It’s hard to ignore the rate at which mobile on-demand treatment services are launching, capitalising on our culture of instant rewards controllable via easily accessible apps. These services offer consumers fast, premium-quality treatments at a moment’s notice in the comfort of their home, office or hotel room. But can these apps provide the same flexibility and choice for the therapists providing the treatments? We explore what it’s actually like to work for one of these companies, and the pros and cons compared to the traditional mobile or homeworking set-up.
US on-demand massage company Soothe launched into the UK via London at the start of this year and was recently rolled out to Manchester. Clients choose from four types of massage in 60, 90 or 120-minute appointments and have a therapist arrive within an hour. Therapists bring a foldable massage table, towels, oils and a music source. There are already 600 therapists using the app in London and almost 50 in Manchester.
Soothe works on a different business model to some of its competitors, acting simply as a scheduling and marketing platform for therapists. “We get compared to Uber a lot but the big difference is that a driver is a commodity, whereas our therapists are much harder to find,” says Jeff Bishop, Soothe’s head of operations.
To sign up, therapists need a recognised massage qualification and their own public liability insurance. They then have an interview and a 30-minute trade test. “It’s completely up to them to control their appointments, and our algorithms help with that,” says Bishop. “The therapist-facing app looks at their physical proximity to the appointment; obviously if they’re two hours away they won’t get there in time, especially in a metropolis like London, which is always congested. We try to keep appointments to the immediate vicinity of the therapist,” says Bishop.
The more jobs a therapist takes with Soothe and the higher their rating on the app, the more they get offered, increasing their earning potential. “We don’t dispatch an appointment to 20 or 30 therapists; the initial request pool is only five people,” explains Bishop. “To be in that top tier, your client rating has to be exceedingly high. If the appointment doesn’t get accepted, it’s then extended out geographically.” Those top-tier therapists do 30-40 jobs per month.
Most appointment requests are made between 6pm and 10pm. “So, if therapists are willing to work those hours, they’ll have almost unlimited opportunities,” says Bishop.
Therapists earn between 60% and 70% of the cost of the massage – from £65-£90. “If they work with us more often we’ll pay them more; there are different thresholds. Assuming their client quality score is an average of 4.5 or higher, then after 10 jobs they can hit the second tier of commission,” says Bishop, adding: “They’re earning two or three times more than they would for an hour in a day spa.”
There’s also 24/7 phone support available for both therapist and client, and therapists are tracked while on appointments to make sure they’re safe. Bishop says more than half of Soothe’s operations team is dedicated to ensuring the safety of therapists.
Because therapists are independent contractors, there are no restrictions to treatment apart from time and cost, allowing each the freedom to work with their own style of massage and products. “Essentially, they do as they please, so they’ll customise the massage after consultation. For example, if they offer reiki and someone wants that they’ll do it,” says Bishop. “Often people will order a deep tissue without knowing what it is and the therapist will switch to more of a Swedish style, because not everybody knows it can be a little bit painful.”
Perfect 10 founder Claire Aggarwal, who is now head of business development for nail brand Bio Sculpture, shares her tips on staying safe for mobile therapists
• “If you have an iPhone, use the Find Friends feature to share your location with people you trust so if you don’t come home when expected they know where you are.”
• “If you’re a woman, don’t take male clients unless there’s a woman in the house.”
• “Have the confidence to leave if you walk into a house and you don’t feel comfortable. Always go with your gut instinct.”
Soothe therapist Peter Abbot from Manchester has only been working with the app for three months but says he’s found a way of working suited to him. “I have other commitments so I can take advantage of the flexibility,” he says. “I was surprised how quickly you can build up a regular client base. As long as you have a firm commitment to offer the best experience to every client, working with a company that shares that same ethos will make a great working partnership.”
One of the best-known on-demand treatment apps, Blow Ltd has benefitted from more than £3.5 million of external investment since launching its mobile arm in 2015 and has recently extended its service to Birmingham and Manchester. The company also has two bricks-and-mortar salons in London, and last month announced a partnership with department store Debenhams to open express beauty bars (see page 15). Blow Ltd offers make-up application, blow dries, nails and lashes.
“By Christmas, we’ll have 500 therapists,” says founder Fiona McIntosh. “But pros have to go through a rigorous process; we only take on about 7% of those who approach us.” Therapists must have at least a diploma or NVQ Level 2 and must provide their own “excellent” kit of high-end products and equipment. The brand works with OPI for nails and gives pros discounts on product replenishment. After a phone screening, therapists have a trade test, CRB check, and must pass a mystery shop and kit test.
Therapists can accept as many or as few jobs as they like, and the company says up to £1,000 per week can be earned by full-time “elite pros” – Blow Ltd’s team that works VIP events, pop-ups and appointments for high-flying clients.
“As an elite pro they can earn up to 65% commission on all appointments, get given all the kit and sent on masterclasses,” says McIntosh, adding that Blow Ltd works equally well for therapists who do other freelance work or have different priorities: “We have a lot of working mums who schedule their appointments around school hours.”
