Top 5 tips for getting your business started

by Vicky Abad, co-editor of The Economics of Therapy, edited by Daniel Thomas and Vicky Abad, Apr 2017, £22.99, ISBN: 9781849056281


Many people remind me how lucky I am to run my own business. I love what I do, it is my passion and I feel very lucky indeed to make my living doing what I am passionate about and doing what I love – making music with children.

Starting a business doing something you are passionate about is a privilege and an honour, and it is also hard work. Nobody pays you to go to work except you – so you have to really believe in what you do, have faith in your ability to do it and your ability to sell it to others. You have to build something that people want to buy and this takes time and planning.

It is sometimes easy to daydream about what your business would look like but then get lost or overwhelmed in the actual reality of trying to set one up.

Running your own business isn’t all songs and tambourines (or drums and shakers for that matter either!). Yes it is fun, and rewarding, and it is also risky and challenging.

If I were to start out again, there are a few things I would do differently to get to where I am today. I have learned many lessons and found ways to do things more efficiently, not just in regards to time, but also in regards to emotional energy.

So, here is a list of the Top 5 things for getting your business started.


1- Think big – plan now – how big do you want your business to become?

Do you know what your end position is? Dan talks about this in his chapter in our book The Economics of Therapy. When I started Boppin Babies I didn’t really have an end game, I had a very immediate need that I wanted to fulfil – I wanted a music group that I felt was appropriate for my little baby to attend. I knew I could provide this service, and that it would be excellent but I didn’t plan how the business would evolve. In some ways this has been a blessing as the growth has been organic and has moved in new directions I might not have originally considered. In other ways the growth has caught me by surprise, and being prepared (having a plan for it) would have helped me manage it more efficiently.

So the first tip we have for you is – map out your business plan and envisage where you want it to end – what do you want to grow into? Then you can work backwards and implement steps to get there, and these steps will allow for greater growth, and more efficient growth as you won’t have to go back and reinvent the wheel each time you outgrow it.


2- Choose your name carefully

This really fits in with the first tip. You want your business to grow and when it does you will want it to still reflect the name you have chosen. So think of whether you want the name to be about you (Vicky Abad Music Therapy Centre) the core business you will provide (music, therapy, art, babies that bop), an acronym, or whether you want it to elicit an emotional response, experiential feeling, or maybe you want a name that is completely unrelated to your clinical work that you can generate a market for. For Dan, choosing a name for growth and expansion was core to the set up and growth of Chroma. He did not want a name that told people what the business did; he wanted a name they could grow into. For me, Boppin’ Babies very clearly reflected what the business did and how babies participated (they bop!), so I used a verb-adjective name to capture this. Adjectives can also be used in a nonsense sequence such as the Skinny Cow, or a verb like google to provide your name. You can play with adjectives and acronyms too, or stick with nouns that are logical, plain (think McDonalds), or nonsense- the options are endless!

So, our second tip for you is – take your time choosing your name and choose one that will reflect where you want to go with the business. Spend time throwing ideas around, draw up a logo; see if it matches visually the sound of your name. Invest some money and engage the services of a graphic designer and a marketing agency to help you brainstorm if you have trouble (like me) visualising what a name will look like. There is no wrong answer here, but the name you choose will direct your graphic and online marketing and the image you want to portray to the world.


3- Surround yourself with smart people who have different skill sets to yours

Chances are you are an excellent therapist if you are reading our book, and entrepreneurial in nature. I think I am excellent at my job, at being a music therapist, at engaging and connecting with families through music. I am also really good at coming up with great ideas and strategic plans, but I am not so great at unpacking the steps required to get to my end vision.

Our third tip for you is to – surround yourself with a team of experts who can help you build your business by providing different strengths to your own. This can include a finance team (or if you are small an online accounting program that does the hard work for you but keeps the costs down while you are in set up mode), HR team, PR experts, social media gurus, sales people. The list is endless!

It can be expensive to get started, and money is probably tight given you are starting up. If so, you don’t have to employ a suite of professionals, you can choose the areas you know are not your best strengths and outsource them. These days there are excellent online services you can tap into for business support including virtual assistants, apps that manage your bookings, accounting software, admin automation systems and many more.

Here are a few that will really help you with time management, cash management and tax:

  • Get yourself an excellent accountant. There are different tax implications for self-employed people and companies. It is important you use the correct legal set up as well as understand the tax implications and the laws.
  • A strong online presence will help people find you – get help designing the best website you can afford. If you are pretty good at this yourself then use online services to tweak the design you come up with
  • Marketing your services is also a niche business skill. Use the services of content writers, public relations consultants and/or marketers if you can afford them in the start-up phase to get you going.
  • Sales – you have to sell your services now. This is an area that really challenges many therapists. Something to consider in your planning is: are you comfortable selling your services? Can you market them or should you get help from a sales specialist?
  • Look at what administrative apps you can find to support bookings, payments and accounting


4- Work with a mentor

When you start out, the whole idea of growing a business can be overwhelming. And at any time, when you are growing said business, it can be easy to get lost in the day to day detail. It can help to have someone objective (not your partner, best friend or parent) to turn to and bounce ideas and questions off, and also to hold you accountable to decisions you have to make/ actions you must take.

