When you undertake your training, you are guided through the process step by step, and as you develop your skills and expand your knowledge of massage, reflexology, or facials you are generally most concerned that you have learned the techniques correctly, will pass the A&P assessment and get your assignments in on time. Then all that is completed, and you let out a big sigh of relief as you hear the words ‘Well done – you’ve passed!’
Now the hard work begins as you turn your hands-on skills into a business. Investing in yourself is never money wasted, but before you can see clients either at home or in theirs, you need to invest in the equipment and materials you’ll need. So where do you start, and what mistakes can you avoid…
Before you can lay hands on anyone in Essex in your own home you will need a licence from Essex County Council. This is a safeguarding measure to ensure that all massage therapists are running a legitimate business. You can apply here, other councils may have a similar requirement.
Even if you only do one treatment a year, you should take out Public Liability Insurance. It isn’t expensive and many policies come with a range of benefits as part of the package. Go for one designed specifically for therapists and don’t be afraid to display your policy document in your treatment room, it reassures your client that you are a pro.
Registering with an accredited body is not a legal requirement but it can also offer reassurance to potential customers. Some cash healthcare plans will reimburse their policyholders for treatments such as massage and reflexology if the therapist is a member of a regulatory body they recognise.
Consider taking a first aid course so that you know at the very least how to perform CPR should an emergency arise.
Check that your bank account allows you to accept payments for your business. Many don’t and may freeze your account if they suspect you are using a personal account for business purposes.
You may also need to inform your landlord or mortgage company and home insurer if you are using your home for business use. Don’t forget to check if your car insurance covers you for business use if you are mobile.
Lie back and relax
Not you – your clients… As a therapist you’ll need a couch, but which one? Couches range in price from £100 to thousands so it could be one of the largest investments you make. Generally, it is said that you should buy the very best couch you can afford, to avoid having to buy another in a few months when you realise that the first one isn’t up to the job.
First, you need to decide if you are going to operate from one location, such as your home or a rented space, be mobile, or a mixture of both. This will have an impact on whether you choose a metal or wooden framework, and if you invest in a heavy electric couch.
Whichever one you buy you’ll need to ensure it’s easy to adjust the height and that the couch allows you to sit your client up at the end. While most couches come with a face hole, an adjustable face cradle will offer your client more comfort, and if you treat anyone tall, you’ll need to ensure your couch is long enough.
If you are staying in one location, then a heavier couch will be less of an issue as long as you don’t use the space for anything else. If you will regularly be moving your couch in and out of your car and carrying it up and down stairs then a lightweight yet sturdy couch will be essential, otherwise, you could end up needing a massage more than your clients!
If you plan to regularly move your couch then a protective outer cover is a good idea, some come with wheels. Just make sure that it will still fit in your car with the cover on.
The Massage Warehouse website has a useful quiz which can help you decide what sort of couch will suit you best
You may also need to invest in a stool or chair if your treatments require you to sit.
Once you have chosen your couch, then it’s time to choose the accessories to go with it.
Bolsters and cushions provide additional comfort under the knees or calves.
A stretchy terry towel couch cover adds comfort, is easily washable and stops sheets from sliding off. They usually incorporate a hole for the face.
You will also need plenty of towels and single bed flat sheets and pillowcases. Ensure you purchase those that can withstand a 90-degree wash, don’t require ironing and chose a colour that won’t show the oil which can stain despite a hot wash. Laundry will big a large part of your operating costs.
A soft fleecy blanket will keep your client warm, but ensure it is lightweight.
Couch roll can be used to protect your sheets and blankets.
Soft flannels or hot mitts can be used to remove cleanser or freshen the feet. Baby flannels offer exceptional softness and are a great non-expensive option. You may wish to invest in a hot towel caddy or alternatively, you can just use warm water.
What to wear
You may have bought a uniform while training, but if not, now is the time to choose your work uniform and it’s important to choose a style that works for you.
As a massage therapist, you’ll be using not just your hands but your forearms and elbows, so a tunic that is short-sleeved and offers free movement is important. Concealed zips and buttons work best and ensure that you buy something that dries quickly and doesn’t require ironing, so you aren’t spending your time pressing your clothes.
Comfortable trousers that allow you to bend and flex are essential.
You’ll need a pair of supportive shoes that give you a firm base to protect your feet and ankles. If you are mobile, then these should be put on once you are inside your client’s home so that you are not transferring outside dirt into their home.
If you work from home, you can put up a wall clock. If you are mobile a small clock or nurse’s watch is useful so you can see how long you have left on your treatment as you cannot wear a watch.
The gloopy stuff
Massage, reflexology and facials all require different mediums, and which one you use is very much a personal choice.
Your client may have allergies and sensitivities, so it is worth checking in advance. A beeswax balm won’t be suitable for a vegan client. Nut oil could be an allergen. Therefore, it is worth keeping in stock a few different mediums so you have something to suit your client.
