Opening a Business

Reality Check—Planning is the Key to Success

By Laura Allen

Starting a business is a project that often leaves us running through a gamut of emotions—from excitement and happiness to fear and anxiety. We wonder if we’re up to the responsibilities and challenges, but we’re also determined to make it a success.

When the pandemic began in early 2020, all practicing massage therapy professionals were faced with an unprecedented situation. We were immediately dealing with unexpected challenges, like the extra expense needed for personal protective equipment (PPE), extra time needed between appointments for amped-up sanitation procedures and COVID-19 screening procedures, clients who refused to wear a mask, and clients who canceled because of sickness or nervousness about getting a massage. Many long-term therapists have businesses in states that enforced shutdowns during COVID-19, while other therapists made the decision to close—either temporarily or permanently—regardless of whether it was mandated.

We all hope that in 2021 we can return to some semblance of normalcy. If your plans before the pandemic included opening your own business and you’re ready to pick up where you left off, here are some specific steps to take to make your decision a success.

Careful planning

When opening a new business, there is no such thing as too much planning. It’s like taking a road trip. If you’re traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast without a plan, you might just follow the sunset, make plenty of detours, and take as long as you like to get there. On the other hand, if you have the goal of getting there within a certain time frame, you’ll be more careful about planning your strategy. That’s the best way to approach opening a business.




To own a multidisciplinary clinic with other practitioners and provide space for continuing education and community education classes.


Mission Statement

We seek to serve our community by offering holistic personal wellness services and education.


Keys to Success

We offer massage therapy, esthetics, Rolfing, personal training, and nutritional counseling under one roof. Our massage therapists are board certified. Our Rolfer is a graduate of the Rolf Institute and has practiced for 25 years. Our personal trainer has worked with an NFL team for the past 20 years. Nutritional counseling is by a registered nutritionist. Our esthetician is a recent graduate of the Skin Institute. Additionally, we have a collective large network of other practitioners of many disciplines for giving and receiving mutual referrals.


Company Highlights

We are located downtown at 100 Main Street, next to the municipal parking lot. We offer a 20 percent discount to first responders and active-duty and retired military. We host a variety of community education classes, including yoga and tai chi, as well as continuing education classes for massage therapists. Our classroom is also available as a rental to the community.


Owner Biography

Jane Doe has been a licensed massage therapist for 15 years. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and Healing Hands School of Massage. Prior to opening her own business, she was the spa director at Henderson Resort and Spa for more than a decade.


Market Analysis

A day spa that offers massage and esthetics is 15 miles away. Three sole practitioners of massage are within a 10-mile radius. The closest Rolfer is more than 50 miles away. A beauty salon with an esthetician on staff is seven miles away in the Galleria. There is a personal trainer employed at Fitness Plus and another at Life Changes, both approximately 10 miles away. The only other nutritional counselor in town is on staff at the hospital. There are yoga classes at the Episcopal Church on Saturdays and the Community College on Wednesdays.


Marketing Strategy Plan

Grand opening with the chamber of commerce, full-page ad in local digital and print newspaper announcing the open house to meet and greet staff. Professionally built website with online scheduling and social media pages. Boosted Facebook posts. Radio interview on WCAB to air several times daily during opening week and regularly scheduled thereafter. Ask every client where they heard about us and track. The goal is that 85 percent of clients are word-of-mouth customers by the end of the first year.


Start Up Expenses

Initial opening investment budget for rent and utility deposits, business license, insurance, office furnishings, and supplies


Monthly expenses, including rent, utilities, phone, internet, laundry service, self-employment tax, webhosting, online scheduling


Monthly gross income, including room rental from other practitioners, classroom rental, community classes, and massage income


Monthly net income



Products and Services as Possible Revenue

Swedish Massage

$75 per hour

Deep-Tissue Massage

$80 per hour

Salt Scrub



$125 per session

Nutritional Counseling

$75 per hour

Personal Training

$50 per hour

Basic Facial


Deluxe Facial



$10 per class

Classroom Rental

$35 per hour/
$150 per day


What are Your Goals?

Before you start your plan, write down your goals. It’s important not to hold yourself up to someone else’s idea of success. One person may want to own a ritzy day spa and employ a large staff. Another may want to work alone in a cozy space. One may want 30 clients a week, while another desires 10 clients a week and plenty of time off to do other things. Success is whatever it is to you. Now that you’re straight on that, make a list of your personal goals:

• How do you want to practice? Do you want a mobile business or a home-based business? Do you want to share an office in an existing business or have your own storefront?

