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Marketing for a Complementary Therapist


By Gill Tree Managing Director of Essentials for Health

What is marketing?

For the last fifteen years I have been the very proud owner of a successful school of Massage and Aromatherapy. However prior to that I was a social worker, with no previous business experience. This article aims to save you time (and money) by sharing all the mistakes and lessons that I have learnt over that time. From knowing absolutely nothing about running a business to knowing enough to make Essentials for Health a successful company both here in the UK, in Japan and internationally.

Marketing for the complementary Therapist is vital to succeed. It doesn’t require vast sums of money but time, research and creativity. Very simply it is matching the supply of what you do to the demand, finding out where the demand is, and creating more demand by educating people about the benefits of your work. There are many opportunities out there for complementary therapists, it is simply a question of finding them - through marketing.

With a few skills, some knowledge and some creative thinking you will be able to increase and grow your business.

How can we match our business to its best opportunities?

First we need to analyse the market to find out who’s out there. Amongst the general public or consumer market there are 55 million people in the UK.

We can divide them up into market sectors, for example:

Mothers, office workers, taxi drivers, marathon runners, shop keepers (need leg and foot massage) self employed people (can’t afford to be off sick), shift workers, builders, doctors, teachers, sports people, the sick, divided into people with the many different diseases and disorders, the elderly, people with disabilities, the bereaved, actors, pilots, train drivers, telesales people, the huge array of office staff, brides, people having a birthday...............

So we can divide the population into sectors according to age, sex, occupation, lifestyle, events in their life, hobbies .......... The list goes on.

By looking at a certain sector of the population we can ascertain their needs in relation to our therapy, find out what they read, where they congregate and do some promotions in that area.

This is called targeting.

Target, target, target

The population of the UK is a huge spectrum. If you cut the market into bite size pieces that you can then target, you will find the task far easier to begin.

Who do you want to give your therapy to? Who are you best able to give your therapy to? Often the clue to the answer lies in who you are. What motivates you, what your beliefs are, what your dreams are and often what your background has been. When I started Essentials for Health four of my students were ex colleagues! Utilise all the contacts around you.

Persistence will lower resistance!!

Once you’ve chosen your target or niche market then it is important to keep knocking on those doors. I decided that I wanted Essentials for health to work with people with learning disabilities. I wrote to my local Health Care Trust where after 2 years of my letter circulating different departments like a paper aeroplane it finally landed on the desk of someone who was interested and 20 of EFH graduates were employed to give massage to people with learning disabilities.

If you want to work in health clubs, get to know the right person, who recruits therapists, give them a free treatment and keep in touch. It may be that they haven’t got a vacancy now, but 6 months down the line someone leaves suddenly and they’ll remember and call you.

Open the yellow pages at the charities section, all those different diseases and disorders that have self-help groups that would benefit from your therapy. Phone them up and offer to give a talk/demonstration.

Once you’ve decided your target market(s) we go onto develop the marketing mix, which consists of:

Make sure your product: you - is of the highest quality. Are your skills really honed? Are the couch, towels, and treatment room of the highest quality? How can we aspire to be the best that we can? Is our appearance immaculate and the way we approach people and communicate, warm yet professional, welcoming, reassuring and assertive?

People don’t just buy because of price. Many factors come into the equation, including the client’s confidence in you and what you are able to provide. It is important to see what the competition is charging, but this doesn’t have to be an indication of what to charge. So many people use price, as a measure of quality and to charge too low will therefore be a mistake.

What we offer is a service, often thought of as “intangible”. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it before deciding to buy. It is therefore important to make our service as accessible as possible to the hesitant or nervous potential client. Offer introductory incentives, be available to talk through their questions and concerns and give talks and demonstrations for the public to meet you in person, as often as you can.

Is your clinic accessible, is there parking, it is easy to find, do you give directions to find you readily, is the environment right, does it have the right ambience, do you work during the right time of day, to ensure your supply is meeting demand?

Promotion includes, using the media effectively, advertising, giving presentations, getting referrals and being a self advocate. Advertising can be an expensive and often unproductive way to get more clients. Referrals are by far the best way.

