Starting a Massage Practice 101: How Much Do I Charge?

Putting a price on your massage can be emotionally brutal. On one end of the emotional scale is “I’m not worthy”. On the other end is “I’m too good to work for this price”.

In addition to the emotional side, there’s also the reality piece: How much is someone actually going to pay for a massage?

Though pricing is not always straightforward, I have some suggestions that I think can help you out.

How is Your Massage?

First, how would you rate your massage? This is a loaded question because it’s difficult to do a self-evaluation without bringing in emotional baggage, like “my massage is never good enough.”

Here’s a way to evaluate your massage and leave the baggage at the door. Ask yourself: Do clients come back to me? Do they compliment me?

If you’re working in a place with other massage therapists, are you holding your own in terms of getting clients?

My guess is that your massage is good to go, but that you have normal self-doubt. However, if you think your massage needs tweaking, check out New Therapist Can Be Good Therapists.

Get Comparables

Next you need comparables. What are other MTs in a 5-ish mile radius from you (the place where you’re going to see clients) charging for massage?

To answer this question, find 2 or 3 MTs or massage businesses as comparables—but be selective. You want to compare apples to apples.

For instance, if you’re currently working in a spa setting and are going to see clients in a room in your house, then you shouldn’t use a spa in your 5 mile radius as a comparable. People coming to a spa are not only paying for the massage, they’re also paying for the spa atmosphere and wouldn’t pay that price to get a massage in a room in your house.

However, a franchise massage spa, such as Massage Envy or Hand & Stone, might be a fair comparison. Why? Because a franchise massage spa makes money in volume which means they charge lower prices than non-franchise spas in order to drive more people through the door.

Undercut Strategy

Once you’ve got your comparables, you’ll have a price range. Let’s say MT 1 charges $70 , MT 2 $80 and MT3 $70. The price range is $70 – $80. Where should you fall in?

This is the challenging part.

Instinct may tell you to price low, maybe even below the lowest price in the range. For instance, with the $70 – $80 comparables price range, you might think that $60 would be a good price point to get people in the door. Then over time you would raise the price.

If you’re going to try this strategy, only do it for a short period of time and only for clients who will follow you from your current job to your practice.

If you price too low, you may never get that price up to what you want to charge. Click To Tweet

I say this because I used this strategy when I started my first practice. Yes, it did help me establish a core client base so that I could make it on my own. However, some of those original clients are still not up to my current massage rate.

If you know that you’ll have a hard time raising the price over time, just avoid this strategy completely.

High Price Strategy

The opposite approach to undercutting would be to price your massage off the high-end of price range scale. For example, if the comparables price range is between $70 and $80, a high price strategy would be to price your massage at $85.

This strategy is more often employed by established MTs who know their market. If you’re just starting out, I wouldn’t recommend this strategy unless you have access to people who can pay that price.

High Price Example

Here’s what I mean: Let’s say you’ve worked at local spa for a year and you’ve developed a following. One of the clients, Nefri, who loves you is also your biggest promoter. Nefri has talked you up to her friends and some come to see you at the spa.

Your plan is to rent a studio and start your own massage practice. You do your research and find that your competitors are charging $75 – $80 for a 60 minute massage. The spa charges $100 for a 60 minute massage.

When you tell Nefri that you’ll be leaving the spa to do massages in a studio, she wants to follow you. You suspect that most of her friends who see you at the spa will follow you, too.

Banking on Nefri and her friends following you (they are used to paying a higher price) and counting on them as referral sources (they can provide an on-going source of people who can afford the higher price), this would be a time where you could price your massage higher than your competitors.

Putting it in numbers, it might looks like this: at the spa, Nefri pays $100 for a 60 minute massage and gives you a $20 tip. Her out-the-door cost is $120.

The top end of your comparables price range is $80. If you charge Nefri $85 and she still gives you a $20 tip, her out-the-door cost will be $105.

You would be making $5 more per massage than your highest priced competitor and Nefri would be paying $15 less than if she went to the spa, which makes up for the fact that you can’t provide the total spa atmosphere.

In-The-Range Strategy

Personally, I prefer to stay within the comparables price range. Here’s why: Let’s say I work at chiropractor’s office. She charges $75 for an hour massage and my comparables price range if I were to go out on my own is $70 – $80.

I have a few clients on the side, but I’m nervous that I’m not going to have enough clients when I start to rent space. I know that if undercut and charge $55, I’m in a position of never getting paid enough going forward.

Solution: I price my massage at $75, right in the middle of the price range, and offer an intro massage price at $45.

This strategy has worked well in our most recent massage business for 3 reasons:

  1. The intro pricing is a nice way to say thank you to the people who are going to follow you.
  2. The intro pricing is hard to resist for people who are on the bubble about following you.
  3. It’s a great way to get your hands on (literally) future clients and sell your massage through your hands.

Cheat Sheet

Here are the Cliff’s Notes for pricing your massage.

  1. Only price your massage under the low end of the comparable range for a short time (e.g., until you have a base that pays for your massage expenses) and only with clients who are going to follow you.
  2. Only price your massage above the high end of the comparable range when you have access to clients who will pay that rate.
  3. You probably can’t go wrong with pricing your massage within the comparable price range and offering a one-time, intro discount price.

Choose a Price Point

Don’t let pricing get in the way of seeing clients on your own. It’s hard to go wrong if you stay within the price range of your 2 to 3 true competitors (apples to apples). Throw in the intro massage at a discounted price and you’re basically getting paid to advertise. It’s a formula that continues to serve me well.

Let me know how it goes!

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