Aye, There's the Rub

Getting Started

Each state, and sometimes individual counties, has different requirements, but most areas require 500 hours of training. Tuition for massage school runs about $5,000 but can cost up to $15,000. While that might sound high, it's possible to get financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants and loans to cover the costs. Lewis, for instance, got a bank loan of $5,000 to pay for school in Baltimore.

Clark had saved up money and applied it toward his education and supplies. Then, when he decided to open an office, he got a personal bank loan for about $5,000. In the early years, Clark, who now works solo, opted to share an office with another massage therapist to keep costs down.

Fortunately, though, the startup costs for massage therapy are minimal. You'll want to get liability insurance; most massage therapists get theirs by joining organizations like the AMTA or ABMP. Rates vary, but you can expect to pay about $250 for membership per year. Aside from that, the main purchases needed are a table, linens, oils and CDs. The total investment for Main: around $1,000. For Lewis, even less. She earned money for the miscellaneous expenses by waiting tables and bartered with her mother for a massage table in exchange for massages.

Although most massage therapists do not work with chairs, which cost a minimum of $300, those who do on-site work should get one. Even Clark, who has always worked from an office, invested in a chair, a decision that paid off early in his career. "I used to drag it around with me and give people sample massages," he says. "It was a great marketing tool for my services."

Building Your Client Base

Be aware that it takes time to build a client base. "People aren't going to flock in the minute you leave massage school," says Les Sweeney, executive vice president of the ABMP. He suggests contacting everyone you know first.

You should also approach doctors and other professionals in the area. Main sent letters to local doctors, offering them a quick, free massage so they could test out his services. Today, much of his work comes from physician referrals.

Advertising, particularly targeted ads, also work well. Main, for instance, reached out to the gay community in San Francisco. "I advertised in the gay papers, saying I worked with people with HIV," he notes.

Clark uses postcards to get his name out there. "I found that business dropped off when I wasn't sending postcards," he says. "It costs pennies to send them, and I get a big return from the investment."

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This article was originally published in the November 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Aye, There's the Rub.

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