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.
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:
- residential care homes
- businesses that want to provide stress-relieving therapies for their staff
Use the Record sheets to note down the results of your market research.