How to start up an aromatherapist business

Aromatherapy is commonly used for relaxation but can also help treat people suffering from stress and to relieve the symptoms of other serious illnesses. Check out our practical guide for starting and running your own aromatherapy business.

Research your target market

Estimating demand

It's very important to find out whether there is enough local demand for your aromatherapy practice. Although complementary medicine - and aromatherapy in particular - is popular, bear in mind that you will be competing against:

  • other specialist aromatherapists
  • other therapists offering different types of treatment for the same range of conditions that aromatherapy can help. For example, clients might visit an acupuncturist or someone practising herbal medicine or homeopathy
  • health spas, leisure centres, fitness clubs and so on

Don't forget that customers can also buy aromatherapy products themselves for use at home rather than paying for a treatment session, and this is likely to peak when the economy is struggling and consumers don't have much disposable income. Although, rather than a threat to your business, you may see this as an opportunity to make retail sales - possibly online.

A search on Yell.com or similar directory for your area will give you an idea of how many aromatherapists and other complementary therapists are already practising. It may be that you will only be competing against some of these practitioners because you will be concentrating on treating people with certain problems, such as skin diseases or muscular strains.

Have a good look at existing aromatherapy practices to establish:

  • what qualifications and training the therapist has - although it is not a legal requirement for an aromatherapist to hold any type of qualification or to be regulated by a governing body, many therapists choose voluntary self-regulation and are registered by either the General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapists (GRCCT) or the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Some may be members of professional associations like the Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT)
  • the range of conditions they treat
  • whether they specialise in treating a certain type of client, such as children or the elderly
  • how much they charge
  • the image that the practice projects, from the condition of the exterior paintwork and signage to the smartness of the waiting areas and consulting rooms
  • what other therapies they offer, if any

Working alongside GPs and other health professionals

The use of complementary and alternative medicine, including aromatherapy, has increased considerably in recent years and some GPs are prepared to refer patients to therapists for treatment if they feel it would help them (although the treatment would generally not be funded by the NHS). You might consider approaching medical practices in your area to find out if they would be willing to refer people on a private patient basis. You may also decide to explore whether there is any scope for you to treat NHS-funded patients.

There may also be opportunities to supply your services to private hospitals and other medical establishments in your area.

Other opportunities

You might be able to come to an arrangement with businesses such as beauty salons, health spas or fitness centres where you provide treatment at their premises for one or two days a week. You would benefit from having a broader client base, and the other business would benefit by being able to offer their clients or their members a wider range of services.

Other organisations that you might consider approaching include:

  • hospices
  • residential care homes
  • prisons
  • businesses that want to provide stress-relieving therapies for their staff
  • hotels

Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues

Client profile

Although it's quite possible that you will have some male clients, it appears that aromatherapy is most popular among females, particularly younger, professional women. (Although some therapists have only a tiny number of male clients, others have an equal male/female split.) Some of your clients may be referred by GPs on a private patient basis while a small proportion may have their fees paid by an insurance company. However, most clients will self-refer and pay for their treatment themselves.

Consultations

Consultations normally last for between 60 and 90 minutes, although shorter treatments, such as a facial or back massage, may only last for 30 minutes or so.

At the first consultation you will ask the client about their lifestyle, diet, general health and the nature of the complaint for which they are seeking help. This allows you to decide on the best course of treatment - which oils will be beneficial and which should be avoided due to existing medical conditions or allergies, how they will be used (massage, inhalation) and how many sessions will be necessary.

You may be prepared to make home visits, especially if your clients have difficulty in getting to your consulting rooms. It might be worth offering evening and weekend sessions to appeal to full-time workers.

Collecting payment

Think about when you'll collect payment from your clients. For example you might opt to ask for your fees at the end of each session. Some therapists offer a discount if a block of sessions is pre-booked and paid for up-front.

Complementary and medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) covers a large number of different therapies, which work holistically by balancing a patient's physical, emotional and spiritual state. The most established disciplines are acupuncture, herbalism, homeopathy, chiropractic and osteopathy, although aromatherapy has become increasingly popular in recent years. You might decide to offer several therapies in addition to aromatherapy - you may have the training and expertise to offer these yourself or you may engage the services of other practitioners. A brief description of some CAM therapies is included below:

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy uses essential oils extracted from plants to treat a range of conditions such as stress, depression, hypertension, rheumatism, muscular strains, asthma and so on. There are over 400 different oils and the therapist will decide on which are the most appropriate to use for the client's individual complaint. Generally three or four oils are selected and, because they are very potent, only a few drops are used, diluted in a carrier oil such as jojoba, almond or grape seed oil. Therapy involves massaging the client with the oils, which is the most common method, but they can also be inhaled or applied as a cold compress. Aromatherapy should be used with caution and at diluted concentrations on pregnant women and should not be used on breast feeding women or people with epilepsy.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture originated in China some 3,000 years ago and involves inserting very fine stainless steel needles into particular points on the body to stimulate nerve impulses. Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the concept of vital energy (or qi) which flows around the body along invisible channels (or meridians). Well being is achieved by regulating the flow of energy and correcting any imbalances by inserting the needles at specific points on the body.

