Many massage therapists are attracted to the massage business because they are drawn to help people.
Coupled with some positive outcomes, this desire to provide help inspires some massage therapists to view themselves as healers, a label that comes with mystical connotations.
Aside from the ethical and physiological problems with this, adopting a healer self-image is often more appealing than facing the mundane daily challenges of balancing the dual roles of being a health-care professional and a small-business owner.
In running a massage business, it’s not enough to just be good with your hands, and succeeding is not all about intention. Operating a massage business is more complicated than that. If you don’t know how to operate in compliance with the laws regulating what you do and where you do it, you can be shut down. If you aren’t able to talk to people about what you do, it will be difficult to develop a clientele.
Here are 10 tips for succeeding in your massage business role.
1. Choose Your Massage Business Structure Carefully
Will you be a sole proprietor, an LLC, an S Corp or something else? Each has different requirements, costs and advantages, and those will impact your taxes and liability. Consulting with a CPA or a lawyer is recommended. Setting up an S Corp usually requires hiring a lawyer to draft the paperwork.
2. Operate Legally
Understand your legal scope of practice and zoning laws that state where massage practices can be located, and obtain all of the necessary credentials and licenses needed to open a massage business. You will need to register with your city and state, and you may need to publish a public announcement in a local newspaper.
3. ICs Should Have Contracts
Will you be an independent contractor (IC) working under someone else’s roof, or will you have your own facility? If you are an IC, negotiate and sign a written contract to protect your interests, and stick to the terms of the contract unless it is amended in writing. If the terms you originally agreed to turn out to be unfavorable, you may need to renegotiate the contract or leave.
The simplest IC agreements are for renting or subletting space in which to practice. If the terms also include linens, tables, laundry services, or the management of scheduling or payments, have a lawyer review it because the agreement may be illegal.
4. Cover Your Glutes
Having practitioner professional liability insurance coverage is a good step; however, if you have your own massage business, you want to have a comprehensive business liability policy to cover all the things that those policies do not.
For example, if a client falls and gets hurt on their way back to their car after a session, you would be covered by a general liability policy. If you’re an independent contractor, it’s a good idea to have a general liability policy because your legal status is that of an independent business. If uncertain of the limits of your current coverage, contact the organization(s) providing the coverage.
5. Know Your Numbers
How much do you pay for rent? For supplies? For advertising? If mobile, for fuel? For equipment? To decorate your workspace? For insurance? For licenses? For continuing education? For other business-related expenses? What do you need to take home to pay your rent or mortgage? For food? To pay employees? For all of your other personal expenses?
Add your business and personal expenses together to figure out how much money you’ll need to take in just to break even. Increase that number by 30% (multiply it by 1.3) for taxes and other expenses you might have forgotten about. When you have that number, you can set concrete goals that will help you increase income and make decisions about things that might affect your massage business’s profitability.
6. Use Technology
Although some of us find a certain old-school appeal in keeping all of our records on paper and handling one phone call at a time, we’re losing time and money by doing so. Using online scheduling services that can process payments is far more convenient for clients, and they offer options for filtering new clients.
If you have a policy regarding no-shows, such services make it easier to enforce that policy. Online scheduling can also be integrated into your website and social media. Social media provides many options for advertising your massage business, services and expertise at little or no cost.
Client paperwork can be completed and stored using a variety of electronic formats. Monthly subscriptions to software or services add to your cost of doing business, but clients appreciate the convenience and you may find it much easier to fill your schedule in most parts of the country.
7. Have A Plan
All of the points mentioned so far are steps that should be covered when developing a plan before going into business — but you should also consider what kind of experience you want your clients to have and whether you want to pursue a niche market or have a more flexible practice.
For example, do you want to be available to help a wide range of clients between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, with a fixed price for the length of each session regardless of the techniques you use? Or do you want to see only athletes between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, work part-time as an employee at a massage center two nights per week, and volunteer four hours a week at a local oncology center?
It’s fine to split your time between multiple practices, but know why you choose to do so. If you have a long-term goal you’re working toward, are all the things you’re doing now moving you toward that goal? Or are you splitting your efforts in too many directions?
8. Simplify Your Options and Prices
Do you prefer to read menus that are simple and easy to understand, or complex menus that are difficult to follow? Most people, especially if they’re in pain or under stress, tend to prefer simple menus that are easy to understand.
A great example is to offer sessions of fixed duration (30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes) with a price for each duration. This provides you with the freedom to use whatever you know to provide the best experience for the client. You don’t have to talk them into an upgrade and they don’t feel like they aren’t getting the best possible session for a fair price. It also means that you get paid the same regardless of what work you do; so, it’s a great way to give yourself a raise.
9. Be Cautious About the Claims You Make
Grandiose claims about what you do can undermine your credibility. Common examples of this include claims about detoxing, healing, and anything to do with fertility and inducing labor. There’s just no scientific support for such claims.
However, there is good evidence supporting the use of massage for back pain, stress reduction, and management of the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Citing supporting research in your advertising is a great way to demonstrate awareness of current science. Take the time to fully read it and make certain it’s a high-quality example of good evidence before citing it, no matter what the headline and abstract say.
10. Find the Magic in the Mundane
The steps noted above, plus the daily work that comes with seeing clients (laundry, cleaning, charting, managing your schedule and balancing your books), create work. Some of it is one-time work, but most of it is long-term, near-daily work. A lot of your time is spent doing things other than working directly with clients. Consider how all of it contributes to the seeming magic that occurs during your massage therapy sessions with clients. It’s as important as what you do with your hands, and may contribute more to your massage business success than your massage skills.
Maybe You Shouldn’t be Independent
Massage therapists who don’t want to deal with the professional networking, speaking, marketing, bookkeeping and other practical aspects of running a successful small business might be better off as employees. Good employers who run their massage businesses well make it possible for employees to make a decent income for the amount of time put in.
Being able to show up, see clients, write notes, leave and get paid regularly without having to do the rest of the work of running and promoting the massage business is very appealing. Some of the most successful employee massage therapists I know have been successful business owners but prefer the relative simplicity of working for someone else.
Being an employee is also a great way to develop professionally. After a failed attempt at starting my own massage business right out of school, I became an employee at a successful multi-therapist practice with a great reputation. It put me in contact with many clients so I could develop my massage skills, and I learned a lot about how to run a successful practice from working within one. Understanding how the receptionists and scheduling worked, for example, became critical to the success of the massage business my partner and I acquired later.
Deciding whether to work for yourself or someone else is a choice you have to make — and if you choose the former, you need to learn to love your role as a business owner.
About the Author
Jason Erickson, CPT, BCTMB, co-owns and practices at Eagan Massage Center. A former chronic pain patient, Erickson is an internationally recognized continuing education provider teaching classes on pain science, dermoneuromodulation, sports massage and research literacy. His articles and podcast appearances are widely featured; his articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “COVID-19/Coronavirus Information for Massage Therapists: Fact vs. Fiction” and “4 Promotions to Reach Clients Who Seek Massage for Health.” For current information on his CE classes, visit healthartes.com.