Are you at the right stage in your therapy career to take the leap?

Originally published by Massage World Issue 107 2020.

We work in one of the best industries. We help people to feel better, lead better lives and our industry is growing every year. Between 2005 and 2015 a MORI poll* showed the increase in treatments of complementary therapy increased from 12% to 16% throughout the population – that’s HUGE! Pre-1990 there were 15 spas in the UK, there are now over 2,000 – what a fabulous growth industry to be involved in. But, where do you take your therapy career? What are the next steps for you? How do you take advantage of this growing industry?

With massage being such a large part of complementary therapy and of a spa treatment menu, Charlie Thompson and myself have built a business specialising in massage – consistently great quality massage. If you would like to move from therapist to business owner with physical premises, here is a blueprint for that journey. Business Plan It all starts with the numbers. You need to get on excel and start doing your projections, your P&L and your balance sheet. An accountant or online resource can help you with this, but you want to ensure that you have a good financial plan, and this will form a substantial part of your business plan. When you find your property, you then need to do the local market research – are there enough people in the area you are opening in to sustain your size of business?


When we started TMC we couldn’t find a property that was right for us and landlords really weren’t that interested in speaking with a new business that specialised in massage therapy. Roll forward 4 years and the property landscape has changed substantially, leading to some very interesting conversations from the prestigious Crown Estates, major shopping centres and independent landlords. Start your property search early, speak with agents and call the boards you see, bearing in mind that most “decent” commercial properties, especially if they are in a good location at a sensible rent are not heavily advertised. We always use an agent, as without one a number of our property deals just would not have gone through.


People tend to have larger amounts of money from three areas: inheritance, redundancy or lottery wins. Remember that equity in your home or buy to let property can be a very cost-effective way of freeing up cash to invest in your new venture. Once you have a property lined up and a business plan written, then a bank or specialist lender will tell you if they are prepared to loan money to you to support your business. Needless to say, the lower the interest rate you can get the better. If you don’t have any security to put up against the loan the government backed EFG (Enterprise Finance Guarantee) can help and if you meet the criteria with the security a lender would require.


Ensure that you have the correct usage type for your business by speaking with a planning consultant. Our business wants silence, so we are a very uncontentious use from a planning side and we trade from premises under “Sui Generis” which means we don’t get our very own category, nor do we fit into any others.

Build & Fit Out

This is fascinating, and you will learn a lot about all sorts of building terms and the fit out process. It seems there is a rite of passage for businesses where the owner was there with a hard hat every day (I was) but you certainly don’t need to do that. If you find the right build and fit out team, they will help you construct this well. (At TMC we have a purpose-built centre that fits our specifications exactly). Let’s make our industry better, let’s build better centres and let’s give customers a better experience. A massage behind a curtain might be considered ok overseas if you are paying £5, but when a massage in the UK usually ranges from £40 to £120 per hour the surroundings and customer journey should be a serious consideration. We must have spent 20-30 hours deciding just on one of the paint colours and the right shade that was both warm and relaxing, and it is this detail behind the detail that makes the model work so well.


When you open your doors to the public you want to be busy. You need to have customers booked in for treatments and this only happens if you have invested time and money into pre-marketing before your centre opens. Don’t open your doors and then wonder where your customers are going to come from, this should be part of your business plan and be budgeted in your P&L to ensure your best chance of success.


Where are your staff going to come from? How much are you going to pay them (freelance or payroll)? How are you going to support them in their career? How are you going to offer training? Our industry is AMAZING, but please take good care of your team. Usually a therapist can only do limited hours of massage a week, you need to build a team of therapists if you want a substantial sized business.

Open Day

WOW! You have finally opened your doors. You have your team, the build is finished and your customers are starting to come in for their treatments. You will be shattered, you will not have worked so hard (or learnt so many new things) to get to this point but your baby will be open. It’s an amazing feeling so have an opening event to celebrate. I always like to get the local Mayor to open our centres, especially if they will wear their traditional robes as it makes for a great picture. Guaranteed you will be in your centre till midnight or later that evening before finishing all the bits that need doing but it’s your business so it is worth it.

Day to Day

My Grandma, a school teacher from the Lake District taught us that ‘If you turn wishing into working you can achieve anything you want’. Now is the time to put this into practise. This is going to be hard work, you are a team leader, HR expert, bookkeeper, cleaner, IT expert, key holder, bill payer and handy-man, none of which have anything to do with massage therapy but all part of the incredible journey of building your business. Find support networks of people who can help you with these things as they have all been done before. The more learning you can do before you open the better as you want to focus operationally on the business once open, not all the back office tasks. People talk about journeys and opening your business is definitely a journey. It’s a massive mountain to climb, but anyone who has ever been on even the shortest of hill climbs will tell you that when you reach the top, the feeling of exhilaration and achievement meant it was worth it and the knock backs and let downs are a distant memory. Remember your wins. Charlie is great at this and whether it was when we secured our first property, when we were then awarded planning permission, when we signed our first customer in the membership programme or when we signed our 1,000th – they were all milestones worth recognising.


You have your business plan and you are working hard so you know when you should reach breakeven. It could be months or years so make sure you have enough cash to get you there as businesses do fail and it would be such a shame if you run out of cash before your business can start to generate a profit. I don’t know if it’s a Cumbrian “thing” but the moment you see the business owner buy a flash car, the business always seems to suffer. Stay in your business, keep the focus and build your business that makes you money over a long period of time that has been built on your blood, sweat and tears.