On any given day on my FB page, there will be massage therapists who are excitedly reporting an increase in their practice, talking about the big day or big week they just had, or some other joyful news related to their business. On any given day, there will also be someone posting that they’re closing up shop because they can’t make it, and taking a job they don’t really want because they have to have money to survive. And let’s be real, folks…none of us want to just survive. We want to thrive, don’t we? Be able to take a vacation, give money to charity, buy a new car when we need one without having a financial meltdown. All those things are hard to do when you’re worried about making the rent.
Nine times out of ten, it isn’t that they’re not a talented massage therapist that leads to their failure. Most of the time, it is a lack of careful planning that leads to the demise. Here’s a reality check:
Almost no business is profitable during the first year. Those folks who work from their home or who only do outcalls may be exceptions, but if you’re operating a massage business out of your own storefront, planning to do so, or or even as a renter or independent contractor in someone else’s space, there are a lot of things to consider.
I’m going to get the independent contractors out of the way first. You are a self-employed person who performs your services in someone else’s space. You don’t have all the same overhead that a person in their own space does, but you still have certain expenses, and you’re working in someone else’s environment. They may–or may not–be throwing you a lot of business. If you don’t have all you need or want, and it’s because you’re just sitting there waiting for the owner to do it all for you, you’re missing the boat. You still need to market yourself. That doesn’t mean taking out a big ad in the paper. It means you are actively engaged in trying to increase your client base on a daily basis, by networking, giving out business cards, getting yourself out there by performing community service, introducing yourself to people and telling them about the benefits of massage. Instead of blaming the owner for your lack of business, look at what you could be doing to increase it.
For those who are opening their own business, starting out without a business plan and a budget is a serious mistake. My advice is don’t take the plunge into opening your own business until you know you can survive for a year without a profit. When you initially open your business, you’re going to have a lot of one-time expenses–equipment, office furnishings, security deposits for rent and utilities. If you’re signing a lease, you’re committing yourself to paying rent (or a mortgage payment, if you’re buying.) You need to know what your monthly expenses are before you open the door.You need to include laundry, phone, Internet access, office and cleaning supplies, liability insurance, bank service charges and credit card processing charges, self-employment taxes–and that’s before you’ve spent any money on advertising.
I know that in my office, 52 massages have to take place before I’ve covered the monthly overhead. That’s my break-even point, and you need to figure out what yours is. But you can’t stop there–especially if you’re a single person or if your family is dependent upon a two-income lifestyle. You also need to figure your break-even point for supporting your household.
Let’s say for argument’s sake your office expenses are 1500. a month. Imagine that at home, you need $500 for rent, $100 for utilities, $100 for the phone, $200 for a student loan payment, $300 for credit card payments, $300 for groceries…then you’ve got clothing, medical care, insurance if you’re paying for that. If you’ve got children, I don’t have to tell you how much that costs. So if you need $1500 to run the office, and $2000 to run your household, you need $3500 a month to cover your expenses. If you’re charging $60 for a massage, that means you have to perform 58 massages in a month just to make ends meet. That means you aren’t making a dime of extra money that you could spend on the previously mentioned vacation, charity, and any other extras you might like to have, until you’ve done 58 massages. And if you’re self-employed and also having to take care of the cleaning, the laundry, the bookkeeping, and all the other things that go with that, be realistic about how much you can do.
You must also have a contingency plan…what if you don’t get those 58 massages during the first month, or the first few months? What if it snows and you miss a week at work, or you get sick and miss a week at work? What if your car needs an expensive repair, like mine did last week? Can you still meet your obligations?
In any business, and in service businesses in particular, the biggest mistake people make is sitting around waiting for business to come to them. Unless you own a funeral home, that’s a bad idea. Word of mouth is of course the cheapest and best form of advertising, but you have to get those people in the door first. And the chances are you don’t have a big advertising budget, so what are you going to do? These are just a few of the things I’ve done to increase my own business, and it has worked well for me.
I spend 30 minutes every morning on marketing activities intended to increase my business. That could mean working up a new ad, writing the client newsletter, calling clients I haven’t seen in here lately, sending out a welcome postcard to a new one, or any number of things, as long as it is something that will help spread the word about my business.
I am very active in our Chamber of Commerce (in fact, at this point in time, I am on their Board of Directors, but that’s a very recent development.) I’ve been active in it since the first week I opened my business. I attend as many networking functions, grand openings of other people’s businesses, open houses, etc. Why pay to belong to the Chamber if you’re not going to take advantage of all they have to offer? If you’re joining just to get a certificate on the wall that says you belong, then save your money.
I give a business card to two new people every day. You’re out somewhere every day where you have the opportunity to meet new people, or where you see someone you may already know–at school, church, the grocery store, the doctor’s office. Strike up a conversation with someone and give them a card. It takes three minutes.
Track your clients. Create a simple form on your computer listing the places you are advertising, plus referrals from doctors and clients, and ask each client, “Where did you hear about us?” Write that down. If a month or two has gone by and not one person says they’ve come in because of the ads you’ve been running in the Woman’s Weekly, it’s time to spend that money elsewhere.
Before you spend money on an ad, think about the potential return on investment. If you spend 100. to advertise in a regional magazine that goes to 5000 people, when you could spend that same 100. to place an ad in the local newspaper that reaches 50,000 people, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which one you ought to do.
These days, people expect every business to have a website. If you’re using some obscure url for a free site, they’re not going to find you. Spend the money to have a real website, one that is search-engine optimized and user-friendly.
You don’t have to be a financial whiz, or even a marketing whiz, to succeed in a massage practice, but you do need to take a realistic look at what you need to do in order to have a profitable bottom line. So before you start out, take a good hard luck at your budget and your personal financial situation…and don’t depend on opening a business to get you out of some financial mess you might already be in. And once you hang out your shingle, don’t sit on your hands waiting for business. Go out and get it. You can see more of my business tips, along with tips from Irene Diamond, Allissa Haines, Michael Reynolds, Felicia Brown, the Massage Nerd, and many more great educators on the Massage Learning Network.