As a massage business owner, I want to talk openly with you, the new graduate or massage therapist looking at starting your own business.
My hope is that reading my story of starting a massage business will answer some of the questions you may have about how to start or run a business.
Being self-employed is one of the best ways to create and earn a living in this profession. Many massage schools try to prepare you with basic business classes to help you start your two-year business plan, but these things will not prepare you for the reality of the effort it takes to run your own business.
The expectation of what you think it will be like to work for yourself compared to how it is in the real world can come as a bit of a shock.
How do others make it as self-employed massage therapists? They work hard, they keep at it, and they earn it. Who you are and the effort you are willing to put into your massage business determines whether you will succeed or fail at self-employment.
Before we go over some of the preliminary steps you need to take, I want to talk to you about something very important I was taught when starting my massage business: calculated risk.
What is Calculated Risk?
When I graduated from massage school, I was 19 years old. At that time, employment opportunities where I lived didn’t exist for a massage therapist. If I was going to work in my chosen profession, my only options were to move or become self-employed.
I chose to work for myself, and I had no idea of what I was doing. I only had a big dream of what I wanted my business to be.
There was this feeling of excitement as I prepared to jump head-first into starting my massage business. I had all these ideas and hopes for what my business would do for me. And of course, I would make piles of money!
Now, I did have some idea of the amount of work behind self-employment. My father owned a company for 45 years and I had observed the dedication and hard work it took for him to succeed. Looking back, I realize I didn’t have a clue about what it took for him to start that company.
A few weeks after massage school graduation, my father had a discussion with me about working for myself. He didn’t address my over-hopefulness or crush my dreams; he understood the passion it takes to work for yourself. What he taught me was the difference between dreams and calculated risk, and how running a successful business involved both but required the calculated risk.
My father explained to me that in business there are two types of people: gamblers and calculated risk takers.
Gamblers are people who take whatever money they have and throw it all into their business with nothing but the dream of making it big and the hope that things will work out. These people have a tendency to fail at business.
Calculated risk takers are individuals who take the time to set up a plan, consider the details of every facet of their idea, as well as the financial needs of their business and personal life, and set up very strategic goals in advance, goals that must be met to help them know they are on the right track to fulfilling their dream. These people have a tendency to succeed in business.
My father said working for yourself always involves risk, but the calculated way teaches you where true success resides and how to get there.
After our discussion, my father asked me to make an appointment with a SCORE advisor and purchase a two-year business plan workbook from them. (SCORE is the acronym for the Service Corps of Retired Executives, a nonprofit that connects business owners with mentors.) It was my responsibility to work out every detail of my company on paper with a mentor before I could launch my business.
It took me three months to complete that plan. By then, reality had set in and I had lost some of the excitement of owning a business. I could see on paper that this was going to be a lot of hard work. Did I still want to do it? Yes! It was still my dream. So, with the calculated risk in mind, I pushed forward.
What Does Calculated Risk Look Like Compared to the Dream?
I didn’t rent a massage room right away because, honestly, I couldn’t afford it. Instead, I found a room I could rent as needed inside the physical therapy office where I was a receptionist. Up until that point, I had hauled my table around to clients’ homes, because paying for extra gas for my car was more affordable than renting a room for only one or two appointments a week.
One year later, I was consistently booking eight appointments a week. I requested to become a part-time receptionist, renting that room every evening and weekend. I was working 10 to 12 hours a day with both jobs, and I was tired.
I learned how to budget for two accounts (personal and business) and pay quarterly taxes on time. I saved up and bought things I needed to help my business grow, and saved again to pay for the continuing education to train myself to offer more to my clients.
Two years from when I started my business, I rented that room full-time and sublet it some evenings and weekends to another massage therapist. I continued building my clientele; and after three-and-a-half years of being self-employed, I was so busy I had to stop taking new clients.
Observing the Calculated Steps
The biggest mistake I have observed with massage therapists starting a business is renting a room without first having the clientele to fill it. That just doesn’t work.
Before locking myself into a rental agreement I couldn’t realistically afford, I worked on meeting financial goals that had to do with a specific number of clients. I only moved to the next step of renting when I had the clients to pay for it. Meeting each goal told me I could afford, in both time and money, to move to the next step. My business growth was a constant process of evaluation that I would not have understood or followed if I hadn’t made a plan.
Did I get impatient? Did I get tired of working two jobs and sacrificing? Did I sometimes lose faith in myself and want to quit? You bet I did. But my dream kept the calculated risk going and my calculated goals kept the dream alive.
It took almost four years for me to have a consistent paycheck from my small business. For most self-employed people, it takes two to five years of time and effort to build a successful business.
The reality: There are no overnight successes.
I’m going to challenge you to go get that business plan done before you do anything else toward starting your company. If you are struggling with a new business, put the time in and finish a two-year business plan. Come up with ways to take your massage business from where it is to the next level and find that mentor. Success is always rooted in planning.
I’ll leave you with the words my father spoke to me when I presented him with my business plan. “I know that was a lot of hard work, but you will thank yourself later,” he said.
“You’ve got this, honey. You’ll do just fine.”
Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 22 years. She is the owner and developer of Pain Patterns and Solutions Seminars CE courses. She is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved CE provider, and she has authored several books, including Finding Success for the Massage Therapist Who Wants to Succeed.