How to Start a Massage Business

Starting a massage business is a great option for someone looking for either part-time or full-time work in helping people heal their minds and bodies.

Massage therapists do need quite a bit of training and education to be able to start their own businesses.

They also need to obtain licenses and certificates to be able to operate legally in most states.

Although it requires quite a bit of preparation, this type of business can be quite rewarding for someone interested in promoting healthy living,  

The Easy Parts of Starting a Massage Business

For someone who has the right level of training, the process of giving massages may seem pretty easy. There are a few other parts of operating a massage therapy business that are relatively easy too.

Creating a Niche

For massage therapists who want to set themselves apart from competitors, one great way to create a niche is through offering specialty massage options. Therapists may need extra certificates and licenses to promote these specialty massage options, which can include: 

  • Prenatal or pregnancy massage
  • Oncology massage
  • Rehabilitation massage
  • Reflexology
  • Pain management massage
  • Sports recovery massage
  • Hot stone massage
  • Child or infant massage

Working With Related Businesses

As a massage therapist, you may be able to save some money on rent by cooperating with related health businesses. Perhaps you could create a partnership with a chiropractor or an acupuncturist to offer massage services in their offices. A spa, athletic studio, or yoga studio may allow you to set up a massage room at an existing business for a reduced rent cost. 

These types of locations and businesses often will have people already visiting them who may have an interest in massage. This extra foot traffic can introduce your business to more clients quickly.

Perhaps the therapist could operate out of his or her primary location a few days a week and set up shop inside a related business for another day or two each week.

Repeat Customers

When a client finds a massage therapist he or she really likes, chances are high that the client will become a regular customer. Clients like the idea of being able to rely on the same therapist every week or month to receive great results.

If the massage business owner treats the clients well and offers a great service, those customers will be more likely to return. Customer service is key to maintaining a steady set of return clients.

The Difficult Parts of Starting a Massage Business

As with any small business, there are some aspects to starting a massage therapy business that will be challenging. Mastering these tough areas can help the business weather difficult times and find a way to grow and thrive.

Passing the Necessary Exams

To receive a license to work in a certain state or city, the massage therapist may have to pass certification examinations.

These exams will cover some scientific terminology about the human body, along with questions about massage techniques. Some questions will deal with ethics and communication with clients as well. 

Passing the exams is not an automatic process. According to the organizations that monitor these exams, only about two-thirds of people who take them will pass.

Accepting Health Insurance

By accepting health insurance claims, a massage business will open itself to a greater number of potential clients. For those clients whose health insurance covers massage costs, they may not even consider a massage therapy business that doesn’t accept health insurance.

However, managing health insurance claims can be a time-consuming and challenging process for the business owner. Filing claims with an insurance company in the proper manner is not always easy. Making a mistake here may result in a significant delay in payment.

Some massage businesses simply choose to avoid accepting health insurance because of the hassles it causes. 

This is an important decision for massage businesses to make. If the business has an employee who has experience handling insurance claims, this can be a significant benefit to the business.

Finding Customers

Being able to draw in new customers is a path to success for almost any business, but it is especially important for massage therapy businesses. After all, a typical customer is not going to walk into a massage business and request a session. Far more frequently, the customer will call ahead and book an appointment time.

Without walk-in traffic driving business, marketing and branding will be the primary ways for a massage therapist to find customers. 

Word of mouth is another great way to find customers. People who were happy with the massage at the business may recommend the service to friends and family. Offer discounts to current clients who recommend the business to others.

To build a brand and a strong marketing presence, some massage therapy owners will hire a third-party entity that specializes in building brands for small businesses. Other massage therapy business owners may try to save some money by doing the marketing themselves. This is a big decision for the viability of the business.

Working Long and Unusual Hours

For someone who is looking for a business opportunity that will provide the ability to work normal business hours, starting a massage business probably is not the best choice.

Especially when starting out, the massage therapy business owner likely will need to work odd hours. When the business has a small number of clients, it needs to match the needs of those clients, which could mean working at night or on weekends. 

Long hours are common for a new massage business owner, especially one who is doing everything, including giving massages, collecting payments, scheduling appointments, and marketing the business. 

If the business grows and the owner decides to hire employees, he or she may be able to work a schedule with normal hours. The owner could assign the other employees to work some of the odd hours and weekends.

Step 1: Research the Required Credentials

For someone looking to become a massage therapist, it requires training and certification. People will not be able to obtain the licenses and necessary credentials for this profession without passing educational classes.

Follow Local Guidelines

The majority of states as well as many larger cities require anyone performing massages to have licenses. To be able to advertise as a massage therapy business, any employees performing massages must have the right licenses and credentials.

A few states do not require licensing, but having certifications and easily verifiable training will legitimize your business in the eyes of customers. 

Understand Board Certification Requirements

States that require licensing for massage therapists often will have certain levels of training that the applicant needs to have. Some of these requirements may include: 

  • Receive accreditation from a recognized organization, usually through passing a written exam
  • Undergo a certain number of hours of hands-on training, usually at least 200
  • Spend a certain number of hours in formal instruction classes, usually at least 300
  • Agree to a code of ethics
  • Complete ongoing education every year or two

It’s possible that the massage therapist will need board certification both at the state and local levels.

Obtain Your Credentials

To obtain licenses and credentials, massage therapists must go through a minimum amount of education and training. Some of the organizations that can help with obtaining the training and certification include:

  • American Massage Therapy Association
  • Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation
  • Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination
  • National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork

Through these organizations, massage therapists can find classes and educational materials to help them pass exams and obtain credentials. 

