A practical guide
Thinking of starting a massage therapy business?
You probably wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t!
But you also aren’t alone. Interest in massage therapy as a career has skyrocketed over the last 10 years, as more and more people realize the amazing benefits of massage treatments.
So yes, let’s talk about starting your own massage business!
Now, because most Massage Therapists are self employed, I want to be clear on what we mean by ‘owning a business’ here. In this case, I am specifically talking about people who rent an office and are responsible for everything that goes into it. Folks who subcontract their services to another clinic or gym run businesses too, absolutely, but there is a difference in time and money investment with owning your own clinic.
There are a lot of articles out there about starting your own clinic. Most of them try to give you a ‘step by step guide’ to opening your own massage therapy business.
The unfortunate problem with those types of guides is that you can’t just follow the steps and expect to find success in your new chosen career. It simply doesn’t work that way.
Most guides tend to start with step one: get your massage therapy license. I’m going to assume if you’re reading this you’ve already done that part, or are in school right now.
Or, maybe they say step one: get a business loan.
But I want to be more realistic. Before you go to the bank looking for a loan, consider the following.
The First Step in Starting a Massage Therapy Business
The very first step before you go investing any time into anything else is: figure out if owning your own massage therapy business is the right thing for you!
So many massage therapists want to own their own business because ‘that’s what everyone does’ or ‘I will earn more money if I do that!’.
But I want you to challenge those ideas. Yes, lots of massage therapists run their own clinics and yes, it would appear from the outside looking in that they can earn a lot of income doing it.
But you need to weigh all the pros and cons. Is it the right decision for you, your family, and your lifestyle? Do you like the idea of having to do all the behind-the-scenes stuff like dealing with a business rental, getting things repaired, buying supplies, hiring people to help with some tasks, and so on? Are you ok with giving up some of your free time for these things? Remember, running a business is a 24/7 job. Even if you set work hours and try hard to have some balance, the truth is the business is going to need your attention outside of your client, hands-on time. So be prepared for that, and really be honest with yourself about what you’d like for your lifestyle. I’ve written more on this topic right over here and in the follow up to that post, here.
Once you are sure running your own business is right for you, we can move on to step two.
Step Two with Starting a Massage Therapy Business: Research, Research, Research
Now you need to do a deep dive into figuring out if your business will be viable.
That means you need to do a lot of research into what is already working in your community, and what people are looking for in a new massage clinic.
The types of questions you should be thinking about include the following:
- Colleagues & Competition: What are some of the existing massage clinics? Assuming they are successful, look at where they are located, the population they serve, and any other special notes you might want to make about them. For example, if they are well known because they do a lot of local events or give back to charity.
- Fees for Services: What are these businesses charging for their services? What does that look like per week, month, and year in terms of a ballpark gross income?
- Trends & Treatments: What are blogs, social media posts, and other online sources saying about trends in massage clinics or treatments?
- Public Opinion: What do local people think about massage therapy? Is there a population that is underserved? Do people seem interested to welcome another clinic? Do people feel they can afford your services? Are there any concerns you should think about?
- Uniqueness: What will make your clinic unique? What can you offer that is a bit different from what is already out there? Is there something unique you can offer that would inspire you and make you happy to go to work every day? This could be working with a specific population, or having a clinic environment that is different, or specializing in one particular type of technique.
- Costs: What will starting a clinic roughly cost you? Look at rent, any equipment you need to purchase, license fees, renovations, utilities, and any other major costs. Also consider the ongoing costs, both for the building (rent and utilities) and for the business (linens, online booking, massage lotion, phone, internet, website, and so on).
- Financials: Where will you get financing for starting your clinic? Are there loans, grants, or other financial pathways you can use?
- Marketing: How will you get the word out about your business? What will that cost you, or are you able to DIY a lot of it?
At this stage we are not doing any of these tasks – we are not applying for loans or renting space right now. We are simply gathering information in order to inform our business decisions.
A word about competition
Before we go on, a gentle reminder, as over the years I have spoken with many therapists who strongly dislike the idea of ‘competition’ with their colleagues.
It is easy to get stuck in the idea that ‘there is room for everyone’ or ‘community over competition’ when it comes to opening your own space. While I absolutely believe both of those statements, they come with a little footnote: you need to have your own niche within the community if you want to find success.
That doesn’t mean you have to run a business that is wildly different from everyone else’s. That also doesn’t mean you have to do things that don’t interest you – if you truly want to work with, say, athletes, and another clinic already does that, that is fine! The key is figuring out a way to differentiate yourself from other businesses without compromising your own needs as a business owner.
There is room for everyone, and small businesses are stronger if they support one another. But you still need to have an offering that the public feels has value, and isn’t a cookie cutter of the business down the block.
Ok, with that out of the way: based on all your research, do you feel like a plan of action is forming? If so, let’s go!