• Where would you like your business to be located?

• How many clients do you want to see per week? And tied to that, what do you want your annual income to be?

• Do you want to work alone or include others in your business?

• What are your ideal working days and hours?

These are preliminary questions to answer before formulating your business plan. Plenty of people start out without a concrete plan, but it takes a huge commitment and a lot of work to open a business, so making sure your thoughts are organized is an effort worth making. Having a plan A and a plan B—for circumstances like we’ve found ourselves in during the pandemic—may not be a guarantee of success, but it will certainly maximize the chances.

The Reality Check

Opening your own business is not the time to be in denial. Being a good massage therapist and being a good businessperson are two different things with two vastly different skills. You learned to be a massage therapist; you can learn to be a businessperson. But it’s also prudent to take an honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, while keeping in mind the responsibilities of being a business owner.

The Money Part. Do you have the financial resources to sustain yourself while getting your business established? Few business owners will have immediate success when they open their doors, and they’ll have to recoup the money they invested before making a profit. It’s wise to make a household budget and carefully analyze how much money you’ll need to meet both your personal and business obligations, such as monthly rent, utility bills, etc. This is where plan B becomes important (more about that later). If you plan to have 30 clients a week but are only getting 20, can you still meet your financial obligations?

The Paperwork. Are you a good recordkeeper? Do you know where your tax forms are from last year, and are you good at keeping documentation organized? Or is everything spread willy-nilly here and there? Do you hope you’re not audited because you have no idea where all your receipts are? Being a business owner requires careful recordkeeping.

The Dirty Work. Are you a good housekeeper? Unless you can afford to hire a cleaning service, you’ll be responsible for keeping the office clean—vacuuming, scrubbing the toilet, taking out the trash, dusting, mopping, cleaning the windows . . . the whole nine yards. I’d never make the claim you could eat off the floor at my house, but I’ve always been able to make the claim you could eat off the floor at my office. Therapists who are employed by others typically don’t have to worry about those details, but as a business owner, you have to think about everything.

The Business Plan

If it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist! At least, that will be the attitude at the bank if you plan to get a loan to open your business or purchase real estate. Even if you’re a lone practitioner who isn’t going to the bank, write a plan.

A business plan includes the objectives, the mission statement, a description of the keys to success as visualized by the entrepreneur, the company highlights, biographies of the owners, start-up budget projections, details of the services and products offered, a market study and survey analysis, and a plan for marketing strategies. You don’t have to write a book, but be clear and concise (see the example on page 58). Remember to revisit your plan on a regular basis and adjust, as necessary.

The Checklist

As you head toward opening day, it’s helpful to have a checklist of the things you need to do—and it’s satisfying to mark them off the list. Keep in mind that different people will need different checklists (the mobile practitioner has different needs than the person who’s opening a day spa or the therapist who rents space from other practitioners or works at home), but make your list and check it twice. Necessities for all, regardless of work environment, are:

• Proper licensing and any local permits required in your jurisdiction

• Liability insurance

• A business plan that includes your business budget

• A business checking account

• Necessary equipment and supplies

• A business website

• Credit card processing service

Those who plan to open a storefront business will need to:

• Decide what your business structure is going to be and file necessary paperwork. You may want to obtain advice from an attorney, certified financial planner, or tax advisor.

• Visit the chamber of commerce and the Small Business Administration for helpful information. Joining the local chamber of commerce is usually a great investment.

• Obtain a location and pay necessary rent and deposit. Be sure to go over the lease or rental agreement carefully (preferably with an attorney) before signing.

• Arrange for utilities and pay necessary deposits.

• Obtain an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS, if needed. Sole proprietors may use their social security number.

• Arrange for phone and internet service.

• Set up business email.

• Order signage and business cards.

• Purchase necessary furnishings, décor, equipment, and supplies.

• Plan and publicize your grand opening. If you join the chamber, they’ll arrange a ribbon cutting.

Now, rock ’n’ roll, but stay on top of your budget and your business plan once you open for business.


Plan B

If something isn’t working, adjust it. Think creatively and write down your ideas just like your business plan. For example, brainstorm how to survive in the event of financial challenges (like a pandemic). Think about other skills you have, work you could do remotely from home, or any part-time jobs you could consider elsewhere.

