How to Set Up a Complementary Therapy Business on a Budget

how to set up a complementary therapy business on a budget


The PDF Guide – ‘How to set up a Complementary Therapy Business on a Budget’ used to be available on my website as a free PDF for people who signed up to my mail list.

As of September 2020, it is no longer available. An inexpensive ebook version is available for purchase on Amazon here still.

For a description of the kinds of things this book covers, read below.

“I would just like to say Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for writing the free e-book how to set up your complementary therapy business… I have been so stressed about how I’m going to find the money to set up my business and was so close to throwing away the study and hard work I’ve just done to become a therapist. I am so happy I stumbled (was guided) to your ebook. I can now breathe again, give myself a good shake down and start again.”

Angela A. Sep 2017

This article is a short preview for my free e-book titled “How to Set up a Complementary Therapy Business on a Budget’. To get it, all you have to do is sign up to my mailing list and you will receive a copy to your email. UPDATE: There is now a KINDLE VERSION AVAILABLE. This is more reader-friendly on smartphones (with the Kindle app) and on Kindle readers. However, there is a very small charge for the Kindle version as it is sold through Amazon. 

How to Set up a Complementary Therapy Business on a Budget

Complementary Therapies are increasing in popularity worldwide. By complementary therapies, I basically mean therapies like massage, reflexology, acupuncture, reiki, Bowen Technique, meditation, even yoga and many others in the field of complementary and  alternative medicine. These therapies are used as an adjunct to what is known as ‘Western Scientific’ or ‘Conventional’ medicine and are growing in popularity and usage.

 Getting Popular

More and more people are trying them out. Many people book regular appointments to keep themselves in balance. We are all aware of a number of celebrities who show off their cupping marks on their back or talk about their experiences with shiatsu or acupuncture. There are plenty of examples.

For a long time, the medical establishment was against complementary therapies. But this is changing. In the UK, doctors can take short courses in acupuncture. I know of several nurses who have gone on to train as reflexologists or reiki practitioners after experiencing the benefits for themselves. Therapies are now offered in mainstream medical system in countries around the world.

The Inner Healer

It’s all changing and its a good to be training as a complementary therapy practitioner as there are less barriers to break than 20 or 30 years ago. These days, thousands of people train in massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture, homeopathy and all the various therapies out there.

So many people discover that there is an inner healer in them and they want to bring it out. They have lots of passion and want to use these skills. Sometime doing therapy work can provide a different kind of value to someone’s life, even though they may have had a very successful career elsewhere.

Business… Ohh Nooo…!

This is commonly the one area that is often overlooked, whilst people train for a complementary therapy qualification. rightly, so most people are focused on developing their skills.  Sometimes the last thing they ant to thin about is the questions of making money and running a business.

It’s unsurprising, that this is where some people want to put their hands over their ears and say “I can’t hear you .. la, la, la, la, la”. And it’s fine. If you are happy to use your skills to help a few friends and family or volunteer, that is great. Or if you are financially ok – perhaps a retiree or as a side job or activity around your main job. Again, in these cases again, this may not be relevent to you.

But a lot of people these days, undertake these training for two reasons:

Making a living from a passion

Firstly, they are passionate about the therapy – so passionate they will put themselves through the expense, time and hard work of learning it.

Secondly, they hope to make a living from it. Perhaps they are transitioning out of a precious career, which they don’t want to do anymore, or they have failed to find something they are interested in, and this therapy really lights up their spark. It may be you are a parent who has been out of work for a few years and want to start your own business. Whatever the reason you would like to use your skill to generate income. And to do this, you will have to consider business and money.

So the question is how do you turn this interest from a hobby and into a business?

Business modules

Some complementary therapy courses these days will have some kind of business module. In my university years ago, we had a business module in the final year. At that point, everyone was worn out with the constant tests and stress, and so this business module was not particularly welcome. At the time, many people including myself just did the bare minimum to pass that module. The teacher, obviously had a strong business (corporate) background, but at the time, I was too worn out to really sit down and consider how this would fit my future business model.   It’s a shame, because with hindsight, I can see that thinking about the business side of setting up a therapy business was probably one of the most important things I would have to do in the future.

Fast-forward 10 years later, I still participate in acupuncture seminars, workshops and training every year. However, whenever I meet other therapists, I will tend to talk more about business rather than about specific treatments. Questions – like where you work, how much you charge, how busy are you, how do you promote? –  are quite normal.

