“How exactly do I raise fees?” This is the primary question I am asked when massage therapists seek out my expertise and experience for business coaching.
Experience has taught me that when my clients use the word “how,” it is not specifically about the steps to increasing their hourly fees, or rates. What most are referring to is the fear they are feeling about losing clients if they raise their rates.
What they are really asking is how to keep their clients when they raise their fees.
You are not alone in this fear. I understand how much time and effort it takes to acquire every client you have. However, what I want you to realize is that you have developed something extremely valuable at this stage of your business that you didn’t have in the beginning of your business that is worth raising your prices for. That something is experience. It is not a tool or skill you can buy; it can only be earned through consistent practice. If you are providing a solid valued service and you have put the time into growing your clientele and business, it is the reason you can raise your prices.
First off, let’s talk about why you should raise your fees.
All massage therapists have a productivity ceiling that lowers the longer you practice massage. Meaning that the more years you work at a massage table, the fewer sessions you will be able to perform to successfully manage repetitive injury and strain on your body. Having a plan in place to increase your rates as you decrease the number of sessions you perform is realistic, if not necessary.
Longevity in this career path will depend on specific business numbers changing in opposite directions at the same time. Your fees should go up with enhanced skill, effectiveness and demand for your services. Simultaneously, the number of sessions per week should go down, without losing income, while also enhancing your business strategy to increase your income.
This growth in opposite directions requires a delicate balance. Having successfully walked therapists through this process, I believe there are some important numbers to assess that can help you find that balance as you create these positive changes in your business.
There are some specific assessments I would like you to observe in your own business that help you with understanding the economics of your practice. Business in general depends on the balance of supply and demand to determine growth, and that is what I want you to do for yourself.
I call this professional self-assessment because it is part actual numbers and part your own observation.
The two main factors I want you to observe are clientele tipping behavior and scheduling.
Many of the therapists I work with state that they are consistently receiving tips from a large percentage of their regular clients. Taking the average of the received tip amounts and dividing it by the number of clients you see a week can offer you an idea of what value is and therefore what your rates should most likely be.
For example: If you charge $70 a session and the average tip rate you are receiving is about $15, then your rates should be closer to $85 a session.
This is a perceived value of the client, and what it is telling you is that you are offering a higher-valued massage service than what you are charging for. This is something I observe with therapists who have been in business for five or more years and have not raised their prices. The experience you have gained has outgrown your initial fee structure.
Since tipping behavior is only one factor that may, or may not, play into how you run your business, I also recommend you evaluate a few other numbers to see if your business is ready for an increase in rates, such as:
The higher these observations are, the more your business is telling you it can sustain an increase in session rates. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work available, you most definitely need to raise your fees to balance out the economics of the supply and demand for your services.
By combining the answers we learned about in the professional self-assessment, you now have an estimate of where your fees can rise to. Once you have an idea of your perceived value, then it is time to add rate change at a pace your business will accept and grow with.
I always caution business professionals to proceed with change slowly. While you might be enticed to jump $10 or $15 a session, your business may not sustain that broad of a leap. Your clients may not understand the change or perceive the value in that great of a change.
A good starting point is a five-dollar-per-session increase at stages of 4–6 months until you reach a point where all the numbers line up together for tipping and scheduling behaviors.
If at any time during these fee increases the numbers and observations change too much, you should stop increasing and stabilize your business at that level. When the numbers start lining up again, then you can start planning for another fee increase.
Some of the observations you may see are:
This means the value of your service is in line with what you charge. When tips begin to increase naturally, this is an insight of an increased value in the massage service and your clients are acknowledging that positive shift.
Other observations are:
While you want to be fully scheduled with a small waiting list, having more demand than you can supply is actually stressful. It can feel like a burden where there is this constant push to do more sessions or be more available to your clients, which can lead to a manifestation or creation of professional burnout. Being able to comfortably refer clients to another therapist or have a smaller waiting list, while at the same time having a structured and full schedule, allows for a feeling of being more in control of your own time.
This will also translate into a better massage service because you are better paced, physically and mentally, in your business.
Another thing I wanted to discuss is perceived value and the client as it relates to increasing your rates.
Prior to raising fees, there should also be a perceivable shift in your massage skills or professionalism that non-verbally cues the client that your value has increased.
Basically, you have to step up your game and be consistent with what you do.
There are several ways you can do this. Attending continuing education classes to enhance your skill set at the table is a common way to increase your value.
An overlooked but effective skill to improve is higher-quality customer service. I like to focus on this set of skills when working with therapists who are looking to improve the overall feel of their business for rate increases. This can be something as simple as providing reminder texts for appointments. How you greet your client for the session, care for them during and after the service, pay attention to massage service details, add new menu options to select from, improve surroundings, and use better communication skills in the massage room all can increase value to the client.
Taking the leap to raise your rates does not have to be one of faith with the hope that it will work.
Strategy is the key to growth in business that requires that you take a step back and observe the behavior of yourself professionally, your business behaviors, and how your clients respond to both. Strategy requires that you adjust your behavior to sustain and promote the behavioral changes of your business.
All you do is work through steps of building your business based on the results that are presenting themselves to you while you reach for higher potential.
Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 25 years. She is the owner of Massage Business Methods and the developer of PPS (Pain Patterns and Solutions) Seminars CE courses and a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved CE provider. Her articles for this publication include “Your 6-Step Plan to Prepping Your Massage Practice to Reopen.”
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