Buying a large bottle of unscented oil, such as grapeseed, and decanting it into a convenient smaller pump bottle is more cost-effective and avoids unwanted spills.
Essential oils should only be used by qualified aromatherapists, so avoid using anything that contains essential oils even if these are available on the high street and as sold as ‘massage blends’.
If you offer facial treatments, fancy cleaners are not necessary. Choose a non-scented, hypoallergenic brand that is least likely to cause irritation.
A cooling spritz pre-treatment on the feet or a spray of rosewater after a facial massage will make your clients feel truly pampered.
Your personal space
If you plan to work from home, having a dedicated, restful space will make your client feel relaxed and means you can close the door on ‘work’ at the end of the day.
Lighting and temperature are important to the ambience of your treatment space. In summer, blackout blinds or think curtains will ensure you can control how bright the room is and help keep the space warm in winter. Dimmer-controlled up-lights mean you can adjust your lighting to suit the treatment and turn them up gradually at the end to bring your client back gently. In chilly weather, pre-warming the room will keep your client cosy. Electrical appliances should undergo testing to comply with government legislation which can be found here
Clients should be offered somewhere to put their clothes and shoes, and a small tray for their watch and jewellery to ensure nothing gets lost. Don’t forget to ask them to switch off their phone so they are not disturbed.
If you play music, even on a portable speaker in your client’s home then you will need a PRS licence which can be obtained via their website https://www.prsformusic.com/licences
So you are all set to welcome your clients to your new business. Now you just have to find some.
It’s all about me
Apple, Google, Samsung, B&Q, – what they all have in common is that their company name gives you no idea what service or products they offer – but they are big enough for it not to matter. You may prefer to include the word massage, reflexology or therapies in your company name.
Once you have decided what you will be called, check no one else is already using it – if your surname happens to be McDonald be particularly careful! Not only will this prevent a court battle, but you don’t want to be confusing clients when they don’t know which ‘Ruth’s Reflexology’ you are and accidentally book an appointment in Scotland thinking it’s you.
The very best advert for your services will always be a personal recommendation, but you need to ensure people can find you and this means doing some marketing.
Decide on your style, and create a logo – there are websites to help with this such as www.canva.com or find a good local graphic designer. You can make your font, colours and style work across everything from your Facebook header to your business cards, and even the décor in your treatment room.
You are your brand, so consider getting some more professional-looking photos taken of yourself and your treatment room. While photography can be expensive, many photographers get stiff shoulders as part of the job – so how about a skills swap for some photos in exchange for a treatment?
A Facebook page is free, and you can ask friends and contacts to like and share your page.
Facebook community groups in your area often allow local businesses to promote themselves. Join the local village pages, parent groups and any others that will allow you to shout about what you offer and look out for people asking for a recommendation for a therapist.
Instagram and TikTok require an investment of your time, but they are popular and cheap ways to publicise yourself.
Google will list your business free of charge, just decide if you want to give out your personal mobile number and address when you add your listing or stick to an email.
LinkedIn can get you networking with like-minded professionals.
Online channels can promote your skills so encourage clients to leave you a positive review online.
Business cards may seem like an old-fashioned idea, but every time you find yourself chatting to someone at a wedding, or standing in the queue for the bus, and they say they have aches and pains or it’s their mum’s birthday next week and they don’t know what to get her – have a card ready and encourage them to get in touch. Business cards are not expensive and many of the online companies offer design services making it easy to create a stylish card.
Posters and leaflets that you can place in your local yoga studio, gym, nursery or coffee shop with the owner’s permission can all be a free way to publicise your business.
Finally, do you need a website? There will be costs associated with this, but it can be the best way to showcase your treatments, publish positive reviews, and you could even offer an online booking system.
This page is aimed at students but is a useful guide
The taxing issue
Now you are probably looking at everything we’ve mentioned above and thinking about how expensive this is all looking. You’re not wrong, but unlike PAYE where your employer provides your office and you turn up to work, when you are self-employed there are many ways to claw back some of your outlay.
As a self-employed therapist you will need to submit a self-assessment tax return so be vigilant in keeping every receipt – whether it’s for an expensive couch and a new laptop, or a bottle of oil and some crystals. Don’t forget your mileage if you are mobile. Decide how you wish to accept payment from your clients and keep detailed records of your income.
While we don’t offer financial advice what we do say is to read up on the subject and get an accountant who understands therapy businesses if you are struggling.
There is some useful information in this article
Don’t give up
While being your own boss and setting up a therapy business can be the best and most rewarding decision you ever make, it can also be stressful and very hard work. Join networking groups and find support from others in the same situation as you. It’s a great opportunity to swap ideas, get advice and make new friends. They may even send clients your way if you offer something they don’t.