Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Space To Be You is mental health and holistic therapy center offering a range of wellbeing services in London, England.
We’re currently growing at a rate of 30% month-on-month and generating $8000 in monthly revenue with the potential to double that within the next 12-18 months.
Below we discuss the process of securing funding, business planning, starting up, and discuss what it was like to launch a face-to-face therapy business during a global pandemic…
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The business was started by Izabela and Bryan Hunter after a tip-off from a neighbor about a newly renovated premises consisting of 10 rooms, which could be perfectly suited for a talking and massage therapy space in the heart of hip and happening Hackney, East London.
We heard about the space in April 2020 just as the UK went into lockdown, but we knew the demand for mental health and wellbeing would be strong in the mid-term as the world emerged from the after-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Izabela is a professional child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapist and had been looking for space to grow her private practice, to manage additional rooms for other therapists looking to grow their practices and support them.
Bryan Hunter heads up a global digital marketing role at the world’s largest provider of flexible workspaces and also runs two other online side hustles (a small SEO agency and some affiliate marketing websites). However, he was keen to establish a more secure brick-and-mortar business.
As well as being in lockdown, we both had a young family and an extremely hectic life, but the opportunity of being in lockdown, working from home, having no daily commute, and the government providing several start-up loan schemes was too good to ignore.
It’s important not to think of in-month ROI, but Lifetime Value (LTV). Just choose whatever period you feel comfortable with to cover costs and hit your sales and profitability targets.
We’re now proud to say that we have 25 counselors and massage therapists providing services and we’re adding two per month on average.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We started by analyzing our competitive environment, so we researched every similar business in a 10-mile radius, looking at their digital footprint and the size of the potential market. In our case, that's therapists looking for a place to rent rooms, but also the demand for therapy in this part of London. We were also aware that there was a demand for play therapy rooms in this part of London, with a gap in the market there.
It was one thing to ensure we had professionals wanting therapy rooms in the local area, but we also needed to ensure the location was right for their clients. Proximity to good public transport was important here, as well as closeness to central London.
We then went on to validate this with actual search demand from Google and saw that this was increasing across the UK, but was showing particularly strong growth in our local borough.
We put in all the savings we had and also applied for the government-backed Start Up Loan scheme. We spent several weeks crafting the business case and had great support from our appointed advisor – we would highly recommend the scheme.
Here are some before photos during the build works:
And here are some photos of the finished premises:
Talking therapy rooms;
Massage therapy room;
Describe the process of launching the business.
The startup loan scheme provides a mentor to help you write the business plan and their person was invaluable as they helped us stress test our assumptions and feed into our financial forecasting.
If a channel is proven not to work, don’t keep flogging a dead horse. Double down on what does work.
We also put in several thousand dollars of our savings and some credit from our other businesses to show that we had skin in the game. We were lucky to get a $70k loan spread over five years, in addition to our capital. The payback target was 24 months.
Negotiating the lease and overseeing building work was the longest and hardest part. We were lucky to find a whole floor of a building in the heart of Hackney, complete with soundproof walls, kitchen, bathroom, and waiting room.
The landlord rented out the whole floor to us at $30 per square foot which is pretty reasonable for inner London, but it was a building site when we first saw it. So it was hard to visualize what the center might become, stick to our plan, and hold our nerve throughout the building and fit-out process.
Once the lease was signed, we then ordered carload after carload of furniture, assembling much of it on our kitchen floor before driving it to the clinic and fitting out the rooms. Fortunately one of us has an incredible eye for interior design, and it wasn’t Bryan.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Bryan has experience building WordPress websites and with SEO, so once the website was built, the challenge was to list new therapists on the site to attract new therapists. The problem was that we didn’t have any.
To overcome this we signed up some personal contacts, even if we knew they wouldn’t use the rooms much. This at least gave us some profile pictures for our website to build trust for newly enquiring therapists.
Our marketing channels, in order of highest ROI, are:
SEO - Our first job was to attract therapists so we needed to rank on page 1 of Google for “therapy room rental”. Bryan wrote a 2000 word page answering every question someone might have about this, with an inquiry form to generate leads. This page soon ranked on page 1 of Google for the keywords we were targeting, proving that quality content sometimes beats domain age and authority. Our therapy room rental page is here if you want a look.
PPC - This can be expensive, but we knew that a therapist could generate £1000 over six months, so we were prepared to pay £50-£100 per lead. It’s important not to think of in-month ROI, but Lifetime Value (LTV). Just choose whatever period you feel comfortable with to cover costs and hit your sales and profitability targets.