Starting on a tight budget

I created this guide several years ago and this is why I have emphasised the setting up of a business on ‘a budget’ in it. When I first made it, I was indeed short of funds and looking to build my practice without spending too much money. I had to be efficient, yet I also had to be effective. There are a lot of steps, which can take away too much of your time and money, but which doesn’t  lead to money or lead to sales.

Not everyone who starts off is going to be financially well off. There are a lot of younger people choosing complementary therapies as a profession. Unfortunately, since 2008 people have become more financially squeezed with the rising cost of living, rents and house-prices, (hidden) inflation and decreasing wages. However, I don’t think that this should be an obstacle for setting up a business.

It may be that a complementary therapy business is not the most lucrative form of employment you can pursue. Banking or conventional healthcare professions like a nurse or doctor will probably be better financially, although even nurses are getting squeezed these days. However, the benefit of setting up and running your own complementary therapy business will provide the opportunity to learn various business skills, knowledge and will help bring out the entrepreneur in you. Here are some other thoughts:

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Setting up a complementary therapy business on  a budget: Some examples

1. Focusing on things that are not so important

Business Cards

Here’s an example: Spending too much time designing business cards and buying hundreds of them. There is nothing more depressing then opening up a drawer to find piles of your business cards looking back at you like hundreds of little lost orphans. Even worse is if you need to change a detail like a number or to add a therapy you practice and you really need to amend it. So then, instead you write in biro, your new number on each card. (I’ve done this).

With business cards, you may often have the opportunity to hand a few out. It is worth having some on you at all time as you will get asked. However, it’s quite common to hand out a card to someone who seems really keen to contact you, without any pitch on your part. They even tell you explicitly, they will get in touch, but then nada. They never contact you. You wonder why. I don’t know why, but it happens.

So no, you don’t need to spend too much time on cards but it is worth having a few to hand.

2. Leaflets

Same goes for leaflets. You may get one or two leads from them, but the time and cost spent designing, handing out and distributing them in various shops and yoga centres, and even churches (I have done this), isn’t worth the time and effort for the result. Also again, it’s a little depressing to find your discarded flyers lying around like scrunched up Macdonald’s hamburger wrappers.

2. What are the best ways to promote your business?


Now we’re getting closer.  In this current age, we are all smart phone addicts. People just can’t help it. Everywhere you go, people have them in hand, surfing the net, playing games, watching videos. Occasionally, they are making phone calls. I’m no different. So for generation X, Y and the Millennials, they are more likely to search the net with their smartphones than they are to buy a newspaper and read the classifieds. Of course, if your target group is not this group, than conventional newspaper advertising would be  far more effective, especially in local newspapers.

Regarding websites, it is worth having one. These days, you can build a website for free (or very cheap). But again, a website can be just as effective as a business card if you have no traffic and no one ever looks at it. Also, it can take a lot of time to build one.  With a website, to get it having traffic you need to consider promoting it in other ways – signing up to directories, getting back links, keywords. It’s not a bad idea to invest in a company to help you build it and get you traffic.  My guide covers this a little.

For example, this current website you are reading was made using I have experimented with a few other website builders, which have been good up to now, but I felt that I wanted to take my online profile on to the next level.

For years I have had a vision for a much larger website. My main problem is that I am not so computer minded and didn’t know where to begin. I also don’t have a lot of free time, so I wanted to be focusing more on producing content rather than website building. I really didn’t want to be dealing excessively with coding or html or even the dreaded ‘hacker’.

And so for this reason, I chose this platform and started with the Premium Plan. There is a learning curve at the beginning and you need to take time to familiarise yourself with how it works, but the customer support has been really helpful. I will post about it in more detail soon.

Classified ads in local newspapers

Despite being firmly in the digital age, this can be an effective way of picking up clients in the local area by placing an ad in your local newspaper. My father has advertised his gardening business for years in his local newspaper as his only advertising method. For complementary therapists, it can potentially raise the awareness of your practice in the local area.

Many people prefer local newspapers to online sources, some of which are distributed free or for a low price compared to national newspapers. There will usually be a charge of around a hundred pounds or so for a number of editions. You need to contact the newspaper’s adverting department to find out, as different papers usually have different advertising options and plans.

The demographic of local newspaper readers may tend towards being the over 50’s/60’s. So, if this is your target group, it may be more effective than a website. If you have a budget for advertising, it may be worth experimenting for a time to see how it works for you. Be very precise in your advert, as space equals money. Make sure to include your general location or clinic address, services offered, problems you specialise in, name and contact number.

