The All-Important Business Plan

By Laura Allen
[Business Side]

Having a sound business plan is a solid business decision for everyone. You may not think you need a business plan if you’re a solo practitioner, if you only do outcalls, or if you aren’t borrowing money to start your business, but prepare one just the same. If you’re already a business owner who hasn’t reached the level of success you’d like to achieve, revisiting your strategies by creating a new plan and implementing fresh ideas into your business will help you meet your goals.


A business plan is a written summary of the purposes, goals, and strategies for starting a business. Your business plan will be as individual as you are. A childless person’s plan may vary greatly from that of a parent with young children. A 50-year-old massage therapist switching careers may have a much different plan than that of a 20-year-old therapist just starting to work. People have different priorities and different ideas about what constitutes success. 

Resources for Planning

Showing up at a bank to borrow money without a written business plan would be just as irresponsible as showing up without any proof of identification. Even if you’re borrowing start-up money from your parents, they should have the expectation that you have a concrete plan for your business, including a plan to repay the loan.              

The Small Business Administration, your chambers of commerce, and professional massage associations are good sources for sample business plans and financial forms. The process really isn’t as difficult as you may think. 

The Components of a Business Plan

A well-thought-out business plan is composed of several important components including an executive summary, a list of business objectives, a mission statement, company strengths and highlights, a breakdown of company ownership, a start-up budget, product and service information, a market study and survey analysis, and a statement about the marketing strategies you intend to implement.

A business plan begins with an executive summary; however, it’s best not to write that summary until you’ve completed the rest of your plan. When you are satisfied with the bulk of the plan, write the executive summary to pull the key points together as the introduction to your plan. 

Business objectives are concrete goals; for example, gaining one new customer daily, or selling $1,000 worth of gift certificates every month. People who choose the healing arts as a profession usually have an objective other than money—such as the desire to help people—but we all want to make a comfortable living, too. Refining your goals will help you carry out your objectives.

Your motivations for going into business will shape your mission statement, which is a concise statement of your goals and purposes; for example, “The mission of Sunset On-Site Massage is to provide massage therapy to elders with respect and compassion, at their location, at an affordable price.”

The keys to success section of your plan should highlight the strengths that will lead your business to profitability, striking a balance between enthusiasm and realism. A loan officer doesn’t want grandiose projections of profit right away; a potential lender would probably expect most businesses to operate at a deficit the first year and might immediately turn down your plan if you’re making wild claims of instant profits. 

Experience can be presented in a positive light, regardless of what kind you have. If you’ve ever been self-employed, had a job, done volunteer work, been involved in extracurricular activities at school, or run a household prior to coming to massage as a career, name the responsibilities you’ve had and the talents and skills you possess.

Mention the professionalism you bring to the job. If you have licensure, certification, registration, or whatever might be required in your state, mention that. If you practice in a state that has no legal requirements, stating your professional training and certification(s) can set you apart from others. 

Define the services you offer. Highlight anything that’s unique about your services, such as offering a modality that isn’t available nearby. Include something that makes your business different from your competitors, such as “Each person who receives a massage is encouraged to use our sauna afterward at no additional cost.”

If you plan to cultivate mutual referrals, note that in your business plan. It will be helpful to list the professionals you intend to collaborate with, such as, “I have mutual referral relationships with a chiropractor located in my community, and also intend to cultivate relationships with nearby physicians.”

Describe your location in the best possible light, such as parking availability, handicap access, and proximity to other goods and services. Mention anything that would make the location stand out: “Our business is located in the Historic District in the former Halifax Hotel that dates from 1849,” or “Our business is located in the new medical building at 101 Main Street.”

Company highlights should briefly detail anything that makes your business accessible, market-friendly, competitive, relevant, and timely: “Our close proximity to the university and the sliding scale fees we plan to offer to students will help our business succeed.”

Introduce the owner(s) of the business. Include a resume, and write a short biography, but leave out childhood details unless they’re relevant, such as “I grew up working every summer vacation in my mother’s spa, which was a successful operation for more than 25 years until her retirement.”

