ABSTRACT Whether a Rolfer® is brand new to the structural integration profession or has been practicing for decades, the price they charge is a choice. Author Lu Mueller-Kaul asks – when did you make that choice? Last year or twenty years ago? In this ‘Business of Rolfing SI column’, practitioners are asked to consider inflation when they make pricing decisions for their Rolfing sessions. Our clients often pay for framework considerations we are not even aware of, and would happily pay more in dollars if they spent less of their time and attention organizing appointments, for example. Mueller-Kaul walks us through what, other than Rolfing SI, we bring to our clients, then makes some specific pricing suggestions for the general United States market.
Editor’s note: Pricing for Rolfing SI sessions varies regionally throughout the United States and the world. The values in this article are suggestions for Rolfers to consider. These numbers may be different depending on the location of the Rolfer and years of experience. See the author’s bio for her email address if you’d like to contact her about any specific questions.
How should a practitioner price their services, whether newly graduated, mid-career, or with decades of experience?
We need to be pricing our work to support us and our values, at any stage of our career. My take on pricing has little to do with the cliché, “You have to charge what you are worth,” because, in my opinion, it is not about a person’s worth. It’s about what value a client gets from the work we do, how we frame that
work, and how hard it is to find what we do in the marketplace. We need to understand supply and demand because, the demand for educated fascial manipulation with sophisticated movement education is huge.
A lot of Rolfers®, especially the ones who started practicing before the year 2000, have not adjusted their prices for inflation. They are actually paying themselves less each year. We have massive inflation now, but even in calmer times, our money lost 3.8% of its value each year on average.1
I’ve talked to a lot of colleagues about how and when they raise their rates, and it seems easy only for the colleagues who made it a policy to charge between 3% and 8% more each year. A bigger jump is uncomfortable for a lot of us because we feel bad for our clients who might already be struggling to pay the $135 we’ve been charging since 2001. But if that was our price then, we should be charging $230 [as of May 23rd, 2023] for that same session today – look it up, I know it sounds crazy.2
I know several massage therapists who have been charging $80 for a one-hour session since the mid-1990s. That was a nice chunk of money at that time. Now it’s essentially $47.14. So, it’s not a surprise that many of them, and many of us Rolfers, too, are struggling to pay the bills.
This may be a factor in the discontent about the rise in membership rates by the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® (DIRI), but let’s check the value over time. Dues for Rolfers in the United States were $450 a year in 1980, so today, they should be around $1,750 if we all kept adjusting to general price increases. So paying $600 per year for our membership with DIRI is as if the first Certified Rolfers paid $86 in 1972.
Confused? I’m not saying DIRI should charge more. I’m saying that all of us should start thinking about market factors, especially, but not only, inflation.
So let’s make this personal. As an Advanced Rolfer, I’m charging $210 in Orlando, Florida, for a one-hour session. I charge $310 for ninety minutes. It was a huge and scary jump up from $145 before. I have some price suggestions for you at the end of this article, but I’ll give you more orientation about market factors first. Also, please don’t misunderstand my intentions here. You can keep your rates as low as you like, and you can work for free – more about that below. I charge a lot because that way, I can offer very low rates to specific clients I want to support.
What factors go into deciding our session price?
We have to consider not only what we pay in rent, but also what we do outside of our sessions that support the work during the session. In Orlando, I work as an independent contractor at the business I sold, and 60% of what the client pays is what I receive. In exchange, I don’t have to worry about laundry, scheduling, the website, and other marketing, and I hardly speak to any of my clients on the phone. When the ceiling leaks or a chair wobbles, administrators take care of the repairs. We have electrically adjustable ComfortCraft tables that increase the perceived value of our work and are easy on our bodies. All that saves me so much effort that I feel overpaid.
That is poignant because when I owned that business, I rarely paid myself over minimum wage when considering all the hours I worked in and on the business from 2008 until 2020.
What is your work worth to you?
