ADVOCATE FOR MASSAGE THERAPY AS A RECOGNIZED & RESPECTED HEALTHCARE PROFESSION
By Dagmar Growe, LMT
In our quest to determine the rate we need to charge for our services versus simply charging what everyone else does, we have looked at the actual cost per massage, and our needed and desired income. The method we used to determine cost per massage can of course be applied to all other services we offer.
In this last segment we will put the numbers together and see how close we are to having a financially stable and successful business. We will also look at some additional considerations.
Your real hourly income:
Maybe you work in a setting where a 1 hour massage consists of 50 minutes, and you walk out of the office after your last massage with no further worry. Otherwise, it’s important to look at how much extra time you put in. Client calls, insurance billing, promotion, bookkeeping, business management all need to be compensated by your massage income. If you make house calls, this includes your driving time. If you have employees there is all the time you spend managing them. Keep track for a week or two of how much time you spend outside of actual massage time. Maybe you find that for every massage you provide you spend 1 ½ hours work-time, meaning you have to divide the net income per 1 hour massage by 1 ½ to determine your hourly income.
Self-employed vs. Employed:
Generally, employed therapists have less extra duties than self-employed therapists. However, requirements can vary greatly from one place of employment to the next. If you interview for a job be sure to ask about all the additional work you are expected to perform. Will you be paid per hour of shift time? Per massage? What happens when a client does not show up, or an appointment does not get filled? What benefits are offered? What are the rules when you decide to leave - will you be allowed to take your clients with you? What restrictions are placed on you by your employer?
Self-employed therapists generally have more freedom to set their own schedule. With that comes the extra work of managing one's own business. Think about which jobs are worth the expense of hiring out. Bookkeeping? Laundry? Insurance billing? This is not just a money question, but also one of skill, time constraints, and personal preference. If you really hate bookkeeping it might be worth the cost of a bookkeeping service - I prefer to do my own so I can stay on top of my business finances month-to-month. Also keep in mind that you will owe quarterly self-employment taxes, which are double the social security tax that an employee pays - the employer is responsible for the other ½. On the up side, for most self-employed therapists the biggest expense is office rent. As this is often a fixed cost, the cost per massage will decrease with more massages given. This makes it easier to increase one’s income if needed.
Insurance or Not:
Insurances claim that their lower reimbursement rates are made up for by the larger number of clients they provide to your business. This makes sense only if you cannot generate enough business without those referrals. You may be willing to fit insurance clients into your busy schedule to make massage therapy available to patients who could otherwise not afford it. But you also will need to look at your cost per massage, and in fact your hourly income per insurance massage as insurance work often requires significant extra time. You may find that the reimbursement rate does not cover your cost or leaves you with a ridiculously low hourly income.
All of these considerations play out differently in different phases of our lives. I started massage therapy when employment was rare. Initially I tried to build my own business, but found it difficult to generate enough clients. I switched as an independent contractor to a local massage business which provided me with lots of clients - great for a new LMT to “practice”. I then found a place of employment which provided me with health insurance for my growing family, and allowed me to take extended maternity leave without having to worry about my practice. Eventually, my relatively low hourly pay created financial hardship for my family, and when my employer discontinued offering massage I jumped at the opportunity to be self-employed. My income immediately increased significantly. I worked from home, which meant very low cost per massage (and allowed my kids to appreciate how hard their mom was working - not a bad lesson for children). After a few years of working on my own, I joined a local clinic part-time. I had not even realized how isolated I had become in my home office. Now that my children are on their own, I appreciate the opportunity to take off as much time as I want. I still work part-time at home because of the low cost, and part-time at a clinic because the interaction with peers is important for my quality of life. I am constantly decreasing my insurance availability because the reimbursement rates do not afford me the life choices I am making.
I hope these articles have been of help in looking at the facts of your business and considering the options you have. Like with my story, different options may be better than others at different times of your life. With the current shortage of LMTs this is an excellent time to carefully consider all the facts, and make continuous choices in the direction of your dreams.
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Advocate for Massage Therapy as a Recognized & Respected Healthcare Profession