1300 662 022

Dear Massage Therapist

There is a great big problem with the massage industry and no one wants to talk about it.

The problem is that that the Massage Schools and Massage Industry Associations – AAMT (MMA), ATMS and AMT (and if I have forgotten some other Associations, then excuse me, but there are a lot) – want Massage to be positioned as health and massage therapy recognised or “identified” as “Health Professionals”.  What’s the problem with this you may ask?

The problem with the “positioning” and “identity” is that the Public, the Market, the Bureaucrats, the Health Insurers and other Health Professionals, don’t see us that way.

The mismatch between how the “industry leaders and educators” identify – and in effect, define the industry – and how everyone else identifies “Massage” is not just academic.

It plays out in every current problem the industry faces.  Take for example the concerns the industry has around Health Fund rebates.

The mismatch between how we (the Industry) “want to be perceived” and “how we are actually perceived” doesn’t de-value our health benefits for clients.  But, acknowledging and understanding this issue is important.

There’s a saying that goes: “identifying your problem is half way to fixing it”.

The problem is: If we position ourselves as “health” and identify as Health Professionals as we have been doing (trying) for decades.  Then, we can expect similar outcomes for Massage Therapists as have been present for decades.  If you always do what you’ve always done…

  • Most people who gain qualifications are not part of the industry afterwards.  The “dropout rate” for the industry is embarrassingly high.  Getting data on this has proven hard, but estimates 80% – 95% of qualified students drop-out of the industry and aren’t earning income from their massage qualification within 3-years.
  • The average Australian salary is $77,000 (According to the ABS) .  The Average income for a Massage Therapist is not even half of this, $37,000 (According to Payscale).
  • Unlike many businesses.  Consumers tend to love our product.  Most industry participants have a product that clients love, but a business that is marginal.  So it’s economics and marketing – not product quality (therapist quality) – that is the issue most needing to be addressed.
  • Most industry participants have to supplement their income with a complimentary income / job.  We call this Massage +.  Where the + is Personal Training, Yoga, Natural Health etc

Did you deliberately choose to position your business brand at the start of your massage career?  No.

Then you would by default come to position and identity around health unconsciously.  Addressing this problem gives you an opportunity to consciously choose how to identify.

You could for example, in marketing-speak, treat health as a benefit, instead of a market position.

Addressing and understanding this issue of “positioning” may not help you give a better massage, but it may help you as a “business owner” be one of the small percentage of massage therapists making decent money.

In short, understanding your industries identity problem will assist you to build a better massage business. If that interests you then read on…

Are we trying to be a ‘banana’?

Plum or Banana

Massage faces an opportunity to choose to be a plum instead of trying to be a banana.

Massage is a “plum” and should wake up from trying to be like bananas, i.e other Health Professionals.

Both Plums and Bananas have health benefits, but we all know they’re not the same thing.

We can try and be a banana all we like, but we will only be a second-rate banana. And, why be a second-rate banana when we can be a first-rate plum?

Health As An Identity

Massage has health benefits, but it’s not our main benefit or only only benefit and it’s certainly not a unique benefit.

In marketing-speak, choosing to identify as health is a crowded positioning to take.

In a marketplace where others are better qualified, organised and remunerated.  The people most people think of as “health” would clearly be Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists, Physios, Chiros, Nutritionists, Exercise Physiologists and Osteos before Massage Therapists.

Annual Salary Source: http://www.payscale.com/

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 10.06.17 PM

Best Paid (1)

Not only is health not a unique benefit to massage, but actually others (like those mentioned above – who refer us work) have much better claim to be health than massage therapy does.  We would be what they call on shows like the Gruen Transfer: a “me-too” Brand.

Taken to its logical conclusion, positioning our industry on the bottom rung of the pecking order within the broader health industry is not aspirational.

Trust by Profession

What Does The Customer See?

In your massage business understand that health is a “benefit” of massage, but not a great “positioning” for most* massage businesses.  More on this later…

Customers view massage differently depending on various factors like how long it goes…  3 Minute Angels is not the same as a clinic… and a clinic is not the same as a retail spa… You get the idea.

The goal of the massage – repair, relax or rejuvenate – makes a difference to customer perception.

The environment matters i.e. is it a spa, clinic, gym, home or workplace where the massage is being conducted?

How was the massage referred if it was at all? Is it part of the customer treating themselves to something nice? Or a treatment program for recovery from a serious injury? Or a corporate wellness program? Or…

Given the diversity of massage market segments, it is funny that most massage therapists align and promote universally as ‘health’.