Facebook Lead Gen - These ads generate a fair amount of leads, but be aware that intent can be very low. Plenty of people will fill out a form, with no real intention to sign up. So make sure you qualify them straight away, rather than waste your (and their time). One tip to prevent low-quality leads would be to increase the number of questions asked to filter out time-wasters. It’s tempting to only ask a couple of questions to increase the volume of leads, but that comes at a downstream cost when you spend time with wasted email exchanges or even viewing appointments that go nowhere.
Local directories - Our industry has “therapy room directory” sites that generate a healthy number of leads per month at a low cost ($40 per month). We would recommend Googling whatever term you want to drive leads for. If you can then partner with sites on Page 1, then do it.
Competitor analysis - Decide what keywords you want to rank for. Look at which competitors are ranking for those terms. Look at what pages they are driving traffic to. Then write pages that are better than theirs! And don’t forget link building to grow the domain authority of your site. It’s boring and manual, but essential. There is no such thing as “build it and they will come” online.
Google My Business - If you have a physical presence, make sure you sign up for this and optimize your profile. This is becoming an important channel. And make sure you get some reviews from friends, family, and existing clients.
Getting the first few paying customers is massively important to validate your product and build your confidence. Once you’ve acquired them, look after those customers, ask them for feedback and do everything you can not to lose them.
Here is an example of one of our Facebook ads:
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Recently we hit our first anniversary and threw a social event to celebrate. We received great feedback from our customers (therapists). It was also a good opportunity for us to step back, appreciate what we had accomplished, and set some goals for the next 12 months.
After 12 months we have just started covering our costs and should pay back our loans within 24 months.
In terms of marketing, we know which channels work for us, so we have directed our time, energy, and resources towards them. If a channel is proven not to work, don’t keep flogging a dead horse. Double down on what does work. For us that is SEO.
Our inquiry forms are tagged up to record conversions in Google Analytics and we’ve tried to optimize our on-site conversion rate to drive more inquiries. This is one of the cheapest and easiest ways of driving leads without ad spending. Even if you don’t have enough traffic to properly A/B split test, just try different layouts, button colors, positions, etc. We put “enquire now” and “book session” buttons all over the site, which helps.
Have a look at our homepage to see all of the buttons we put in front of our visitors to drive an inquiry! Make life as simple as possible for the web visitor. They will not read all of your content. Just get them to fill out a form and get them on the phone/email.
The future? If all goes well, we plan to open up other locations around London and possibly the UK. Mental health is finally getting the recognition it deserves and we are at the heart of helping people with that. Not many businesses can say they are truly helping people and making money.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Starting a business is the opposite of packing a suitcase for a long holiday.
Instead of removing item after item, you should add cost after cost into your forecast!
Whatever you think you will spend, you will spend more. Whatever revenue you will forecast, it is very likely it will take longer to generate.
Sometimes it’s necessary to business-case a certain payback or breakeven period but bear in mind that in reality, you might not achieve that, so be ready to have cash or extra credit on hand if things don’t work out according to your business plan. It’s also OK to have one business plan to get the financing, but another for your personal use.
Lastly, do not ever do something purely for the money or it will become a chore. Choose something you genuinely enjoy. There is nothing worse than sitting down at a PC after a hard day and doing something you don’t enjoy.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Google Sheets - I put everything in there and it’s easy to share across devices and people.
Anydo - To log quick thoughts and “to-do” when you’re on the go and to action later.
Evernote - Similar, but better for quick note-taking which can be shared across all devices.
Onlinejob.ph - For hiring cheap virtual assistants.
Xero - For accounting and invoicing. It makes it fun!
Docusign - for avoiding paper contract signing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Podcasts : Seven Figure Small. My First Million.
Email lists : The Hustle.
Tim Ferris (an oldie, but critical to learn the art of outsourcing your time and work).
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Getting the first few paying customers is massively important to validate your product and build your confidence.
Once you’ve acquired them, look after those customers, ask them for feedback and do everything you can not to lose them. If they do go elsewhere, make a note of the reasons why and if it’s anything within your control, fix that problem. If new customers are considering signing up, but there’s a reason they don’t, write it down and fix that problem.
Time is not your friend. You need to hack it, cheat it & optimize it. Anything repetitive and low-level can be outsourced to places like Upwork and onlinejobs.ph. Systemise everything and only spend time on activities that directly relate to getting new customers and getting more revenue from those customers.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not currently. Most of our SEO, content writing is done by virtual assistants in the Philippines. Check out onlinejobs.ph if you’re interested in learning more about how that service can keep your costs down. Writes and admin assistants are available for as little as $500 per month.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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