While many massage therapists assume they will work as self-employed contractors, the marketplace is presenting new challenges. With more competition, higher costs to entry-level practice and the demand for sophisticated business skills, massage therapists (RMTs) are increasingly forging a career in corporations brokering massage therapy services. RMTs require training to ensure they are work-ready, and strong candidates will need to display a number of qualities to be considered highly employable.
How employable are you? Do have excellent qualifications? You have your RMT registration…what other transferable skills or value do you bring to the table? How about actual business experience in customer service and sales? Large businesses that broker RMT services have multiple locations and considerable resources, and are looking for skilled practitioners with a team spirit, passion for service and strong customer service skills.
Many companies employ RMTs – LifeMark (CentricHealth), Massage Addict, GoodLife Fitness, Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, and large spas like Elmwood Spa. These corporations invest capital, provide strong branding in highly-visible commercial real estate, strong marketing campaigns and operating systems, support staff and business expertise, and a long-term commitment to see the business grow and evolve. These corporations have multiple locations and considerable resources, and are looking for skilled practitioners with a team spirit, passion for service and strong customer service skills.
The marketplace has changed! Previously conducive to sole practitioners, the marketplace increasingly asks for convenience, lower cost or better value. Many people feel safer with the recognition of a national brand and commercial site. Just like 3-D printing is disrupting manufacturing, the internet has disrupted media / publishing and the smart phone disrupted just about everything, the way people access RMT services is being disrupted, competition has become fiercer and we are challenged to adapt to these new circumstances. Consider that these large companies actually provide a solution to a chronic problem in the RMT profession, that of providing a well-managed, viable business to work in.
You might say, “I’d rather be self-employed!” Wonderful! Do you have the capital to finance a business start-up, and the money to keep it going until profitable? Do you have a network of contacts that will show up at your door to purchase services from you? Do you have real business experience and competence in accounting, marketing, customer service and operations? Do you possess the commitment necessary to work long hours and foster growth in your enterprise? If not, you may not have the resources to work for yourself. Four out of five businesses fail within 5 years of start-up, the main reasons being negative cash flow and lack of owner business experience/competence.
I’m not saying there is no place for private practice. We will always need entrepreneurial types with specialized skill sets to serve niche markets. I’m saying that it’s harder now for an RMT to accumulate the resources needed to maintain a sole practice. Our profession can learn something from these businesses that broker opportunities for RMTs.
Benefits of employment
Why would an RMT consider these employment opportunities? Many of these corporations offer:
- Incentives and bonuses
- Comprehensive employee health and dental benefits package
- Appointments booked and confirmed by support staff
- All supplies provided
- Extensive marketing campaigns to build your client/patient base
- Paid training and professional development opportunities
- Income tax/payroll deductions at source
- Flexible schedules – work full or part-time
- Electric tables / ergonomic aids
- Team environment and collegiality
- Computerized appointment and record-keeping system
- other positions (non-physical) within the company.
What’s more, these businesses are already capitalized – no financial output required by the RMT!
These businesses are highly sophisticated. They have researched their target market, have catered service to be truly client/patient-centric, launch frequent and targeted marketing campaigns, they know how to expand and to mitigate risk, and have established branding and reputation.
Complaints from RMT Employers
In my discussions with owners/managers from several of these companies, I have listened to criticism and concern about workplace-readiness of massage practitioners. Concerns include:
- Practitioners see themselves as individuals and have trouble integrating into a team practice
- Practitioners demonstrate care for the client/patient, but are inattentive to the larger client/patient experience re: workplace cleanliness, freedom from clutter, first impressions
- Although well prepared in the academics of health sciences, regulatory requirements and basic massage techniques, practitioners are frequently untrained in critical skills of customer service, sales and promotion, and business operations.
- Practitioners fail to invest in their practices, running between several locations, being unavailable for more work at the primary location. One business owner iterated, “RMTs need to temper their expectations of growth, and learn to cultivate their practice in a primary location.”
- Practitioners solicit clients/patients from the business and steer them to the practitioner’s home practice or other location, extorting the established relationship and acquisition costs paid to acquire that client/patient by the primary business.
- Practitioners often don’t understand the principles of cash flow and profit/loss or the costs of running a sustainable business. They frequently demand financial terms that are not in line with the assets they bring (or fail to bring) to the business.
