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Marketing Chair Massage
Negotiating An Agreement
by David Palmer *

As easy as kissing a baby.
Well ... almost!

Chair Massage practitioners, because they can work almost anywhere, often must negotiate with the person who owns or manages the desired location for permission to work in that space. Most often this will be a simple venue such as a hair salon, fitness center, health food supermarket, bookstore, or car wash. An agreement could also be negotiated for a one-time event, such as working on spectators at a charity race or for a special product promotion. Less frequently, practitioners might even be requiring something more elaborate for an ongoing arrangement at an airport, convention hall, or in the workplace.

This article addresses the most common questions about negotiating simple, fair agreements with specific venues.

After scouting around, you have found a location or an event that seems ideal for Chair Massage and you have talked with the business owner, or manager, who seems receptive to the idea of Chair Massage services. The next step is to settle on agreeable terms for your services on their premises or at their event.

The most important part of any negotiation is to know all of your possible options ahead of time so that you can speak to each one with clarity and intelligence. The second most important requirement is to determine what expectations the other person has as to what comprises a fair and reasonable arrangement. The owner of the business probably has her ideas and expects that you have yours. The end result of any negotiation should be to have all parties satisfied that an equitable agreement has been reached. Let's start by examining some of typical arrangements you might agree upon.

Financial Arrangements
No-Cash Method

The no-cash method is the ideal arrangement. Many practitioners automatically presume that they will have to pay something for the use of a location. A value does need to occur but it doesn't have to be cash. Whole Foods, a large chain of health food supermarkets, for years has provided space for Chair Massage in their stores without requiring any compensation. Look carefully at your particular situation and see if you can honestly make a case for not being charged money for your presence. Perhaps you will occupy space that was previously not used, or little used. Your presence might not require the company to invest in any time or money if you book all of your own appointments and handle your own advertising. Plus, your presence could be a benefit by increasing the number of people coming into the facility who might buy other goods or services.

Another option to cash is bartering for space. A widely used no-cash arrangement is where the practitioner agrees to do a specific number of massages on the staff of the facility in exchange for the space.

Simple Percentage Method

The most common arrangement between bodyworkers and facilities is one in which the practitioner agrees to pay a certain portion of the massage receipts. This method favors the practitioner if volume is low because overhead is directly tied to each unit sold. However, if the volume is high then the facility might make more money than is fair or reasonable for what it provides. Say you are charging $40 for an hour table massage and you give 40%, or $16, of that to the facility. When you first start out and are only doing 3 massages a week that seems more than fair. But how about as business picks up and you are doing 30 massages a week? Now you are paying the facility $480 a week which, depending on the location, may or may not be fair.

Simple Rental Method

In a rental arrangement a practitioner leases the space at a fixed price. Here the advantage is the reverse of the percentage method. If volume is low, the practitioner suffers because rent must be paid whether or not there are any customers. If the volume is high then the practitioner will do well with this type of arrangement. After a certain amount of massages every week, all of the receipts go to the practitioner.

Combined Method

If a no-cash agreement cannot be negotiated, the next best deal is a combination of the percentage and rental arrangements. The idea is to pay a fixed percentage of your receipts up to a specified ceiling each month. Beyond that amount you will pay nothing to the facility. An alternative version is to pay a percentage for a fixed period of time, say for the first 60 days, to give your services a fair chance to get off the ground, and then, if business is going well, to convert to a monthly rental. Exactly what the percentage, fixed ceiling, rental rate, or time limits should be is what you will have to negotiate.

Determining a fair and reasonable financial agreement takes contemplation. Here are nine questions to ask yourself which will help you in your negotiations.

How much do you need to make from this work situation? First, determine what your personal income requirement is every month. Second, identify the portion of that amount you plan to generate from this part of your work life. For example, if you are working at this facility only one day a week, perhaps you expect to generate only 20% of your total income.

What are your expenses at this facility going to be each month? Specifically, who is paying for advertising, booking appointments, taking messages, linens and laundry, professional liability insurance, and maintenance? The more costs you absorb the greater your overhead. (Also note that if the facility pays for most of your expenses, you may be jeopardizing your status as an independent contractor.)

How much are you going to charge? The more you charge the quicker you will recoup your expenses.

What is the greatest number of massages you can give in one day and one month? This will give you a sense of what the high end of your income will be.

Are you going to be giving free massages to the staff of the facility?

How much do other practitioners in your area earn in similar situations?

What arrangements does the facility have with other people who work for them? For example, in a hair salon, how does the manager pay the stylists, manicurists, or estheticians? In a shopping mall what is the standard arrangement for a concession?

How much profit do you expect to be making beyond paying your expenses? Do not forget that you have to include in your budget federal, state, and local income taxes, social security taxes, time off for vacations and holidays, medical insurance, and savings.

Are you expecting this situation to lead to table massage referrals that will also add to your total income?

Negotiation Process

After you have thought through the possible financial arrangements and are clear about the income you require from this work, the next step is to find out what the facility manager/owner has decided that she needs to earn. Listen very carefully to asses whether the manager/owner is looking to make money indirectly, by the additional business you will attract, or directly, through a portion of your receipts? Be careful negotiating with someone who you feel does not have any reciprocal desire to make a fair deal. If you feel like you are being taken advantage of, walk away sooner, rather than later. A good way to get a handle on what is fair is to keep a two-column list on a sheet of paper throughout your negotiations. In one column keep track of what you are contributing and in the second column what the other party is contributing. Do not neglect to include the intangible elements such as environmental factors (no smoking, incandescent lights, lots of plants, etc.) and how this one situation fits in with your longer-term goals. If you are looking for your first job in the massage field, your needs will undoubtedly be different than if you have logged more than 2,000 massages.

When you are talking with the manager, or owner, remember that how you communicate is as important as what you communicate. To that end:

Be clear. Since you should know ahead of time what is acceptable to you and what isn't, let the other person know where you stand and draw out the same kind of clarity from her.

Be flexible. The art of negotiation is to find the arena of mutual benefit. Remember the old adage, "Be careful of what you pray for, you might get it." We only think we know what we want. Let the other person offer us some alternative scenarios and then be honestly willing to consider them.

After you have worked out a proposed agreement, suggest that all parties sleep on it for a day or two. If the relationship is such a good match it will survive a short recess. If the agreement isn't such a great idea your reservations will probably surface more clearly in the shower the next morning. At that point you can either go back and renegotiate or scrap the agreement. Never allow yourself to be rushed into an agreement.

If you choose to have the agreement set to paper you might also want to have your respective attorneys look it over. Lawyers are very good at picking out potential problems in a written agreement. Use their advice to clarify and strengthen the relationship you are building. However, in small business negotiation it is generally expensive and not necessary to have the attorneys at your side. The presence of a lawyer at the beginning can be often seen as adversarial and you want your relationship to be founded on mutual trust.

Finally, remember that just because you start a negotiation doesn't mean you have to finish it. Too often people feel that the initial enthusiasm they have generated for working together means that they should conclude an agreement no matter what. But an idea, no matter how exciting, is only an idea. A good business relationship rests on an agreement that both parties feel is totally satisfactory. Never be afraid of walking away from a negotiation. Take the attitude at the start that, even if this particular negotiation doesn't result in an agreement, you will have learned a lot from the process. Being a good negotiator requires lots of experience. Don't be afraid to practice as much as you can.

* © 2000, David Palmer, all rights reserved. This article was reproduced with the permission of the author and was first published in the Massage Therapy Journal, Winter, 2000 edition.

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