Read as Allissa Haines talks about her career as a Massage Therapist.  Find her at www.writingabluestreak.com and on the Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a massage therapist. My clients are a combination of desk jockeys, weekend warriors and pregnant women.

How would you describe what you do?

I run a small service business providing massage. I see clients in my office for 30, 60 or 90 minute sessions. I provide mostly relaxation massage and also employ some pain-relieving techniques for people dealing with various health issues.

What does your work entail?

I’ve got all the responsibilities of running an office, like keeping the office clean and organized and stocked up on basic supplies.  Massage businesses involve record keeping and filing. I create intake forms and a chart for each new client and then update and write treatment notes with each visit. Most states have security and storage requirements, for example I’m required to keep all client records in a locked cabinet and keep for a minimum of seven years from the clients last visit. I’m responsible for making sure those regulations are followed.

I answer my own phone and emails from clients and handle all scheduling myself. (I use an online booking system that automatically sends email reminders to clients the day before their appointment. That’s pretty awesome.)

I handle all my own marketing. I hired a designer to create my website, but I update my site and blog regularly on my own. I create email newsletters monthly and send to clients. I also use email to tell clients about last minute open appointments when they occur.

Then there’s the actual massage! I speak with each client before their appointment and determine their needs and goals for the session. Is it total relaxation? Relieving that nagging sciatic pain or tight hamstrings? I integrate a variety of techniques, including relaxation massage, deep tissue manipulation and stretching  to create a treatment specifically for that client’s needs for that day.

I perform the massage then the client pays me, usually schedules another appointment and leaves much more relaxed and happy than when they came in!

What’s a typical work week like?

It varies greatly. I see clients five to six days a week (because I prefer to have a flexible schedule). I take most Sundays off and alternate Mondays and Wednesdays off, too. I typically see four to five clients each on the days I work, and average of 18-22 clients a week. I plan 30 minutes between clients to allow time to chat after appointments and get the massage room ready for the next client. I spend about 4 to 5 hours a week doing non-massage work like the record keeping, marketing, bringing laundry back and forth to the laundromat (I have it done by the staff there), making bank deposits and running other errands.

How did you get started?

I worked in retail pharmacy for 7 years and I was burnt out. I knew I wanted to work with people in a health and wellness setting, but without the confines of insurance billing. I got a few massages, took a liking to it and spoke with several massage therapists. I researched a few massage schools in my area and spoke to graduates of each. I visited a local school and applied the next day. I interned at a chiropractic office and when I graduated, immediately started renting a room there to see massage clients.

What do you like about what you do?

The clients. I love that clients come into my office happy to see me and get a massage. I love that my clients like paying for massage, and truly value the service I provide, because it helps them feel great.

What do you dislike?

Sometimes running a one-person business is exhausting, and a little lonely.  I’ve created a great local network of massage therapists and we meet often to help each other through the tougher business tasks and just serve as sounding boards for each other.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

My clients pay me directly at the time they receive a massage.

How much do people in your career/field make?

Massage therapists can make as little as nothing and as much as $200K a year (or more). The average full-time therapist will take home $35-$55K a year. Those who work part time will make much less, and many will expand their businesses to include other therapists and services and earn much more.  According to a recent industry report (http://www.amtamassage.org/articles/2/PressRelease/detail/2545)  “In 2011, the average annual income for a massage therapist (including tips) was estimated to be $21,028.” Considering that 53% of the respondents also hold jobs in other industries, I feel this is an accurate estimate.

How much money did/do you make starting out?

In the first calendar year, I netted about $12,000. Nowadays, after 7 years in business, I net about $45,000 from my massage business, seeing about 18 clients a week.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

Education requirements vary from state to state. Most states require completion of a program from an accredited school. Programs can vary from 250 hours to 1500 hours of schooling, or more. Many (but not all) states require that a massage therapists pass a standardized exam before a license is granted. There’s a great resource on state requirements here http://www.massagemag.com/Resources/massage-laws-legislation.php

My training was 822 hours at a massage-specific school. The curriculum included Anatomy and Physiology as well as hands-on massage classes teaching a variety of techniques. There was also a public clinic, which was the best way to truly get ready for  a career in massage.

What is most challenging about what you do?

It seemed like when I started up, everything had a steep learning curve. From creating a filing system to deciding which oil washed out of sheets easier to getting over being shy so I could promote my business more effectively, it was all scary.  It seemed overwhelming at first, and having a solo business can be very lonely. Feeling alone and overwhelmed was not fun. After I created a network of massage therapists and business owners, that changed. Having friends to collaborate and plan with makes every part of business ownership and the actual massage practice much better.

What is most rewarding?

Massage can change a person’s life. The change can be as profound as a decrease in pain that has been debilitating, so the client can return to normal activities. Or the change can be as slight as relieving someone’s stress so they have a better day and a good night’s sleep. I have a client I’ve been working with since he was nine. He’s got some sensory integration issues related to Aspergers Syndrome and really struggled with touch and anxiety. After several months of regular massage and practicing relaxation techniques, he began to hug his mom.  He wrestles with his little brother. That’s huge, and it is extremely rewarding.

I also love the autonomy of running my own business. I get to choose my schedule and keep it flexible. I am accountable to my clients and myself, I like not having to report to a supervisor.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Be very cautious about the massage program you attend. Visit all the schools you are considering. Ask questions like, “What percentage of your graduates are practicing massage 3 to 5 years after graduation,” and, “how do you help recent graduates find job placements.” Look for a school that devotes part of the curriculum to business classes and has a strong alumni support structure.

Seek out a graduate of the school, someone who’s been out for at least a few years, to interview before you make any decisions. Be sure to ask them what they felt was  good and bad about the program, and if they feel there were any gaps in their education.

How much time off do you get/take?

I spend about 36-42 hours at my office on any given week, but I can break that up however I choose. In the summer I make every other weekend a 3 day weekend, and I’ll take a full 5 to 7 days off as well. I also take a week away from the office every fall to attend a massage convention, and 3 to 4 days off every March for the same reason. In theory, I can take as much vacation time as I want, whenever I want. Of course, I don’t make any money when I’m not working.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

People think that the $80/hour I charge for massage goes directly into my pocket. In reality, after taxes, rent, supplies and other expenses, my net income on a massage is about $40.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I started out renting a tiny room in a chiropractor’s office, and 3 years ago moved to my own office with a second room that I rent out to another therapist. I have a full schedule and only accept new clients on a limited basis. I feel like I’ve achieved my goals, business-wise. I would like to begin working more with community service projects to bring massage to more people, specifically to children with special needs.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

Massage can take you anywhere. This field is incredibly diverse and exciting. There are massage therapists in physical therapy clinics, oncology wards and neonatal intensive care units. Massage therapists are working in schools, spas, and out of RV’s renovated to provide onsite spa treatments. If you want to travel with musicians or provide massage to elite athletes, you can make that happen. If there’s a population you want to work with, there’s likely a way to integrate massage into that setting.