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A normal workday for Samantha Hess includes spooning, holding hands and snuggling with people she barely knows.
And she gets paid $60 an hour to do it.
This Portland-based entrepreneur started her business, Cuddle Up to Me, a little more than a year ago and has not only managed to build a steady client base, she’s become a bit of a worldwide sensation. The 30-year-old has been interviewed for print, radio and television media outlets across the country and globe, including CNN and USA Today, and even released a book earlier this year, Touch: The Power of Human Connection.
How did she do it? It all started with a broken marriage, a random article she found on the Internet, a killer support system and a drive to succeed. You may not need that exact formula, but if you genuinely like people and want to make some extra cash — or explore a new full-time job opportunity — professional cuddling may be right for you, too.
The Inspiration for This Unusual Business
After Hess ended her marriage, she felt unfulfilled. She wasn’t ready to date, but still yearned for touch and acceptance from another person, she says. One day during this bleak period, she came across an online article about a man offering free hugs at a Saturday market, yet getting outdone by another man offering “deluxe hugs” for $2 a pop.
“I thought, how great would it be to have someone who would just hug me and make me feel loved, and not need anything from me emotionally?” Hess says. “Then I came across professional cuddler Jackie Samuel online and I knew I had found my dream job.”
When Hess began pursuing her full-time snuggling dreams last March, she had to make sure professional cuddling was indeed a legal, viable business. She even hired a lawyer to help her through the startup process, which also included developing a waiver to ensure her safety — a difficult task considering the cuddling industry is a relatively new, open landscape.
By June, she was ready to start taking client appointments, and Hess was marketing her cuddling services to everyone she met. She put flyers up around town and left business cards at local shops — anywhere she might find someone who needed a hug.
Within a month local television, radio and print media took interest, but Hess really started feeling the love in October, when The Oregonian published a feature about her. Turns out, a lot of people wanted to snuggle with Hess — she received 10,000 emails that week.
Her business took off, and a year later, Hess says her story has touched 17 million people around the world, including China, Brazil and Australia.
Why She Charges $60 an Hour
Before finding her true calling, Hess held a slew of less-than-fulfilling, customer service-type jobs. She also spent time as a personal trainer, a job she says commands about $60 an hour.
Based on that, her skill set and the fact the most similar professional she could think of — a massage therapist — charges about the same, she decided folks would be happy to pay that rate to spoon. Plus, she liked the idea of marketing her services for only $1 a minute.
With that rate, it took Hess about seven months to find herself in the black.
So how much can she make? When she snuggles up to her max of five clients a day, Hess brings in $300, and she usually works five days a week. But her earning potential doesn’t end there. She plans to open a retail store later this year and to teach a 40-hour certification course for aspiring cuddlers.
Who Wants Cuddles from a Stranger?
When Hess first started, she expected to dole out most of her hugs to lonely widowers. That hasn’t been the case. She has spooned with people of all ages and backgrounds, from CEOs to artists.
Most clients schedule four to five sessions, and she’s amazed by the emails she gets from those clients who want to thank her for helping them get through a difficult, otherwise hug-less time.
And for Hess, that’s what cuddling is all about.
“When someone has some sort of gap in their world that makes them feel incomplete, I get to help fill in that gap,” Hess says. “I get to build people up to give them the self-confidence to go after what they want in life.”
Making It as a Professional Cuddler
Interested in cuddling professionally? You better like people.
If you’re going to try this business, you have to offer unconditional love to everyone who signs your waiver. There’s no room for discrimination or judgment, Hess says. You’re there to build your clients up, to offer them comfort and the human touch they crave — in a mother/child, non-sexual kind of way.
You can’t be a control freak, either. Clients drive the sessions, whether they want to hold hands in the park, spoon on the couch in silence or chat about their problems as you snuggle in bed. Of course, you should develop a sign that alerts clients when they’re making you uncomfortable or if something inappropriate happens — for Hess it’s two taps.
Find Support of Your Own
If you’re ready to cuddle with strangers, Hess says you need a support system. Hers consists of family, friends and the folks she volunteers with at the local food bank. They give her encouragement and lift her up when she’s feeling weighed down.
Beyond that, believe in yourself and ignore those naysayers who don’t understand your dreams of full-time cuddling.
“You have to be so excited about it,” Hess says. “Know it. Just own it. If you’re not sure it’s going to work, it’s not going to work.”
Your Turn: Would you work as a professional cuddler? Or, on the flip side, would you pay for platonic snuggles?
Renee Knight is a freelance writer, editor and blogger based in Northern Virginia.