Being a massage entrepreneur and having your own practice can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. But it’s not for everyone.
In this post, I’ll examine the pros and cons of owning a massage practice vs. working as an employee.
By “owning your practice”, I’m not just referring to being a solo practitioner. This could also include teaming up with other massage therapists or with other service providers. The point is that you’re able to make decisions about the direction of your practice growth.
For some people it’s an easy decision that results from answering a single question, “What makes you come alive?” If the answer is to be a self-employed massage therapist, then I’d say get started right away. For everyone else, the decision requires more careful consideration.
The allure of being your own boss
Massage therapy is a great profession to be self-employed. It’s hard to deny the appeal of ditching the corporate nametag and timecard, and going solo. Benefits of becoming a massage entrepreneur include:
- Flexible scheduling
- No office politics or annoying coworkers to endure
- No boss to micromanage you
- Great hourly rate (when working with a client)
- You keep what you earn
- Freedom to change your business model based on interests
My last internship in physical therapy school was at an outpatient and sports medicine clinic in Atlanta, GA. The clinic supervisor was talking with me about career paths in PT, and I mentioned an interest in possibly owning my own clinic one day, since I enjoyed having my own massage practice.
Then he said, “You know Cameron…you probably had more autonomy as a massage therapist.” His explanation of this was mostly related to a cumbersome reimbursement system, the need for referrals from licensed providers, more regulations, and stringent documentation requirements. Since then some of these have improved, like many states getting direct access for PTs, but regulations have become more onerous.
But his point is still valid. Massage therapy can be a wonderfully straightforward business model where you provide a service and your client pays you for it. People love to see you and leave feeling better. What could be better than that?
Advantages of having your own practice
Starting your own massage practice is an investment in yourself and your future. There’s long-term potential that you just can’t get from being an employee. And it’s not just about what you get when you have your own business, it’s about who you become.
“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Businesses build intrinsic value as they grow. A practice will accumulate a client base, brand equity, and goodwill in the community. The business can be passed down or sold when you are ready to move on to something new. The more ambitious therapists could even turn it into a franchise or go public.
Scheduling is now between you and your clients. Not management, and other therapists. As a business owner, you get to deduct certain business expenses, which allow you to keep more of your income.
Even though there are many other things besides massage that you must do to run a practice, those things add variety and help you develop new valuable skills.
Entrepreneurship can initiate a complete shift in mindset. The employee often approaches work by asking herself what’s the minimum that I can do and still keep my job? The [successful] entrepreneur instead asks the question, “What can I do to exceed my clients expectations and make my practice thrive?”
Practice owners have a vested interest in the success of the business. And they and grow professionally and personally because of it. Think or sink. You will develop more creativity as a practice owner.
The experience you gain by running a practice helps to ensure your longevity in this profession. If something ever happens to your hands, or another physical impairment prevents you from being able to provide treatments, you can shift into a leadership role without scrambling to find a way to pay the mortgage by dipping into the kids college fund.
If you decide later to change careers or dramatically reduce your hours to raise a family, for example, you can maintain a small practice “on the side”. This would ease any future transition.
Myths about owning a massage practice
Myth #1: I can get rich easily. $60/hr. x 40 hours per week. That’s $120,000/year!!!
While this is technically possible, it isn’t realistic. Consider the time to run the business, handle cancellations, and do the massive amount of marketing it would take to get that many clients. This would require an additional 40-50 hours per week. It would be very difficult to maintain this pace without getting burnt out very quickly. Not to mention the physical challenge of providing 40 massages per week. Don’t forget about taxes and other expenses.
Myth #2: I have my license, business cards and put up a Facebook page. I should be busy in no time.
If it were only that easy:) People won’t know how awesome you are in the beginning. Learning the skills of marketing and running a practice is a significant hurdle for most massage therapists. Most schools only scratch the surface when it comes to marketing strategies needed to turn this dream into a reality. At first, clients won’t come find you; you have to go out and get them.
Myth #3: I can work 20 hours per week total and spend the rest of my time relaxing in the back yard.
You can earn enough for a comfortable lifestyle by giving 20 hours of massage per week. But again, there is more that needs to be done. You can get away with minimal work on the administrative side here and there. But businesses that do this regularly don’t make it.
Reality of practice ownership
Let me first say that I believe the opportunities that come with creating your own destiny far outweigh the additional challenges you have go through. These challenges will make you grow more as a person and a clinician.
While you will ultimately have more opportunities as a massage practice owner, there are some additional drawbacks. Your success (or lack of) is completely up to you.
Running a business, especially one that has employees costs money. As an employee you don’t get to see all the costs involved. That’s why you get paid so much less as an employee. In most cases, it isn’t “corporate greed”. It’s actually the cost of doing business.
