Success of massage therapy practices, like startups in any industry, depends on making it through the first couple years. You can find discouraging statistics all over the Internet, reported on sites like Forbes, Bloomberg, and Inc.:
“Nine out of 10 startups fail.” (Forbes)
“Eight out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 month.” (Bloomberg)
“96% of businesses fail within 10 years.” (Inc.)
However, according to the US Small Business Association, an average of 78% of small businesses survived their first year in business over the past decade. And about half survived 5 years or longer, and one third made it to their 10-year anniversary.
Regardless of which statistic is the most accurate, the crucial information that a new massage practice owner needs to know is:
“Why do other massage practices fail and how can I ensure that mine succeeds?”
It isn’t because they didn’t write a 20-page business plan with income projections for the next 5 years. That may help the bank decide whether or not to issue a loan, but it has little impact on actual business success. (All you need is a 1-Page Business Plan)
Read on for the 6 main reasons that massage practices and similar small businesses fail. (I know a lot of these mistakes because I’ve made them).
They never really launch in the first place
I think that the previously mentioned statistics are a little misleading. In fact, many of these startups never truly launched. They never gained enough traction or momentum to establish themselves in the first place.
This was likely due to lack of planning and overestimation of demand for their product or service. But there are numerous reasons that could have prevented their business from ever getting off the ground. This includes:
- Lack of a sense of urgency
- Lack of vision
- Fear of uncertainty or risk
Sometimes people wait for everything to be perfect before they launch. But circumstances will never be perfect. There will always be some problem to deal with. It will always feel like resources are scarce, like there’s not enough money or time. It’s better to start small sooner, than to wait another 6 months or longer to launch when everything is “perfect”.
People fear making mistakes so they don’t step out and see what they are capable of. So expect to make some mistakes. But make them early, on a small scale. This will give you a chance to learn valuable lessons while limiting your losses.
As your practice grows and matures, never stop experimenting. Continue trying new things on a small scale. This will inspire new opportunities and keep your clients interested. It will also keep you excited about what you do. Learn a new massage technique to offer to your clients, offer a new product, or team up with another local business owner who offers a complementary service. Be creative.
“Don’t be too timid or squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Failure to market their practice
There is a common assumption among startup businesses, massage practices included, that new customers will flood in and the phone will ring off the hook as soon as the sign says, “Open for business”. The problem with this is that at first, no one knows who we are, where we are, or what you’re all about. Make it easy for your new clients to find you.
You must create a useable marketing plan…and then use it. Make sure your plan includes having an online presence. Marketing online is effective and affordable, and will produce results for a long time.
Ask your prospects for their business. There’s really no way around this. So many people say that they hate the idea of selling, but to generate revenue, you must be able to sell your services. Helpful hint: the more you believe in the value of what you offer, the easier this will be. Also, the more effective your marketing strategy is, the less selling you will have to do.
Measure and test all your marketing efforts. This is the only way to know what methods produce good returns on your investment. You can accomplish this with simple techniques such as incorporating tracking codes in your coupons, using analytic tools on your website, or just asking clients how they found you.
You also must stand out. Be ‘different and better’. Develop a strong brand identity to help differentiate your practice. Give people a reason to chose you and let your brand remind them of this reason. If your clients don’t have a strong reason to stick with you, then they may jump ship to a different therapist for the smallest reason. The best way to stand out is to be outstanding!
Give your clients an easy way to endorse you. New prospects will trust what your clients say about you more than what you say about yourself. Include testimonials in your marketing strategy. You can post testimonials on your website, print marketing collateral or social media accounts.
They fail to listen to their clients or consider actual demand for services
Small business owners tend to overestimate demand for their products and services. It may just be that your town has an over-abundance of established massage therapists already. This usually results in driving down the price. Unless your brand is unique or different enough to stand out in this noisy environment, it is unlikely to succeed.
Try not to let a little competition scare you away though. Because some existing competition validates that there is a market for your services. It also means that other therapists have been working for years to increase the locals’ awareness about massage therapy. This can make your marketing efforts easier.
