, and validated, I also felt inspired to continuing doing exactly what I’m doing. Through this process, I have learned a lot about surveys and statistics. I’ve always been pretty good with numbers, but the science of statistics is a big world. While statistics are fascinating, it’s very difficult to get to what is real or “the truth”. I have found that in the case of my survey, there is no black and white, however, there is enough information to make an assessment. I have consulted with a brilliant advisor of mine, (I’m terrific at having plenty of those around) and I also spoke with a Statistical Consultant for half an hour. That is the extent of it.  I have put in this additional bit of effort because I know this survey is going to blow some minds. The numbers are looking fantastic from my perspective, especially compared to what has been reported recently thus far.

This is a simple survey and I have gotten out of it what I wanted to get out of it. If you want to look at it, please be my guest and you can make up your own mind what you think. Hopefully you will get some value out of it too. This survey is not intended to be an official anything. I don’t have time for that. It is a simple survey of my graduate’s experience. The most important information I received from them is that 100% of them are happy being a massage therapist. I am a very lucky woman to have been a part of their journey.

If you do want to look it over, please consider these precept or assumptions.

  1. Because some massage therapist will report tips and some will not, we are not adding tips to any of the numbers to inflate the hourly rate. Just know that the number may or may not include tips. This will keep the survey numbers on the conservative end, so we can have an “at least and maybe more” number.
  1. When they reported a range, for example they are doing 10-20 massages per week, we went exactly with the middle unless the middle was odd then we rounded down.
  1. We are assuming no overhead or taxes have been taken out, so these numbers are GROSS, and we assume that most Sole Proprietors, or Self-Employed Massage Therapists have overhead. (est. max 25% before taxes) You can probably pick out who the Sole Proprietors are just by looking at their earnings.
  1. We are going to assume that many participants will slightly exaggerate, because that has been proven to be a perpetual human condition in survey taking.
  1. We are going to assume that the people who are earning best are going be more willing to participate in a survey, and those who are not, will not be as enthusiastic to participate.
  1. The sample survey population is 83 of 213 or 38.5% of MY GRADUATES. I’m pretty happy about that. Thank you all for participating! I’m not including my current students because they are not in the field.
  1. Many of these massage therapists are working part time, with full time being considered to be 18-25 hours of hands on massage time, and many are part time which would be anything from 1-17. Several are raising a family, and/or have other career endeavors.
  1. Every price on this survey is PER HOUR OF MASSAGE WHAT THE THERAPIST SAID THEY ARE EARNING, (not charging) INCLUDING AVERAGE TIPS AND BEFORE TAXES AND OVERHEAD. We are posting EXACTLY what they said since many have a sliding scale and work in up to 3 different environments. (self employed, independent contractor, employee)
  1. Some massage therapists do a different amount of massage each month. For these numbers we have used an average.

With that, Here is the link to my survey: Berkana Alumni Survey


I believe our graduates are succeeding at a high level for these reasons:

  1. We teach and stress self-care. “If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t care for others”.
  2. We teach them about “burn out”.
  3. The Program we offer is an Elite Apprenticeship Style Comprehensive Education. Tons of one on one time with some of the best instructors in the industry.
  4. The students are extremely serious and committed. They have to self fund because we don’t offer financial aid.
  5. We have a solid business program which teaches them to be entrepreneurs and provides a lot of strategy.
  6. We teach the value of massage.
  7. We don’t have job placement with an unethical under payer, and we screen potential employers for substandard wages. If they are offering substandard wages…they get a piece of my mind.
  8. We instill confidence!
  9. We make sure they are doing outstanding bodywork and massage so they will retain clients.
  10. We teach an extremely high level of professionalism, and they prove that during their time at the Institute.
  11. We teach them to make a living by diversification. Mix it up with other things!
  12. We teach them to have integrity with the profession by never ever accepting substandard wages for their work, thus driving the value of massage therapy down.
  13. We screen them for business aptitude and we equip them with reasonable expectations prior to enrollment.
  14. We teach them how to avoid being exploited.


So what ARE standard or reasonable wages for a massage therapist to earn per hour for massage? Considering a variable cost of living index, I will use a percentage that is reasonable:

