More and more people are beginning to understand the benefits of massage therapy. As this understanding grows, too, consumers are also expanding where they are receiving massage therapy. One service that is seeing growth is mobile massage, where massage therapists travel to the client.
Whether you’re just starting out, or looking to expand your current operation, having as much information as possible about the options available in mobile massage can help you decide if this environment works for both you and your professional goals. Here, you’ll find information ranging from what you can expect working in mobile massage, the personal and physical demands of being a traveling massage therapist, and how you can market your practice.
Defining Mobile Massage
“While a majority of people are concerned about their health and well-being, many find it difficult to fit ‘me time’ into their hectic schedules,” says Tom Pote, owner of Mobile Massage LLC in New Jersey. “Mobile massage takes the traditional massage to the next level by utilizing portable equipment that brings the luxury of a massage directly to them.”
The numbers seem to support this trend. According to AMTA’s 2012 Massage Profession Research Report, therapists are traveling to their clients to provide massage more than in previous years. Last year, the number of massages given in the clients’ home, office or in a corporate setting jumped from 39 percent in 2010 to 50 percent.
Mobile massage, also referred to as outcall or traveling massage therapy, can be separated into two different categories: corporate or residential. Some therapists pick and choose, while others, like Lynn Marie Kutz, owner of Medically Sound Mobile Massage in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, practice both.
Getting Started (What You Need)
One of the biggest challenges of any new venture is knowing how and where to start. Here are some of the basics:
Proper licensure. First, you need to check with your state’s regulatory board concerning licensure requirements, as well as your local government. In many cases, you may only need to be properly licensed to practice mobile massage. You may be required to have special permits in some areas, however, so be sure you fully understand your state’s requirements before beginning this work.
Goals and plans. Spend some time thinking about what you want from either starting a mobile massage practice or adding this service to your current practice. For some, like Kutz, the opportunity to better balance personal and professional responsibilities is a key measure of success. For others, like Rachel Scheutz of Traveling Therapeutic Massage in Phoenix Valley, Arizona, the number of returning clients and referrals is a good measurement of success. Whatever the goal, clearly define for yourself what being successful in mobile massage looks like to you.
Once you define your own goals, get more specific about what you need to do. From the services you’re going to offer to the local area you plan to cover to what you’ll charge, you have some decisions to make. When estimating costs and fees, Kutz suggests thinking about how much you’ll need to make in order to support yourself. “Do not be afraid of charging a premium price for a quality premium service,” she advises. “Do not feel guilty when it is time to raise your rates.”
Be realistic about your own costs, too. “Don’t forget about the cost of expenses,” Scheutz adds. “The rate you charge is not what you make an hour. You have taxes you have to pay, supplies to buy, sheets to wash, car care and repair, for example.”
Transportation and equipment. You need to make sure you have reliable transportation, as well. Many mobile therapists use a truck, van or car with plenty of trunk space to transport all of their equipment from one house to the next. Remember, too, that you’ll want equipment that is relatively easy for you to travel with.
Deciding on what type of equipment is most appropriate for your practice will depend greatly on your clients’ needs and on the types of massages you offer. Some examples of materials Kutz and Scheutz bring to their sessions include lotions or oils, fresh linens, pillows, body cushions, a table topper, towels and a portable music player to create a soothing atmosphere. Kutz also brings blank copies of health forms and disclaimers, extra pens, brochures and business cards, a planner, laptop or tablet for making appointments, change, a cell phone, copy of her license and a credit card reader (if you don’t have one, you may consider getting one for payment convenience).
Scheutz uses a cart to help make transporting her equipment less difficult. Using either a cart made specifically for massage tables or a luggage cart can make moving your supplies from the car to the client easier and save your body from injury. “I don’t think I would still be doing mobile massage if I didn’t have one,” says Scheutz. “To me, it is well worth the cost.”
You may also decide to leave spare equipment at home (or in the truck, if it stores easily). For example, Kutz usually brings an extra table, linens and a CD player to ensure all appointments run smoothly. If your mobile massage business caters to corporate clients that set regular visits, you may also be able to keep a full set of equipment on-site in a locked closet, for example.
What to Expect
Many massage therapists who practice mobile massage don’t have regular 9 to 5 hours, so that’s something to consider when thinking of adding this service to your current practice. Many mobile practices, including Kutz’s, offer services seven days a week, including evenings. Kutz, for example, keeps hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.—though caps her workload to six hands-on hours per day. On average, Kutz serves five to 10 residential clients a week for anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes each. In addition, she performs about 15 hours of corporate on-site services per week.