Western acupuncture uses the same needling techniques but affects nerve impulses and the central nervous system. Acupuncture is used to treat a wide range of ailments and conditions, including back and neck pain, osteo-arthritis, allergies, pain relief and smoking cessation.

Osteopathy

Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment, primarily for musculo-skeletal problems. Treatment consists of manipulation to correct the underlying causes of the pain - this may include massage, stretching and other exercises.

Chiropractic

Chiropractic treats musculo-skeletal disorders by manipulating and massaging the muscles, joints and ligaments of the body to put right any dysfunction of the spine and pelvis.

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine uses remedies produced from plants to both treat complaints and to maintain good health.

Homeopathy

Homeopathic treatment uses very small doses of substances that, if taken in high doses by a healthy person, would produce the symptoms that the remedies are designed to treat. It is based on treating 'like with like'.

Other complementary therapies include:

  • hypnotherapy
  • Alexander technique
  • reflexology
  • Shiatsu massage
  • yoga
  • healing
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage and the exercise technique called Qigong
  • naturopathy
  • meditation
  • nutritional medicine

and many others.

Pricing policy

Getting your fees right is very important. You must make sure that they cover all of your operating costs, including your own drawings. Don't forget to keep a note of your travelling expenses if you make home visits - it can be easy to overlook the cost of providing this type of service.

Typical fees might be somewhere in the region of the following:

  • 90 minute consultation - £50 to £60
  • 60 minute full body massage - £30 to £50
  • 30 minute back massage - £30
  • facial massage - £20
  • home visit - £45 to £60

(Figures are used for illustrative purposes only - your own fees may vary significantly and will be affected by factors such as local market conditions, your expertise and your operating practices.)

You may offer clients essential oils to take home after a treatment. The price you charge for these will depend on the plants that the oil is extracted from - some are much more expensive than others. The important thing is to make sure you make some profit on each sale, no matter how much you charge your client.

Think about whether you will offer any discounts to certain client groups like students or the elderly or to regular clients - for example, you may give regular clients a book that can be stamped after each visit and offer a free treatment session once a certain number of stamps have been collected. If you participate in 'daily deal' websites like Groupon, you're likely to offer certain treatments at very discounted prices.

As part of your market research it would be a good idea to check out the fees charged by other aromatherapists in your area - so you can make sure that your fees are more or less in line with theirs.

If you plan to regularly offer a discount from your normal tariff you should keep comprehensive details of this - it will be helpful if HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) ever investigate your business.

Promote your business

It's essential to give some thought to how potential clients will become aware of your aromatherapy practice. This is particularly important if you are planning to work from home - or exclusively in clients' homes - and won't have sign-written business premises that you can use to attract passers-by.

Aside from listing your contact details in a directory like Yell.com, there are a number of things you can do to promote your practice:

  • set up your own website
  • join a professional association and/or register with a voluntary regulatory body and benefit from having your details included on their websites
  • contact GPs and other health professionals, hospices and hospitals to see if there are opportunities to offer aromatherapy to their patients
  • attend local events, fetes and shows and offer mini 'taster' treatments, or retail sales of selected aromatherapy oils
  • leave promotional leaflets with as many outlets as possible such as sports centres, chemists, beauty salons and health clubs
  • sell gift vouchers that clients can give as presents - these are likely to bring new customers to you
  • write articles on the benefits of aromatherapy for your local newspaper. You could offer attractive discounts to readers who pre-book a few sessions
  • develop an effective social media strategy, making full use of the promotional opportunities offered by Facebook and Instagram
  • upload videos of you or one of your therapists performing an aromatherapy massage to a video sharing site such as Youtube

If you are planning to operate from your own premises, try to make sure that they look as appealing as possible to passers-by and that they clearly advertise the aromatherapy services you intend to offer.

Buy an existing business

You might decide to buy an existing farm supply business rather than start your own venture from scratch. Buying a going concern can mean that the products, customers, regular sales, staff, premises and equipment are already in place.

But buying a business can be a hazardous, expensive process unless you have the right skills and experience on your team, including legal and financial know-how. Establish the genuine trading and financial position, so that the price you pay for the business is not too high.

Other matters to consider include:

  • whether the vendor intends to keep on practising in the same area. If this is the case it is quite likely that some - or even all - of the existing client base will migrate with them so you may not be able to count on having a core of regular clients right from the start

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