From back pain to high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and headaches, more and more healthcare professionals recognize the therapeutic benefits of massage to treat a range of conditions. As research continues to point to positive outcomes, at least 65 percent of doctors say they recommend massage therapy as part of a patient’s treatment plan.
That means the demand for massage therapists continues to climb. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for massage therapists is expected to grow 21 percent by 2029 — a rate it considers “much faster than average.”
But starting a career in massage therapy isn’t just promising. The field opens up opportunities to work as your own boss, enjoying flexibility over your working environment, schedule and more. In fact, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) says that a vast majority of massage therapists — at least 72 percent — launched their own practice.
This guide will help you understand how to start a massage therapy business from the ground up to join this growing group of entrepreneurs reaping the industry's personal and financial rewards.
How to Start a Massage Therapy Business
People rely on massage therapy to relax and pamper themselves — but a massage therapist’s role extends far beyond that. By manipulating soft body tissues, massage therapists also help people ease anxiety and stress, improve chronic disease management and rehabilitate injuries.
It takes specialized knowledge and experience to treat individuals with massage techniques safely and effectively. That’s why the first things that prospective business owners need to consider are a quality training program and what's needed for regulatory compliance.
From there, this guide will review:
- Getting your business ready for launch
- The benefits of different working environments
- How to create a massage therapy business plan
- Marketing your massage therapy business
- Scaling up your business with digital tools
Step 1: Get Your Massage Therapy License
In the U.S. and Canada, most states and provinces regulate the massage therapy profession through licensing. Requirements vary based on where you intend to work.
In U.S. states these requirements can include:
- A minimum amount of practical experience, generally between 500 and 1,000 hours
- Passing the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx)
- Additional testing as needed to meet an individual state’s regulations
- CPR or first aid certification
In many cases, a state will accept board certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) in place of the MBLEx. This nationally recognized accreditation is voluntary. But in addition to meeting some states’ licensing requirements, it can offer massage therapists benefits like greater professional recognition and visibility, job and networking opportunities and exclusive access to online marketplaces.
In most cases, practitioners must then renew their license every two years with their state massage therapy board. This process usually requires the license-holder to complete a set number of continuing education hours ahead of their renewal date.
Check this guide from the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals to see what licensing and renewal requirements exist for your state. Note that currently, Kansas, Minnesota, and Wyoming do not have regulations in place. But if you live in these states, make sure to contact your City Clerk’s office to see if there are any requirements at the local level you need to comply with.
In Canadian provinces these requirements can include:
- Completion of a massage therapy program (between 18 to 36 months) from an accredited school
- A period of supervised practical training
- Registration with the provincial regulatory body
Active massage therapists will need to complete continuing education credits every two to three years to maintain their license if working in: British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan
Choose a Therapeutic Massage Program
Once you understand what regulations exist in your state or province to practice massage therapy, it’s important to make sure you choose a training program that adequately prepares you for successful licensure.
Your considerations should include:
- Making sure the school or program is licensed and accredited
- That the program’s curriculum will prepare you to pass the MBLEx and/or receive NCBTMB certification
- If a program’s course length will satisfy your state’s requirement for practical training hours
Build Your Business’s Foundation
Aspiring massage therapists will need a business license and liability insurance ahead of launching their business. Many states now include proof of these credentials as prerequisites for receiving a license as well.
You should contact your County Clerk’s office or the local department handling general business licensing to learn more about what you’ll need to apply. Requirements often include:
- A business name not already in use
- An application form with supporting documents as required
- A licensing fee
Liability insurance is essential to protect your business against the unexpected, like a client injury or property damage. To get the best value for your business, compare details like premiums, policy limits, coverage specifics, and what kind of deductible you’ll have to pay.
Step 2: Determine Your Ideal Working Environment
What do you envision when it comes to your day-to-day role as a massage therapist? Some may prefer the predictability of working as a team member at an established business, while others are after the potential gains that come with running a private practice.
Work as a Contractor or Employee
Many massage therapists like to build their expertise by working at a resort, day spa, integrative health clinic, at a chiropractor or physical therapist’s office. These opportunities can be a great way to hone your massage skills, as the roles usually require a lot less administration and marketing work — so you can keep your focus on each patient’s needs.
Working at a corporate-style massage therapy job also means having a regular schedule and a steady income stream. Your employer may also cover or subsidize costs like oils, lotions and laundry.
However, these benefits come with certain sacrifices. By working as a corporate employee or contractor, you have less control over aspects like your pay rate, schedule and clientele. You may also be restricted to working with certain types of massage or spa services — without much opportunity to branch out into new specialties.
Start Your Own Practice
If the compromises to work for an established company seem too high, you’re not alone. Almost three-quarters of practicing massage therapists report having a personal private practice.
Working for yourself offers far more flexibility — which for many, equates to greater job satisfaction. With your own massage therapy practice, you can set your prices, control your schedule, choose your clients and decide how and where you plan to deliver your services.
You also have different options on how to start a massage therapy business, including models like:
- Renting a room at a healthcare facility, which can help to reduce costs like rent and utilities
- Working out of your home
- Running a mobile massage practice — traveling to a client’s home or office — a service that’s growing in popularity and the most common approach for new entrepreneurs
- Leasing or buying your own office space
Each method comes with its own set of considerations you should evaluate, however. For example, a home office setting might not be ideal if you live in a noisy neighborhood environment or have other members of your household also working from home. On the other hand, running a mobile massage practice may require additional overhead expenses like commuting costs, vehicle upkeep and a mobile massage chair or table.
