Do you want to start a business in a growing industry that makes money nearly anywhere you go? Are you good at getting personal and physical with clients? Then it might be time to look into starting a massage therapy business.
To help you get started, we interviewed Pam Christenson of Synergy Massage Therapy in New York City. She began her career nearly ten years ago and has made $100k annually over the past eight years from her own private and group practices.
Even with a pandemic, her business is still going at a great pace in 2020. Her insights on how to start a massage business and what you can do to make your business successful are powerful and won’t disappoint!
You don’t have to be in the Big Apple to make big money doing massage therapy. Follow Pam’s advice and the steps we’ve presented in our guide on how to start a massage business.
1. Make a Plan
Before starting a massage therapy business, you must make both short and long-term plans of action that will ensure your success in the industry. There is a lot to think about, but starting a massage business isn’t as complex or expensive as many other business ideas.
How Do I Start a Massage Business?
For your plan, let’s lay out the steps required to start a fully licensed and certified massage therapy business. Start up costs range from $6k to $10k, which is very low when compared to other businesses. Where you attend massage school and your choice to work from home or in an office are the top factors in determining the cost.
We’ll explore all of those options in the next sections, but first, let’s list out the costs to open your business.
- Training and Education
- Massage Room Décor
- Deposit (if you’re opening an office)
- Equipment and Supplies (Table, oils, stools, and sheets)
- Accountant or Accounting Software (QuickBooks)
- Marketing Materials
- Lease (if renting an office)
- Laundry and Cleaning
- Website, Phone, Internet
2. Purchase Equipment
We asked Pam about her largest ongoing expenses and she stated,
What Equipment and Supplies Do I Need?
Massage therapists require specific equipment and supplies for operation. It’s important to get high quality equipment to provide the best care for your clients. The equipment may seem expensive when you’re first starting, but be sure to prioritize quality over quantity.
The other factor to note when choosing your equipment is safety. Clients view massage therapy as a business that’s both safe and relaxing, so your space and equipment should reflect those standards. However, you also have to protect your own body.
If your massage business is mobile, then you’ll require a foldable table you can safely transport between locations (not too heavy to carry, but strong enough to bear weight).
Protect Your Body
Choose equipment that is sturdy enough to hold your client’s weight, but also adjusts in height so you can protect your back while working. In addition, your oils and lotions must be safe for use and your space should be clean and sterile with a calm and relaxing ambiance.
Here’s a list of equipment and some online massage therapy suppliers. You may find local suppliers in your area with a quick web search or through a professional association (Step 2):
- Massage Table
- Massage Chair
- Linens and Towels (Have enough to change between each client)
- Oils, lotions (You may get a discount from a supplier if you purchase in bulk.)
- Candles and Music
- Laundry and Cleaning Equipment
- Carrying Equipment
If you can’t find a local store that sells massage equipment, there are a lot of affordable online suppliers who ship anywhere in the U.S. Take a look at Body Work Mall, EarthLite, and the Massage Warehouse. You may find some special offers if you time it right!
3. Licensing and Certification
If you’re thinking about starting a massage business, most likely you have some experience or are even already certified. But if you’re brand new to massage therapy, let’s look at the process step-by-step.
License or Certification?
First, every state (except Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota and Vermont, as of 2020) has different rules and regulations for massage therapists. And there may be local laws at the city or county level that require fees or background checks for licensing and certification.
For example, the state of Minnesota has no laws governing massage therapy, but the city of Plymouth, Minnesota has an extensive application process that requires a criminal background check. Always be sure to check with your local governing authority (county clerk) before opening your business.
Defining License or Certification
Often, there is a question of whether a state requires a License or Certification and how to define both terms. To simplify, a license or a certification are both legal terms used by governing bodies to regulate the practice of massage.
In both scenarios, you must prove you’ve completed the minimum classroom and hands-on training hours, safety training (CPR) requirements, and passed any required exams. Some states also have ongoing education statues like any other medical professional. You can check on all of the requirements for your state using this Interactive Licensing Map.
4. Training and Education
Massage therapy is a skilled, credentialed profession that takes a great deal of training and education to master. As stated, this is to protect both the client and the therapist.
Any entry-level position at a massage clinic will require that you’re certified by an accredited institution. Also, you’ll need an education certification (along with training hours) to obtain the proper licensing and practice certifications from most governing bodies.
The best course of action is to find a school recognized as accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. The department site doesn’t have a list of massage schools, but you can search their database to determine accreditation. Here are some of the top massage schools:
- National Holistic Institute
- National University of Health Sciences
- Myotherapy College of Utah
- Cortiva Institute Schools of Massage Therapy
The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) is the only accrediting institution in the US dedicated to massage therapy. Any school accredited by COMTA is also recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. There are other accrediting boards out there, but the COMTA seal of approval is an easy indicator of an excellent school.
Board Certification Training and Specialization
Another option for certification is to take your training one step further and become board certified. You don’t have to be board certified to be licensed. However, board certification shows clients you’re totally dedicated to the trade.
