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Starting a Massage Business: Everything You Need to Know

Use this guide to help you build your massage therapy practice, from business plan to opening day and beyond

Hanging up your own shingle is exciting. And terrifying. It’s a “Cool, I’m my own boss and get to make all the decisions” and an “Oh no, I’m my own boss and have to make all the decisions” situation. 

Starting a massage business can feel especially daunting. Many massage therapists go into the field because they enjoy helping people feel good, not because they want to spend more time with spreadsheets. 

Luckily, there are some predetermined steps a new massage business owner should take, and this guide covers just about everything you need to know. So whether you’re already on your way to starting a massage therapy business or are still exploring possibilities, we hope you can use this guide as a blueprint for a thriving practice. 

Create a business plan for your massage therapy practice

The term “business plan” may conjure up images of corporate offices filled with serious people in suits. It’s actually a reasonably straightforward document with a single purpose: to help you start a massage business that feels authentic to you and your values. It’s your North Star, your guide written for your future self and any potential investors.

What to include in a massage business plan

  • Executive summary: Your mission, why you are starting a massage business, what values you want your company to embody (things like service, community, well-being, holistic health, for example), and an overview of your financial goals and needs.

  • Target clientele: Who is your perfect client? Think about their lifestyle preferences, income, age, social background, and primary reasons for seeking massage services (physical health issues, stress, pampering).

  • Your X factor: What makes you different from other massage parlors? That can include catering to a specific type of client, specializing in a particular service, or the way you provide that service. Maybe you want to focus on being an LGTBQ-friendly massage business or zero in on convenience and emphasize massage as an affordable luxury. Or maybe you want to cater to a particular group, like people with chronic pain. Most importantly, jot down the whys and the hows — why you are the one to specialize in this thing and how your massage business will go about it.

  • A list of services: Types of massage techniques, service bundles, and any additional offerings you’d like to build into your business.

  • A run-down of everything you’ll need: Basically, a giant shopping list of things you’ll need for starting a massage therapy business— licensing, space, equipment (massage tables, linens, cleaning supplies), tools and support (salon software, insurance, accountant), staff.

  • All about the money: Yep, this is probably the most painful part of the business plan, but it’s essential. You need to create a spreadsheet of estimated startup costs, projected income in the first year, and any required funding (bank loans, private investment, savings, loans from family or friends). Don’t forget your own salary — it’s probably helpful to search “how much does a massage business owner make” and find out what the going rate is in your area.

Remember that you don’t have to have everything figured out right away, and you certainly shouldn’t have to write a business plan alone. Run your massage business ideas by a trusted colleague or mentor, and talk to an attorney and an accountant about legal and financial considerations.

For more tips on how to write your business plan, check out this step-by-step guide (with examples!).

Choose equipment you’ll need for starting a massage business

Decide where, when, and how you’ll buy your equipment. And since “equipment” is a pretty broad term, you may want to put all your items into broader categories. 

  • Operations: Licensing, location (brick and mortar or transportation for a mobile practice), insurance, staff

  • The basics: Massage tables, oils and lotions, linens and towels, cleaning and sanitizing supplies

  • The “behind the scenes”: Washing machines or a laundry service, office supplies, internet, and phone provider

  • Accessories and nice-to-haves: Essential oils, diffusers, candles, a sound system, portable massagers, and rollers 

  • Tools that make your life easier: Salon software, accounting software, inventory management system

Always read reviews before making major purchases, and don’t make cost your only deciding factor. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by options, go back to your business plan to figure out what will serve your client and fit your budget. 

Want more tips on buying equipment for your massage business? Give 3 Tips for Buying the Best Massage Equipment for Your Business a read. 

Craft your intake form

Your intake form is the first time a future client interacts with your business directly. That means it should be ready for your very first customer well before opening day. Think about the client experience, what questions you need to ask, and how to make sure the intake form conveys your brand voice. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when planning out your intake form:

  • Digital vs. paper: It’s easier to collect accurate information with a digital form (no deciphering handwriting!), but if you plan to have walk-in clients you may need to either ask them to fill out a form on your website on the spot, or have a few print-outs on hand. 

  • Go beyond basics: Aside from contact information and desired services, ask clients about their previous massage experience, what their pain points are, and the primary reason for their visit. You should also consider asking clients their preferred pronouns and whether they’re more comfortable with a female or male massage therapist.

  • Medical history and client privacy: Ask clients about any health considerations you should keep in mind or allergies to products (some oils can trigger a nut allergy). But keep in mind that health information is subject to HIPAA regulations, and you’ll need to make sure that your client forms are stored securely to avoid fines.  

  • Stick to your brand voice: Your intake form doesn’t have to sound cold and clinical, especially if your brand is playful and friendly. For example, instead of saying “Name” on a form, pose it as a question. “What’s your name?” 

  • Don’t miss a marketing opportunity: Ask clients for their email address and their permission to receive promotional content from you. Don’t forget to add a subtle “Follow us on social” toward the end of the form.