A lot goes into producing a single Rolfing SI session; every practitioner has spent a lot of time, money, and focus on training. That attention and energy wasn’t spent with friends or family, doing fun things, so – what is the value of your absence? Then there is time in traffic, scheduling time, and time wasted because of rescheduling. To maintain our Rolfing practices, we all invest our energy into playing phone tag with the public. Maybe we work on our social media presence and/or websites. Our own insecurities and regular life struggles require personal development, often therapy, so we can fully show up for our clients. Having the right price is part of setting clear boundaries from the start, and it makes it possible to reward clients who are loyal to us and make keeping the framework easy.
When someone calls with a symptom that you know you are good at regulating, the price you name might not be as important as when the client can come to see you. Confidence in our pricing is driven by confidence in our skills, but to a client, your availability might be worth a lot more than technical skills. What does a fancy joint mobilization do for a client who is hurting today, not in six weeks?
Imagine how many clients are currently paying someone else, somewhere else, just to get temporary relief until they can fit into your waitlist. Increasing our prices to our worth will leave some session times open, and keep our bills paid, those available spaces will be of great value to clients having sudden onset of somatic pain. To your client, your price increase might actually mean saving a lot of time, money, effort, and pain, because you are available when they need you.
If you’re new in your area, spend some time getting familiar with the pricing and availability of similar professionals. The people that are already practicing near your new office are the choices that people in your community have for bodywork. They can be valuable for cross-referrals, no matter how experienced they are. I’ve always referred out for good massages and even the ‘Ten Series’ when I could recommend a practitioner who is available with short notice, or who charges a lot less. A popular experienced colleague might be happy to hear that you are seeing new clients at an affordable rate. A lot of great Rolfing practices are built on these referrals.
Avoid desperation. It is okay to get a day job if you are just starting out. Take care of your finances in the best way that you know how. Plan your finances so that it’s always easy to stick to your boundaries of time, money, and scope of practice. Reduced rates as a special offer are fine when you have something new to introduce, but avoid having seasonal “specials” and discounts as you will encourage the clients who always wait for a bargain. You can always reward a loyal client with a gift card in the mail, which is much more effective.
Whenever you raise your rates, you can have a list of preferred clients whom you keep on the old rates for another year. Make sure you always explain the time limit! That way, your clients feel special, and you can charge everybody else what you truly need to in order to work with a new client. Building a local network of trusted colleagues in your area supports you as well. Refer out to these practitioners when your schedule is full, and they will refer to you when they’re getting stuck with a particular client.
The more you practice collaboration, the easier it gets to charge whatever you want to charge – you can recommend practitioner-friends who can afford to charge very low rates because they work out of their homes without office staff, and you can recommend an expensive mentor of yours for specialty work. I often keep a list on hand with low-cost solutions like community acupuncture and massage schools, so my clients know I’m trying my best to give them resources that fit
Keep building value
Think about how a potential client experiences you and your practice consecutively – from the first part of their experience to after they leave the session and get on their way. What is the first glance? A business card, flyer, or website? What’s next? Waiting for a voicemail to be listened to or a friendly receptionist? What do they see when coming in? The aggravation of searching for parking, or a nice big lot? Your beautiful waiting area might be negatively influenced by everything encountered before getting there.
If you have made every effort to learn excellent techniques, and present your space well, but clients don’t fill your schedule as easily as you’d hoped – ask for feedback. Business networking groups are useful, also free consulting at the local small business development center, but think of friends and family, too.
1.Verify Demand: “What would you pay?”, “Why didn’t you go back?”, “What should I change?”
Don’t be afraid to ask your own clients, “Other than a lower price, what would make you come in more often?” You can always reward them for a good idea by sending them a gift certificate they can use for themselves or give to a friend (yay, another new client for you!)
2.Verify Supply: Who else does something similar in the area? Ask people in your community, “Where would you go if you had XYZ problem?” “How do you find someone good?” Think about how you show up in those spaces. How did your clients look for help before they found you? Where do they wish they had seen your information?
