For many massage therapy students, the dream of having their own practice is what keeps them motivated to finish their program. I don’t know about you, but my training concentrated on providing a safe and effective massage. Any mention of business ownership was a fleeting comment or a course taught by someone who wasn’t a full-time independent practitioner.
That’s why so many of us struggle to make that dream a reality. Great massage skills are a must to operate a fulfilling, self-supporting practice but they aren’t enough. Business ownership is a completely different animal that requires specific knowledge, unwavering commitment and unconditional love to thrive.
Great massage skills are a must to operate a fulfilling, self-supporting practice but they aren’t enough.
GET CLEAR ON YOUR WHY
Before you start doodling names for your business and designing your logo, take an honest look at why you want to run your own show, what your strengths are and what situations or tasks you avoid. As a business owner, you’ll likely be wearing all the hats (at least for a while). This means you’ll need to be organized enough to keep all the balls in the air and fearless enough to keep adding new ones you’ve never juggled.
There’s not one ideal reason to choose entrepreneurship. Just know that it doesn’t guarantee you’ll make more money or have more free time (the opposite will probably be true initially). It has to be a calling that pulls you in and can’t be satisfied any other way.
KEEP YOUR DAY (OR NIGHT) JOB
Unless you have a substantial amount of savings or your income isn’t essential to support your family, maintain another source of income until your practice earnings become reliable. Even the fastest practice-building timeline will take a while. Having realistic expectations from the onset will improve your chances of success.
There’s no shame in having a part-time practice that supplements another income stream long term. This is actually an excellent way to ensure the longevity of your massage career. It can balance a more demanding massage employment position or give you respite from a vocation you may not be passionate about but that provides financial security.
As your private practice grows, you may need to change jobs to accommodate the demand of your increasing clientele. Massage franchises offer a convenient opportunity to work around your business schedule. They’re typically hiring constantly and welcome good therapists regardless of your availability. If you live somewhere that doesn’t have them, look for something flexible that won’t infringe on the time you have set aside for your clients to book.
If you’ll be practicing out of your home or providing mobile massage, you won’t need to rent office space. Doing massage from a private residence may limit your marketing and clientele possibilities, and may also be against the zoning laws for your city. Check with your city manager’s office to verify your options. Mobile massage has other expenses to consider, such as gas and parking, and you’ll have to decide if you’ll provide the table and linens or if clients will.
I have always preferred separating my business and home environments so I chose to work at a commercial location from the start. To make it more affordable, I’ve shared a treatment room with another independent therapist for much of my career. Whether or not you share other expenses is up to your unique agreement (personally, I advise against it to make things less complicated).
When seeking out massage space to share, location is king. Select a spot close to an interstate or major street in your area with adequate parking if public transportation isn’t the norm. It’s more important for your practice to be convenient for more people than it is for it to be convenient for you. Craigslist and local Facebook groups are a good place to begin your search.
DEVELOP YOUR BUSINESS SKILLS
Look for business and marketing courses that offer CEUs for massage therapists and put these types of training at the top of your continuing education list. Being good at running your business will grow your practice much faster than having a diverse, advanced service menu. Get whatever support and guidance you need to excel. Any investment you make will pay off as long as you implement what you learn.
Being good at running your business will grow your practice much faster than having a diverse, advanced service menu.
MAINTAIN A CONSISTENT SCHEDULE
Having a set schedule will help clients know when you’re available and make doing business with you more predictable. It also allows you to establish unmistakable boundaries. You’ll want to have your marketing activities on your calendar as well. This way, you won’t be tempted to book a client when you planned on networking or researching an opportunity to gain more exposure.
As much as it may seem like we’ll make more money seeing clients rather than expanding our message, the reverse is true in the long run. Once you decide on a few strategies, do them consistently for at least three months to really evaluate how well they perform. Then analyze, tweak and repeat.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH DISCOMFORT
Unless you’ve operated a business before, most everything you do as a business owner will be new to you. Cut yourself some slack. Learning all the ins and outs takes time, and the lessons you benefit the most from will probably be mistakes. Give yourself permission to have a one-day pity party, then figure out what went wrong and try something else. The most successful people are the ones who screw up over and over again but keep refining until they figure it out.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
When making any decisions about your practice, whether it’s what to charge or what color the curtains are, think about how that might play out over time. Most decisions can be modified but thinking ahead will save you time and money, two elements that tend to be in short supply at startup. One particular aspect that is easily overlooked is focusing on how to get more new clients rather than getting clients to return. Both should be incorporated into your marketing and business practice priorities to maximize your efforts.
No two massage practices are exactly alike so every business owner’s journey will be different. If something doesn’t feel right, it may not be a fit for your vision. You may have to examine some established beliefs or take a less traveled path to find your way. In the end, follow your heart and listen to the quiet voice in your head because they know where you’re going and how to get you there.
Cath Cox has been a licensed massage therapist in Colorado since 1999 and is the creator of the Booked and Busy in 90 Days System™. Her mission is to heal the world by inspiring independent massage therapists to build thriving practices of their own so they can work authentically for as long as they desire. She currently provides ashiatsu barefoot deep tissue massage exclusively in her private practice. You can learn more about Cath and her journey at bookedandbusy.com.