What are you selling?
Its obvious isn’t it I’m selling massage,,, homoeopathy...accupuncture.

Well actually no. For example when buying insurance all you get is a piece of paper but of course it’s much more than that. You’re getting piece of mind. Garages selling a car are not selling 4 wheels 5 doors and an engine, but comfort, speed, reliability, miles to the gallon.

When selling massage for example for some people they are looking for pampering, for others enhanced well being, for someone else its stress reduction, freedom, body awareness, relaxation, care, emotional release, relieving symptoms, time out for self, and even a listening ear.

It is important that all the different buying reasons are incorporated into your brochure by explaining how your therapy meets all the different needs of prospective clients (remaining truthful I hasten to add!)

Who are your competitors?

Believe it or not it may not be the therapist down the road. Again if we look at the car market the competitor for a Porsche car is a yacht or a luxury villa.
In the complementary world our competitors are varied. When I teach stress management and ask people how they relax, TV, family, sports clubs, beauty treatments, holidays, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, trends and fads, hobbies, exercise, singing all come up.

Smoking is definitely one of our competitors. In a headline in “The Times”, smokers spend £38 million to help kick the habit. (Buying nicotine patches for example). If that is the case, think how much must be spent on cigarettes-probably billions!! If you think there’s no money out there to spend on your therapy- think again.

Once we’ve found out what we’re selling then we can work out who and what our competitors are. Look at how they market and promote themselves and take a lead from them. Maybe get an article written in your local paper targeting smokers for example.

Marketing tools

Many people who phone us to enquire about treatments are what I call “warm leads”. They already have an interest in the service, unlike the person on street who is cold. You want to make those warm leads hot and sizzling! Ideally they book regularly or come for a course of treatment and then are so impressed they recommend you to their friends. Warm leads come from seeing your promotional material, from referrals or from seeing/hearing on the radio in the local paper etc. Encourage referrals from GP’s, other therapists, your clients. I massaged a key person in my community and got people from all the local shops, library and women's groups as my clients. She did my advertising for me!! Have you ever enthused about a product or service to a friend? Your clients will be only too happy to be your advocate if what you provide is excellent. Ask clients; “did you enjoy the treatments/ get some benefit? “Is there anyone you know who would also benefit?” “Would you mind giving them a card?” 9 times out of 10 they be happy to recommend you. A possibility is to offer a reward scheme as a thank you.

Giving Presentations
(Look out for the article coming up on this subject)

I believe giving presentations and demonstrations to be fundamental to marketing Complementary Therapies. Through this work we will inform and educate the public about their options and help convert people who knew nothing about our work i.e. Cold leads to warm ones and possibly even hot. People are much more likely to book a session with you if they’ve seen you, met you, liked what you say and feel safe with you.

Telephone Contact

Unfortunately people’s first impressions really do count and often their first encounter with us is by phone. Impressions are made in the first 5 seconds, so make sure that 5 seconds serves you well. Have a warm, friendly, professional helpful voice, including the message on the answer phone. Take time for a friendly chat on the phone to find out what their needs are and why they are thinking of your therapy. There is a saying “when they are talking, they’re buying”!

Sometimes it takes a few “hits” before someone converts to becoming a client. So after the initial phone call, have a follow up service. Send an information leaflet about you and your therapy. Some people need encouragement if they’re nervous of the therapy or of spending money on themselves in this way.

One possibility to encourage people to convert is to give a free a 15 short consultation or taster session. At the start of your career you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, as they may become a customer for life.

Use The Media

There is nothing like using the media for endorsement of your service and it can often be free. People will read an article about you and immediately feel assured about your professionalism. (Providing the article is a positive one, of course!) In 1993 I got full-page cover in my local paper, which resulted in 300 phone calls. If someone writes about you, people will believe it. So get friendly with the health journalist of your local paper and give them a free treatment. Endorsement makes leads go from warm to sizzling.