Sure-Fire Ways to Get Fired:
- Complain to clients/patients about dissatisfaction with pay or workload, or press religious or political beliefs or personal issues while providing service
- Leave the therapy/spa room in a mess, and damage the quality and image of the business
- Discuss client / patient personal information in public spaces
- Steal, lie, cheat, harass fellow workers or patrons
- Show up late, miss shifts, be unkempt in appearance and otherwise be unaccountable
Complaints in any relationship should be taken to the source…not vetted through the client/patient who has paid to receive professional services. Workplace hygiene and safety is the responsibility of all employees, and client/patient information should only be discussed in the confines of a private space. The offensiveness of the final two points is obvious.
RMTs may be cautious to seek employment. They fear giving up autonomy or control over business variables, or they may be suspicious of the intentions of business owners, particularly if non-RMTs. Let’s address some of the common misconceptions:
Inferior pay – Practitioners are convinced they’ll earn less income if employed. Consider the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of Ontario (RMTAO) income surveys of 2009 and 2013, reporting average gross income of $39,100 direct hands-on care ($38,500 in 2009). These stats are largely reflective of RMTs who designate themselves “self-employed”. If you compare the take-home pay (after business expenses taken off, remaining money to live from), to an RMT employed in one of the corporations mentioned, in an apples-to-apples comparison you may be surprised who comes out on top. What matters is not what service fee is charged, but what you take home at days-end to live off.
Further, many employed RMTs have access to equipment that lessens strain/increases work capacity, incentives and bonuses and higher traffic potential. While it’s true you can earn more working for yourself (because you’re not paying someone to broker capital, contacts, competence and commitment for you), will you? You must have sufficient amounts of the 4 C’s to launch and sustain a business.
Inferior skill – Another argument I’ve read on social media is the belief that RMTs who seek employment over self-employment are somehow defective. “They must be inferior if they’re working at someone else’s business.” I’ve met RMTs with 8, 15 and even 24 years registered that happily work as employees. They recognize the advantages to employment in these larger enterprises and prefer the resources and business savvy these large companies offer. I’ve personally received excellent care at several of these businesses.
Exploitation – Whenever you have to work with other people, in any type of business sector or workplace, exploitation is possible…even in small private practice settings. RMTs used to complain (and still do) about chiropractors and physiotherapists before other these large corporations were on the scene. Let’s be clear – you are responsible for advocating for your interests and to understand the full scope of your rights. Study labor laws, seek counsel from lawyer on contract negotiations, press the RMTAO and RMT schools to form functional relationships with major employers, utilize the experiences of others on social media.
If you sign a bad contract or fail to assert yourself when there’s an attempt to take advantage of you, that’s all on you. Educate yourself and assert your professionalism. You can take steps to dramatically reduce the chance of exploitation.
Become highly employable:
If a practitioner can bring value to the business in the form of high retention, drawing business in, supporting other team members and contributing in positive ways to the workplace, they will ultimately be rewarded with bonuses, premium shifts, employee benefits and opportunities for advancement. Unlike private practice, working for a corporation provides alternatives for generating income not directly related to hands-on care.
The best employees demonstrate friendliness but are not over-bearing, enthusiastic while being empathetic, show initiative and competence but are not arrogant, and are authentic and gracious in service. They recognize they are a part of a larger integrated team and strive to accomplish goals common to the mission of the business while supporting and encouraging fellow workers.
Here are some tangible ways of increasing your employability and value in a company:
- Be well-dressed, engaging and researched for your interview
- Be prepared with questions to ask about the business
- RMT designation is not a guarantee of quality – employers will often ask for a short demonstration of your skills and client/patient engagement. Be willing
- Be prepared to commit to a trial and see how the relationship will work out
- Ensure clients/patients feel safe, warm and comfortable in your presence…always
- Empower patients/clients by letting them dictate comfortable and tolerable pressure, temperature and other experience variables
- Look for ways to add value to the patient/client experience. As Disney said, “Do your job so well they’ll want to come back to see you do it again.”
- Be gracious – lower table for an easy transition to standing post-session, provide water/recovery aid at the end of session.
- Focus on the primary issue and get results in that session.
- Design and present a plan to help patients/clients accomplish their long-term goals.
- Get massage yourself, learn from others while investing in your own health and wellness
- Share remedial exercises and helpful information…be a resource
- Be a team player, show initiative in creating a better workspace for all
Our professional culture does a dis-service in encouraging RMTs only to be self-employed. Without the 4 C’s many are doomed to poor outcomes. I encourage you to go and sit interviews with as many of these corporations as you can, learn about what they have to offer. You might be surprised how attractive being an employee can be. And should you accept a position, prepare to work hard to be as employable and retainable as you can be.