The fourth piece of advice is to – get a business coach/consultant you can turn to for support, advice, accountability. Therapists are used to the idea of seeking out supervision to help us with our clinical work. View this as supervision for your business work – it is just as important to have someone you can debrief with and not bring home the stress of running a business to your family. This person is also someone who can give you a kick up the pants if need be, or hold you accountable without any emotional connection the way there might be if, say, your partner were to say “how is that new contract coming along? Or why haven’t you finished that proposal? What is next on your agenda?”

5- Work on the business not just in the business

This one can be tricky at the best of times. As the business owner, you are the one responsible for driving the growth. You are the passionate one. After all, it is your baby. So the temptation to do everything can be huge, you cover shifts, take groups, do the pay run, balance the books, organise the sessions, pay the bills, attend marketing events etc. If so, you are working in the business every moment of every day, which means there is no time for you to work on the business. It can be hard to prioritise time that is not bringing in money when you have staff wages and bills to pay. But if you don’t there will be minimal opportunity for your business to grow.

My fifth top tip for you is – plan from the very beginning a portion of time each week to work on your business. You will be tempted to work in it all the time as things will be busy. But here’s a sixth tip (always give something for nothing as Dan would say) – you are going to stay busy. It will never get less busy. As you grow you will find new levels of busy to fill the spaces you create by establishing systems/ protocols/ procedures/ staff. So, from the get go, timetable each week set periods of time and even whole days where you work on your business. This can include clinical revisions, looking at your sessions plans or work load for example; and it should also include strategic planning and thinking, like identifying where the next clinical growth area will be for you, or planning to expand into a new area, meeting potential partners, and then working through how these future directions will effect staff recruitment and training, so you can plan for this extra (busy) work too. Networking with colleagues and business partners is also important and shouldn’t be underestimated.

We wish you all the very best in your new and exciting ventures of setting up your business! We have written this book – The Economics of Therapy  – to support you doing just so, to tap into what you are already good at, given that you have trained in the creative arts therapies. Now you can add these practical tips and get going on setting up and growing your successful business!

Vicky Abad and Dan Thomas.

Vicky Abad is a Registered Music Therapist with extensive national and international management, clinical and research experience in paediatric and early intervention music therapy and music early learning. Vicky started her own business Boppin’ Babies in 2007, and over the years has grown it in response to client needs while balancing this with market demand and family life. She has a keen understanding of the intricacies of running an arts therapy business in today’s busy world. She has presented her research and lectured in music therapy, music early learning and business management internationally.

Daniel Thomas has been a music therapist since 2002 and started his first arts therapy business in 2005. Through the development of Chroma, established in 2013 as a national provider of arts therapy services, Daniel has garnered a practical understanding of the challenges and opportunities involved in running a large therapy business. Daniel has presented his ongoing research in Scandinavia, Australia and the UK. Chroma was awarded the Advancing Healthcare Chamberlain Dunn Learning award for entrepreneurship in April 2017.

If you would like to read more articles like Vicky’s and hear the latest news and offers on our books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time.

The musical nature of human communication

musical-nature-human-communicationRhythm of Relating

by Stuart Daniel

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (it was the nineties in Edinburgh) I enjoyed getting painted red and drumming like wild-fire with a group of people dedicated to festival and having serious amounts of fun. The festival nights we drummed were a culmination of many hours spent in connection through shared rhythm. There’s a collective space we would enter, a space known to any rhythm musician, where time goes strange, the group hums with a new electricity and unity glows.”


Sometime last year, as a play therapist, I was working with an eleven year-old boy. We had been hanging out for four sessions. The boy had a lot to be angry about and, up until this point our connection had been defined by me (almost as a by-stander) attempting to help him feel safe and contained as he expressed this angry momentum. I remember feeling disconnected. Not obviously, but somewhere in a quiet place inside where the chance for melancholic sadness has a chance to grow. In this particular session, session five, the boy had given our punch-bag a name and was beating it with hands and then foam swords. I stuck with him, joining in, empathising with body, gesture, a few words. After a while the energy of his angry impetus faded a little and he more casually struck with the swords. I had some insider information here! I knew the boy was learning, and loved, to drum. I started playing an off-beat to his strikes, and then switched things around a little. He matched perfectly and, after a few iterations, developed too. We played in-sync like this for a while until the energy of the room changed colour. The boy became quiet, lay down on the fallen punch-bag, and moved on to a series of mother-baby play scenes of a fresh, gentle, powerful quality completely different from before. I remember being delighted, moved, and consciously thinking, “has he been reading our book?”.  Continue reading

How can music therapy help children with special needs? Read an extract from Rhythms of Relating in Children’s Therapies

music-therapy-children-special-needsHow can rhythm and musicality help therapists be in sync with children with special needs who find communication and depth challenging?

