How To Start A Massage Business
Starting your own massage therapy business isn’t difficult, it just takes time and patience. Once you know the basic steps to get going, you won’t need much in the way of overhead so it’s not as expensive as starting other kinds of businesses.
The very first step, of course, is graduating massage school and obtaining the necessary state or city license, if there is one required to practice massage in your city. Once you have graduated and you are up to date on city or state requirements, the next steps to start your massage business are:
- Decide on a business name.
- Decide if you want to work as a sole proprietor or incorporate.
- Find a business location (unless you are planning on working from home or working in your client’s homes).
- Get a city business tax license (you will need to have a business address) from the City Hall in the city where you will be working.
- Get a website.
- Create a professional email address and phone line.
- Find a good certified personal accountant or CPA.
- Get insurance for your business and health.
- Decide on your pricing structure and services.
- Purchase equipment and supplies and business management tools.
Choose A Massage Business Name
Whether you decide to work under your name or to choose another name, It won’t hurt your business. If you are planning on running a multiple therapist clinic or offer other kinds of services besides massage, you may not want to use your name. Choosing a name to represent your massage business can be tough, but if you do an online search for “business name generator”, you will find dozens of free sites where you can type in “massage” and see ideas to name your business.
When I had my first massage business in Huntsville, Alabama, I wanted a business name but had no clue what to use. So I ran a contest with my current clients to come up with a name, the winner won a free massage. The name, Healthy Kneads. I figured if my clients helped come up with the name, maybe it would also attract more of the same kind of client! For my business in San Diego, I just used my name because I thought that would stand out better and probably still come up in searches even if someone mistyped it into the search box.
Doing Business As or DBA
If you do decide to not use your name for your massage business. You will need to register your name as a DBA. This process isn’t very expensive and you only need to do it once. States have different laws, so you will need to find out where to file the paperwork. In some states, it’s done by your local county agency but in others, it’s done via a state agency.
You will also want to make sure the name isn’t trademarked in your state or in the country. If you choose a name that is trademarked, the owner of that business can request that you stop using the name. If the name is trademarked in a different state, then you can still use the name, but you wouldn’t be able to use it in the state where it’s trademarked.
The Search Trademark Database can show you if a name is trademarked. If you have a DBA, and then later, someone else tries to trademark that name, they cannot ask you to stop using it if you can show you were using it first. They may not even be able to trademark it because it’s already been in use.
Once you have registered your DBA, you will likely need to run it in the newspaper for a few weeks as a public announcement. Not all cities or states require this though so you will need to check. I also don’t recommend going through online services like Legal Zoom for this process. They do not always have the most updated information and it can cost you later down the road.
Sole Proprietor or Corporation?
Having either depends on which legal structure is best for your business. I don’t want to go into too much detail because there are pros and cons to each and it’s better to defer to a lawyer who can help you make the best decision for your business.
And they can carefully outline the steps you need to take in order to obtain a corporate license if you decide to go that route. If you miss even one step, then your company is invalid, so here, again, I would recommend against using any kind of online service. And your one hour legal appointment is a tax write off!
Your Massage Business Location
A good business location can definitely make or break your business! If you are planning on working from home or providing outcall massage, you can skip this section. There are a lot of factors that go into finding the right location for your massage business but if you consider them carefully, it can help your success.
It can take a while too, so please be patient and hold out for the best location. It’s easy to just take what’s available and think that you can just move later, but it’s more difficult that you know to move an office. And you will lose a % of your client base with every move.
Looking For Your Office
You can contact local realtors to find one that specializes in business but a massage business usually doesn’t need much space so, depending on where you live, you may not be able to find an agent. It’s still worth it to call around and check.
Other options include driving around and looking for “for rent” signs on buildings, keep a pen and paper with you so you can write down the phone number. You can look through online sales pages, like Craigslist as well.
One of the first things you want to consider is to find the neighborhoods where people have the income to afford regular massage sessions. People like convenience, so the closer you are, the more likely they will become your regular clients.
When you find some areas that look suitable, some other things to keep in mind are what other businesses are around the office? The type of businesses around the location can cause potential clients to decide your location is unsafe or your business may be misinterpreted. This has happened before to a massage therapist who didn’t realize there was a sex shop near the office location she chose. And she often had men coming in asking for illicit services.
Industrial locations aren’t recommended because these are typically out of the way for most people. And their buildings usually are not soundproofed and can be loud. Other important considerations are:
Tips For A Good Office Location
- Is it easy to give directions to the location?
- Would it be easy for a new client to find after they scheduled online or by phone?
- Is there parking available? Is it free?
- Are there stairs? If so, is there an elevator? Having stairs with no elevator can have an effect on the type of clientele you can see. It’s a good idea to consider if you want to work with people with injuries or the elderly.
When you find a location, ask the landlord if they will let you sit in the office space for a few hours during the work week. This will give you an opportunity to know if the location is quiet or not. When I chose my first office in San Diego, I viewed it on a weekend and it was very quiet.
It was horrifying when I was working on my first client and I realized how loud the office was! I could hear the fellow in the office next door giving out his credit card information to place an order. Needless to say, I ended up spending more money and learning a lot more about sound dampening an office than I ever thought I would need to know.
Know Your Lease
When you find a location and are meeting with the landlord, there are a few important things you will want to know because the answer may mean that your startup costs are going to be higher than you anticipated.
- How do they handle repairs? Will they handle them or will they expect you to?
- Is their space compliant with the American Disabilities Act on a federal level? If not, and they are fined, they will be required to make changes to the building that may affect your office.
