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What’s It Really Like To Start A Massage Business?

During the 20 years we’ve been teaching massage therapy, we’ve learned that there’s no such thing as a typical RMT, or a typical massage student.

Some people choose massage because they’re interested in holistic wellness; others, because they’re fascinated by human anatomy and want to be front-line health care professionals. Some have a head for business and want to own their own clinic; others want to work side-by-side with a wide range of professionals. Some want to work full-time as RMTs; some want to combine massage with their other skills.

And some are like Timmie Horvath, and can check off “all of the above.”

Timmie graduated from Vicars School of Massage Therapy in 2021. She opened her clinic, Sacred Wellness Massage Therapy and School of Healing Arts, while she was a second-year student. Business has grown so much in the last year that she’s already had to expand to a bigger location.

I recently visited Timmie at Sacred Wellness in St Albert for a clinic tour. We talked about what drew her to massage therapy, what it’s really like being your own boss, and how her Vicars education (and especially the business plan assignment) prepared her to start her own clinic.

Robin Collum: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What were you doing before you became an RMT?

Timmie Horvath: Before I came to Vicars School, I was already a holistic health practitioner and my main business was teaching wellness. I have a business called Sacred Wellness School of Healing Arts—since 2015, I’ve taught Reiki certification courses in Edmonton and the surrounding area. Before I did that, I was a licensed practical nurse in community nursing care.

I decided to go back to school to become a registered massage therapist because I was missing that one-on-one client interaction from my nursing days.

I find it so interesting that you have that combined background. On the one hand, the evidence-based science side of things, the anatomy and physiology. And on the other, the experience with alternative therapies. You have been able to combine those two points of view in your practice. And you took a big leap of faith by starting your business while you were still in second year—signing a lease and everything! Can you tell me about that experience?

If I had taken the program at a different time in my life, I suspect that I would have applied to work at a clinic or spa or somewhere. And I just want to say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! I actually think that’s a very smart, financially stable thing to do and it can be very rewarding if you find the right fit.

But by the time I went back to school for massage therapy, I was already quite comfortable as an entrepreneur. I was still running my teaching business while I was in school. I had the feeling that because I already had a business and a brand of my own, that it just made more sense to build them together, to keep things from getting messy later on!

In my second year, I had an opportunity to rent a space in downtown St. Albert. So I went ahead and did that and started my practice—also called Sacred Wellness. It was a big risk, of course, because I was still a student and I didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to building a

practice because I had to focus on school. But it was such a lovely place that I didn’t think it would be available when I had graduated.

It was really challenging to do it that way—I’m not sure I would recommend that to anyone—but it was an opportunity and it’s paid off for me.

When I graduated from school, I already had a little bit of a start on my practice. I was established in my location, and had regular clients. I recently moved to a bigger space, and I have a couple of contractors working with me. One is a Vicars student!

It must have helped that you weren’t starting a new business completely from scratch. You had already built a successful brand and had professional networks. But launching a business is still no walk in the park.

Absolutely. One of the most helpful projects was the second-year business plan assignment.

If I were to do my business plan again I would make some changes, but really not that much. It almost acted like a vision board.

I remember earlier this year looking at it and being like, “Oh my god, I did it !” The timeline wasn’t correct, obviously, I did things at a different time, but my menu of services and what I was looking to do—I actually did that!

When I was still in my first year, there were at least two second-year students who started their own businesses while they were still in school. And I remember talking to one of them and I said “How did you get approved for the loan?”

And she said, “You know that business plan assignment you’re going to have to do? That’s what I used. I sent it to the bank and they gave me the money I needed.”

I think the outcome of that business plan assignment goes one of two ways. You realize “Yeah, starting my own business is going to be hard, but I can do it.” Or you’re like, “Yikes, I don’t want to have anything to do with this!” And, either way, it’s a good thing to learn!

It really forces you to look get into the details, doesn’t it? I think that assignment is equally valuable for students who have no interest in working for themselves. It’s just as important for an employee or a contractor to understand the expenses that go into running a business, what good business practices are, and all that. It can help you negotiate a good contract for yourself.

Yeah, absolutely. And that also informs how I work with my contractors as well. Having been a contractor, I think, okay, this is what I would expect to receive to work on commission. This is what I would expect the clinic to take care of. And this is the amount of advertising.

What did you learn from doing the business plan, and the other business assignments?

It was so incredibly valuable because it really forces you to look at all of the numbers.

Now, massage in general, it’s very low overhead. Your biggest investments will be your rent and maybe your table, depending on how much money you want to spend on a table. But these things like a table you buy at once, you should use it indefinitely, right?

But I did have to accept the fact that I was going to be paying for a space and that I would just be paying out of pocket for that for however long it took. And especially being a student, I didn’t have a lot of availability. So even in my tiny amount of availability, if I booked out completely, it still wouldn’t cover all of the operational costs. And I knew that and I accepted that. I had that discussion with my husband.

And I said the benefit of this is that if I really stick it through for the six months, then I won’t be starting from scratch when I graduate.

What I really learned is that I think the biggest myth in the massage industry and maybe in business in general is that you make more money with your own business. That can be true, but it’s wrong to assume that if you’re getting paid as a contractor that you’re automatically making less money. And it’s certainly more stable.

I think people who start their own businesses are an eccentric bunch of people. Because it is not the easier path. But for me, I enjoy these things. Why knows why? [laughs]

I think Maryhelen Vicars, who founded the school, would agree with you on that!

All of this is to say that I would have done it anyway. I would have eventually ended up running my own show, and I really enjoy it. But I felt prepared to so right out of the gate because of the training that I received from Vicars School.

And I just want to share that this is probably one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done, and that it’s just really been an amazing, fulfilling career so far.


What kind of massage therapy professional do you want to be: a contractor or employee, or an “eccentric” entrepreneur striking out on their own? Whichever path you choose, a successful career starts with the right education. To begin your journey, contact our friendly admissions team by calling us toll-free at 1-866-491-0574, or sign up for a virtual open house!