Massage Therapist: Self Employment vs. Employment

People are attracted to the massage therapy profession because they love massage, but also because they love the lifestyle: a lifestyle that can include self-employment. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 46% of massage therapists are self-employed (

Self-employment can mean a lot of things from “I share a small office space with several other therapists” or “I contract my services” to “I own a spa.” Potentially, self-employment is the most lucrative route. Sole practitioners make the highest per-hour rates, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). However, it takes a long time to build a clientele.

Self-employment is a viable career pathway if you start out with realistic expectations and start out well equipped… with information, not just supplies. That 46% refers to people who are working in the industry – not everyone who completed a massage program.

Considering Employment Options

Self-employment isn’t everyone’s ideal pathway. Ann Brown, writing for Massage Today, tells of her own pathway into the spa industry, and why others might want to consider spa employment over going it on their own ( There are some practical reasons: The employee shoulders less risk during economic downturns. But seeking out a good position is not just about lowering expectations. The right position can bring ample rewards. There are seasoned professionals willing to share their experience – and sometimes even trade services. Massage therapists can be a very social crew. The right setting can mean a well-supplied massage room. Some settings are downright breathtaking.

Former Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards President Kevin Snedden has shared some other perks – like no laundry to do (

Considering the Timeline

It’s not necessarily a question of which path to take, but of when to take particular paths. Even if going into business is the ultimate goal, it may not be the first step for a young adult fresh out of school. For many, massage therapy is a second career. Some, Brown notes, enter with business backgrounds. Business is its own discipline. There can be a limit to the number of disciplines one masters at the same time.

Massage therapists often work part-time. This can be a choice – and a way of safeguarding your own health. But a person who wants the hours may consider other options like franchise work.

Business Success

If self-employment is your dream, there are resources to get you started. A tip from the BLS: Consider joining a professional association. There are opportunities to network and connect. The American Massage Therapy Association also offers lots of print resources such as a PDF guide to starting your own business and articles on everything from marketing your services to billing insurance companies ( You can also read profiles of entrepreneurs and how they got their start. For additional support, you can take continuing education courses. You can even seek a real-life mentor.

You may want to develop a niche, whether it’s a technique or a particular population. You will want to stay on top of trends. One new trend is mobile massage. You can show up at people’s houses… or be a corporate benefit. Sharon Puszko, writing for Massage Magazine, stresses the growing need for senior massage and offers some tips for breaking into that field (

Being a sole practitioner doesn’t mean that you’re isolated or that you have no one looking out for you but yourself. Some suggest a cooperative path. Phyllis Hanlon, writing for Massage Today, suggests joining forces with professionals who offer complementary services (; a massage therapist specializing in pregnancy massage could share quarters with a midwife and other alternative practitioners.