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Self-employment advice for aspiring massage therapist
Seven years ago I dropped out of university after struggling with major depression and went on disability. After my depression lifted I decided to go back to school and pursue a long-time dream of mine — a career as a registered massage therapist. I’m finishing up my last few courses and I’m starting to get a little nervous because I soon will need to start building my business. Do you have any advice for me?
I’m glad to hear that your life has taken a turn for the better, that you’re enjoying your studies and looking into going into business for yourself.
This city has a great many resources catering to would-be entrepreneurs of all stripes. Since you mentioned your history with depression, you could take a look at Rise Asset Development, which provides support to people with addictions or mental health challenges who want to start small businesses. In addition, the Toronto Business Development Centre runs Biz Futures, which helps people with disabilities start and manage their own full- or part-time business. It also offers useful-looking seminars on such topics as how to get and keep customers.
Another key resource for entrepreneurs in this city is Enterprise Toronto, which also offers seminars and workshops, provides consultations, and has an online forum where you can ask questions. As well, Centennial College’s Centre of Entrepreneurship provides training, consulting and other support as well as delivering the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit (OSEB) program. Additionally, the Toronto Public Library runs the nine-week Business Inc. program, although it will not be offered again until spring.
There are also a lot of online resources specific to massage therapists or holistic health practitioners in general. Some of these articles discuss the issue of where to locate a massage therapy practice. In the Setting Up a Home Massage Office article, massage therapist Julie Onofrio provides some solid guidelines to follow if you decide to work out of your home, such as having a separate room that is only used for massage. She does note the added risk of having strangers come into your home and the “negative images of massage being associated with prostitution and illegal activities.” If you aren't comfortable working in your home, other options include renting office space or contracting your services to health clinics (also known as pay-per-use space). According to the Wealth of Knowledge site, the latter option “is ideal for someone who is just starting out and has no existing clientele, because the established business will often provide referrals.”
Regardless of where you locate your business, it is critical that you develop a sound business plan. As this article in the Massage Business Journal points out, the most important part of starting a business is to have a plan of action mapped out before you begin. Among other things, the article discusses the importance of choosing a business name, branding your business, and marketing. Although social media marketing is all the rage these days, this Massagemag.com article advises massage therapists to “evaluate your niche and the needs of your clients as well as their online habits and balance that with how much time you have” before jumping on the social media bandwagon.
This Canada ONE Ask an Expert column encourages a reader planning a massage therapy business to get some expert financial advice either from an accountant who is familiar with the industry or the association for massage therapists in your province (i.e., the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of Ontario).The columnist notes that in Ontario the Massage Therapy Act identifies exactly what financial and client records must be kept for each client. I also spoke to Bryn Sumpton, executive director of RMTAO, who pointed out that it is highly recommended that massage therapists have professional liability insurance. (In fact, members can buy professional liability insurance from RMTAO as well as home and auto insurance geared to RMTs who run a practice out of their home.)
Joining an association, such as the RMTAO or the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada, can also be good for networking purposes and to help keep up-to-date in your field. I think one of the best ways to get advice and tips when you’re starting out is to talk to people established in the field. Consider calling successful massage therapists/bodywork professionals and inviting them out for a coffee where you ask them for advice and guidance.
The 7 Keys to Business Success for Massage Therapists article advises massage therapists to surround themselves with mentors and role models. “It is important to be part of a community of practitioners who support each other and provide networking and growth opportunities.” (The Toronto Alternative Health Meetup group might be a good way to meet like-minded people to add to your network.)
Lumia-Holistic-Healing.com advises practitioners to maintain buzz. “Part of becoming a holistic health practitioner means using word of mouth. Participate in community events, such as local health fairs and healing circles. Maintain a community presence.” The Wealth of Knowledge site also advises creating alliances and trade referrals with complementary businesses that cater to your clientele, such as hair salons. (Think joint haircut/massage deals.)