How to be an independent massage therapist: 5 tips

This week I wanted to follow up on my article about the reality of being your own boss. So let’s say you read that and you’re now thinking you do, indeed, want to fly solo and run your own clinic or private practice. Ok!

In my own career, I moved clinics a number of times. Once it was due to bylaw issues we were facing and so myself and another therapist opened a clinic elsewhere (more on that in a moment!). Once it was because I moved to another city. Still another time it was because I had major life changes and decided to close my rented office and return to working in someone else’s clinic on a percent split.

This is all to say: I’ve got a lot of experience with moving a massage therapy business, and moving your private practice has extremely similar challenges to opening one for the first time. I did learn a lot and was able to avoid mistakes with each new location – mistakes you’d probably like to avoid! Whether you’re opening a clinic with other therapists or just renting a room and doing your own thing there, these tips should help see you on your way.

Tip #1: The planning process takes more time than you may think.

The journey to starting a private practice is not a quick one. Even if the right rental space comes up right away, there is still a lot to consider before you start seeing clients.

Is the area you’d like to work in a viable one? Don’t assume that ‘everyone needs massage’ (or whatever it is you do). That might be true, but the location really does matter. Is it near other amenities people use? Is it near where people in your target audience live? It is in an area you’d feel comfortable in at 5 am or 10 pm – remember, as a clinic owner, you may very well be at your space at those hours doing prep work or administrative tasks. Is the area growing? Is it accessible for those with mobility impairments?

As I alluded to in my own story, you also need to look at bylaws and zoning. Is the building zoned properly for a massage clinic? Don’t assume anything based on other tenants. Do your research. The last thing you want is to move into a building and discover months down the road that you have to move again. That’s a headache no one wants!

Do you need permits or licenses other than your registration to practice? Whatever those are, they tend to have a fairly long application process, so make sure you get on that sooner rather than later.

Does the place need renovations, or even just redecorating? What do you need? Who will do them for you, or will you DIY?

Do you have a website? Business cards? Online booking? Point of sale?

I could go on, but I think you get the point. There is a lot to plan, and it isn’t the kind of thing that takes a couple of weeks and it’s done.

Tip #2: Plan your budget, then add 15%.

No, I’m not joking here – you need a buffer.

In construction, they call this the contingency cost. It’s there because there are always unforeseen expenses. Things you couldn’t possibly have known until construction began and you’re tearing apart walls and dealing with suppliers and mother nature. It’s much the same when opening a business, even if you don’t have to do any construction. Whether it’s some equipment you didn’t realize you had to purchase or having to pay someone to paint because you ended up not having time to do it yourself, the costs add up. Fast.

My extra tip here is to apply for a small business loan or line of credit if you don’t have the cash on hand to pay for everything. Don’t rely on credit cards, which have a high-interest rate. This will be a huge help to your bottom line, as long as you have a plan in place to pay off the loan as soon as possible.

Tip #3: Have a plan in place to transition your clients.

As early as you can, start letting them know you are moving and where to. A big time saver here is to start a mailing list with software such as Mailchimp and start asking your clients to sign up there for updates. As an aside: don’t assume you can just put all your clients into this software and contact them en masse. Check anti-spam legislation to be sure (CASL in Canada).

Remember too that if you work for someone else right now, they might be upset that you are leaving. Try to put yourself in their shoes: they are losing a good therapist, some clients, and revenue into their business. This isn’t an easy situation to be in, even if they respect the reasons why you’re leaving. Try to be sympathetic to their situation – it can help ease tensions.

For those of you working in regulated areas, there are usually policies you need to follow for transitioning clients. For RMTs in Ontario, this means you need to tell your clients that you are leaving, where their chart will be, and where they can get continued care. Note that I did not say you have to tell them where your new practice will be. You don’t. Of course, you will want to, but please keep this in mind when negotiating with your current clinic – if they insist you can’t tell clients, it is probably not worth your time to force it. Find other ways to let your clients know. The ones who want to follow you will figure it out anyway, especially if you’ve done your preparatory work.

Finally, be prepared for some clients to not follow you, or to be upset with you. From personal experience, I can say the vast majority will congratulate you. But some people don’t deal well with change or will take it personally that you’re moving on. Try your best to take this as a compliment: They liked your treatments so much they’re upset you won’t be there any longer.

Tip #4: Start shifting your mindset to being the boss.

Being the boss means you’re now responsible for all the day-to-day operations of the clinic. So you need to make time in your day for all of that and not just for seeing clients. Dealing with vendors, running out to buy something you ran out of, updating your website, getting business cards ordered, calling your landlord to fix a broken lock or toilet… all stuff you need to make time for.

I remember when I ran my own clinic there were several days where I had to cancel all my bookings to deal with a broken point-of-sale machine and a provider who wouldn’t book specific times, only ‘we’ll be there sometime between 9 and 5’. And then my new machine was sent to the wrong address, meaning I had to travel to pick it up and rebook the ‘9-5’ appointment for another day. That was a very frustrating few days for me, and a lot of lost revenue. So you need to be ready to deal with those situations. If you’re used to coming in, seeing clients, doing a bit of paperwork, and leaving, your days will no longer be like that.

Tip #5: Don’t forget to change your address. Everywhere!

You wouldn’t believe the number of people who forget to update their regulatory body or association with their new address and number! But it’s not just those address changes you need to think about.

If you work in an area where people have insurance coverage for massage, it’s usually a good idea to let insurers know you have moved. That way when a client (or you!) puts in a claim, it won’t get flagged due to a change in address.

Do you have other practitioners who refer to you regularly? Don’t forget to let them know where you’re moving! If you’re part of any business networking groups, update them, too.

Of course, the government certainly needs to know your new details if you’re registered there for any reason (business number/HST is the big one here in Canada). It’s generally best to update them right away, rather than wait until tax time.

And last but certainly never least: your friends and family should know your new clinic address!

If you’re preparing to open your own space, good luck with it! It does take time and energy to run your own private practice, but for the more entrepreneurial types among us, it can be very much worth it.

For more advice on running a sustainable business as a solo practitioner, I invite you to sign up for my newsletter. I also send you a FREE guide on writing better website and social media content – the kind that gets people’s attention and gets YOU bookings.


Woman working from a laptop as a solo health business owner.
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