Why charge more?
When I was able to raise my rates from $145 to $210 for a sixty-minute session at Balance Orlando, I didn’t even know if I could follow through with it. It was just the easiest way to promote the other Rolfer, and I had to get clients off my schedule, especially for Ten Series work. That was in 2016, and I’m still surprised at how much people are willing to pay without even speaking to me once. And it’s past time for another increase! To me, it doesn’t get easier, and it never has been. I procrastinate, I make excuses, and then I waited so long that instead of raising my price a little bit each year, I had to raise my price by a lot all at once. Just managing pricing information is a lot of work on its own.
I also have a hard time charging more than I can afford to pay for my own care.
It’s not what we’re worth, it’s what we’re used to. Our comfort levels around pricing depend on how, where, and with whom we grew up and socialize now. So if you’re a little bit like me, seek out business classes at networking events even more! It’s hard but you will find that there are people who can become your friends and many others whom you can learn from. If you don’t have high-income business owners around you, it’s difficult to see yourself as one.
Is it possible to make Rolfing SI accessible for clients on a tight budget and still help the Rolfer keep a sustainable life and practice?
Most of the issues that require us to raise our rates fall under, the “because otherwise, I can’t afford to work as a Rolfer” category. For me, though, the most important reason for higher rates is to be able to afford pro bono work. I like to work with people who can’t afford bodywork. It’s immensely rewarding, and only possible if my bills are paid by clients who can pay easily. You can decide on a certain amount of clients you have on a sliding scale or you can have a community location where you work for free every other Saturday, for example. I have sometimes traded a Ten Series for a young athlete or performance artist to feature my work in an advertisement in a program, or a spot for a banner at events.
Suggested rates for Rolfers in the United States
The pricing model below is probably unusual for many colleagues since they don’t offer sessions of varying lengths. Some may even see it as unprofessional and “like a spa.” So, I compare it with the practice of law. Just like lawyers, we’re not getting paid for every hour we work on our business, clients don’t pay us for the time spent following up, scheduling, and providing extra support by phone and email. Lawyers bill by the “billable” hour, which can actually be fifteen minutes in the office, so to me, it makes sense to offer clients different time options for their sessions.
If we’re looking at other professions, it’s common to not only increase prices with inflation rates in mind but also to adjust for the increased efficiency of what we do in every minute. Experience, competence, and additional education, as well as having built and continuing to maintain a network of other professionals for referrals and advice, make our work much more valuable for our clients.
According to the National Association for Law Placement, the median hourly rate for a first-year associate in private practice in the United States was $180 per hour in 2020, while the median hourly rate for an eighth-year associate was $315 per hour.
Beginner’s rates after an introductory period and up to three years in practice
One sixty-minute session – $190. Best suited as part of a Ten Series.
Whole Ten Series – $1600 package price. Must be paid upfront. Change what’s not needed to gift certificates with no expiration date.
One ninety-minute Rolfing SI session – $265. Best suited for a follow-up type session several months after a series, or to include more time for Rolf Movement®, or extra time to allow for more detailed tissue work. Sometimes the client and the Rolfer have the experience of wanting a longer session for their particular situation.
One two-hour Rolfing SI session – $345. If the ninety minutes are still not enough, or if the client’s circumstances make it easier to cover the territory of two sessions. For example, within the Ten Series that could be sessions four and five, or sessions five and six.
Suggested Advanced Rolfing SI Rates
Sixty-minute session – $235
Ninety-minute session – $310
Two-hour session – $410
Advanced Rolfers should be mindful of increasing rates frequently, we need to at least adjust for inflation and to keep regular clients used to a yearly increase. That way, it’s not a surprise, it’s expected. Six sessions for the price of five – if prepaid – is a good model if the Rolfer likes to encourage several visits.