Listen carefully to clients in your target market. They could be telling you how to better meet their needs. For example, you may hear several clients in your target market report that they are glad you have evening appointment times available because of their schedule. If you hear this, you should definitely make sure you have plenty of evening appointment times available to meet their needs.
Over time the demands of your target market may change. You must stay tuned in to their needs and adapt your business model accordingly.
In addition to just listening for clues from your clients, do some market research. Ask them directly in conversation or survey form what you can do to provide a better service to them. Your clients will appreciate this and it will make you stand out among the competition.
Do market research to set your prices. What are your competitors charging?
Try to do everything on their own
New business owners often think that being an entrepreneur means that you have to do everything independently. They spend too much time trying to complete tasks that should be handled by a specialist.
You can’t be an expert in everything. A successful entrepreneur is more of a generalist than a specialist. Of course you have specialized skills in massage techniques, but it takes a generalist to manage all the other facets of the practice.
New massage practice owners don’t often have much money set aside to hire a specialist to assist them. At first, you will have more time than money. This reverses as your practice grows. One option is to offer to trade or barter your massage services for assistance from a specialist.
You will likely have to approach several business owners to find one to agree. But this could turn into a long-term client too. Consider bartering your services for accounting services, or to a local sign maker, a local print shop to print your brochures, or a local website developer. Be creative.
A practice owner with no tech skills could spend $1000 to hire a website designer/developer to build a website for them in one week. But instead they often chose to struggle for two months trying to learn how to build a professional looking website. The result is a lot of time wasted and a website that doesn’t look or function as well as it would if a pro built it.
These days it’s getting easier to build a website with all the templates available, but this is just an example to show a point. Spend your time doing what you’re best at and what produces the most results. For the professional massage therapist, that means getting your hands on as many people as possible.
So instead of striving for independence, focus on interdependence. Establish a mutual reliance with an awesome team.
They fail to manage their resources well
Resources for a massage practice startup primarily include money and time. Establish a solid budget and control your expenses. Startup companies often don’t plan well enough for their expenses. They also tend to be unrealistic in their expectations
Many new businesses try to start underfunded. You need enough capital to cover 6 months of operating expenses ideally. Can get by with only 3 months of operating expenses saved if you have an alternative income source in place, or if you already have large network of potential clients.
Start lean. I am a big fan of starting with mobile massage because you don’t even need office space. Mobile massage that lets you connect with many prospects is most useful to build a clientele. This would include corporate massage and other events.
Build your client base before deciding on where to lease office space. Physical location of a practice can have a huge impact on its success. Mobile massage lets you get started sooner while allowing time to scout the best location and deal on office space.
Keep cash reserves. There will always be unexpected expenses that pop up. Massage therapy practices seems to be “feast or famine” much of the time. There are ways around this such as maintaining ongoing marketing campaigns (which I will write about in later posts). But it helps to have a cash cushion to keep your books in the black.
Time is the one resource that you can never get back. Business owners often fail because they waste time on things that don’t really matter. Set outcome-driven goals and prioritize them. Spending several hours per day on Twitter or Snapchat is sure way to fail.
Startups fail because of a lack of belief and a poor mindset
Your mindset plays a huge role in the success of your practice. You must believe in yourself and the value of what you do. It is hard to find fulfillment in your work if you don’t believe that it is meaningful. Your enthusiasm about your work will also positively impact your client interactions. Excitement is contagious. Trust in your plan and your abilities. Maintain optimism at all costs.
Be willing to change your tactics if they aren’t working. Avoid burnout by being adaptable and going with the flow. Enjoy the journey. And don’t be a diva. Be easy to work with.
Do whatever you need to stay in peak physical, mental and emotional state. Take care of yourself. Eat healthy food, exercise, an of course receive massages.
Determine if you are starting your business for the right reasons. If your primary motivation is that you have a passion for some aspect of massage therapy, then success is much more likely. Other powerful motivators include: increasing the quality of life for other people, promoting a healthy lifestyle, helping others cope in a stressed world, and interest in learning about the body and natural health.
Dream big but be realistic with your expectations.
Never be afraid to fail. Be honest with yourself about your failures so that you can learn from them. Don’t play the blame game. Admit to your failures, but also acknowledge and reward yourself when you succeed.
Please post any comments or questions below.