Scheutz works on a slightly different schedule. Her regular operating hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Still, she says she is willing to work after hours for an additional fee. Remember, too, that Scheutz, and other therapists like her, don’t end up working seven days a week, even though they may be available every day.
Pros and Cons
Increased comfort. A mobile service offers clients the convenience of having the massage session brought to them, which means you may find yourself working in a client’s home, or in a hotel or office, to name a few. Having a client in an environment where they clearly feel comfortable can promote relaxation, and may help prolong the beneficial effects of the massage therapy session. “To me, it is more relaxing and more laid back, for me and the client,” says Scheutz. “I think you get to build a different relationship with the clients because you are in their environment and they are a bit more themselves and more at ease.”
This comfort can be a double-edged sword, though, as you may fi nd you’re more distracted in an environment where you can’t be completely in control. House phones, noisy pets and doorbells are just a few of the minor distractions you might encounter that can make relaxation challenging. In addition, some clients, whether intentionally or not, will eat up your time by making you wait longer or asking you to pause the massage for some reason.
Here, it’s important to stress the importance of your own time by creating and enforcing boundaries and policies early. Scheutz, for example, experienced some of these issues with clients early on. Now, her policies are clearly posted on her website, letting clients know that if she has to wait longer than 15 minutes for a client or there is a delay at any time during the massage, there will be an additional fee or time taken from the massage.
Travel costs. You also need to be aware of the amount of time you’ll spend traveling, and the cost and energy associated with this constant travel. In addition to what you’ll pay in fuel, you’ll also need to consider the cost of upkeep for your car—including car insurance—and all the supplies that you need.
Organization. Because you’ll be packing all of your supplies and taking them from appointment to appointment, being well organized is imperative. Not being well organized leaves you open for potentially leaving supplies or equipment behind, or not arriving at appointments on time.
Self-care. You’ll be spending a great deal of time lifting and lugging around some big pieces of equipment, so self-care is vital. During a session—as well as when you’re packing and lifting your equipment—pay close attention to your body mechanics. Additionally, take time to stretch, and use a luggage carrier or cart to move equipment from your car to your client’s space whenever possible.
Scheduling. Beginning or maintaining your own practice can be very demanding. You may feel the need to work more hours or take on every client who requests your services, but when you think of scheduling, remember that your own health and well-being is as important as your clients.
Always be sure to set boundaries on hours, price, distance and requests. You never need to offer an excuse for not having an opening in your schedule, say Kutz. “It does not matter if you are taking a day off, booked solid or reached your max hands-on hours limit ,” she adds.
How to Market Your Services
Online efforts. You can be the best massage therapist in the business, but if clients can’t fi nd you, you will never be able to build a successful practice. In today’s connected marketplace, Scheutz fi nds that having an effective website has been a tremendous boost for her business. “I did not have a website until late in 2010 because I thought it was too expensive and too hard to do myself,” she says. “So, in the beginning my business was very slow and was pretty much from word-of-mouth and handing out my business cards.”
After putting together a website through a free website provider, however, Scheutz saw her business begin to grow. “From 2010 to 2011, my revenue increased five times, and looks like it will be double this year,” she explains. “The only thing that I had to pay for was my own domain name, which is necessary if you want to get found by search engines. And it looks much more professional.”
Kutz started with a website and email, too, and now has a large internet presence, including a Facebook page, LinkedIn account and an email newsletter. She also uses more traditional forms of marketing, including phonebook listings, door hangers, business cards and brochures, as well as referrals from existing clients, which she admits to relying on heavily. Taking part in local business organizations and having booths at local events gets her name out and is another aspect of her marketing efforts.
Local relationships. Both women say it’s important to strike up conversations when out in your community. Let people know about the services you offer, and don’t be afraid to approach various area-based companies to offer your services. Or, ask local therapists to keep you in mind if they receive requests for outcalls or if one of their regulars becomes temporarily housebound. Just remember, referrals need to work both ways. So, if you have a local business that refers business to you, make sure you’re returning the favor.
Networking. Working as a massage therapist can sometimes feel isolating, but working as a mobile massage therapist, constantly making outcalls, you spend much of your time alone or with clients, having little or no contact with other therapists. There are a variety of ways, however, for you to stay connected. You can attend events at your local AMTA Chapter, for example, or build relationships with other companies in your area. Kutz has found having professional relationships with other local businesses to be mutually beneficial, providing for cross-promotional and referral opportunities.