start a massage practice

It takes more than enthusiasm to start start a massage practice; it also takes budgeting your money to be successful

Based on my experience helping new massage therapists put together their first-year business plans, I know there is this thing that happens to many of you; in fact, you might actually have this thing going on right now, if you are thinking of working for yourself.

That thing is a palpable driving force building up inside of you, generating all kinds of thoughts, feelings, hopes and excitement. What is that thing? It is blind enthusiasm.

The problem with blind enthusiasm is it often gets misconstrued as a sense of security that makes you believe your ideas for a business are definitely going to work and you are definitely going to be successful.

It takes more than enthusiasm to start your business. It also takes a pretty boring special ingredient. What is the boring special ingredient that makes a business successful? Budgeting your money.

Fear not; with basic information about how to budget when starting a business, you will be able to direct your enthusiasm in a realistic way that results in clients and income.

The Practical Budget

Just because you spent money to set up an office doesn’t mean clients will find you. Knowing how to sell your service and skills will bring you clients and make your business successful.

You may not know exactly how to do that just yet, but it won’t take very long for you to figure this out. The best thing you can do for yourself in the meantime is to not lock yourself into a high level of monthly expenses you can’t afford two months from now.

Starting a business does not require you to have the perfect room you pictured in your mind for your clients — but that can all come later as you become more profitable. If you are starting out with little to no clientele, you will need to find the most affordable situation that allows you to build your business.

For example, don’t waste time or money on things you think will make you successful, such as a water feature in your massage room. Spend as little as you can to get things running. Create a comfortable, clean and inviting environment with what is available and affordable to you. As soon as you have extra revenue coming in, you can begin to invest in the things you really want for your office.

Decorating, even on limited funds, is a fun aspect of running a massage practice. The scariest part of working for yourself is understanding you now have two budgets — one for your personal life and one for your practice — to maintain, while also keeping track of your expenses and paying your taxes.

This is all completely doable, if you learn to budget appropriately. Success in owning your own massage therapy practice takes knowing where you are financially at all times, some ingenuity, and good old-fashioned elbow grease. Now, let’s look at some typical costs of opening your first massage business.

Itemized Costs to Start a Massage Practice

Massage therapy is probably one of the least expensive businesses you can start. All you need is a quiet and manageable space with restroom facilities, a massage table, sheets and towels, music, lighting, lubricant, and a way for people to schedule with you.

Assuming you already have your professional or business licenses and insurance paid for, below is a general list of common massage business start-up costs.

The business expenses that I’ve listed below are separated into two areas: start-up and monthly reoccurring costs. On the bright side, start-up costs are typically a one-time expense, and your ongoing costs are controllable based on the choices you make related to smart budgeting. (Note: This is a starting point. Expenses will be different depending on where you live.)

Also on the bright side, anything that is used in your business, for your business, is a tax expense. The money you spend, for example, on the laundry, lubricant, paper you used for a gift certificate, and rent are always tax deductible.

Products Needed to Start a Massage Practice

There are certain products you must have to start your massage therapy practice.

  • Your table setup: Massage table, rolling stool, table pad or heater and bolsters: $1,500
  • Your linens: Eight sets of sheets, and a variety of large and small towels, $200
  • Your tunes: Bluetooth speaker, $30
  • Your ambience: Lighting, client chair to sit in, decorations for room, $100
  • Your lubricant to start with: Oil, lotion or cream, $100
  • Your marketing materials: Business cards, $100

Average total product cost: $2,030

Ongoing Expenses

Some expenses will be part of your business forever.

  • Professional license: $100 average/year, depending on where you practice
  • Business license: $75 average/year, depending on where you practice
  • Liability insurance: $175 average/year
  • Continuing education: $100/year
  • Business software: $50/month
  • Cell phone: $75/month
  • Laundry service: $250/month
  • Advertising: $50/month
  • Music: App $5/month
  • Lubricant: $100/month
  • Personal-care items for clients, such as Kleenex, filtered water, soap for the restroom: $50/month
  • Massage session for self-care: $70/month
  • Rent: $200-800 ($500 average)/month

Average total ongoing expenses: $1,600

If you charge $70 per massage session, you will need to perform 23 massages every month to cover your ongoing average monthly expenses.

When You Start a Massage Practice, Your Biggest Expense is Rent

You can dream, and dream big, but you must start with honesty and a real budget. I want to discuss office rent, as it will be your biggest monthly cost.

Leasing space for your massage business can be a money-saving effort and the beginning of a great career or a debt trap that ends your ability to take care of your financial responsibilities. It all depends on what you find that matches that great budget you put together.

I have known people who signed a rental lease with the hope they could afford it, and typically only had enough money in reserve to pay for the first month or two. They believed it would all work out and they would have enough clients by the time their savings ran out — and that didn’t happen. This is a type of business failure you want to avoid.

My recommendation is instead of jumping in and hoping you will be successful, have a plan and a budget. Those numbers are what will tell you whether or not you are ready to enter into a lease. They are your reality, so that is where you must start. When you have built up clientele, you will have what you need to sign a lease.

If you charge $70 per massage session, you will need to perform the following number of massages to cover your rent:

Three massages a month to cover the low end of rent, at $200 per month; seven massages a month to (almost) cover the mid-range of rent, at $500 per month; and 12 massages a month to cover the high end of rent, at $800 per month.

Again, at the $1,600 average, you must provide 23 sessions at $70 per session just to cover your business costs. That doesn’t include money you need for such personal living expenses as food, shelter and clothing. Remember, your costs will change depending on what you pay out monthly and what you charge per massage; however, understanding the number of massages you must perform each month to cover costs is key to a successful practice.

Additionally, if you offer discounts for first-time massage appointments, that increases the number of massages you will need to complete to cover your rent and other expenses. On the flip side, if you find a colleague to trade with each month, you won’t be paying out $70 for your self-care massage each month.

As you can see, when you are starting out it is more realistic to find a $200-per-month rental situation and work toward making sure you have one to two paid massage sessions every week to cover your expenses. That is more practical than to hope you are going to immediately find three to four people every week just to cover your rent.

This is where the blind enthusiasm we discussed earlier can become a detriment to your success. You need to know what your budget is based on what you are actually accomplishing in the present in order to know what you can afford, and build your business from there.

Build Your Massage Practice Over Time

When I started my massage practice, I took out a loan of $1,500 and paid it back over two years. I think I spent around 50% of that loan just on living expenses for the first three months as I was learning to work for myself. Looking back, I think I could have worked it out, saved what I needed, and not borrowed any money to start my business. But as we know, hindsight is clearer than foresight.

Your circumstances might be different, but after reading this article you might realize you are at the beginning of your career. Building your business is a process, and it could take less money to begin than you think. Your overall goal is to be successful and stay in business. Keep focused on that goal.

There will always be uncertainties in your budgeting when you are self-employed. You don’t always know what you are doing is going to succeed. Nor do you know, for sure, where money is going to come from week to week. Many small businesses fail, but many also succeed — and time and again, it’s the ability to budget, sometimes creatively, that creates success.

I firmly believe that with an open mind and a little creativity you can make your dream of starting your own business a reality. Learning to use your budget as your business guide is one of the greatest tools for your success.

About the Author:

Amy Bradley Radford

Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB (ppsseminars.com), has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 25 years. She is the owner and developer of Pain Patterns and Solutions Seminars CE courses. She is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved CE provider, and has authored several books, including Massage Your Market: How to Define Your Client’s Expectations. Read more of her articles, including “Are You Making This Huge Mistake with Your Product Sales?” at massagemag.com. Visit her website to download a complimentary small-business-plan template with budgeting worksheets.