Year Published: 2004-05

Introduction to Business Development for Therapists

Are you a fully qualified therapist interested in self-employment and earning a living wage from your valuable skills ?

If so, read on ...

This is a business article. It is assumed that you are already a great therapist because if you passed your exams then the examiners reached that conclusion and they're experts.

First, a few facts:

It is possible to earn a living practising and / or teaching therapies.

Many people are already doing this.

If you're not yet earning enough from your skills, here are some things to consider:

Your Motivation


Advertising, Promoting and Selling your services

Ways in which you could expand your earning potential

1. Your Motivation

Motivation is the first item on this list because it is the most important.

You are unlikely to succeed commercially as a therapist if you are only vaguely interested in doing so. Different things motivate different people at different times so it is often helpful to examine our motives so that we are truly and conciously working with our fundamental desires, which is a very satisfying process. Therefore, if you have not already done so, gain maximum conscious clarity about what you want to achieve as a therapist and why.

Here are some examples:

All of the above are frequently mentioned among groups of therapists and students training to become therapists but not all of these are likely to apply to any one person.

It is important to understand your own, personal motivation.

Write your own lists and refer back to them whenever you need to re-focus or motivate yourself.
Be specific about financial and other objectives.

2. Marketing

From a business perspective marketing is not just about placing advertisements for new customers.

Marketing means developing and maintaining a thorough awareness of the possible 'Market Places' (categories of customers) for your products and / or services. It is primarily an analytical activity that should be a conscious and stategic aspect of all businesses.

Successful market analysis begins with asking the right questions about the business you wish to develop.
In the case of therapists, such questions might include:

  • Do my interests, training, and/or experience lead me to want to work with any particular groups of people - e.g. sports people, the elderly, disabled, pregnant women, specific sectors of the community ?
  • Am I willing to travel to give treatments and if so, within which geographic areas ?
    If not, where will I be based ?
  • Do I specifically want to work at a clinic or centre (with other therapists), or do I prefer to work alone ... perhaps to avoid the constraints of someone else's system (e.g. clinic location/opening hours, etc.) ?
    Alternatively, would I like to do both - perhaps at different times or days of the week ?
  • When do I want to give treatments, e.g. daytimes, evenings, weekends, school holidays ?
  • Do I prefer to work with clients who have serious health challenges (perhaps in association with a health centre or G.P.) or do I prefer to do health maintenance work among those who are generally well (such as athletes, shoppers, and office workers) ?
  • Is it important to me that I am paid for my treatments ?
    Not everyone wants or needs to offer treatments in return for financial gain. Treatments without charge may be gratefully accepted by hospices, shelters for the homeless, and other centres for disadvantaged sections of the community.

The answers to questions such as these should help you to define your target client base.
For example, you may be willing to travel to give treatments but not to travel to each client individually. In addition, you might prefer to work normal office hours. If this is the case corporate work (massage and other on-site treatments in workplaces such as offices) might be a good choice for you.

One way or another, define exactly the type of clients you would like to work with BEFORE considering how best to promote your services. Otherwise, even successful advertising / promotion might only 'succeed' in attracting clients who want treatments when you are unavailable or do not want to work.

3. Advertising, Promoting, and Selling your services

Once you have clearly defined your preferred type of client(s), it's time to form your strategy for getting their business.

First, they must be informed about you, your products / services, and associated terms of business (including hours of work, prices and so on).
Informing others about your products / services is the area of Advertising and Promotion. This can take many forms. Approaches that are commonly used by therapists include:

  • Placing advertisement cards in the windows and / or on the noticeboards of local shops, especially health food/supplement shops, leisure centres, libraries and other public places
  • Distributing leaflets or fliers through letterboxes in the target local area
  • Advertising in local newspapers
  • Editorial features in local publications. (Many local papers are looking for original content and might be willing to write about you in return for a free or trial treatment.)
  • Having an internet presence such as a website is probably the most important. Although perhaps less effective that your own website, a webpage on a larger site, directory listings and presence on social media platforms might also help.
  • Giving talks and presentations to local groups, such as mother and toddler groups.
  • Approaching potential groups of clients directly, e.g. football or rugby clubs, rest homes for the elderly, employers (if seeking corporate work).
  • Networking among friends, family, colleagues, case studies, and existing clients.
  • Asking for referrals from friends, family, colleagues, case studies, and existing clients.

Consider the cost-effectiveness of your promotional strategies in terms of your time as well as in terms of cash.

For example, placing a newspaper advertisement will cost a fixed amount of money but probably very little of your time. Conversely, distributing leaflets through letterboxes in your area will cost money in various ways (such as printing costs, or the costs of paper and ink if you do this yourself) in addition to perhaps considerable time spent delivering the leaflets if you do that yourself.

Adopt a strategy that includes more than one promotional approach because the timing of responses may be different for different approaches.