When you search for Massage Therapy as job-seeker you will not find Massage listed amongst Health Jobs.  When you want to profile yourself on Linked-In you won’t find Massage in the Health Industry.  (See screenshot below of a drop-down list excluding Massage from the Health category)

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 9.58.43 AM


We don’t have to stay focused on an identity that doesn’t seem to work commercially.  We don’t have to persist with a professional identity that doesn’t appear to be reflective of how anyone (other than ourselves) views us.

Pardon the pun, but if health as a marketing position and “Health Professional” as an identity worked for massage, then we would have financially “healthier” businesses.

As the dropout, average-earnings and stress endured by most therapists in “getting by” indicates, we have it fundamentally wrong.

Other Health Services Scale Better Than Massage

Across the nation massage therapists have adopted “health” as a default positioning for our massages businesses.

Perhaps “we” have seen recognised Health Professionals that we admire like Doctors or Chiros.  They make good money (and develop good reputations) from being in the “health” business and we ask ourselves: “why not us?”

The answer is economics 101 and it comes down to “utilisation”, “price elasticity” and “revenue per hour”.

Massage has adopted a 1-hr product as our chief product.  Most other Health Professionals provide shorter products and this changes their economic model compared with a conventional massage therapist.  It’s a subtle thing but it makes a big difference.

Utilisation: Massage therapists report 12-20 hours utilisation in a standard week.  That’s between 30 – 50% of the time spent earning and the rest, not earning.  This has multiple negative effects commercially that would take a separate essay to discuss.  Most importantly though it means the therapist has to charge enough when working to cover the times when they’re not working.

Price Elasticity: Is an economic principle that explains the law of supply and demand.  If you’re supply price is high, then your demand is lower and vice versa.  The way in which price changes demand and vice versa within a market is known as ‘elasticity’.  Whatever you call it, the result is: If you’re a Chiro selling health at $35/5-min adjustment or a Massage Therapist selling health at $80/hr then the price point advantage goes to the Chiro and against the Massage Therapist.   Reputation also goes to the Chiro for a product that is as long as standard short-format, seated corporate massage.

Revenue Per Hour: The Doctors and Chiros can charge more because of their more expensive education, established reputation and health fund rebates, work cover recognition etc etc supporting consumer expenditure.   But they can also service more customers per hour than a massage therapist and therefore have the potential to earn more revenue per hour.

The interplay between these economic principles of Utilisation, Price Elasticity and Hourly-Revenue results in feedback loop where customers feeling massage is too expensive don’t buy it frequently, which in turn results in low utilisation, which necessitates a high price.  This economic catch-22 keeps customers out of the market and therapists churning through it.

When our predominate thought as an industry is to be like Health Professionals, then we should be aware that our business is not like theres at an economically fundamental level.

To illustrate the point, Chiros schedule their longer on-boarding consultations with new clients when it best suits the Chiro.  They, then have mornings and after work (the best hours for customer availability) free to batch the shorter ongoing adjustments they make for existing clients on treatment plans.  Judging from my own Chiros practice he can make 10x what a massage therapist could in the same hour-period.


When we want to scale a massage business, with a standard 1-hr product, it is very difficult.  That is why so few massage businesses achieve scale.  If you look at the profit margin after sub-contracting labour on 1-hour product ($80 sale price, $50 labour price, $30 margin) you quickly realise you have to sell nearly 3 times more hours that sub-contractors work (on your behalf) than doing the work yourself directly in order to make the same net income.

In the long term, we will find it hard to compete for talent when we can’t offer much of a career path.  Any smart health-conscious younger person who understands economics will choose the career path for them that’s more sustainable.


To go back the question originally posed by the massage therapist looking at other Health Professionals and thinking “why not us?”.  Then the answer is: because given the economics of it, if you only sell 1-hour products using a Health Professional model, then you’re screwed.  I’m not exaggerating.  This is why 80%-95% of people dropout of the industry.

Why Are We Hooked On ‘Health’

You, me and anyone else in the industry can legally choose a positioning.  It’s an un-regulated market.

So how did we end up collectively having every Association (AMT, AAMT (now MMA) etc etc etc) pre-occupied with being a health professional.  How did we decide on the positioning of health.

Given the diversity of massage applications it is funny that most therapists align and promote as ‘health’.

It’s like everyone was taught the same thing…

Who makes money in massage?

3 Minute Angels has been in this industry for 15 years and over that time we have on multiple occasions reached out to each of the various massage Associations.  We’re met by the personnel of these Associations with aggression, cynicism and basically treated as the enemy of massage therapists.

