Tension Tamer: Confessions of a Self-Employed Massage Therapist

Massage TherapistMassage therapists have a look about them. They're usually young, cute, in good shape -- and often blonde.

Meghan Green is no different. The 29-year-old massage therapist eats a gluten-free diet and swims every weekday morning at 6 a.m. She's consistent and confident. So confident, in fact, that she started her own business in New York City - something that few New Yorkers have the guts to do.

About four years ago, she started renting a tiny downtown office to meet her clients. She shares the $1600/month space with four other women to pay the bills. "No one can physically work this job all day long. It's much easier to split costs and time," she said.

Though massage therapists in New York City may earn more than $120 per hour with self-employed individuals earning the most, the typical hourly range for an employed massage therapist in the United States is $14.95 - $31.66.

Getting into Massage Therapy

Green said she never expected to go into massage therapy. She studied women's and gender studies at American University in Washington, D.C. "I loved the classes. But what do you do with that?" she said. She said she always wanted to move to New York City, but had no idea how to make it work. "I'm lucky both of my sisters made the move here. I just jumped from couch to couch for a few months," she said.

Eventually she got a job as a personal trainer at a New York health club. While there, she decided that massage therapy might be a great gig, and enrolled in the Swedish Institute of Massage Therapy in New York's Chelsea neighborhood.

Becoming a massage therapist "was the best decision I've ever made. I get to meet all these great people and teach health and wellness," she said.

Anti-9-to-5, this New Yorker Works for Herself

It's not often that a 20-something can work for themselves in a city like New York. But Green says it works for her. "I never wanted a 9-5 job. I'll work two hours one day and twelve the next," she said. "I can take all the clients who call me or say no to the crazies."

Green now sees about 20 clients a week, charging $120 an hour. Some client's request up to three hours. She said she's embarrassed she doesn't really know exactly how much she makes. A lot of her money is cash -- but she knows it's in the "six-figures."

"You have to make that much money just to get by here," she said. "I mean, I still have a roommate and I'm almost 30."

Keeping Clients Happy

Green said she had to hustle to build up her clientele. She's never had a full-time job, but she worked at a spa and two health clubs before going out on her own full-time. She also gave chair massages at a strip club, a job she goes back to if she's ever "in a pinch."

She said she tries to keep her work professional, but understands the importance of developing personal relationships with her clients. "It's just like hair stylists. People feel guilty if they go to someone else, like they're cheating on me," she said.

Dealing with Awkward Moments

Green said she likes most of her clients, but puts up with some, simply because she needs to pay the bills. "I do have one client that gets [a little excited] during his massage. He just ignores it." She pretends to ignore it too, she said. Green keeps him on the schedule since "he's harmless." But says she doesn't tolerate the men that proposition her.

"When I used to work at a health club the guys would not be shy about asking for [inappropriate favors]. I don't know where they got the idea that these were appropriate requests," she said.

Green said her personal clients are not quite as bold. "They see me as a friend. I see them that way too," she said.

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