When I was in massage school in 1998-1999, there weren’t as many employers for massage therapists as there are now. No matter, I knew I wanted to open my own business. I’m using the word business instead of practice intentionally because if you work for yourself, you have a business. I’ve found that being a successful business owner is not the same thing as being a great massage therapist. Skill level and raves from clients are not a prediction of business success because business success means one thing: being profitable. Being profitable requires me to make more money than I spend on business expenses (including my salary). Regardless of how amazing my massages are (I’d get massage from myself if it were possible), they do not guarantee I’ll earn a living (check out “Memoirs of an LMT” to confirm that). I believe making smart choices from the start and setting short-term goals are keys to staying in business so it can grow.
The first smart choice I think I’ve made is being realistic about the amount of time it takes to acquire the number of clients needed to earn a living and supplementing my business income with a part-time job (or two). If you have someone else who can support you financially while this initial growth phase is happening, that may not be necessary. The first year of Get Deep Massage (once my Groupon campaign started), I worked almost every day either in my practice or for an employer (or some days both). It was hard, but successful business owners are willing to do what others aren’t (great blog post from Christina Brown). My short-term goal once I started my Groupon was to convert as many Groupon clients into repeat, regular clients as possible (you can read about that here). Once that transition took hold (just over a year from starting my Groupon), I was able to quit my other job and earn a living exclusively from my business.
I’ve never been interested in operating a massage business from home (I don’t enjoy housekeeping and I have cats, who either meow at the closed door or jump up on the massage table and curl up between a client’s legs). That being said, I have a friend who has always worked from home and prefers that. It keeps expenses down, but in my opinion may not seem professional or be comfortable for certain clients (Groupon doesn’t work with home-based massage businesses). I shared a space when I graduated from massage school (I’ve seen numerous ads on Craig’s list looking for space to share, but in my day it was word of mouth and bulletin board postings), and I found it to be a great way to start building a practice without the full expense of rent (click here to learn how I chose my office location).
Making smart choices about how to spend my business income is the other essential component to success. I had a huge start-up cost this time around because I wanted to hit the ground running, but have kept monthly expenses low to maintain enough profit to pay myself while slowly paying off the credit card (and loan from my mom) I used to get going (at least the credit card interest is a deductible business expense). I decided what was essential for providing the kind of client experience I want to and keep a wish list for those things that will take it to the next level once I have more discretionary income.
I’ve always had separate checking and savings accounts for my personal finances and my business (I believe the IRS prefers it that way, too). My business name is different than my name (which I suggest), so I needed to register my trade name with the state I do business in (easily and inexpensively done online at the Secretary of State’s website, at least in Colorado). Some banks may require an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS (click here to apply for your EIN online-it’s free, easy and immediate) to open business accounts. I also got a business license from the city I operate in (also done easily and inexpensively online).
This is just a short list of the basics off the top of my head that got me started (click here for a FREE basic massage practice start-up checklist). I plan to add posts about specific business topics, such as taxes (ugh!), my website, bookkeeping and marketing. Please post comments or questions you have and I’ll share what has (or hasn’t) worked for me on my journey to creating a successful massage practice that I love!
What business start-up questions or advice do you have? Please ask or share in the comments. Thank you!