Contract Considerations for Seated Massage: Get It In Writing
Business Side

By Sandra Gill

Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, December/January 2001.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Communication is one of humanity's greatest achievements and sometimes our poorest skill. Misunderstandings often result in incorrect performance, leaving both parties feeling like they got the short end of the stick. Massage therapists are often asked to sign contracts when working for or with chiropractors, spas, health clubs, etc. As small business owners, massage therapists are also entitled to the same protection a contract or letter of agreement provides the other guy. By developing a written contract or letter of agreement regarding the performance of our service, we protect our business, the contracting business and our clients.

When I began my practice, all of my agreements with my chair massage customers were verbal. To date, I have never had a customer not fulfill their obligations (i.e., payment for service), but I have had to wait several months for payment with innumerable phone calls trying to expedite payment. I realized I am providing a no-interest loan to the contracting business and I have little recourse if they do not pay since there was no written agreement. It becomes a case of, "he said, she said." I also realized I too am a real business, (especially when I pay the bills) and should act as such. Clear communication helps reduce stress in my life. Businesses expect a contract or some form of written agreement. Other businesses massage therapists regularly use -- office rental, warehouse memberships, paging, scheduling, phone services -- require contracts. A written contract is plain good business practice. Therefore, it makes good business sense to have a written contract or agreement.

A contract is simply an oral or written agreement between two or more parties to do or not do something. If a party does not do what was agreed upon, then the law may be able to sort out the situation.

While oral contracts are viable and enforceable by either an arbitrator or a court of law, it can be very hard to prove the original terms of the agreement without written documentation. A good written agreement is not necessarily one that will hold up in court, but one ensuring all parties know their responsibilities. As a sole proprietor, I constantly change hats from massage therapist to marketing coordinator to bookkeeper to janitor. Larger businesses have several people (or entire departments) who specialize in one aspect of the business. Often, a contract or letter of agreement is required before the accounting department can cut a check to pay for your services.

Chair massage can be marketed to a variety of businesses, including the corporate setting, conventions, shopping centers, festivals, wellness fairs, sporting events, health clubs, grand openings, etc. After a business has expressed interest, the information you need for the agreement will be gathered when you discuss the arrangements with the representative of the business. During this time, you and the representative will agree upon the dates and times, locations, fees, length of massage, workspace, and other special arrangements. Fee arrangements should include the details -- will you be paid by the hour or by the client, will the client be paying a portion of the fee, and do clients pay you directly or the business? Other questions to ask include permission to hand out your business cards, the dress code, parking, whether breaks are to be paid (if on hourly fee), who is eligible for the chair massage and how will the massages be scheduled? If additional therapists are required, who will coordinate them? This is a great time to provide the representative with references from your prior engagements. Take copious notes so you have a written reference when you write your agreement.

What should the agreement cover? There are five basic areas: Identification of the parties to the agreement, consideration (payment for services received), terms (obligations of each party), execution of the agreement (signatures by all parties), and delivery (all parties have a signed copy of the agreement). To look at it another way, a contract is much like the "who, what, when, where and why" formula of journalism. So, how do you translate all of this information into a simple contract? The information box on page 127 offers a few suggestions (please note: contract items or letter of agreement can be organized in any sequence.)

Writing contracts is something I have found necessary as a small business owner. Contracts should clearly communicate with businesses who use our service. In this way, everyone involved in the chair massage service is satisfied. I hope you find this article helpful when writing your next, or first, contract.

Author's Note: Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. The sole intent of this article is to inform fellow therapists about the use of a contract in business dealings. Consult an attorney for proper legal advice appropriate to your state regarding contracts or agreements and other small business matters.

Sandra Gill, NCTMB, M.A., operates her practice, The Right Touch, in Thornton, Colo. She retrained professionally as a massage therapist at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy after being downsized from Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site. Gill taught health and safety training for seven years, as well as completing National Council Safety Supervisor, Total Safety Culture and Dupont Managing Safety programs. She may be contacted at, Righttouchcmt, or 303/450-0726.

Barrett, E. Thorpe. Write your Own Business Contracts. Oasis Press-PSI Research. Grants Pass, OR, 1991.
Friertag, Howard. "Remember Contract Basics When Booking Groups." Hotel Motel Management. 16 March, 1998.
Friertag, Howard. "Sales Clinic: Beware of Verbal Agreements and One-Sided Clauses." Hotel Motel Management. 5 April, 1999.
Mower, Melissa. "Chair Massage Hits Its Professional Stride." Massage, March/April 1997: pp. 38-52.
Palmer, David. "Negotiating Chair Massage Agreements." Massage Therapy Journal, 36, 4 (Winter 2000): pp. 106-110 or
Shonen-Moe, Cherie. "The Anatomy of a Contract." Massage Therapy Journal, 36, 4 (Winter 2000): pp. 96-99.

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