How to Start a Massage Business
June 13, 2021 Author: Allissa Haines
Starting a business can feel like a gargantuan task. Or a pile of many gargantuan tasks with confusing forms and secret handshakes. And lots and lots of learning curves. Yikes.
Here’s the good news: You can totally do this. Thousands of massage therapists have done this before you. The steps to starting a business are doable and there are more tools than ever to get you started building the business of your dreams.
Even better news: Most of these tasks only need to be done one time. Once you have a business license, you just have to renew it every few years. After you build a website, you just have to update it every so often. You’ll get better and better at conquering these tasks as you move forward and you’ll feel all kinds of badass and powerful by the end of the process.
Many of these tasks happen concurrently, some need to be in a specific order. But that order may change depending on the rules in your state and locality. This is a list of what most businesses have to handle to start up properly. Keep in mind you’ll need to adapt these instructions to suit your specific situation.
What are you going to call this business? Sure, you can use your name. That works for many, many business owners (waving over here from Allissa Haines, Massage Therapist for the first 12 years of my business until I rebranded to Haines Massage). You can also choose a business name that reflects the community you want to serve (if you know who that is). For example, Knead to Run Massage Therapy is a brilliant name for a business that serves runners.
You could also figure in geography, but be smart about specifics. I worked for years in an office called Kelley Boulevard Chiropractic. Sadly, it was only located on Kelley Boulevard for the first few years. The remainder of its years were on another street, and new patients were always a bit confused.
A city or regional name could make sense for you, but be sure to consider your lifestyle and future before you make that choice. If you already know you’ll be looking for a house in the suburbs in 2 years and moving your practice several miles from its original location, don’t name it City Massage. That said, a location-based name can provide some stability and credibility to a new business. Relax Wichita is a great example of such a name.
The default business type is a ‘sole proprietor’. As soon as you accept money for massage, this is what you are. Sole proprietors are responsible for recording their income and business expenses and that is reported to the IRS via a Schedule C included with your personal tax return. In a sole proprietorship, the business is an extension of you, it is not a separate entity.
You could also form an LLC, Limited Liability Company. An LLC establishes your business as a separate entity with its own Tax ID number. The LLC can be the entity that enters into contracts and pays bills. When handled properly, the LLC is responsible for the debts and liabilities of the business. For example, if you have an LLC and someone sues you, they can’t take your personal house as part of the settlement. Or if the business shuts down, the owner’s personal asset won’t be seized to pay debts.
An LLC can file taxes just like a sole proprietor does, with a Schedule C included with your personal tax return or can opt to file taxes as an S-Corp. An S-Corp requires specific bookkeeping and reporting protocols including running payroll for the owner that is subject to typical payroll deductions like any employee. For some business owners, an S-Corp can lower the tax liabilities.
Do you need an LLC? Maybe. No one can really decide that for you. In some states, it’s super cheap to create an LLC, so it’s a no-brainer way to protect your personal assets and give you more options for tax filings. In some states, it’s very expensive and laborious to form an LLC, so it may be worth a conversation with a business attorney in your state to decide if your situation warrants it. If you decide to form an LLC you can probably do it yourself through your state or it may be easier to get some help in the form of a legal help website like rocketlawyer.com or from an actual attorney in your state.
Check out our LLC podcast episode here.
An EIN is an Employee Identification Number. Sometimes it’s called a Federal Employee Identification Number (FEIN).
For both an LLC and a sole proprietorship, an EIN can be used in place of your social security number when dealing with business money forms and such. You’ll give this EIN number to utility companies, your bank, and any other businesses that need your tax information for billing or payment.
For example, you can use it on a W-9 for the college hiring you to do 30 hours of chair massage during finals week. It’s just good sense to not have your personal SSN floating around all different places.
You can get an EIN through the IRS website here. It’s free and easy to do.
It’s absolutely fine to start up without one. Put “figure out a logo” on your schedule three months from now. If you have some tech skills or a design background, you may be able to create a starter logo for yourself while you save up some funds to have a professional create a logo for you. We love 99Designs (affiliate link) for logo creation and they have a few price points for logo creation.
Are you renting an office space? Now’s the time to get that figured out. Be sure to learn all about licensing and permitting in your state and town before you sign a lease (more on that next).
There are a lot of factors to consider in renting a whole office or just sharing space. From who cleans the common areas, who is responsible for snow removal, or the placement of the smoking area right next to your treatment room window…. you’ll need to learn a lot about questions to ask. We can help with that!
- Renting a Space for Your Massage Business article or podcast episode.
- Three Things to Consider When You Share Space With Other Massage Therapists podcast episode.
- How to Negotiate a Lease for Your Massage Office Space podcast episode.
Local/state permitting and licenses.
You'll probably need a Business Permit/Certificate from your town or city. Often this is also called a DBA (doing business as) certificate that lists your name and your business name. Some localities require an inspection from a zoning or building inspector to get a certificate. Check with your town or city clerk to get the details.