Be prepared for only some of your efforts to work. If you accept that perhaps you’ll have a 25% success rate with all your marketing efforts you won’t feel so disappointed when you get a “ no”. The answer is just to keep bouncing back and trying more options for getting your work known in your community. Good luck!

Gill Tree is the Owner of Essentials for Health a leading School of Massage and Aromatherapy in central London. Tel 01628 476 100
Web site www.essentialsforhealth.co.uk
Phone for your brochure and CD-Rom

She also runs one day marketing and presentation skills workshops for complementary Therapists in London. Call Essentials for Health for details.

Once we have achieved a level of success with our business it is important to keep it going. We must never get too comfortable and sit back on our laurels; we could be heading for a drought!! I truly believe at Essentials for Health, business is sent to us, via the universe but we still do our part in the partnership to stay in business, develop and grow.

Getting repeat business

Once we have gained a client, it is important that they come back. One way they will be sure to, is to differentiate ourselves by adding value.
Why is it some hairdressers charge £10 for a haircut and others £45? Why do people pay more? There are numerous reasons, including high level of service, ambience, provision of refreshments (or wine), being listened to well and having their needs met. How can you enhance your service to make it worth more? For a massage therapist for example, towels that have been warmed are worth their weight in gold to the person on the receiving end -delicious!!

You can also offer refreshments, possibly a shower, a hot water bottle, a blend of oils to take home or a free remedy to try, a newsletter giving useful facts....

Other ways to add value are positioning. Increase you kudos by becoming an expert in your field. Not only by keeping up your professional development, also get recognition by becoming a writer for the local paper on you particular therapy, treat someone famous or do some research.

Give incentives and have special promotions. All the book 5 and get the 6th treatment free, promotions work. If appropriate do specials for mothers day, Valentines Day, birthdays, weddings and parenthood. Send clients birthday cards, do mail shot reminders and follow up treatments with a caring call 48 hours later.

Increase your product range

A quick way to gain more income is to sell more to existing clients. See this as a service rather than purely commercial. If they love the music you play, what a service to be able to sell them the CD, rather than have them trudging around the shops looking for it. Similarly if there is a book you recommend, a remedy, herb, supplement......... Whatever is relevant to your therapy, why not sell related products?

“When selling a service, increase its tangibility.” Pardon?!

As therapists we are in the service rather than product business. A service is intangible; it cannot be inspected, seen, tested before purchase and its value can only be verified once consumed.

Intangibility leads to customers:

w Having difficulty in evaluating competing services and therefore difficulty in making a buying decision
w Perceiving high levels of RISK and therefore being hesitant in deciding to buy
w Placing great emphasis on recommendation
w Using price as a basis for assessing quality, be warned!! And don’t be too cheap!!

Increase your therapy’s "tangibility" by:

w Including tangibles in the price for example a product along side the treatment
w Allowing people to visit the clinic and get a feel for it
w Have testimonials for people to read
w Have physical evidence such as a brochure with photos, so people can feel secure about the clinic
w Customise the service to the client, i.e. find out what their needs are
w Make the service as simple as possible so it is less imposing
w Encourage recommendations from other clients
w Focus on service quality and make sure this is known

It is not understanding this basic marketing principle that causes us to go wrong in our business growth. This is why it is so important to get out of your treatment room and be seen by the public. (See giving presentations in part one). You are the product and need to be tested. Your professionalism, approachability, rapport, empathy, care, effectiveness, ability to put someone at ease and safety are all required to be demonstrated before someone is willing to buy. Some of these can be demonstrated through the quality of your promotional material.

Your promotional material

On our courses, in the business studies section we get people to bring in promotional material and critique it in terms of whether we would be persuaded to buy that service, or at least find out more. The number of therapists promoting themselves on photocopied plain paper is high. In the critique by our students they do not get a second look.

In other words, skimping on you promotional material is possibly doing you more harm than good (people are dismissing the validity and professionalism of what you do, if they do not pick up you flyer or business card, keep it, call you and make an appointment). A flyer that costs £10 to produce and gets no business is more expensive than a flyer that costs £100 and brings in clients that book, rebook, recommend to your friends and family ................