Start-up Budget Projections

A preliminary budget has to be a part of your business plan. You’ll have one-time expenses related to furnishing and equipping your office to consider; those costs are subject to depreciation over a period of years on your tax returns. Make a list of the things you need, set a budget for how much you can afford to spend, and shop around for the best price. Any tangible items such as property, equipment, or furnishings that you purchase for your business are assets. The money that you owe for a mortgage or other debt that you incur related to your business is a liability. 

Seeking advice from a financial advisor at the outset is wise. Even if your business loses money for the first year or two, you may still be obligated to pay self-employment tax, and you should be prepared for that. Construct your start-up budget and then let an expert pick it apart for you. He or she might notice an expense or a tax advantage you overlooked, and will tell you the most beneficial way for you to set your business up, either as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or one of the variants of a corporation, depending on your circumstances. 

If you’re moving into an existing office, the utility companies will tell you how much the power, gas, and water have historically cost. Most companies offer a budget option of paying a predetermined equal amount every month, and once a year will bill you or credit you according to your actual usage. 

For most business owners, the rent or mortgage payment is usually the biggest expense. When you’re starting out, be prepared to pay that and other necessities such as the utilities, even when your business doesn’t bring in enough money to cover it at the outset. Planning ahead is a necessity.

Name the specific services and products you are going to offer in addition to massage. List them, along with other sources of revenue, such as retailing products, giving community education classes, or renting space to others for classes or meetings.

Market Study and Survey Analysis

A market survey analysis is a compilation of the results from your market study. If you are going to ask for a start-up loan, the bank will want to know you have researched the competition and the probable demand for your services. A market study can be as simple as looking in the phone directory, searching the Internet, and driving around town to see how many businesses of your type already exist, and then noting their location, the services they offer, their prices, and their customers. Visit the local chamber of commerce to pick up literature (cards and brochures) of similar businesses that are chamber members. Be bold and book an appointment; it’s a surefire way to find out about the customer experience at other places.

Marketing Strategies

List the ways you intend to market your business. Your goal should be to get as much value for your marketing dollar as possible. Performing community service, for instance, is a no-cost way to get your name out there, as is cultivating mutual referrals. In addition to mentioning the advertising opportunities you plan to explore, don’t overlook mentioning the things you’ll do to spread the word without spending money. Obtain pricing from the advertising venues you plan to use before writing this part of the plan so you have a realistic idea of what ad space costs before deciding how much money to budget for it.

Revisiting and Adapting Your Plan

You’ll need to revisit your business plan regularly to see what is working out and what isn’t. Adjust as needed.

Bear in mind as you’re trying to adhere to your start-up budget, you must pay for your necessities first before you spend a lot on advertising. Marketing your business won’t help you if the power gets cut off for lack of payment. Keep your operating expenses as low as you can while you’re getting established, and avoid using credit cards to pay for advertising or anything else that can’t be classified as an asset.

You may have to adapt your plan because you haven’t quite gotten the number of clients you had planned to have—or because you got a lot more! In a small town where there isn’t much competition, you might find yourself overwhelmed with more clients than you can handle. If you’re lucky enough to be in that situation, don’t tell people you can’t take any new clients; ask them for their phone numbers and tell them you’ll put them on your waiting list. Maintaining a waiting list means you’ll have backup for replacing lost clients. Moreover, telling people you have a waiting list gives the impression that you must be someone really special and talented if you have people waiting to get an appointment—and you are, aren’t you?

If you revisit your plan often, by the end of the first year you’ll have a really good picture of whether or not you met your goals and projections. Staying on top of it will serve you well as you plan for the future.  

 Laura Allen is the author of Plain & Simple Guide to Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork Examinations (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009) and One Year to a Successful Massage Therapy Practice (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008). This article is adapted from her third book, A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Business, that will be published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins in 2010. She is the owner of THERA-SSAGE, an alternative wellness clinic of over a dozen practitioners of different disciplines, and continuing education facility, in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Visit her website at