For example, some approaches are likely to result in most business immediately if at all. That is, they will have a low-probability of success at a later date and without further effort from you. Other approaches may be less likely to result in a large number of clients immediately, but once set-up will be seen by many people over a period of time and so may continue to supply you with new enquiries even at the times when you are too busy to spend more of your time promoting yourself. Examples of this type of promotional activity include advertisements in the press that run regularly, e.g. every week, notices in local shops that remain in place for some time, and internet presence provided that the search engines list your website or listing for the relevant searches and in the areas that matter to you.

Next, consider how much information to supply about your product or service. For example, can you assume that your target market (hoped-for clients) will understand the words used to refer to what you do or do you need to include descriptions, explanations and information about the type of problems or situations that you can help to improve ?

Don't forget that advertising has two functions:

  1. to attract new clients / business, and ...
  2. to maintain existing clients / business.

With both of the above in mind, but especially 2., pay attention to how you present yourself and your business on all of your promotional materials, including your business cards.

Projecting a professional image makes a difference. Examples of how to do this include:

  • Keep your business cards in a case so that you never have to give someone a dog-eared last copy.
  • Check your postcard advertisments in newsagents, healthfood shops etc, and replace them as soon as they start to look ragged, dated or faded, perhaps due to re-arrangements on a busy noticeboard, someone else adding a more professional-looking card offering similar services, or sunlight bleaching the ink on the card.
  • Ensure that there are no spelling or grammatical errors on any of your literature, including business cards, card adverts, press adverts, internet presence, and so on.
  • Ask your clients for their opinions about your literature. Most people are flattered to be asked for their opinion. This is especially relevant if you intend your materials to appeal to people exactly like your existing clients. Consider their responses and take seriously any suggested changes.

All of the above are simple ways of guarding your valuable credibilty and professional reputation.

4. Ways to expand your business portfolio

Your treatments can have the effect of changing people's lives for the better - which may be achieved by 'just' relieving stress, or in more obvious physiological ways (as may be evident in the cases of sports massage and manual lymph drainage, for example).

One consequence of this is that your clients may seek your advice on other related subjects, such as relaxation, concentration, weight loss (or gain), maintaining suppleness, and so on - depending on your specialism, skills and interests.

Ways to expand your business portfolio might include:

  • Offering or recommending relevant products, and / or
  • Teaching your skills to others

Offering or recommending products

This is an opportunity for you to offer a better and more complete service to your clients by also being able to offer them specific products that meet their needs, some of which may also enhance the benefits of your treatments in between sessions.

This is a genuine service, not merely a sale, when you have invested your time and expertise to study, understand, and be able to recommend appropriately. This is especially true in the cases of products that are not easily available from supermarkets, chemists, and other similar retail outlets.

Examples include:

  • Oils, creams, lotions, bathsalts etc. that incorporate essential oils - in the case of Aromatherapists who are able and insured to prepare, package and retail such items themselves.
  • Similar products such as oils, creams lotions, etc. that incorporate flower or other essences such as Bach Flower, Remedies, Australian Bush Flower Remedies, Animal essences and so on. Similarly, this relates to practitioners trained to select and recommend appropriate essences and combinations of essences.
  • Nutritional products may be appropriate for practitioners trained in Diet and Nutrition or similar.
    There are also companies that will train you about their own products and appropriate use of them.
  • Herbal or skincare products may be of interest to beauty therapists and skincare specialists.
    There are also many companies supplying products in this category.
  • Other wellness products including various high-technology wellness products that may benefit your friends, family and clients.

Some of the above suggestions involve producing products yourself within your own existing sphere of competence, whereas others invlove participation with organisations that supply the product(s), train you, and help you to derive increased income from recommending and supplying appropriate products to others.

If in doubt about your competence or insurance to supply any particular products, check with your insurer and, if applicable, the supplier of the product(s).

If you are interested in supplementing your treatments by training in and offering appropriate products, research all the possibilities you can find. This is not just essential research in order to make your decision about which opportunity to pursue. More importantly, your knowledge of the alternatives to whatever you choose is also valuable to you and your clients.

Teaching your Skills to Others

Not everyone wants to teach others but those who do can help to extend the benefits of their chosen therapy to an even larger group of people through the treatments given by their students than they could ever achieve by their own treatments alone.

Obviously it is important to begin by gaining considerable experience in your chosen field.
Then, when you feel ready to do so, consider teaching others in a small way to begin with - perhaps with a group of interested friends. There are many courses available to help you develop your teaching skills and to gain certification as a Further or Adult Education Teacher.

Among the most common examples of therapists becoming teachers of their healing skills are reiki practitioners becoming reiki masters and then holding workshops to teach reiki to small groups of people in informal surroundings.
Other examples include the increasing number of therapists who also run short (non-accredited) introductory courses at Adult Education or Community Learning Centres. This may also be a great way to meet new clients.

Teaching others can have many spin-off benefits for you, such as:

  • Developing your confidence and public speaking skills
  • Increasing your credibility and professional image, both within the groups you teach, and wherever you advertise / promote them
  • Networking - both with your students and with other tutors
  • Increasing your income directly from the fees charged to attend your workshops or courses

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