What is rhythm for these children? And for their therapists?

In this extract from Rhythms of Relating in Children’s TherapiesFrom Cocoon to Butterfly: Music Therapy with an adopted girl, Dr Cochavit Elefant takes us into her two and a half years journey of music therapy with little Noa, showing us how through musical and verbal interplay they could go from distance to closeness and from chaos to self-control.

Click here to read the extract

“Noa was two and a half years old when I first met her: a beautiful, lively girl with long dark hair and wide open brown eyes. She was brought to music therapy by her adopted mother with the complaint that Noa was hitting, biting and pushing children at her nursery school.” continue reading

In Rhythms of Relating in Children’s Therapies, Stuart Daniel and Colwyn Trevarthen invite each contributor to have fun exploring their own interpretation of this title and to share their particular ways to phase in-sync with vulnerable children and create rhythms of connection.

If you would like to read more articles like this, hear the latest news and offers on our Arts Therapies books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer, and please also tell us about your areas of interest so we can send the most relevant information. You can unsubscribe at any time.

The others in music therapy practice

A well-trodden territory in need of a map by John Strange

music therapy practiceYou can learn about music therapy from books, journals, magazine or newspaper articles, TV or radio programmes, websites or blogs. These sources offer plenty of information, both practical and theoretical, about music therapy clients – their problems, what happens in music therapy and how it helps – and about the music therapist herself – what she does and why. There seems to be much less written and said about various others who may also be in the therapy room, despite the fact that their contribution is often crucial to the effectiveness of the therapy. It was this imbalance in the available information about what actually goes on in music therapy which I and my co-editors Professor Helen Odell-Miller and Eleanor Richards set out to correct in our newly published compilation, Collaboration and Assistance in Music Therapy Practice: Roles, Relationships, Challenges.

Although many music therapy approaches draw on theories and practices from the field of psychodynamic therapy, it is relatively uncommon to find in music therapy the classic psychoanalytic model of therapist and patient sharing an exclusive private space. The therapy space must be safely contained by therapeutic ‘boundaries’, but the exclusion of others is seldom either practical or desirable. Nurses, care workers, escorts, teaching assistants, family members may for varying reasons need to be present, and their presence creates not only challenges but opportunities which the therapist would be foolish to ignore. Continue reading

Music Therapy with Families: Defining Music Early Learning Programs (MELPS)

Music Therapy

“Families and Music Early Learning Programs” in Music Therapy with Families: Therapeutic Approaches and Theoretical Perspectives

Music Therapist and Managing Director of Bobbin Babies, Vicky Abad, reflects on how music could support all parents in their everyday parenting and not only those facing complex needs, and talks to us about how, with Professor Margaret S. Barrett, she came to present a working definition of MELP – Music Early Learning Program – in Music Therapy with Families: Therapeutic Approaches and Theoretical Perspectives

Music Early Learning Programs, or MELPs, strengthen parent-child bonds, families and communities.

When I was first approached to write this book chapter I thought there must be a mistake.

My initial response was “I no longer work as a music therapist with families who have complex needs, rather I run a business for families who wish to attend music groups in their community”.

“Yes! That is exactly why we want you to write this chapter in the book” came the reply.

The timing for this chapter was impeccable. My personal journey as a music therapist and my professional journey as a business owner were coalescing in a way that led me into the world of research. But let me explain what I mean. Continue reading

Worlds in Collision: Music and the Trauma of War

Delegates listen to composer and music therapist Nigel Osborne speaking at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

Delegates listen to composer and music therapist Nigel Osborne speaking at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

JKP author Julie Sutton was invited to speak at the Worlds in Collision: Music and the Trauma of War conference held in London’s Mansion House at the end of June. In this interview, she describes her experiences of working in the areas of trauma and conflict after the Bosnian war and the many diverse and inspiring approaches for dealing with the results of trauma covered by different speakers at the event. She also explains why her upcoming book, co-authored with Jos De Backer, will focus on promoting an awareness of an integration of musical thinking and theories of the mind.

How did you originally become involved in speaking at this conference? What does the theme of the conference mean to you personally?