A thorough (but brief!) intake form is key to building out client profiles. Use the information your clients give you to treat them to a tailored experience and to generate more massage business ideas.

Want to create the perfect intake form? Read What to Include in Your Massage Intake Form.

Tell the world you’re starting a massage business

You're ready to take your massage business ideas from paper to a real-life thriving practice. Now it’s time to shout about your new venture from the rooftops. Let’s take a look at some tips for marketing your new massage business.

Get your messaging right

The words and visuals in your marketing materials should attract your ideal client. This is where your business plan will come in handy. Look at your determined “X factor” and your target clientele. Then come up with some messaging around that factor. Your differentiator should make sense for your target market. 

For example, if you’re trying to attract a younger audience, you probably wouldn’t want to use generic stock photography (Instagram spoiled us all with sumptuous colors and vibrant images). Or if you’re setting up your massage business for people with chronic health issues, your messaging and visuals may need to convey a comfortable, healthcare-oriented setting.

Once you’ve figured out your tone of voice and visual style, infuse them throughout your marketing. 

  • Your website: This is where prospective clients will go to learn more about you, get a detailed picture of your services, and book appointments! Luckily, platforms like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly make it easy to customize your branding just right for your crowd.

  • Your socials: Use social media to stir up buzz for your opening date and any special promotions, and guide your audience to book an appointment.

  • Signage: Most people will probably book their first appointment with you online, but don’t underestimate the power of curb appeal. A trendy chalkboard is a worthwhile investment if you’re located near a coffee shop, a restaurant with outdoor seating, or another place where people tend to linger and congregate.

  • Promo events: Yes, you should have an opening party, but consider hosting a few events beforehand. Connect with local entrepreneurs in your area — nail and hair salons, local gyms, therapy offices, farmer’s markets — and let them know you’re starting a massage business. Ask if they would like to partner with you to host an event before your opening date. You’ll forge friendships with peers and get some nice PR. You can also get involved with local community groups and non-profits and ask to be a vendor at a local event.

Learn more about marketing your business in our Massage Marketing 101 guide and read What You Can Learn From the 6 Best Massage Ads of All-Time for inspiration. 

Beyond the grand opening: Strategies to grow your business

You’ve cut the ribbon, switched on your “open” sign, and your bookings are ramping up. What can you do to keep your momentum going? Use these strategies to acquire new clients and make sure they return.

Getting new clients

  • Referrals and memberships: Offer discounts and exclusive add-ons for referrals or create a monthly membership program that comes with special perks, like early access to new products or priority booking.

  • First-time offers: Entice reticent new clients with a lower rate for their first session.

  • Talk to others in your industry: Join professional associations such as the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) and the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). These organizations offer resources for setting up a successful massage practice and help you connect with colleagues. Also, talk to healthcare practitioners or physical therapists near you, who may be a source of referrals. 

  • Get involved in the community: Participate in local events (5Ks, conventions, festivals, fundraisers) as a vendor or sponsor.

  • Keep up with reviews: Most people will read reviews before going to a new massage parlor, so it’s worth your time to keep an eye on your ratings and address any negative comments professionally and promptly.

  • Nurture your online presence: Post on social media, ask clients to tag you, create event hashtags, and don’t shy away from some influencer marketing — if a client has a large social media following, ask them to review your services for their audience.

Check out this quick guide if you want step-by-step guidance on getting new clients for your massage business.

Turn first-timers into repeat clients

Clients who have a fantastic experience will return. So it’s important to think through every step of their journey with you well before starting a massage therapy business.

  • Offer a fantastic service: This goes without saying, but the quality of your services and products trumps all other considerations. If you’re offering the best service in town, you’re sure to earn some fans.

  • Train your staff for client retention: If you employ other massage therapists, tell them to ask clients for feedback and offer to schedule their next appointment on the spot. 

  • Make scheduling easy: Clients should be able to schedule their next appointment on the go and get prompt confirmations and reminders. Consider investing in an online, self-booking software to never miss a client recapture opportunity.

  • Personalize the client experience: The best way to turn one-off clients into regulars is to get to know them. Some people don’t mind a chat, while others may prefer a serene experience that focuses on relaxation. Ask clients about their preferences in an intake form and make sure to honor those consistently. Request your staff to look up repeat client profiles if they’re working with a customer for the first time. 

  • Stay connected: Ask your clients to follow you on social media and offer special discounts for tagging you or leaving a review. Post on your socials regularly (at least once a week, more often if possible) and include a link to book an appointment in most of your posts.

  • Offer a membership program or seasonal promotions: You don’t have to rely on the calendar to offer deals. Pick a random week in April and call it a “Spring Reset” week at your massage parlor. Or build a membership program that offers special discounts, additional services, or early access to new products.

Be sure to check out Master Retention: How to Get Massage Clients to Rebook for more tips on client retention. 

Bottom line

Starting a massage therapy business can lead you to a fulfilling career, especially if you dream of dedicating your days to making people feel better. Hopefully, this guide helps you conquer the early stages and watch your massage practice grow.

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