  1. SOLE PROPRIETOR WORKING FOR SELF WITH OVERHEAD: Find out what the high end is charging, and what the low end is charging and come in at the middle. Do NOT include special offers, Groupon on or LivingSocial prices in your determining calculations. Use THOSE numbers when you are going to launch your own sale event. Add on 15-20% for delivery (dependent on how far you travel). Most Sole Proprietors do not accept tips but charge what they intend to earn. Great idea to give Student, Senior Citizen, and Veteran standard discounts. Sell packages and build in a loyalty discount. If you want this to work, you must dig in roots, network, be assertive, do educational events and be patient. There are discerning clients who want to work with you. Don’t let the competition get you down. Focus on YOU!
  1. INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR WITH ESTABLISHMENT PAYING ALL OVERHEAD: If you are an independent contractor and the establishment is providing all equipment, marketing, materials, billing, and clients, you should earn 40% at a minimum, receive 100% tips allocated to you, and their price per hour of massage must start out reasonable ($60+). If they are doing some huge Groupon or LivingSocial thing to bring in clients, negotiate carefully and do NOT be a chump. You should not have to wait around for clients which drives your hourly income when you are actually doing massage way way down. READ YOUR CONTRACT, and be careful with Non-compete clauses and get advice from a mentor if you need some.
  1. EMPLOYEE: If you are an employee and the establishment is providing all equipment, marketing, materials, billing, and clients, you should earn 35% at a minimum, receive 100% tips allocated to you, and their price per hour of massage must start out in the mid-range of local prices. I would not factor in the prices the franchises are charging for massage because for the most part they are not reasonable. If they are doing some huge Groupon or LivingSocial thing to bring in clients, negotiate carefully and do NOT be a chump. You should not have to wait around for clients which drives your hourly income when you are actually doing massage way way down. Consider benefits carefully! Are the benefits for you? Or the company? If they intend for you to do more than 5 hours of massage a day, 5 days a week…walk out of the door. Your best bet is to work for a company that is owned by a massage therapist. They will be more understanding and appreciative of you from the start.

 However you end up earning as a massage therapist, expect business to be hard, even brutal at times. You will learn what works and what does not and it will become easier as you persevere. Being successful takes courage and risk. Why do you think so many executives read “The Art of War”? You can’t just sit there like a cream puff and expect to be served. Go Get Yours! If it was easy, everyone would do it.


  1. As soon as you graduate you will earn your entire living as a massage therapist and job placement will be your answer to this. This idea right here is how the Mcfranchise is surviving, and burning out thousands of massage therapists a year. We tell our students this, “when you graduate, clients are not going to fall into your lap, and you may not find a decent job or contract right away”. Everyone needs a safety net. A safety net is something else you can do to make money while you hold out for a decent offer, and/or build your own practice. It could be the thing you did before you did massage therapy such as:
  1. Cleaning houses
  2. Bar-tending
  3. Child care
  4. Accounting
  5. Being a coach
  6. Being a yoga instructor
  7. Food Server
  8. Website design

Get your hands on as many people as you can to demonstrate the quality of your work. Always give your best and you will get there!

  1. Overhead is 50%: If you are paying 50% for overhead, you have not been very creative…at all. Here is what we tell our students about overhead. Start out with mobile massage if you have no start up capital. Rent a space and share it with others. Why not get the lease yourself and rent it out to two others so that the 3 of you can carry the burden. If you’re really cleaver, the others can pay the entire rent since you are the one carrying the responsibility of the lease and the cleaning. Plan to buy new linens once a year. Even if you are doing 20 massages a week, you only need the space for 30 hours a week with your set up and cleaning times. I have never paid more than 25% for overhead, and none of my colleagues have ever paid more than that. For example; If you are earning a minimum of $50 per hour for 20 sessions, that is $1000 per week and $4000 per month. Who spends $2000 a month on linens, cream, hand sanitizer, utilities, rent, insurance and marketing? (Please note: Overhead does reasonably include taxes in other conversations. I’m not including those here, since an IC or an Employee with no overhead expenses as a massage therapist also has to pay taxes and “before taxes’’ is the constant for my survey. We need to remove the taxes from this discussion on overhead in order to be able to make a reasonable comparison to massage therapists earning as employees and Independent contractors.
  1. Some people just don’t have what it takes run their own business. This may be true, but one should still respect our profession by having reasonable boundaries, and massage schools need to teach this. If you are going to be a cog in someone’s machine, and you accept substandard wages then you are not honoring our profession and you are doing damage.


If you want to hurt yourself and give up longevity in this profession, do 4-hour long massages for $15 or less each, and keep doing that! If you want to support our industry, and have the respect you deserve for this amazing work you do, do a 1-hour long massage for $60. It would be better for YOU and everyone who is a massage therapist if you had a part time job doing something else for $15 per hour, and had boundaries around what YOU earn when you do the skilful and specialized work of massage therapy. Your $60 massage, is going to be 4X better than your $15 massage. The customer does NOT get what they pay for when it comes to massage therapy, they GET what the therapist EARNS. I know this because I’ve given 18,000 massages. Quality VS quantity!

Your $60 massage CAN be an amazing marketing event (word of mouth) and those 3 hours you save are time for your marketing efforts. Would you rather do 5 massages for $60 per hour per week and 10 or so hours of marketing? Or would you rather do 20 massages for $15 per week? You are still going to earn $300 per week.

Personally, as a client, I don’t want your $15 massage. Whether you are an IC or Employee or Self Employed, I want your $60 massage, especially if I’m paying $60 either way.

You will see from my poll that this “LESS IS MORE” philosophy and approach is the one my graduates are using.

We are not a masseuses! We are a Massage Therapists, not technicians. We are providing therapy and we deserve to earn a decent living for our investment in learning this art/science, our skill, and our courage to compassionately and professionally touch people’s lives.


Jill Kristin Berkana, LMT

Jill Kristin Berkana

Founder/Director Berkana Institute of Massage Therapy and Bodywork Passionista