- What are their policies for ending a lease? Is it on a monthly basis or an annual term? Annual is usually better because it locks you into the space and often landlords will give a discount for an annual or bi-annual payment.
- What is included? Utilities, WiFi, water, etc.
- Does the building meet local regulations? And do they cover the building and/or office inspection or do you have to pay for it?
City Business Tax License
Whether you are opening an office in a building, your home, or doing outcalls, you will need a city business tax license. Check your City Hall website to find out where, how much, and the information you will need to apply. There’s usually a small fee depending on the area of your city where you will be working. You will pay this fee on an annual basis. Later, you will receive paperwork from them asking what furnishings and equipment you have in your office, and they will add that into what you are to pay for your annual tax.
A Massage Business Website
A massage business website isn’t just for marketing but it’s your real estate on the internet. Without a website, people who are searching for your services aren’t going to find you. There are several low cost and easy ways to put a website together yourself. Check out my home study workshop, Website Design & SEO On A Budget (Available starting June 1, 2018), for an in-depth look at how to put together a website and optimize it for search. The course is for beginner’s and is approved by the NCBTMB for 2 CE’s.
Professional Email and Phone Line
You can set up a free Google email for your business, something like [email protected] or pay Google $5 per month for a [email protected] I don’t recommend using other free email platforms such as Yahoo or Hotmail as they don’t encrypt the emails as they go back and forth, which opens them up to being spammed quite a bit.
Some webhosting companies will also sell an additional email to go with your website.
For your phone line, you don’t want to use the same number you are using for personal calls. With a different line, you can have a professional sounding answering message. You can either add a new number to your existing phone, get a landline for your office, or get a free phone line through Google Voice. How Google Voice works is that calls are directed to your current phone, but the number is different. However, you will need to record a professional message on your personal phone, so that the number represents a professional business.
Certified Tax Accountant
A certified tax accountant (CPA) can help you make sure to set up your finances adequately. As a business owner, you will need to file quarterly, or 4 times a year. Waiting to file at the end of the year is a bad idea because you will end up paying a lot more than you anticipate. Filing quarterly helps keep what you owe in manageable sums. If you are married, filing jointly, you do not need to file quarterly taxes. Additionally, if you wait to file at the end of the year and cannot afford to pay the lump sum, you can get on a payment plan, but that can incur almost $100 per month or more.
I used a CPA for many years during the times I had a massage business. Eventually, I learned how easy Turbo Tax was to use and migrated to that. It is still a good idea to use a CPA, because they are updated with what expenses you can and cannot write off. They are also a good resource for helping you learn ways to manage your business budget. But if you are on a tight budget, Turbo Tax should work fine, as long as you are careful about what you are claiming as expenses. Getting audited and then hit with a fine can really hurt your business’ budget.
It’s a good idea to set aside 25-30% of what you make from each client for tax payment.
Business and Health Insurance
Business insurance can help cover loss from fire and/or theft and also cover you if a client gets injured at your office. Two of the most well known associations that offer insurance are the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Associated Bodyworkers and Massage Professionals (ABMP). There are lesser known companies that offer insurance coverage available but I would recommend either AMTA or ABMB because they have been doing it for a while and are trustworthy.
Personal health insurance is important because it will help cover you in case you need hospital care. Look for something that includes dental and eye care as well. The Health Insurance Marketplace is a good place to start looking for an affordable plan.
Pricing Structure and Services
Now is the fun part! Determining what you are going to charge and what services your business is going to offer. One of the biggest mistakes massage therapists make is charging on the lower end because they think that will bring them more clients. Not only will you not necessarily get more clients, but you will have to work harder to bring in income in order to make a living. How you determine your pricing will depend on:
- Your business and living expenses
- How many clients you can work on in a day
There is an excellent guidebook that is easy to understand written by my colleague, and friend, Rhonda Henry, titled, How Much Can I Make As A Massage Therapist. It’s an inexpensive book that will shows you the formula for figuring out what you need to bring in to support yourself. You can use the formula found here to determine your pricing.
And what will you offer? Just massage or are you planning on selling products, classes, or other types of treatments, such as scrubs and bodywraps?
Massage Office Equipment and Business Management Tools
Now that you have your office and your services picked out, you can gather the equipment you will need. Of course you are going to need a massage table, headrest, and lubricant. If you can budget for a massage chair, I would recommend that as well. You can use a massage chair for marketing your business and they come in handy if you get clients who cannot lay down on a flat surface.
Other office equipment would include:
- Desk and chair for you
- Chair for the client/s
- Computer or laptop
- Phone, if using a landline
- Filing cabinet
- Cabinet to put dirty linens
- Drawers, for storing linens
- Hamper/basket for holing dirty linens
- Bowl or shelf for client to place jewelry
- Hooks and hangars to clients can hang their clothing
- Music player and massage music
- Décor such as plants, wall art
- Mirror, many clients like to be able to fix their hair after the session
- Cleaners (unless you hire a cleaning service)
For massage business management tools, there are many options available and you can search online for the one that fits your needs. You can find software for:
- Scheduling appointments
- S.O.A.P. charting
- Managing expenses
Finally, you may want to consider a linen service for your massage business. I did my own laundry for well over a decade before hiring one and it was well worth it, freeing up time so I could take more clients!
Open Your Massage Business!
Once you have all these things in place, you are now a massage business owner! Now it’s time to learn how to market your business so you can bring in new clients and keep them coming back as regulars. Check out the Grow Your Massage Business Digital Marketing Academy, where you can access NCBTMB approved home study courses, video tutorials, and other support to help you learn to take advantage of digital marketing to grow your massage business.