Regarding the classified ad itself – a well designed box with a logo can be visually more attractive, professional-looking and eye-catching, compared to a few lines of text, which can be overlooked. However, the larger an ad you put out, the more it will cost. This has to be considered.

Word of Mouth

Probably the oldest and best way of building a client list. But again, this takes time to establish a reputation and is dependent on our location as well as how settled you are in one place. On the other hand, word of mouth is free and is great if you are on a tight budget. Sometimes you can get that one client who seems to want to help promote you to his friends and colleagues and you will get several referrals from one source. Make you sure you return the favour in some way – either with a discount or some other benefit.

And, when setting up a business on tight budget, the key thing is not losing money. It helps to be a little tight. You don’t need to go as far as becoming  Scrooge  or Gollum. coveting those ‘precious’ pennies. But it is important to take a record of business expenses, keep receipts and draw out a budget.

3. Other considerations: How much should you charge?

The Bell curve of cost

Another thing is that there is a sliding scale between different practitioners and how much they charge. It is kind of like a bell curve.


New practitioners will often charge down the lower end of the price range. This may be due to a lack of experience, confidence or simply because they don’t know how much to charge, so they under-price themselves. As they improve, they may gradually start to increase their prices in line with the majority of therapists in their area and join the hump of the bell. A few will step into charging a higher rate and will target higher income clients and areas, but the majority will charge somewhere in between.

It is not fixed either, Some people may move through all three areas at various stages of their career. For example, Someone may start off in a lower band, then can move from a medium band to a higher band when they decide to push and then return to the medium band if they move areas or life circumstances leads them to want to slow their business down. Some therapists start in the middle band and remain there. A few only operate in the upper band. It is up to the therapist how to want to price themselves.

The going rate

When deciding how much to charge, you need to look at the going rate in your area. Check out other therapists and see how much they charge. These days its easy to do this as most people will have some kind of website.   Some people do not and it is sometimes the case that these people that charge higher rates and tend to operate by word of mouth.  If you. Alternatively, ask friends and family if how much their therapist charges if they see one. Don’t be shy about asking the price. You simply need to gauge the amount

Your costs

Consider your break-even point. If you charge less than the cost of your supplies and room costs then you are effectively running a charity. That is fine if money is not your motivation but if you want to make a living, then the only way you can consider charging under cost if it is part of a promotion to get more clients. However, I would suggest that you avoid charging under cost even for this reason. The reason is that people are seriously looking  for a therapist to help, the cost isn’t going to be issue for them. secondly, a person will happily take a cheap treatment, They sell is as a one of bargain treat because but then they simply don’t want to pay the full price and wont return.

There are lots of considerations for setting up a complementary therapy business and many points that I am sure I have missed or perhaps I am wrong about. Feel free to email me if you have an opinion.

Hence my guide

And I thought – wouldn’t it be good, if there was a simple guide with some of these ideas in it? Well, I’ve made one. It’s not comprehensive, but at over 16,000 words long there’s enough to get started with. I guess it started off as a guide for me – a place where I could put my ideas down. And then I thought, I may as well share it. Just a note – I am UK-based. The information in this guide is primarily UK-focused, however, some of the business principles can still apply for wherever you are from.

Read on your smartphone or Kindle: (Kindle Version Available): Some people find reading a PDF a little difficult on their laptops or smartphones. For this reason,  I have made a version available to put on your Kindle reader or Smartphone (with the Kindle app). It is available directly through amazon (UK, US, AUS, CA & EUR). However, if you want this version there is a very small fee as I have produced it using Amazon’s services. There is no charge if you are a Kindle-Unlimited subscriber.

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A little about me

I qualified as a Reflexologist and massage practitioner in 2002 and then went onto an Acupuncture degree course in London, UK. I did a few jobs practicing reflexology during this period on the side, but didn’t really take it to a serious level. However, in 2006, I completed my Acupuncture degree and this is when I set up a complementary therapy business proper. In that year, I saw my first paid client as an acupuncturist. I had of course, treated several patients in the student university clinic but it is the first time that you do it for money which is one of the first major landmarks of a new practitioner.

Early days of setting up as an acupuncturist

I initially started working in the East End of London in Whitechapel. A friend of mine was running a herbal medicine clinic in the Bangladeshi community and asked me if I could see a couple of his clients. I said yes of course. One of my first clients was a young teenage Muslim girl. Because she was underage, her father accompanied her and sat with us throughout the treatments. They soon asked me if I could do home visits instead and I agreed. One of the reasons is that the treatment couch I used in the clinic wasn’t a couch at all. It was a table with blankets put on top of it and it felt like one. So much for fancy hydraulic massage couches.