When seeking an accredited school for massage therapy, check with the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs from the U.S. Department of Education. The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation also lists schools for massage therapists. 

Join a Professional Association

Some massage therapists will want to join a professional organization after obtaining their credentials and receiving board certification. This type of membership gives customers confidence about the business and about the therapist’s education and training.

The American Massage Therapy Association is one of the oldest professional associations available for massage therapists. It helps members find ongoing education opportunities, and it also maintains the industry’s code of ethics.

Step 2: Understand the Costs Involved

Someone looking to open a massage therapy business will have to spend some money upfront to prepare for the opening. New owners can spend tens of thousands of dollars if they want, but there are far cheaper options as well.

Renting Space

Choosing to rent space in a busy retail location can be helpful for driving traffic to any business. However, having plenty of foot traffic isn’t as important for a massage business as for some other types of businesses. Most people will set up an appointment ahead of time for a massage, rather than walking into the business on a whim.

Rental costs can run from several hundred dollars per month to a couple thousand, depending on the amount of space and location. 

Some people choose to save quite a bit of money on rent by operating the massage business out of their homes at first. After the business starts to grow, the owner then may choose to rent space somewhere else.

Equipment

Massage therapists will need equipment like a massage table, bolsters, wedges, sheets, lotions, and oils. These items can have an initial cost of several hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Oils and lotions will need replacement on a regular basis.

For a therapist who wants to perform specialty massages, extra equipment may be necessary. Pregnancy massages require the use of special wedges and bolsters to support the body of the pregnant woman, for example. 

Depending on the type of atmosphere desired for the room, candles, heated scent oils, music systems, and specialty lighting may be necessary. Massage therapists can spend tens of thousands of dollars on decor to create a special atmosphere that will draw in clients and keep them coming back. Certain types of decor may help the business appeal to higher-end clients who will pay more.

Others massage therapists may choose to spend far less, though, and they may still have success. It really depends on the type of atmosphere the business is trying to create.

Insurance

A massage therapist will need to purchase liability insurance for the business. Should someone suffer an injury while visiting the business or file a civil lawsuit after a massage, accusing the massage therapist of unethical conduct, liability insurance should protect the business. 

Without insurance, the business is at risk from a simple mistake. Insurance can cost a few hundred dollars a month, but it is a worthwhile financial outlay for a business like this.

Step 3: Set Up and Name the Business

Starting a massage business will require the owner to make a selection on the type of business structure to use. 

Sole Proprietorship

For some massage business owners, running the entity as a sole proprietorship is the best option. This is a simple business structure that requires almost no preparation and expense. 

It works best for a business owner who is operating the business as a part-time endeavor or as a side hustle. Perhaps the owner is doing massages on the weekends or at night while working another job. 

Sole proprietorships don’t need a name or a special tax treatment. The owner will pay any taxes through his or her own personal income tax form on Schedule C. Through this schedule, the owner can use business expenses to offset some of the profits.

A significant downside to a sole proprietorship is it doesn’t offer an easy way to separate the business income from the owner’s personal income. This leaves the owner’s personal assets in danger of loss during a loan default or during a lawsuit for the business.

LLC

A better option may be a limited liability company (LLC). This type of business structure works well for small businesses. It’s easy to set up, and it provides a clear separation between the finances and assets of the business and the owner’s personal assets.

With the LLC, if someone sues the business or if the business cannot pay back a loan, the offended party has no ability to come after the owner’s personal assets. In the eyes of the law, personal and business assets are completely separate.

In the majority of states, a small business owner can set up the LLC through the secretary of state office. This process usually costs a few hundred dollars, depending on the state. Filing the LLC forms is an easy process that only requires a few hours.

To register the LLC with a state, the owner will need to select a unique name. Owners thinking of going with an LLC should be able to search the state’s database for names already in use, allowing the selection of a unique name. Consider selecting a name that also has availability for a website and for social media accounts to ensure consistent branding.

Step 4: Understand Promotion and Marketing

For a massage therapy business, marketing and promotion are extremely important. The business’ initial client list may consist of friends and family, but to grow the business, it will need to pull in other types of clients.

Digital Branding

As we mentioned earlier, having a website and social media accounts that all use the same branding and name for the massage business is helpful. Potential clients are likely going to research your massage therapy business online before they make an appointment. They will want to see rates, customer reviews, and some pictures of the space.

The name of the business and the look of the website should reflect the feeling the owner wants to create for clients. 

Marketing

Convincing new clients to try a new massage therapy business is a challenge. Think about the type of client the business wants to draw in, and then market to those people.

When marketing to busy professionals, emphasize the weekend or nighttime appointment options, for example. To cater to new clients, consider offering a one-time special price for them. If the business offers specialty massage options, make sure clients know about them. 

Consider asking businesses like chiropractors or athletic trainers to give you referrals in exchange for you providing referrals to those businesses. Perhaps those businesses will allow the massage therapist to have flyers available or to hang signs in their businesses in exchange for the same courtesy at the therapist’s business.

Step 5: Prepare for Opening

When it’s time to open, consider whether hiring an employee or two would be a good idea. Without extra employees, the business owner will need to schedule appointments, collect payments, and order supplies. For a busy massage business, it may be difficult to perform all of these processes alone.

Should the massage therapist choose to accept health insurance claims, this adds another layer of complexity for the business owner. Hiring help may be a necessity when offering this service. An employee can help with laundering sheets and with preparing the massage room for the next client as well.

To hire employees, the massage business will need to have an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This number identifies the business for tax purposes. It works for both state and federal taxes. 

In some states, a business may need to provide workers’ compensation insurance for its employees, regardless of how many employees it has and regardless of whether the employees are part-time or full-time.

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