I was invited because of my experience in the areas of music therapy, conflict and trauma. During the immediate ceasefire relating to the Bosnian war, I was invited by Prof Nigel Osborne and Ian Ritchie to visit Mostar and Sarajevo, to discuss the possibility of using the shell of a building in Mostar to build a music centre, including a music therapy department. They were interested in me because of my experiences in Belfast during the conflict, and my publications and conference presentations relating to psychological trauma (e.g. my work leading up to the book Music, Music Therapy & Trauma, which was the culmination of a Millennium Award I received). This first visit to Bosnia made an enormous impression on me, when I met some extraordinary people who were living in circumstances beyond the ordinary.

To make this trip from Belfast only served to heighten this experience and particularly to see what had happened to Mostar, a city with two different religious groups. While Belfast had and was still experiencing violent, destructive events, in Mostar I discovered how a functioning society that had been providing a full education programme for its children was now struggling to maintain and support its population, as well as trying to come to terms with the horrific impact of war. The special school children and staff I met and worked with were based in a bombed out hotel. Another school building was being shared by three different schools on a daily rota system. The memory of the extent of the destruction in Mostar and Sarajevo and its effect on the people I met stays with me to this day.

The Pavarotti Music Centre then grew out of the ruins of the building I had seen and music education, therapeutic experiences of music and music therapy were provided. I learned a great deal from this first visit to Bosnia, and from being a consultant for the Pavarotti Centre across a number of years, and working with the music therapists who were based there and who had travelled from different areas of Europe and N. America to take on the work. Because of this link, I had a very personal connection with this particular conference.

Musicians from the Band of the Adjutant General's Corps. Photo: Robert Piwko

Musicians from the Band of the Adjutant General’s Corps. Photo: Robert Piwko

Could you describe a little bit about the day at the conference itself – what did you particularly enjoy or find interesting or surprising about any of the presentations and discussions?

I attended the first day of the conference.  Perhaps the most striking thing about the day was the range and diversity of approaches to the trauma of war, such as from psychiatry, psychology and applied psychological approaches such as music therapy. To have eminent speakers providing an interdisciplinary perspective is always a rich experience, but at this conference there was also the involvement of the army, who began the day with a lively presentation by Major Guy Booth, about the work of the Band of the Adjutant General’s Corps. The Band has a number of contemporary ensembles supporting both civilian and military events, including playing for soldiers in fields of war. As well as enjoying and being touched by the music they played, it created a different atmosphere to have serving soldiers as part of the audience, and also knowing that these were musicians as well as soldiers. Through their own experiences, these young men and women also knew about the therapeutic impact that music can have, in ways that speak more deeply and directly to us than the very necessary and valuable research and theory building.


Your upcoming book, co-edited with Jos De Backer, will emphasise how essential the music is within music therapy. Was this a theme covered by many of the other speakers at the conference and why do you think this is such a crucial aspect of music therapy?

Jos and I believe that there should be awareness of an integration of musical thinking (detailed awareness and experiences of music in the clinical setting as well as the therapist’s own awareness of their musical identity) and theories of the mind (mental structures, in particular a psychodynamic frame of thought that connects the mind to the body,). My contribution to this conference was from this stance, something that acknowledges and also goes beyond neurological ideas, developmental theories or a medical music therapeutic approach to trauma.

We know that music exists on the same level where the central difficulties experienced by psychiatric patients can be located.  The relationship between music and psychopathology gives music therapy a crucial place in the treatment of psychiatric patients. A detailed and layered thinking about the impact of music upon us and upon psychopathology is at the centre of our thinking.

In our book we describe clinical material that demonstrates the fundamental significance of therapists’ listening to and thinking about music. While many authors have written about the art and science of music therapy, we propose to detail the central musical components of the work of a music therapist, as this is integrated into clinical practice. Some presenters at the conference did give information and included literature and research from psychology and neurology in relation to the brain and music, but apart from my paper there was no mention of the kind of integration that Jos and I focus on in our book. We hope very much that the book will serve as a first platform for this way of thinking about music and music therapy in this integrated way, as practiced in countries across Europe.


Delegates at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

Delegates at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

Can you explain a little bit about your talk and how music therapy has been used in ‘the theatres of war?’

There is not sufficient space to summarise the complexities of this area here, because when one is living within a ‘theatre of war’, one is at both a physical and emotional limit (and at times beyond) what the human embodied mind can manage. These are experiences beyond the ordinary, and which take us to the edges of what it is possible to experience and process. It is impossible not to be affected by these experiences. Because music is an incredibly powerful medium, speaking so directly to the body and mind, I believe it should be used with great caution and delicacy for those post-traumatised. A detailed and careful theoretical integration of theories of music and theories of mental structures (the mind in action) is thus essential. For my presentation I focused on one aspect, on experiences of time in the consulting room, where both patient and therapist may have varying senses of themselves in or out of time. I explore this further in a chapter in our book, because it is also one central aspect of music, and another way of thinking about what music therapy can bring as a treatment for those in distress.