The only board certification in the US is the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). The board requires you to be certified by one of their assigned schools, pass an exam, and pass a criminal background check.
Another way to take your massage therapy education and credentials to the next level is to specialize in a particular area of practice. Here are some of the most common specializations and services offered through the NCBTMB:
- Sports Massage
- Military Veteran Massage
- Oncology Massage
- Clinical Rehabilitative Massage
Good therapists study new techniques and work on ways to master their craft. If you want your business to be successful, be sure to look into some of these extensive certification and specialization programs, and always continue learning.
5. Location: Home or Office?
With your certifications and licenses in order, you can start legally practicing as a massage therapist. It’s a good idea to get some more experience at a clinic to see how to run a business before you venture out on your own.
However, when it’s time to branch out, you have some important business decisions to make before you start. Are you going to practice from home or at an office? And what steps do you need to take to make it happen?
How do I Start a Massage Business from Home?
Starting a massage business from home has a lot of advantages and disadvantages to weigh. First, you need to assess whether you have the space you need to work from home.
You Need a Big Room!
A home massage therapy business requires an extra sizable room you can convert into therapy space. The common areas of your home where clients pass should also be consistently cleaned and maintained. You will also need to assess the safety concerns around clients knowing where you live and inviting them into your home.
Don’t Forget the Other Tasks
Last, you will be responsible for all of the other jobs that go with running a full clinic. Meaning it will be your responsibility to sanitize all equipment and linens for each use, answer the phones to book appointments, and restock your supplies.
Save Money and Be Free
However, you will save a lot of money on start up and operating costs as your revenue will be mostly profit without having to pay rent or maintenance fees on an office. You also have the freedom to book clients at whatever time you want, and you can also run a mobile business even with a home office.
It’s necessary to complete all the other business registration and marketing tasks we map out in the next sections to open a home clinic. But if you want to massage from home, it’s a great solution for therapists who want to keep their expenses low and have more freedom with their time.
How do I Start a Massage Business at an Office?
When we say “start a massage business at an office,” it doesn’t necessarily mean at your own office. Though it’s possible, we don’t recommend it when you first start, especially if you don’t have the funds. Pam explained in our interview.
Rent a Room
Many beginning massage therapists rent out rooms from other business owners, and it’s a common practice in the industry. In fact, if or when you open your own clinic, much of your revenue will come from other therapists renting space in your office. This, in essence, is how you start a massage business at an office.
You also save money by beginning your private practice this way, as Pam explained,
Once you’ve grown your business enough, you can take on the expenses tied to owning your own office. But don’t do it until you have extensive experience in the industry. Pam had years of experience and was booked three months in advance before she expanded her practice.
Where Do I Rent a Massage Therapy Space?
When you’re looking to rent a space, the best place to start is by contacting local massage practices. They’ll want to see your credentials and experience are up to standard, so be sure you’ve put in the work before you contact other clinics.
Another way to find a space is through membership in a professional massage therapy association. It’s a great way to network with other therapists and business owners. You can also get a lot of expert advice from people who have been in the business for a while. Here are the key massage therapy associations in the U.S.
- American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)
- Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP)
You may have to pay to be part of the association, but the opportunities from membership could be well worth the minimal fees.
6. Business Registration
Once you’re certified and know where you want to start your massage therapy business, it’s time to register your business at the state, federal, and local levels. Work with an accountant to determine which business structure (sole proprietorship, limited partnership, limited liability company, or corporation) will work best for your business.
What Type of Business is a Massage Business?
Traditionally, most massage therapists operate as sole proprietors, but many are changing their business structure to LLCs or S-Corporations to protect themselves from legal pitfalls and other tax liabilities.
After registering your tax structure, check with your local regulatory agency (city hall, county clerk) to see if your business requires a license specific to operating a massage therapy business. Every city has its own rules and regulations.
It’s important to note that this is where being a member of a professional association comes in handy. Members in your area will know the local laws, so you don’t have to spend time speaking to government officials.
Once you’ve secured your business registration, you must obtain liability insurance for your practice. It’s a necessity for any massage therapy business to protect you from a potential claim of liability from a client. Should a client sue you, the insurance would cover expenses related to the suit (court, damages, etc.).
Insurance is typically a necessity to get a license as a massage therapy business, but not always. Hopefully, you never have to use it!
The massage therapy associations we mentioned offer liability insurance for their members, but you can also check with any certified insurance agency about their business liability policy offers.
Personal Health Insurance
Besides liability insurance, it’s important that you cover yourself with your own health insurance. Being a massage therapist is a physically demanding job. Having health insurance covers your potential health needs and ensures that you’re in top shape to keep the business running.
You may also want to invest in disability insurance just in case something happens and you cannot work. Being self-employed means that you’re the muscle behind the operation, and it’s smart to cover yourself in case of injury.
8. Write a Business Plan
With your equipment list, certifications, licenses, structure, registration and liability insurance secured, it’s time to put these elements into a clear roadmap on how you intend to run and grow your new business. This plan is more complex than the initial planning and research you used to get started.