It’s odd considering 3 Minute Angels is one of the few businesses that has done so much to expose so many people to massage.  The millions of short massages we have provided in workplaces, airports and bars have been the trigger for tens of thousands of clients to seek out and buy full body massages. Yet, 3 Minute Angels is seen as the “enemy” and not the “best friend” of personnel within the Associations.

Why is that?  See if you follow this train of thought.

Massage schools get paid for each student.  The more students that pay $10000-$18000 per year the more money a school makes.

The schools provide graduates who go into Associations.  Each of the massage schools is basically a feeder to the massage Association of their own creation.  That’s why there’s so many massage Associations!  That’s why they don’t get along!

Each school wants its own Association – so that the Association will continue to promote to members the value of continued education i.e spending more on education.  It’s a ruse, but it’s obvious enough.

Economic data

Financially speaking the healthiest businesses in the massage industry are the massage schools.  I’m yet to meet my first millionaire massage therapist, but looking at these listed companies who own most of the massage schools and it is plain that they have built multi-million dollar valuations.

Perhaps the Associations were offended that 3 Minute Angels was making money breaking the “rules” of “best practice” that they had made up for most of their students.  Some of the rules we broke included…

  1. We chose shorter products.
  2. We chose suitably qualified staff for shorter massages instead of staff only suitable for 1-hour products like those previously trained across Australia.
  3. Because of points 1 and 2 we were economically in better shape than most therapists and could scale and spend on marketing.  Since we literally touch so many people – we are the first thing a lot of people think when they think about massage.
  4. We wear black uniforms because of sweat, but it ended up also making us look more like hospitality staff rather than “white-coated” Health Professionals.  Imagine that! being in the service industry!
  5. We took the health benefits of massage for granted and focused on the USP’s of the massage instead of the commodity-like health benefits.
  6. Unlike everyone else in the industry who owed the incumbent “educators and leaders” of the industry their fees.  We literally owed them nothing.

Because we break the “rules” – we get the silent treatment.  Never-mind the result of those rules being broken held insights that could commercially assist their members…

Schooled In Health

The job of a Massage Teacher is to teach the students what they need to know  (theoretically and practically) so as to safely provide a service to the customer.  Beyond that, it is the job of the teacher to set expectations and explain the industry norms to students in readiness for participation in the marketplace.


It is easy to assume because of the obvious health-benefits created by massage that a paradigm established where massage should be positioned as health.  After-all the teachers at these schools know a lot more about anatomy and the body than about economics or marketing.

It is easy to assume that the desire for an identity as a Health Professional was that of the students.  Schools and Associations probably just confirmed this initial desire.

It is easy to assume the Associations have subsequently then set themselves up to represent the views of people who want to be positioned around health and identify as Health Professionals.

But it is generous to a fault, to assume that Massage Schools and Massage Associations suffer when their graduates and members suffer.  Quite the opposite.   A School or Association seeing a past student or member suffering is likely to point to the self-serving additional education product the student or member can buy.

Therapist quality or more training isn’t the problem.  As previously discussed clients usually love the product of massage.  The quality is fine.

If the graduate drops out of the Industry, then a new person needs training.  If the association member drops out of the industry and therefore the Association, it’s ok, there will be more along soon.

It should be moral panic of the highest order if the Schools and Associations are telling students that they can be Health Professionals when the Market, Regulators and Health Funds are not saying this.

It should be a moral panic of the highest order if the Associations are forcing members into compliance with a code of conduct (Code of Ethics) for Health Practitioners – if they know that such recognition will not come (and economically doesn’t serve the members businesses).

A cynic may conclude that the Massage Schools and Massage Associations don’t need to create working massage therapists or good member businesses or a financially healthy massage industry, but that they just need to create more massage students.

A cynic might think Massage Schools and the Associations have a vested interest in the positioning of massage as health and the identification of Massage Therapist as Health Professionals.  This all helps promote the status quo.  It helps sell further training to graduates that are running the health angle.

Could it be that whilst this positioning within the massage industry as health doesn’t particularly work for each therapist commercially, it sure as heck works commercially for the massage schools.

Be Like (Bottled) Water

We’ve already stated health is a massage benefit and it is.

Let’s be clear; massage promotes good health, massage restores damaged health and massage is by-and-large a healthy activity.

As detailed previously health benefits are not the exclusive domain of massage therapists.

Health benefits are transferred to your consumer regardless of what positioning you take.  Every massage has health benefits and so the logic goes that no massage business has health as what marketing people like to call a USP (unique selling proposition).