All Rolfers, whether Advanced or not, can consider big leaps in pricing after several years, maybe after some type of upgrade in the practice, or after taking classes. The ideal way to communicate a big leap to clients is by announcing it with several months of notice, encouraging people to buy packages of sessions, and when you speak with your clients about the change, clarify that the price increase will make it much easier to book a session within just a few days instead of spending weeks on the waitlist. I also like to give regular clients an extra six or twelve months with old rates, which makes them feel appreciated. It also gives the Rolfer and clients time to come up with budget-friendly solutions if its necessary to adjust the frequency of sessions
Clients really don’t mind
I have never heard that a colleague had problems after increasing rates. Even if they did it badly, they found that most clients said things like, “about time.” For my sense of integrity, I consider the assumptions I allowed my clients to make as my responsibility. So, if a client has paid the same rate for three years, I understand they’re surprised when it suddenly goes up.
I communicate with my clients with newsletters and I post my pricing changes on my websites, and I also say it in person. I like to reward great clients with an extension of the old rate. When in doubt, if someone shows up a year later, and they didn’t know, I give them the old rate. I’ll say, “For this one time, I understand you didn’t expect that when you scheduled the appointment.” Saying, “The rate was clearly posted and stated in your appointment confirmation,” is just tacky and unnecessary. We know most people don’t read, or just see what they expect and confirm what they already know.
What benefits do the clients experience when we raise our rates?
People like it when they can come to our offices on short notice, within a few days. This is a matter of personality, and how you prefer to work, so I understand if you disagree. Personally, I don’t like maintenance work. I refer out for that. I have regular clients who see me a couple of times per year, or when something hurts. I like to do a series of sessions to work with the client as a special project. With clear objectives, it is nice to have a beginning and an end. I like it even more when I only do a check-in, touch up a few spots, and am done after that one session.
I became a Rolfer because I didn’t want to see the same person with the same symptoms over and over again. So, I don’t. I focus on accomplishing goals with clients, empowering them to seek out other practitioners, and for them to know they are always welcome back. There are a few exceptions, like cases when I admit that maintenance makes sense. And yes, some of these clients can benefit greatly from a sliding scale or pro bono work.
Community pricing for Rolfing SI
If we started talking about “suggested pricing” for graduates and colleagues, we might be able to do a lot more outreach and community work. I love doing free sessions at events, especially for people who rarely receive bodywork at all. It’s an easy way to spread the word, and if we all receive more from our regular clients, we can afford to put in a few extra hours.
Eventually, we could start real community clinics for people who can’t travel to us and can’t pay for our regular rates. We can set up a few tables in libraries and community centers, schools, and gyms. We could even get Advanced Rolfers who have the mentoring qualification to supervise and offer continuing education credit for the volunteer Rolfers. We can start simple research projects by partnering with medical offices close by.
Asking for more money opens doors, for us and the communities we care about. And the ones who are paying usually feel that it helps them too. They get in sooner, and their Rolfer is energized, excited, and keeps learning and offering more.
Here is a link to the slideshow I present to my students: https://bit.ly/3KbPkLN
1. For more information about the inflation rates in the United States, to go: https://www.worlddata.info/america/usa/inflation-rates.php.
2. Here is an inflation calculator for the United States: https://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=135&year=2001.
Lu Muller-Kaul has been a Rolfing SI Instructor with the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® since 2019 and coauthor of The Rolfing® Skillful Touch Handbook (2022) with Bethany Ward and Neal Anderson. She mostly teaches Phase I courses, bringing physiology, therapeutic relationships, and Skillful Touch together so students learn an adaptable spectrum of touch skills while staying aware of the space they hold for each client. Mueller-Kaul began her journey as a licensed naturopathic physician in Germany in the 1990s. Along the way, she practiced acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and traditional Chinese medicine before coming to the United States to study Rolfing SI. She would love to read your thoughts and feedback, and she’s happy to offer a free phone call, schedule via the contact link on www.QforLu.com or email Lu@QforLu.com.
pricing; money; cost; supply; demand; inflation; rate increase; dues; overhead; business; worth; value; social media; scheduling; pro bono. ■
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