I know everyone reading this has had someone oh so graciously volunteer for you to practice on them. “If you ever need someone to practice on, let me know.” Its common place to have friends and family try to get a little free massage from you at family get-togethers or parties. Suddenly, when someone learns that you are a professional massage therapist, they are willing to let you practice your craft on them; like you are just desperately looking for anyone who will allow you to do some much-needed practice of your lacking skills. We have all heard these remarks, and probably laughed them off while inside screaming “I don’t need the practice you jerk!!! What I need is for you to come to my office and pay me!”
Volunteering your time and services is a tricky subject. There will never be a lack of opportunities to give away your talents, especially as a massage therapist. No matter what your massage style, everyone will gladly accept something that is free. This is especially true if you can make them feel better.
There are two sides to this argument and both have legitimate reasoning behind them. First, we have the “No Way Jose’s” who state that their time is valuable and that anyone who gives away services is devaluing themselves. I can certainly see this side of the argument. One of the biggest shortfalls of the massage therapy industry has been the undervaluing of massage therapy as a whole. Many people do not see the value of massage therapy as a legitimate therapy and are unwilling to pay out of their own pocket for quality care. It is seen by many as a luxury and perhaps a special occasion type of treat done a couple times per year.
I partially think that this view is, in part. massage therapists’ fault. Now before you stop reading this article because this makes you angry, let me divulge. I feel too many massage therapist, do not honestly and truthfully see themselves as healthcare practitioners. There is an entire spa industry to prove this. It may be spun as wellness, but really it is an industry built on the idea of treating one’s self to a taste of luxury, and not something which is something beneficial to your healthcare. Now, understand I have nothing against spas and the many great things they have to offer. However, if we are trying to compare healthcare, in its various forms, to a spa, it’s like comparing apples and oranges.
This said the picture which the general public has of massage therapy is the one painted in marketing photos of spas and luxury hotels. This is nothing close to someone like me, and many other practitioners, who have built our practices around a clinical/ healthcare version. For this reason, there is a general misunderstanding of the true power of massage therapy and, thus, the undervaluing of the industry as it is not seen as healthcare, but a luxury.
All of this to say, giving away services is just a continuation of the already occurring devaluing of our trade. If we give away our services, we are confirming that our time and talent is not worth payment or set price.
The other side of this argument is that we should be willing to volunteer our services for those in need. I can also see this side of the coin. Many people cannot legitimately afford massage therapy. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and adding the extra expense of massage is not easy. It’s not about not wanting to pay the cost of a session, it’s about not being able to afford it, even though it would be beneficial, and many times necessary for them. This is a tough place to be in. As massage therapists, we want to help everyone; even those who cannot afford us.
Many times, as massage therapists, we are asked to volunteer our services for not for profit benefits or maybe donate gift certificates to auctions for good causes. This is a great opportunity which allows us to not only market our name but also potentially gain clients by getting them on our table to experience our skill. It may be a minor sacrifice but may have lasting benefits long term. I have always felt that if I can just get my hands on someone (whether free or not) to allow them to experience my therapy, they will come back for the high-quality work which I offer. I believe this is a common thought among many massage therapists and one that has merit.
Many times, we are also asked by family and friends for a free massage which can be a little tricky and maybe even a little annoying. However, this can also be a good way to demonstrate our skills to gain potential clients. It may not even be the family member or friend that becomes your client, but someone who they told about how great you were. Once again, it is a minor sacrifice for potential long-term benefits.
Both sides of this argument have logic and good thought behind them. There is not a perfect answer to this ongoing question. However, over the years I have practiced I have come across a few things that are true which are applicable and may help you determine the right path for you and your practice.
- Clients who truly value you will pay you what you are worth. Something I did not mention is the possibility that some people will just flat out ask you for a discount without having any other good reason that not wanting to pay full price. This is a red flag. If this is the only way for you to bring them on as a client, you are instantly establishing a poor boundary and setting yourself up for that client to not fully respect you. It may seem like a simple thing, but once they know they can ask you for favors and to make exceptions, they will not stop and your professional relationship will not be a fun one. Establishing up front that you will not reduce your price simply by request sets a standard for future sessions and potentially for future clients. If that client is not happy with your response, they did not value you and your skills. If you are properly priced for your skill set and market, do not hesitate to charge what you are worth.
- Volunteering your time is okay…to a certain point. I would certainly say that volunteering your time is a good way to spread your name around the community and build your practice. In fact, this is maybe one of the best ways. However, if you continually do this and do not receive any sort of long-term benefit from this, you should probably look elsewhere for marketing ideas. Look at it as an investment in your practice. If that investment is not generating any return, then we should not keep investing in it. Now if you are doing this simply to help your community and to be generous, by all means, continue on! Not all volunteering should be done for a return on our investment. It should be done because we want to help and to be a generous giving individual. Fortunately for us as massage therapists, we have an awesome gift to give away which can help many people.
- Working on your friends and family for free is not bad. I know many of you will disagree with this, but I feel like it is a way that we as therapists can care for people that are close to us. Now, sometimes this good hardheartedness can be abused by our family and friends, which can lead to bad feelings, and maybe even feelings of guilt felt when you as a massage therapist refuse work on someone close to you. However, personally, I do not want to have an absolute rule where I refuse to work on someone close to me just because they will not pay me. This is cold and truly goes against the inner value that most of us have which wants to see everyone out of pain. Generally speaking, I will work on anyone who asks, whether it be at a party or Christmas get together. I want to help those that are important to me and I can do this through massage. I will say, though, that I will turn people down if I am not up to it. They understand this and respect when it is needed.
- It is okay to charge family and friends. This may seem like it contradicts the last point but it does not. Many times, family and friends will want to pay you for your services, and it will feel awkward for you as a therapist. However, I view this as the ultimate compliment. They respect you and your time so much that they would not even think of asking for a free session, even though you may be happy to oblige. When the topic of cost comes up, it is up to you to determine whether you want to charge them full amount or, perhaps, adopt a family and friend professional discount. Either is fine and you should not feel guilty charging that price because they are happy to compensate you.
- We are in a trade where having a genuine heart for your clients is absolutely necessary. If we do not have proper motivation to care for those in need of massage therapy, we will not make it very far. Therapists who are only motivated by money will be filtered out quickly, and will not last long. People can tell if you are not genuine and this will reflect in your success. Inversely, those who have an amazing caring attitude and simply want to help others will thrive as long as they manage their business practices properly and take care of themselves. Of course, this includes determining when to give away your time, and when not to.
Volunteering your time and giving away services is a tough decision because, as we know, we are only able to work so many hours in a week (physically and literally) Donating to a good cause lessens this limited resource and affects our amount of income directly. However, we also want to be caring and give generously to good causes. The answer that we can all use for this is twofold. First, we must value ourselves and truly see ourselves as healthcare practitioners who have true talent which can affect many people in positive ways. When we do this, we create a value in ourselves and in our industry which promotes good income for all of us.
Second, we also need to realize that we work in one of the most unique fields around. We have the ability to affect people in such a way that they can have less pain, less stress, and maybe live a fuller life. Most people do not have the privilege to do that. This said, we should be willing to share this ability, even when it costs us a little income or time. Obviously, discretion should be used, but we shouldn’t only see this career as one to get rich. We all know that won’t happen anyway.
If you like what you read and would like more, please subscribe via email to receive articles directly to your inbox. Thanks for reading!