Review the savings or secondary income you have to fall back on. Although the pandemic was a special circumstance, self-employed people are usually not able to draw unemployment. Self-employment requires a certain amount of self-confidence, but it also requires the ability to plan ahead and have a contingency plan in place. The pandemic has made that clear.

I hope 2021 is kinder to us all. I hope you remain well and your business survives and thrives. My best advice? Have a plan.


Thinking of Shutting Things Down? Here’s How to Successfully (and ethically) Close a Business

You may not think of closing a business as something you do “successfully,” but it truly is. You opened your business with integrity, and hopefully operated it successfully for a long time. When the time comes to retire, switch careers, or just shut it down, you need to end your business with integrity as well.

First of all, don’t just move out and leave your clients wondering what happened. We’ve all heard horror stories about businesses that closed without a word—even to their employees. Don’t be that person.

After 13 years of owning a multidisciplinary clinic—employing massage therapists, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, an esthetician, and offering other services—I closed the business while my husband was going through cancer treatment. I then accepted a job working remotely from home for a major massage product manufacturer.

Upon closing my clinic, I had numerous gift certificates that hadn’t yet been redeemed and package deals that had not been completed. I arranged with my former staff members and a couple of therapist friends to continue honoring them, and for the next 18 months, I paid them to do so. My staff all quickly found other places to land (most struck out on their own and opened their own practices; one worked in a chiropractic office).

Since I had contact information for everyone who had a package, I personally contacted them about the closure and gave them the contact information for the therapists who would honor their remaining sessions. I contacted as many people as I could who had purchased gift certificates, but that still left a lot of people who weren’t personal clients. I had no contact information for them or those who purchased the gifts. I handled that by leaving our website and our Facebook page active after we closed and listed the names and numbers of the therapists who would honor the gift certificates.

Additionally, I had the local chamber of commerce publicize my closing, and I took out ads in the paper about it. I pinned the announcement to the top of the Facebook page, announced it numerous times on my own personal social media, and asked everyone who was willing to please share it. I live in a small town, and it was shared hundreds of times by locals. I left flyers with the woman who rented my former office space (which was in a high-traffic area on Main Street), and she gave one to anyone who walked in asking where we had gone. I feel good about the way I went about it.

When a friend of mine closed her spa, which was located in a large city, she arranged with several different spas to honor her gift certificates and packages. She publicized it widely, and the spas who honored them advertised it as well. The spas gained new clients and no one was left feeling like they got ripped off. It was a win-win situation.


Gift Certificate Laws

Short of retirement or getting an offer you just can’t refuse, no one wants to close their business, especially not in a bad way that will harm your reputation. We need to remember that gift certificates and package sales are on the liability side of our balance sheet. If we received the money, we still owe the work.

Federal law prohibits gift certificates and gift cards from having expiration dates shorter than five years from the date of sale. The laws governing gift certificates vary in different states, and some states do not allow them to expire at all. If the law in your state is more restrictive than the federal law, you are obligated to abide by the more restrictive law. The law is also generally on the side of the consumer; they paid for a service and you owe them the service. The safe thing to do when you sell certificates and package deals is to leave that money alone “in escrow,” so to speak. Don’t pay yourself (or your staff) until the certificate is redeemed. That can save you a lot of stress and financial distress in the event that you can’t honor them.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, I was seeing just a few clients a month at a salon owned by a friend. In early March, a few weeks before our governor mandated a shutdown order, I refunded unredeemed gift certificates. I didn’t want that liability hanging over my head. I sent each of my clients a personal letter that I was not returning to practice until at least 2021 and sent them the contact information for other therapists who were still practicing. Our shutdown is over (for the moment, anyway), but I have not returned. I renewed my license a few months ago, and I’ll go back when I feel good about it. In the meantime, I don’t owe anyone massage, and the clients have their money to spend elsewhere.

Back to Practice Protocols

When opening a business, there are any number of things to consider. And now, among them, are protocols for safely practicing in a COVID world. ABMP has put together those resources online at There, you’ll find information and forms relating to marketing readiness, pre-session interaction, post-session sanitation, PPE, and in-session protocols.


Laura Allen has been a licensed massage therapist since 1999 and an approved provider of continuing education since 2000. She is the author of Nina McIntosh’s The Educated Heart, now in its fifth edition. Allen lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and their two rescue dogs.