You may also need to apply for a license or permit specific to opening a massage establishment. If your state regulates MTs be sure you read every regulation and requirement carefully. If possible have some conversations with other massage business owners in your area. Beware: just because someone is running a business doesn’t mean they are doing it right. Always verify any advice you get regarding licensing and regulations.
Licensing and permits are a little different for everyone, so it's hard to be specific. Again, definitely look into all of this before you sign any leases. It’s awful to lock yourself into a 3-year lease only to find that you can’t get a license to run a massage business there. It happens. More than you may think.
If you decided to form an LLC, you can open a business bank account as soon as you have that paperwork. If you are remaining a sole proprietor, you may need to wait until you have that DBA certificate in hand. Either way, do some shopping around at local credit unions and small banks to find the one with the best service and the lowest fees.
Online business presence and communication methods
Buy a domain name and get an email address using that domain name. I love Google Workspace for this. It’s super easy to buy a domain and to upgrade (about $6/month) to a custom email address that works through gmail.
The rest of your business identity
By now you’ve probably got the name of your business, maybe you’re working on the location and licensing. It’s time to build the interior. You'll need to know:
- What kind of massage you’re doing/who exactly you serve, your ideal client.
- What are the service offerings and prices?
- How will people reach you?
Here’s an example of all that info coming together
- Haines Massage
- 172 Main Street, Town, State, Zip
- Massage for people with cancer.
- 60 and 90-minute therapeutic massage $110 & $140
- Reach me through the website, phone, or email hainesmassage.com, 508-555-5555, firstname.lastname@example.org
Your website is your hub. No matter where else you are online (Facebook, Yelp!, whatever) your website is the place where YOU can control the information, and YOU can be in charge.
There are plenty of free and cheap DIY website options. There’s no excuse for not having at least a starter website when you first open.
Yes, if you are a member of AMTA or ABMP, both have a free website option. These can be a good starter site if you have absolutely no cash. But the moment you have a few bucks, please upgrade to a more modern DIY option like Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace, or pay a professional to create a website for you.
Must-have pages on a starter website are:
- Home page
- Contact & Location Information
Ideally, each page will include your address and contact info at the bottom as well and a link to online scheduling if you’re using that.
If you need some help figuring out what to say on that website, you are not alone. This is the obstacle most people face at this stage. Know this: you have to start somewhere, and you can improve it as you learn and grow. It doesn’t have to be perfect right away. Spend some time looking at other massage therapists’ websites and take note of what you love and what you don’t.
The best website tips are pretty obvious.
- Keep it simple (especially if you are DIYing it). You don’t need slideshows, ornate backgrounds, or fancy fonts. In fact, those are all usually a bad idea. Make it clean, simple, and easy to read and navigate.
- Get your website connected to your Google My Business listing, too. (More on than in a minute.)
- You must be able to log in and change your content at any time. Do not pay a website designer a ton of money, only to have to pay more money every time you need to update the content.
- You should register the domain name. If you’ve hired a designer, or your savvy cousin is helping you, don’t delegate this step out. Buying the domain name, and know what registrar you bought it from, and how to access it, will prevent a truckload of issues if your designer drops off the grid/turns out to be a criminal/gets hit by a bus.
Create a Google My Business profile
Google loves itself. Really, really loves itself. So of course if you embrace their Google My Business tools they give your website a little more weight on the search engine. Start here to create a profile and post to it regularly for the best results. Check out our podcast episode with a Google expert for more ideas to improve your SEO.
Once you’ve got a business name (or just your name and title), contact information, and a web address, you’re ready to get a business card printed. Some states require that you put certain license numbers on all your promotional material, so be sure you know if that’s needed! Again, this can be an obstacle, because there are so many choices.
Here’s the good news: business cards are cheap. So even if you hate your first attempt, it’s not a crisis to get new ones right away. Vistaprint is a low-cost option, we also like Moo Cards. Or maybe now is a good time to strike up a relationship with a local printer!
Keep your business cards simple. Use your logo or at least the same color scheme and fonts as your website. Resist the urge to list every specific type of massage you do, that’s what the website is for. Include your business name, your name, address, phone number, and website. That’s it.
If your business name is ambiguous, be sure ‘massage’ is on the card somewhere. If that gets complicated, just write out massage therapist as your job title, instead of MT. (Or licensed massage therapist, or registered massage therapist, etc. Whatever is right for your state and laws.)
If you feel confident about your service menu, consider a brochure or rack card. I love rack cards. They’re just a one-panel brochure (and less paper = less expensive) and force you to be more concise and clear.
Again, the bulk of your info will be on your website, so a rack card just needs the same information as your business card, and on the flip side, a list of your service offerings, and prices.
These are the basic steps to starting a new business.
There are many steps that come after these. Once you have this foundation built you’ll want to learn more about marketing, business finance, networking, client relations, time management and so much more! (Don’t worry, most of it is fun.)
When you’re ready to take those steps, check out our huge archive of blog posts and podcast episodes. And consider joining our premium community for more resources plus a supportive and smart community of massage therapists eager to share and help!