Step 3: Create a Massage Therapy Business Plan
A business plan is a crucial component to launching your own massage therapy practice. This document forces entrepreneurs to set realistic expectations about things like their budget and projected profits. It also helps to identify potential problems, organize resources and guide decision-making toward longer-term targets and milestones.
A business plan is also necessary if you plan to raise funds, whether by approaching investors or applying for a loan backed by the Small Business Association (SBA.)
It takes time and research to build this road map — but it’s essential to gain the best understanding of your business’s landscape, reducing possible risks. While there are many templates you can adapt to meet your business planning needs, in general, a massage therapy business plan will include:
An executive summary: a brief and concise explanation about your business’s general mission and goals, what services you will provide, where you intend to operate and who you plan to serve.
Company information: including a comprehensive list of products and services you plan to sell, your qualifications and experience and that of any other people who will be working with you.
A market analysis: this section should detail what demand exists in your area for your services, describe your ideal clientele and identify who you’ll be competing with for their business. Make sure to address how you will differentiate your business model from these competitors.
Marketing plans: once you identify and understand your target customer persona, it’s important that you can explain how you’ll acquire — and convert — them to clients. This could include details on your plans for advertising, promotion, digital marketing and public relations strategies, as well as how you’ll set pricing.
Operating plan: to budget appropriately, it’s important to identify all expenses you may incur to keep your business running. Consider your expected overhead costs like rent, utilities and transportation — as well as budgetary items like your self-employment tax, accounting services, laundry, supplies and even garbage pick-up.
Financial plan: with your operating expenses in mind, this part of your business plan demonstrates your business’s profitability potential. You’ll want to illustrate your prospective cash flow, liabilities, assets and expenses forecasting at least the next three years — and it’s usually wise to underestimate revenue and overestimate expenses.
Step 4: Flesh Out Your Marketing Strategy
One of the biggest challenges to starting your own massage therapy business is brining in high-value clientele. Your business plan serves as the first step in this process by clearly identifying your competition — and ensuring that there is sufficient demand in the local market for your business to thrive.
But marketing efforts are still essential to creating awareness in your brand, establishing consumer trust in your expertise and maintaining relationships that keep clients coming back.
There are many ways to market your skill as a massage therapist — and the right approaches can depend on your target clientele. But in general, your plan should prioritize:
Your Professional Website
People search online for professional services in their area, including massage therapists. If you don’t have a digital presence for your business, you won’t pop up on a potential client’s radar. That means they’ll turn to your competitors.
But your website can be more than your digital calling card. It can serve as a tool for both attracting and converting leads into paying clients through:
- A blog that helps to improve your site’s search engine optimization (SEO) while positioning you as an expert
- An online booking system, an appointment reservation method preferred by 70 percent of people
- Customer success stories and reviews that speak to your skillset — generating social proof in the value of your business
Your customers’ praise shouldn’t only live on your website. More than 90 percent of consumers search for online reviews before choosing a business, including sites like Yelp and Google My Business.
Make sure to build your business a profile on these platforms and encourage your clients to post about their experiences. You can also register your services with local directories, like your area’s Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau.
Client Referral Program
According to the AMTA, the average massage therapy business gets up to 90 percent of its new clients based on word-of-mouth recommendations. Peer referrals are so powerful because people inherently trust the opinions of those in their network. If a service meets the needs and expectations of their friends and family, they trust it’ll serve them as well.
A referral program is a great way to encourage this highly scalable cycle. By offering your current clients an incentive like a gift card or discount, you can motivate their efforts to effectively market your business on your behalf.
Effective marketing isn’t just about reaching potential leads. To stay competitive and sustainable, a business needs to keep building relationships with its current clients. Regular, personalized engagement works to build trust — the fuel of any successful sales strategy — while keeping your business top of mind among your customers.
With an average return on investment of 3,800 percent, email marketing is the gold standard for maintaining this audience awareness. By signing up to receive your emails, your customers have already indicated an interest in what you have to say. This means you have a unique opportunity to seize — and retain — their attention with messaging like:
Step 5: Streamline Operations with Technology
According to one report, the average small business owner spends about 20 percent of their time on financial tasks alone.
Administrative burdens don’t just reduce the amount of time you spend with your clients. Without support, this organizational bloat can limit your business’s ability to scale — while risking the chance you’ll burn out as your business grows.
While there’s no way to completely eliminate administrative needs as a business owner, today’s technology can help you get out from under an ever-growing mountain of paperwork. The right set of digital tools can serve as the best assistant manager you’ve ever had, streamlining — and oftentimes, automating — tasks like:
- Standardizing and organizing client SOAP notes
- Taking online bookings, including asking for a clients’ credit card information to reserve an appointment, reducing no-shows
- Reminding clients about upcoming appointments
- Invoicing and payments
- Sending out digital new client intake forms
- Coordinating customer COVID-19 pre-screening forms
A digital system not only tracks and manages these tedious tasks for you — it generates reports that keep you ahead of the administrative curve. Everything from revenue growth to sales tax collected and client retention figures are available when you need it, helping to ease administrative needs while informing the strategies that drive your business’s growth.
Unleash Your Inner Entrepreneur
Learning how to start a massage therapy business involves a lot of moving parts at play. But done right, launching your own practice can be one of the most rewarding and lucrative career paths in this rapidly-growing industry.
But that doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone. At ClinicSense, we specialize in resources that aim to grow your massage therapy practice, from our expert-curated guides like The Loyal Customer Generator to a full suite of management tools.
You’ve got the vision and the skillset — we’re here to streamline burdensome administrative and marketing tasks, so you’re spending less time on paperwork and more time with patients. Get in touch with our team for a free trial to see how the ClinicSense platform can help your massage therapy business launch, thrive and grow.