In part one I mentioned that it takes 5 seconds to make an impact. This is true of your promotional material also. Are you truly proud and inspired by your promotional material? When on display in the health food shop with all the others, does it leap out at you?

Marketing through the senses

Different people experience the world through a predominant sense, usually touch, sight or sound. Make sure your promotional material appeals to all the senses

The paper you use should have a wonderful quality that people enjoy feeling and touching.

Are the visuals leaping of the page, and jumping out saying “pick me up and read me”.

Do the words ripple of the page and sing to people and entice people into wanting to receive your therapy.

For customers, there are 5 stages of selecting a product or service:

1) Awareness
2) Interest
3) Evaluation
4) ***Trial***
5) Adoption

Awareness and interest

Your potential clients may not know they need your therapy! Do you ever get free samples of triangular tea bags and sachets of shampoo through your letterbox? How else do advertisers get us to take notice? People are more likely to notice stimuli that deviate from the norm, e.g. half price offers. On a more serious note, it really is up to us educate and inform the public of their options relating to their health. Back to those presentations and also writing articles for the local and national press.

Evaluation and trial

If you’ve got time on your hands because of a lack of clients, then free trial sessions cannot do any harm and may do you some good.

Give outstanding customer care

One client could be work thousands of pounds in terms of the money they spend with us over the years and the referrals they bring in. Do you treat each potential client as if they were worth thousands? By this I mean going beyond the norm. Call them back as soon as you have a second, send them some useful information, even though it has nothing to do with your therapy.

Find out a number for them for a good physiotherapist if that is what they truly need. Remember what goes around comes around and helping those people (within reason) who may never become your clients, will help your business grow.

People Buy according to the following buying decisions:


Find ways to inform and reassure on all of the above


We already know that for the service industry much business comes by referral. We need reassurance from someone we know or respect, that this person is going to be trustworthy, professional and effective. For example I am currently looking for a cleaner, who I can trust to give the keys to my home to. I really only want to use someone who is recommended to me and am therefore still doing my own cleaning!! On such an intimate level of receiving a complementary therapy this is probably even more true. Particularly for the therapist who works from home. The client can feel highly vulnerable.

To get those referrals, go to as many business meetings, talks, lectures, exhibitions and seminars you can, armed with your business cards. Engage in conversation with as many people as is realistic and if they ask you what you do, get out your card and talk about your work. They may not want a treatment but their Aunt, boss or daughter might! Networking only works if you are prepared to be equally helpful to others. Network with other therapists in your area to cross-refer clients on to.


In yourself and your service. Get passionate about it. Are you having a regular treatment? No? How can you expect others to come to you weekly if you are not doing the same? Read as many books as you can about personal development until you truly believe you are worth the fee you charge. A great one is Creating Abundance by Andrew Ferguson, one of my mentors in my early days of developing the business. Build a reality bridge of where you are now to where you want to be, and build in all the steps required to get from A to B.

Have a mentor

Get as much help, advice and support as possible (Much more is required than when you are in employment, you have so many skills to develop). Be prepared to invest as much time effort and money in developing your business skills, as you have your therapy skills. You will start to see the pay off very quickly.

Good luck with your new marketing campaign and if you need help to bring all this into becoming a reality, called us about our Graduate Club.

Essentials for Health

Essentials for Health, School of Massage, Aromatherapy and Sports Massage based in Central London, was established in 1992 and is now one of the most reputable and innovative schools in the U.K.

The School offers an exceptionally high standard of tuition designed to equip the aspiring Therapist with a broad range of skills. They hold a broad range of courses including professional diplomas in Holistic Massage, Aromatherapy and Sports Massage; Infant Massage Instructors Certificate and a variety of Masterclasses for qualified therapists.

For further information please visit their website at www.essentialsforhealth.co.uk or call on 0845 1080088

Essentials for Health
11-15 High Street, Marlow, Bucks. SL7 1AU
Tel: 0845 1080088
Fax: 0845 1080527

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