Pros can manage their earnings through the app and see how many more appointments they need to work that week to hit their own target. They can also accept tips from clients, of which they keep 100%. Like many on-demand apps in other industries, Blow Ltd asks clients to rate their therapist based on punctuality and treatment quality.
To make it easier for therapists to arrive on time and cut down their travel, the company is working on better geo-location capability, so if a pro is in the area of an appointment request the app will push the job out to them. Plus, clients now have the option to rebook their favourite stylist, so they can build up a loyal clientele.
Safety is a big consideration with any kind of mobile work, and Blow Ltd tracks therapists through the app. “They have to physically swipe into a job when they arrive and out when they finish, and we’ve never had any incidents,” says McIntosh. “We know exactly who booked the appointment and where the stylist is going, and because it’s all pre-paid, you never have the issue of someone refusing to pay.”
McIntosh believes the biggest draw of working with the company is the flexibility it provides. “It suits this millennial mindset of being your own boss. You can go on holiday then set your availability on the plane on the way back and jobs will start coming in.”
Aga Drozdowska, a therapist who has been working with Blow Ltd for a year, says it’s that flexibility that’s increased her job satisfaction since she stopped being salon based. “I wanted to be my own boss and work on shoots and events, not just in one place seeing the same people every day. I can also now work with the brands I like – you aren’t limited to one or two product houses.”
She confirms that £1,000 per week is attainable. “A typical salon pays around £300 a week, but with Blow Ltd I can get up to £1,000 after they take their commission.” However, she says she has to work much harder to meet that figure. “That would mean me taking a lot of appointments, and if you’re just a hairstylist, for example, you won’t earn as much as if you do hair and make-up, because I can accept bigger, bespoke hair and make-up jobs such as bridal work.”
One similarity she does make to salon life is that there are quiet months, such as August. “But October, November and December more than make up for that,” she says. “Sometimes I can even earn double because of our cancellation policy; if a client cancels on a Saturday, my busiest day, they still have to pay but sometimes I can get another appointment for that slot.”
Perfect 10 is one of the longest standing on-demand beauty services. It offers therapists two ways of working; they can pick up appointments ad-hoc or open their column four days per week and have the company book in appointments for them – the most popular option. Perfect 10 has 67 therapists on its books.
“All our support staff in the office have beauty backgrounds so they understand the industry and look out for the therapists,” says director Charlie McCorry. Unlike many of its competitors, Perfect 10 provides all therapists with a full set of equipment and products, which they replenish continuously at no cost to the pro. “Depending on experience, they have anything from two to five days of in-depth training, plus additional brand training with our product partners, including Aromatherapy Associates, Natura Bissé and Essie,” adds McCorry.
Having worked as a therapist for 16 years prior to taking over the company from founder Claire Aggarwal, McCorry places a huge importance on developing her therapists, even though they’re self-employed. “I understand it from their point of view. I know how tough it is with the travelling and setting up in somebody’s home,” she says.
Just like any good salon, Perfect 10 sets out to offer therapists a career, not just a job. “We develop them by starting everyone on events before they go onto Perfect 10 mobile work. From there, they can go onto Black Label (Perfect 10’s members-only elite division), then Travel Refined by Black Label, which is our global service,” says McCorry.
All “full-time” therapists are given a beauty manager, operations manager and business development manager, who they meet with a minimum of three times a month to help with professional development, whether that’s to set up additional training or give them personal incentives.
The company works on a sliding scale of commission with the Travel Refined therapists keeping the highest percentage of their earnings. McCorry gives the example of one Travel Refined by Black Label therapist who recently returned from two months abroad and earned £17,000, while the average pay for a Perfect 10 full-time therapist, after the company takes its cut, would be between £2,200 and £3,000 per month before tax
McCorry says she’s never had a therapist join Perfect 10 who doesn’t work freelance for other on-demand companies, but that “ideally our therapists don’t have to work for multiple companies just to get enough jobs.” Thanks to a partnership with online beauty retailer My Showcase, pros can also earn 10% commission on retail by logging orders via their personalised page while with a client.
Like any way of working, on-demand companies aren’t for everyone. Therapist Khristine Richards went straight from college to working with apps Blow Ltd and Milk Beauty because she found it hard gaining a salon job without experience. While she agrees that the earning potential is often higher, she says there are other points to carefully consider before signing up. “You can make a lot of money as long as you don’t have other commitments like a young family or another job,” she says. “Most bookings are either before 9am or after 5pm. As I have two small children, I would need to arrange additional childcare If I wanted to earn more money.”
She advises factoring in extra costs when considering how much you’ll earn after the company takes a cut. “Most mobile apps take a significant percentage of your earnings to cover overheads, but you also have other costs like renting or buying your own kit, travel and parking, and paying for your own public liability insurance,” says Richards
Safety is another aspect the company takes seriously. “We have a three-stage alert system,” explains McCorry. “They’re able to communicate with us by pressing a button to let us know when they’re in and out, and we have a timing programme whereby they have 15 minutes to let us know if they’ve added on a treatment or are staying with the client a bit longer. If there’s no communication, the system alerts us, we go through our protocols and then within 20 minutes the local police are alerted.”