Featured image for a blog about home office vs commercial space for LMTs. Image of a massage room.

Choosing between a home office and a commercial space for a massage practice involves weighing various benefits and considerations. A home office can be more affordable and convenient, providing control over the environment and eliminating commute time. However, it requires a dedicated space that ensures privacy and quiet, and must comply with local zoning laws. On the other hand, a commercial space separates personal and professional boundaries, adds a level of professionalism, and often offers better accessibility and maintenance support. The decision ultimately depends on personal preferences, client comfort, and professional goals, as client opinions on the ideal setting can vary significantly.

Key Takeaways

  • Setting up a home-based massage office can be convenient and cost-effective, but it requires careful consideration of space, privacy, noise, legal requirements, and maintaining a professional environment to ensure a positive client experience
  • Using a commercial space for a massage practice establishes clear professional boundaries, enhances the professionalism of the practice, and often provides better facilities and accessibility for clients, though it involves additional considerations such as lease agreements, location, and maintenance
  • Clients have differing preferences regarding home-based versus commercial massage practices, with some valuing the personal and energetic atmosphere of home-based settings and others preferring the professionalism and boundaries of commercial spaces

What are the Benefits of a Home Office?

Many of us assume that setting up a massage space is the easier and more affordable option. There is some truth to that but even a home office has some inconveniences and expenses.

An ideal home-based massage room is a room that is dedicated to massage. The room doesn’t serve any other purpose. For example, it’s not a guest room or a temporarily-rearranged living room. Not everyone has a space just sitting there, unused.

Ideally it also has its own door to provide privacy to the client. It can’t be a space that will be inadvertently invaded by other home occupants (human or animal). It also needs to be quiet. If you live with noise-makers (children, a vocal parrot, a barking dog, a partner who turns the volume up on the TV, etc.) you’ve got to figure out how to give your client a reasonably quiet experience.

Take a moment to consider where the bathroom is. Can the client access it without going through the rest of the house? Speaking of access, how much of your normal living space does the client traverse through to reach the massage room? Will you be able to keep that pathway clutter-free and professionally appropriate?

Back to bathrooms. Does the bathroom contain personal items or medications that you’d rather not share with your client. Assume they’ll peek in cabinets and drawers, not because they’re terrible people but because people are by nature curious. I had an unfortunate incident where a prescription medication went missing from my bathroom when I had my practice in my home. I think I know who took it, a new client who never returned, and the loss of the medication wasn’t a danger to me but it was a serious wake-up call about giving clients access to my personal bathroom.

You also need to think about legal requirements. Some jurisdictions require a special permit to operate a business out of your home. What are the zoning requirements or restrictions for your home? Is your home governed by condo or home owner’s association rules? It’s not uncommon for these to restrict home-based businesses especially if it’s the kind of business (like massage therapy) that has people coming in and out and requiring parking spaces. You ignore these regulations at your own peril.

Having said that, plenty of massage therapists have successful home offices without meeting all of these criteria. I have practiced out of two different houses. What eventually drove me away from my home practice both times was the isolation; I wanted to be part of a team.

Of course, when your practice is home based you don’t have to pay rent (which is especially attractive when your income is reduced by illness or vacation) and you may be able take a deduction on your taxes for your home office. That deduction doesn’t just apply to your mortgage interest or your rent, it may also include your utilities, home repairs, cleaners, etc.

You also have full control over how the space looks – décor, colors, temperature, etc. You’ve got easy access to your laundry facilities. You don’t have to travel to and from the office. When you have an open space in your schedule, you’re already home! You don’t have to leave the building to get something to eat or pack food for yourself.

What are the Benefits of using a Commercial Space?

So, are there any advantages to working out of a rented space? Absolutely!

The first is fairly obvious – it separates your personal life from your professional life. In a profession where boundaries are a constant source of consideration, this is a built-in healthy boundary.

It can also add a cachet of professionalism to your practice – a professional practice in a professional space. Of course, this means choosing a space that looks professional in a way to complements your massage practice. What other businesses, if any, share the building? Will they be compatible with the type of business you’re operating? (If so, can you establish a professional or referral relationship?) Are they quiet businesses?

A commercial space means you aren’t responsible for repairs though you are usually still responsible for cleaning. When you’re checking out spaces, take a look at the general maintenance of the building, in the space where you might work and in the rest of the building. Does it appear that the property management company / building manager are staying on top of things? Are there burned-out lightbulbs? Decaying walkways? Is the paint job up to date or chipped and scratched? Are there any mysterious smells? Are dumpsters overflowing? If there’s carpeting, is it clean and in good shape? If there’s linoleum, is it cracked or peeling?

Remember that your clients don’t differentiate between your practice and the building. The building is part of how they perceive your practice. Will they be comfortable in this building?

A commercial space may offer more parking than your home does, including handicapped-accessible parking. If you have clients with mobility challenges, you’ll want to make sure you clients can get to your space. A commercial space may already be designed to be handicapped-accessible, unlike your home.

Of course, you have to travel to your office and carry laundry, food, etc. to and from the building. When there are gaps in your schedule, you aren’t at home but that open time is still a good time to catch up on professional reading (like Massage Magazine!), make phone calls, or even take a nap. Naps are self-care, after all.

You can’t do much about the location of your home but you must take location into consideration when looking at commercial space. Unless you are brand new you probably have some idea where your clients are coming from and how convenient a location is to them. Is it also easy to find?

You don’t need a lease for your own home but you’ll have one for a commercial space. The longer the lease, generally the better the price but make sure your practice is mature enough to sign a multi-year lease. Of course, with a lease you are still on the hook for the rent no matter how many clients you see. Time off for vacation, illness, continuing education, etc. doesn’t reduce your rent each month. But you can probably still take a deduction for the rent (though not the mileage to and from).

If you don’t have a lot of experience with a commercial lease, have someone (even a lawyer) read it over before you sign it. There may be restrictions or conditions that aren’t common in a residential lease. For example, a commercial lease may limit the type of business you can conduct in your space. It may or may not permit sub-leasing. Read the lease carefully.

Do Clients Care?

Susan Press, Springfield VA, notes that “I have gone to at least 8 different massage therapists over the last 30 years, both at their homes and in a commercial space. For the most part the commercial spaces I’ve been to seemed soulless as if they were part of a production line and interchangeable, even with their attempts to be warm and inviting (i.e. candles, dim lights, soothing music and emphatic massage therapists, etc.). They don’t seem to have the same energy I get from the home-based practices.  

“Not to say I won’t go to a commercial space if my therapist decided to practice in one but it is like they don’t seem to create the same type of energy/spiritual sense that I get from a home-based practice” she said.

On the other hand, Lisa Moncur of Las Cruces NM says “I prefer to not go to a stranger’s house for professional service of any type, including massage. Even with an established professional relationship, I’d prefer not to walk through someone’s home.”

So the decision really does come down to what makes the most sense for you, your clients, and your goals.

Image of headshot of author Kelly Bowers

About the Author

Kelly Bowers is the owner of the Healing Arts Business Academy which specializes in helping massage therapists set up their private practice and navigate the first two years in practice. She is an author, presenter at regional and national conferences, an instructor in professional training programs, an NCBTMB-approved provider of continuing education and a retired massage therapist. She lives in Durham, North Carolina. (NC 16669)

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