A formal business plan is essential because you use it as a resume to show others that you’re serious about your operation and intend to grow. Also, a business plan is necessary if you intend to apply for any small business loans to help start or expand your business. Your plan should contain these sections:
- Executive Summary
- Company Description
- Market Analysis
- Marketing Plan
If you need help putting your business plan together, the U.S. Small Business Administration has an excellent guide to keep you on track.
The start up costs for a starting massage business are low, but you still need to come up with the funding. Following Pam’s advice to avoid debt, you won’t want to apply for a loan when at first or at least wait until you have an established customer base and want to expand your business.
Personal Funds and Business Loans
Instead, most massage therapists pay for school and their start up costs out of pocket. Many of the accredited schools from the resources above offer payment plans to help students navigate financially through school and training.
Also, it is common for clinics to pay students for services while training, but not all do it. It’s important to do your research when weighing your options for where you wish to train.
However, when you’re ready to open or expand your business, the Small Business Administration has loan programs with lower interest rates than commercial banks.
Zero-Interest Credit Card
Alternatively, with good credit, you could also apply for a credit card under a delayed interest program and pay off the card before the interest kicks in. Just be sure to have a solid business plan in place to pay the card off. It’s not the best option, but works if you have no money to start.
To learn more about raising capital for your business, watch our two-part video series on funding startups.
The lifeblood of any new massage business starting out will be its marketing plan. We asked Pam how she attracts customers to her business to gain some insight on the subject. She said,
Massage is as business where word of mouth is king. Because it’s is such an intimate and experiential practice, massage therapists often rely on customers bragging to others about their skills. It’s one reason customer service is so important, and we’ll cover that in the next section.
However, there are other effective ways of marketing your business.
Your website is a portfolio and marketing resource that shows customers everything about what they can expect from your services. It can also serve as a digital business card that contains all of your contact information.
Most business owners aren’t web designers, and if you’re working on a small budget you may not be able to afford a webmaster. However, your site doesn’t need to be very complex. You only need to showcase your services, certifications and contact information. To do this you can use a basic website creation service like:
These services help you obtain your domain name and hosting service. They also have preformatted templates you can use to set up a clean and professional website.
If you’re tech savvy, you can also integrate scheduling applications into your website so customers can easily book appointments with you. Here are some of the top apps out there for scheduling:
- Hubspot Meetings Tool
Another way to market your services is through social media. Be sure to encourage customers to like and follow your social media pages and leave positive reviews on platforms like Facebook and Google.
Social media is also a great way to interact with customers. Always respond to compliments and comments on your feed. It helps to create more personal relationships with clients, and they’re more likely to recommend you to their friends.
11. Customer Service
We asked Pam about the best tips on being successful in the massage therapy business, and she responded,
Thus, the most important aspect of any massage therapy business is customer service. It’s the one thing that is guaranteed to get clients talking to their friends and family about your services. So here’s a list of tips to help you provide fantastic customer service.
Create a stress-free environment.
People seek a massage therapist to help relieve pain and ease tension. Your space should reflect that intention.
Keep your hygiene in check.
You’re going to be in close proximity to clients. Be sure you’re odor free and pleasant to be around. That means you may need to rethink your habits if you’re a smoker!
Be personable, but don’t be pushy!
Learn how to read your customers. Sometimes they won’t want to talk and just to relax. Don’t force small talk.
Give clients self care tips.
Clients always appreciate tips they can use to take care of themselves between sessions. It will never be as good as your services, but it keeps them feeling great and more inclined to book regularly.
12. Financial Goals and Massage Business Profits
The last step before starting your new massage therapy business is to set clear financial goals.
To calculate your goals, revisit your business plan and add up your expenses to weigh them against the price of your services. The number left over is your profit. If you’re not sure of what to charge, here is a great resource tailored for massage therapists.
On average, massage therapists should shoot for a profit margin of 20%.
There are also other tactics you can use in the massage industry to keep your financial goals on track. Pam gave us some great insights on this topic:
It’s common practice for massage therapists to require a credit card hold for bookings with a cancellation policy in place. That way, if a client doesn’t show or cancels an hour before the session, you can still recoup some of the lost income. However, use this tactic with discretion.
Can you make good money as a massage therapist?
said Pam. And that number is achievable even if you’re not a massage therapist in New York City. Undoubtedly, the answer to the question is yes!
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the average annual salary for a massage therapist at over $42k a year. If you’re running your own business, that number can rise quickly. It’s all about the effort you put into running your business.
13. Take Care of Your Body
It’s up to you to take care of yourself, so you can take on as many clients as you can safely handle. Sometimes that means telling clients you can’t get to them until next week. This tactic will keep you healthy and working, and that’s how you achieve financial goals and keep your business profitable. Play the long game!
Follow our guide on how to start a massage business and you’ll be on your way to making over $100k a year in no time! Can you think of anything we missed that would make a massage therapy business successful? Leave a comment below.