It sort of balances out though. Because as a practice owner, even though you keep 100% of the money from giving a massage, you may work 50% of your week doing necessary tasks that don’t pay you money, like prospecting, connecting with previous clients, planning, maintaining your office, dealing with employees, bookkeeping, documenting, etc. However you still get the satisfaction knowing that you’re building your own business, and everything you do for it is an investment in your long-term success.
When you own the business, there’s no one to blame but yourself when things go wrong. You can’t blame the employees because you’re the one who hired them.
Drawbacks of remaining an employee therapist
For many people, this option works just fine. Working as an employee at a reputable massage office, if it’s well managed, can provide a decent living and fairly consistent income.
The massage therapy profession however isn’t conducive to working 8-hour days for 1 year, let alone 20 or 40 years. So a plan that involves continuing to provide the same work for decades without opportunities for advancement in pay or responsibility is not a good plan.
Also, as an employee if you take a day off work, you don’t get paid. If you own a practice with employees, your practice still generates revenue if you’re home sick or on vacation.
Another thing about being an employee is that it encourages a false sense of security. I am glad to see that there are fewer people who still believe the outdated advice to get a job at a big company and let them take care of you. Consider how common it is for companies to lay off, downsize or outsource employees, and you’ll understand that being en employee isn’t really secure. Plus wages do not keep up with inflation.
Wouldn’t you rather be in charge of your own fate?
Owning a practice can be as simple or as complicated as you care to make it.
Massage is a very scalable business. This means that is easy to grow your practice if you chose. This is due in part to the relatively low overhead requirement, compared to other industries like manufacturing, tech, or food service.
The easy end of the spectrum: You work out of your home or rent a small office space. Refrain from hiring employees. Do marketing yourself, mostly by word of mouth. Get a simple bookkeeping system. And hire an accountant to handle your taxes. Many therapists are content to keep it simple throughout their career.
I’m an advocate of starting simple. Don’t get into debt or rent a large office and hire employees until you have the repeat business to justify it.
There’s always a learning curve to go through. You can learn on a small scale just as good as on a large scale, but with a lot less risk. It’s easier and less stressful to try new things and experiment with different business strategies on a small scale.
The complicated end of the spectrum: Save some startup capital because loans for new business are very difficult to get. Rent a multi-room office. Hire administrative assistant and other MTs, estheticians, or whoever. Hire professional marketing team. Work closely with your accountant and legal consultants. Don’t start this way! Grow into it if you want.
Do you have what it takes to run a successful practice?
Here’s a quick look at some key characteristics a self-employed massage therapist must have:
- You believe in what you do. This is a must. It is very difficult to sell your services unless you believe that they have value for other people.
- Organized. Running a business can be a circus some times. You have to be organized and willing to function in many roles.
- Self-disciplined. There will be tasks that you don’t enjoy. Maybe bookkeeping, or laundry, or prospecting to get new clients. You need to have enough self-discipline to get them done anyway.
- Work well independently. You must be able to decide what needs to get done, and then do it. Be able to prioritize your To Do list.
- Be willing to get help. Every new business needs help from time to time. You can’t be an expert at everything, so knowing where and when to get help is important.
- Efficient at time management. An entrepreneur needs to be able to work efficiently. Otherwise your To Do list runs into family time and it is easy to quickly burn out.
- Optimism. It helps to be a raging optimist. 1 person may look around and see problems and get overwhelmed. Another may look at the same circumstances and see opportunities and get excited.
- OK with uncertainty and feeling uncomfortable. Practice owners have great opportunity for personal and career growth. But those good things happen because they must step outside of their comfort zone. Adversity makes us stronger.
If you lack some of these skills don’t worry. They are all learnable! No one is born with these characteristics. They will strengthen with practice. What’s most important is the desire to improve at these skills.
“Don’t wish was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems. wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.” –Jim Rohn
As with most other things in life, you won’t know if something is for you unless you try it. Try not to get bogged down with the question, “Is this what I’m most passionate about?” Passion for something often comes later.
Whether you’re a new grad or a seasoned therapist, if you’re determined to start your own practice, let me offer a few suggestions that will help you get started:
- Know your outcome. Think long-term and write down your top 5-year & 10-year goals related to your work and life. It has been said, “Before you climb the ladder of success, make sure it’s leaning against the right wall.”
- Know your reason why you want to start your own practice. The stronger your reason is why you must start your own practice, the greater your chances of success. Have the right mindset.
- Make a 3, 6, and 12-month strategic action plan to move you in the direction of your top goal. Anticipate you will need to learn many new things, and find ways to get excited about the learning process. Know your budget well.
- Make a decision to begin, then take action. Every accomplishment starts with a decision. Never fear failure. This is part of the learning process. Consider them lessons, adjust your approach, and continue moving towards your goal. Never give up!
Please share your thoughts about starting a massage practice below.