Step Three with Starting a Massage Therapy Business: You Need A Plan
Now that you’ve done all your research and have a better idea of what you will need in order to get a successful business off the ground, it is time to create a business plan.
Now, how you do this will depend on your needs.
If you are applying for any kind of financing, be aware of what they want to see in terms of documentation. Some will want you to have a full business plan written out, in a formal document with specific formatting and using specific language. This may feel a bit ‘stuffy’ for many massage therapists, as a lot of us – myself included – like to keep things more casual. But remember, if the bank or the government wants things done a certain way in order to get a loan, it is well worth your time to learn to speak their language.
Learn how to format a full business plan and what to include. Spoiler alert: you did all that research for a reason! Your business plan will include things like a summary of the business you want to create, your competitors, target market, marketing strategy, financials, and so on.
For some more information on writing a formal business plan, you can check out this article from Shopify.
That said, if you are not applying for financing, or if you don’t need a formal business plan for it, you can simply do a more general plan without all the formal language and structure. It still requires putting together a plan of action, but it is just for your reference. You won’t need to write it out like you’re going to submit it to the bank, because you aren’t.
Again, use the Shopify article as a great starting point on creating a business plan.
Step Four with Starting a Massage Therapy Business: Getting The Word Out
I have placed this before actually going and renting office space or buying a new massage table for a reason: you need a plan to get the word out before you start on all the clinic-building tasks.
Once you get deep into trying to get your business up and running, you will not have a lot of extra time for things. Who wants to be thinking about if emails or social media posts are better for attracting new clients when you’ve got drywall to hang and furniture to buy? You’ve got enough stress going on, let’s make it easier on you, right? If you already have a marketing plan in place, you will already know what to do and when to do it.
If you wrote a formal business plan, the marketing plan may have been included, so you might be ahead of the game here.
But if you didn’t, now is the perfect time to get those plans written out.
I have a variety of articles to help you on this part of the journey, so read them when you are ready!
Overall, I want you to think about marketing early to give you the best chance at success. The last thing you want to do is arrive at grand opening day for your clinic to have only your family and friends come by. You want to start getting the word out while you are still building the clinic, and make people curious about that new spot opening soon just down the street. You want people to be excited to book an appointment with you! This is a very important strategy to make sure you aren’t hearing crickets the day after you open, once all those family and friends have gone back to their usual daily lives.
Step Five with Starting a Massage Therapy Business: Now Let’s Execute
Now you are ready to put that plan into action!
You’ve done all your research on what would make a viable massage clinic. You’ve written out a plan, and you’ve got your marketing methods woven in.
So the final step — and yes it’s a big one — is to start getting all of those tasks done!
I recommend writing yourself a to-do list with categories and deadlines, using your business plan as your master guide. So for example, instead of ‘rent clinic space’ as an item, you break it down into smaller tasks, such as ‘search business rental listings’, ‘contact three potential landlords’ and ‘view spaces’.
This will not only help you see what tasks need to be done, but also to organize things so you don’t have this giant, insurmountable list. Instead, you will have weekly or daily tasks that you need to execute on, and can worry about the rest of the list when the time comes.
Not only that, but will also help you to delegate things as needed. Whenever someone asks if they can help, you can refer to your list and see what needs doing that you don’t have to do yourself! Trust me, you will be very grateful to take a few things off your plate.
Critical, important, and nice-to-have
The other thing I recommend is marking tasks as critical, important, and nice-to-have.
Critical are things you cannot skip over when getting your business launched. These are things like find a rental space, buy a massage table, get any required licenses, and so on.
Important are things you need but are not quite as critical as the first category. These are things like getting your linen service booked, investing in online booking, and buying your website domain name.
Nice-to-have are things you can move to ‘after I open’ if you run out of time. For example, hanging art on the walls, getting magazines for the waiting room, or buying extra supplies (assuming you have enough to get you through the first few weeks).
A small bonus tip, to take something off your plate
On this note, a small bit of advice as a web designer: you do not have to have your clinic website fully launched for opening day.
I get that this may be against the grain of what many marketing experts will tell you. But I also know what it is like as a small business owner. Unless you have a business partner or have hired a full team, chances are you are the only one doing the vast majority of tasks.
So give yourself some space. I recommend buying your domain name and getting an extremely simple, one page website up. It will have your business name, what you offer (massage therapy), where you are located, and current contact information. If you have already invested in online booking, you can have a ‘book now’ button too. And then at the bottom, a nice little ‘full website launching soon!’ statement.
Simple, fuss free, and still helps people book with you until you have the time to really dedicate to creating a great website for yourself.
I hope this has been a helpful look at how you can launch your own massage therapy business. There isn’t a shortcut, really — it’s just doing the hard work to make your dream happen. But if you want to do it, you can!
And yes, if you need help with the marketing aspects, please check out my shop.
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