In other words if everyones benefit is health then nobodies marketable difference can be health.

Positioning your small business around the health benefits has commercially not worked and that has contributed to thousands of well qualified and initially keen therapists never making it past 2-3 years in the industry.

The massage industry should treat the health benefits of massage like the bottled water industry treats the quality of wetness in water.  Every water is wet and so no one says water makes you wet.  (For that matter none of them say water makes you healthy either, even though this is a big benefit water has over other drinks)

Instead the bottled water industry has “localised” positioning – Mount Franklin, Fiji and Evian.


Undoubtedly water is healthy and water is wet but the bottled water industry does not identify itself as being about either of these benefits and instead chooses something like “point of origin” that works commercially.

Taking Health For Granted Doesn’t Make You A Sex Worker

If you take the health benefits of massage for granted it doesn’t mean you have to identify or position as a sex worker.

There is a fairly good chance that Massage Schools and Massage Associations will defend their advocacy for health as a marketing position and identity for the industry by saying that we need to distance ourselves and dis-associate ourselves from sex workers.

The counter-argument is that positioning as health hasn’t stopped the sexual abuse of some clients at the hands of therapists.

The incidence of inappropriate client conduct is reducing, but not because of our desire at the Massage School or Massage Association level to promote health.  It is reducing because there are less clients coming in asking massage therapists for “happy endings” since finding better-than-happy-ending services is much easier via the internet and world of Apps, Groups and Noticeboards that we live in.

I agree.  That as an industry we don’t need the hassle of people wanting “happy endings”, the safety issues of working in the sex industry or the compliance costs etc etc.

Promoting the need to choose consciously what position and identity we have in our businesses is not the same as saying we should just roll over and accept a proxy “sex worker” position and identity.

Power Resides In The Segment

As with Health there are many other benefits of massage that one could take for a universal positioning of Massage.  You could position the Massage industry around “connection”, “touch” or “feeling better”.

These are authentic benefits of massage and we could make commercial arguments for any of these positioning / identities.  At least comparatively, to health (where we are at the bottom of the ladder if at all on it) we might find some aspiration for the industry.

However, I think any industry-wide positioning may be the wrong way to go.

A universal position may instead be limiting for our industry and product because of the diversity of massage specialities, customer perceptions and goals for the massage.

The AAMT (for very different reasons) has recently stumbled upon the possible solution for our identity and positioning issue.  

The solution is “segmented positioning”.

In case you missed it the AAMT is proposing to trademark 15 professional “Certified” modalities or “titles of practice” under a scheme to control the identity of specific massage segments.

This would include ‘Certified Remedial Massage Therapist’, ‘Certified Soft-Tissue Therapist’ and other proposed titles including “Certified Chinese Therapist” and “Certified Thai Therapist”. (These latter titles are racist. Not to mention are extremely difficult to fit into my understanding of trademark law).  

Whilst the stated aim of AAMT (MMA) segmenting, is about controlling the diversity of massage for Certification purposes.  A side-effect of doing this is a partial recognition that one size does not fit all when it comes to massage.

A cynic might also conclude that if health fund rebates disappear and the Bureaucrats assign us out of “Health Professional” profession via legislation (both of which could realistically happen by the end of this year) that control of identity through trademark ownership is a savvy move by AAMT (MMA) to stay relevant.  That is also why the other Associations detest this AAMT move.


To sum up.

  1. Health is a “benefit” not a “position” for most* Massage Therapists.
  2. Trying to be a Health Professional with a 1-hr massage product, typical utilisation, average pricing and a focus on continuing education is a path to commercial failure for you and path to commercial success for Massage Schools and Massage Associations.
  3. Positioning and Identity should not be left to self-serving Massage Schools and Massage Associations.

Instead, consciously choose your own positioning and identity so that you can still do what you love for years to come and not just “get by” financially when you are already in possession of the knowledge your clients love your work.

Finally, get control of your business model.  Understand the economics of your business.  Understand the constraints of your self-imposed 1-hour product.  Understand that all other health professionals have found a profitable short-format consultation product that makes economic sense for them.  Understand the shackles of your Association membership.  Understand their wilful blindness to your plight.  Understand what really is the best positioning for you.

If you need help with this then get in touch  or seek out some of the fine massage business consultants out there.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

Andrew Ward

PS.  A week or so after this post a 2nd in the series was created that not only pointed out issues but gave a comprehensive set of solutions for the issues raised.  You can read about the Solutions here.

3 Minute Angels Founder
MassagePricer.com CEO

* (Note: The possible exception is people getting frequent medically-referred massage).