Congratulations—you’ve graduated from massage school! After investing significant time and money, you are ready to start working, and you must begin to ensure that you will have a long and successful career.

Congratulations—you’ve graduated from massage school! After investing significant time and money, you are ready to start working, and you must begin to ensure that you will have a long and successful career.

I am a massage therapist of 34-plus years, and I am sharing these tools to help get you off to the best start possible, propel you to the top of your game—and distinguish yourself among the competition.

Whether you begin your career working for someone else or go solo, your reputation begins now. Never treat your business casually. What you do from the very beginning sets the tone for how you will be perceived throughout your career. The relationships you develop and impressions you create will follow you as your professional journey grows and unfolds.

Develop Your Brand

A brand is much more than a logo or business card; it is every aspect of what you present to the world that identifies you and your business. In a nutshell, you are your brand.

The way you dress, the message on your answering machine, how promptly you begin your appointments and return phone calls or texts, your identity on your personal Facebook page, and your logo and business card all establish an impression that will either attract or repel potential clients and employers.

To develop your brand, first decide what kind of clientele you are looking for. With whom do you want to work? This may change over time, but client demographics to consider include socio-economic status, education level, social concerns and causes, age range, health care conditions, lifestyle and types of professions. Your clientele may not fall exclusively into your ideal range, but it’s important to know your comfort zone and initial target market.

The way you present yourself must match whom you want to attract. Wearing an Oxford shirt to work versus scrubs versus a uniform all create a certain impression. (And all of those impressions are very different from showing up in ripped jeans and a tank top). Discover what your ideal client would resonate with and present yourself accordingly.

Make sure all your points of identity—your written policies, voice mail message, business card, email signature and website language—reflect the same image. Revisit your brand and branding materials every five years or so to keep them fresh and consistent.

Commit to Learning

Continuing education in bodywork is essential. Although you may feel you’ve learned everything about massage in school, that was just the beginning. As you gain hands-on experience with clients, you will undoubtedly find cases that stump you. In fact, the more you work the more you’ll be aware of what you don’t know. This humbling fact should drive a great massage therapist to study more.

Keeping yourself current benefits your skill growth, and your clients will appreciate your dedication to self- improvement. A commitment to excellence makes you stand out from more complacent massage practitioners.

Consider earning credentials in a related field of interest. Becoming an esthetician, yoga instructor or personal trainer expands your market and allows you to advise in these areas without overstepping the scope of your massage practice. In general, become a student of health. Ideally you went into this profession not simply to rub muscles but to help clients become healthier. Read up on the latest advancements in surgeries, new research on sports performance, identifying suspicious skin lesions, or other health care modalities you don’t perform yourself.

Make note of dermatologists, podiatrists, acupuncturists and other medical or healing practitioners whom your clients have highly recommended. Who are the great chiropractors and personal trainers in your area? Know when to refer to others or share something you’ve read. Get involved in your community and network. You might gain clients from these introductions, and at the least you will develop resources to provide for your existing clients while earning their trust. Be aware that your recommended resources are a reflection upon your own reputation, so vet those sources diligently.

Such networking groups as your local chamber of commerce, Business Network International, LeTip and MeetUp abound, and anywhere you meet people is an opportunity to network. Networking is about building trusted relationships with give and take, especially the give part.

Be more interested in what other people do and say rather than bombard them with your sales pitch and request for business. Start by asking about their business and inquire, “Who is your ideal customer so I can be on the lookout for you?”

Remember, you want to get to know the best professionals and businesses in the area to help your existing clientele. Likely, your new resource will inquire about your business. Keep your explanation short and powerful. Describe your ideal client referral and be prepared with a special offer to have your new contact experience your work firsthand.

Protect Your Body

Investing time and money into your own health is a critical investment in your business. Physical jobs like massage take a toll, and many massage therapists leave the profession all too soon due to pain or burnout. Protecting your body is key to having a long career.

Healthy habits like exercise, stretching, yoga, healthy eating, creating balance and managing stress make you a walking billboard for your practice. If you are not there yet yourself, work toward that goal.

Also to support your health, purchase the best electric or hydraulic lift table you can afford. This primary investment will be a career-saver. Proper body mechanics and an ergonomically correct work environment prevent poor postural habits that shorten professional life spans.

Protect Your Practice

For the health of your business, invest in a comprehensive spa software program, even as an employee. You’ll want to capture and organize contacts to communicate with them. Let them know of a special service at the spa or chiropractic office where you work, or share a tip or pertinent health article. Be proactive in marketing, even as an employee. You are establishing relationships and identifying yourself as a trusted health resource.

Advanced spa software programs have client data management systems, email marketing campaigns and even SOAP notes. If you envision selling products, purchase a program that tracks inventory and allows for sales of both services and retail.

Planning your potential needs in advance saves you the laborious task of re-doing your entire client database when switching software programs. Programs that generate detailed reports help monitor the progress of your business. Reports of sales, most popular services and products and client retention data are valuable for assessing your effectiveness, identifying new goals and monitoring the progress of your business.

Some spa software programs reside on your computer, while others are cloud-based only. If you don’t have a reliable internet connection in your office, you may not want a cloud-based system. Decide what works best for you. When choosing a program, evaluate availability of tech support, monthly payment versus outright purchase and whether free software updates are included.

Keep Learning

Be willing to invest in information and advice. Hire or consult with people who have skills you may lack, such as bookkeeping, tax organizing and preparation, marketing or financial investing.

Seek out successful businesspeople you admire. Offer to buy them lunch or give them coupon for a discounted massage in exchange for being able to interview them for an hour. Respect their time by having prepared questions, and take notes.

You are embarking upon a business that requires many professional skills aside from having sensitive and technically trained hands. Ask for help and find good mentors.

Build Financial Savvy

You are in this profession to make a sustainable living while doing something you love. Determining which opportunities to say yes to—and whether they’ll provide an adequate income—is not rocket science. It starts with creating a budget and determining your hourly wage.

Write down your monthly expenses, which includes your annual expenses divided by 12. Note the essentials such as rent or mortgage, utilities, phone service, insurance, loan repayments, average food expenses and any other basic needs. This will factor into the minimum amount you have to earn each month. Estimate the number of hours you can safely work without harming yourself. Divide monthly expenses by the number of hours you can work. That’s the average you need to make per hour.

Some opportunities pay more and some pay less. Some may pay you for time when you are not doing a service. Seek accounting advice. Don’t hide your head in the sand and ignore what you need to do to survive financially, free of physical and emotional exhaustion.

If your level of experience does not justify the price you need to charge for a massage in order to pay bills, consider other income streams to supplement your needs while growing your skills, experience and reputation.

Plan Your Future Consciously

What is your ultimate goal? Do you want to be a solo-preneur, own a spa, massage franchise or school? Do you want to travel internationally, roam the seas doing massage on a cruise ship or be the massage director on a cruise ship?

If you don’t know where you’re headed, how will you get there? Business plans can be revised as you grow and explore, but begin with a clear personal mission statement as to why you’ve chosen this helping profession.

Measure how well each new opportunity aligns with your mission statement to evaluate whether it serves your ultimate goal. Enjoy a wide variety of experiences to identify possibilities you might not have envisioned, and then focus in on the direction leading to your desired outcome.

About the Author:

Pam Sebestyen is a 34-year-plus massage therapist as well as an esthetician (and admitted chemistry geek). She owns a solo spa in Northern California where she is passionate about helping clients attain optimal health and wellness from within and without.