This session challenged a lot of my preconceptions. Before then, I was told you can’t touch someone of the opposite sex in Islam. Well, I discovered that what we are taught is not always how it is. There are pragmatic exceptions when it comes to medical reasons. After-all, if a Muslim or Jewish male needed a heart operation, I don’t think a person would be too bothered if the surgeon was a female. All they want is that heart unblocked.

When I visited their home, I didn’t realise, that I would be having the entire extended family watching me – aunts, uncles, grandparents and children running around me in the living room as I put needles into this young lady on the sofa I have to admit I was as nervous as hell with all these eyes on me, but I had to pretend I was completely fine.

The funny thing is that after a couple of visits, it seemed the novelty had worn off, they stopped paying attention when I came round to do acupuncture. And in a way, I kind of missed the attention. They were a lovely family and I was grateful to be a brief part of their life. And the feeling in those days of being paid to do acupuncture and being able to call yourself an acupuncturist for the first time, were the best. I am sure you will all have or have already had some interesting experiences in the line of your work.

A few more years down the line

Years later, I still operate in London (primarily North London) and have experimented with different types of working. I have tried renting clinic space and have moved to a home-visiting model. I have worked from chiropractic and osteopathic centres and a buddhist centre. I have helped support a therapy business operating from a hospice. I have worked in the upper scale of West London and the lower scale of East London.

I have used a website as a primary client-generator, but I have also experimented with participating in events to aim to pick up clients. There are others who have no doubt done more than me and I am still early in my career, so this guide is by no means definitive. However, I do hope that it will be of use even to more experienced practitioners. At the very least, they can read it and snort “that’s a load of codswallop!”.

I hate to say it, but there are plenty of challenging times in the career of an acupuncturist. It’s just part and parcel of the job of therapy work and dealing with human beings in a ‘holistic’ way. So enjoy the good moments, because there will be some challenging stuff to deal with.

But anyway, back to the guide I have written…

How to Set up a Complementary Therapy Business on a Tight Budget

This ‘how to’ guide essentially encompasses some of my knowledge, skill and various bits of work I have done in building my own practice. The emphasis is on the ‘tight budget’. This is because, I had to do a lot of my business with very limited funds. London is an expensive city to live in with an ongoing property bubble. I am a member of ‘generation rent’ and so am not able to set up a practice from home. I have lost money from taking our contracts for room rentals and learnt from this accordingly. Everything has had to be done on a limited budget and I had to be quite creative particular with working, promotion and advertising. All of this is in the guide.

No barriers

I think there are a lot of people who find themselves in a similar situation. These courses are very expensive and on top of that there are living costs to pay, so I think that when people complete their courses, they also have to spend some time recovering their finances. But this shouldn’t be a barrier to stop someone from setting up a business. Setting up a complementary therapy business takes time and effort and the sooner you begin, the sooner you can start to build your practice.

Advice in Setting up a Complementary Therapy Business

In this free booklet, I will discuss things like:

  • Motivation to get started building your practice
  • Business plans
  • Business Strategy – PEST, SWOT, USP
  • Money management
  • Perseverance
  • Budgeting
  • First steps
  • Premises and equipment
  • Promotion – websites, leaflets, events
  • Sources of Business Advice

There is a lot of information in this booklet – it runs at over 16,000 words long, and contains links to various resources. It is available in PDF form.

It can help current students

This book can also help with complementary therapy students who are doing business modules as part of their training. I have shared the guide in the past and received feedback from students  that it helped them write their business plan. This version I am releasing has been updated. And the fact that its free makes it quite a bargain.

The emphasis is on setting up a complementary therapy business on a tight budget and it will be of use to people who may be just starting out. However, there will come a time, when someone will want to invest more and build a bigger practice. There are other guides that are more appropriate in this situation. However, this book is a simple starter – a useful way for people to get going or at least start thinking about setting up their businesses. I think the book may still be of value to someone who has already started out.


“Just wanted to say that I found your how to set up a complementary therapy business book online and found it very helpful”

Sarah O. Aug 2017

“I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to create the booklet. I was so impressed by how insightful and straight to the point it was. I have been so fearful of taking the steps to start my own business but your book was simple to follow and so honest. I really appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to produce a comprehensive tool to help people realise their ambitions.”

Marissa B. Apr 2018

write a blog for a complementary therapy business

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