Kanjana Sawangha is the founder of Thai Kosai Massage Therapy, a massage business in central London.
What inspired you to start a business?
Growing up in the rural North of Thailand, I had no idea I’d ever leave my village, let alone study English, end up in London, and be running my own business! I trained as a massage therapist back in 2002 to try and help my mother, who was ill at the time. By the time she passed away several years later, I was already making a good living as a therapist, and I got a real kick out of helping my clients. I don’t think there was a single thunderbolt of inspiration, it was more of a gradual realisation that I could stop working for other people and start working for myself. Looking back, I wish that realisation had come earlier, but in a way all of the experience I was gathering would ultimately help in getting my own business off the ground.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
There are so many rewards! I have to pinch myself when I get to walk from home to work in my own shop, and work my own hours. I am lucky enough to work in a group of people that are my friends as well as colleagues. It’s also really nice to be able to give a little back. We recently teamed up with the Thai Children’s Trust charity, to donate a portion of our sales to them. They do amazing work to give shelter, safety, education and hope to Thai children living in desperate poverty.
Happily, those rewards far outweigh the challenges. Of course there are practical challenges: dealing with all of the admin, the licensing, the regulation, the never-ending laundry. The personal challenge is to be able to switch off! We are open six days a week which doesn’t leave a lot of time to fit in family time. That balance is something I never really thought I would struggle with, but having put so much into the business means it constantly demands attention.
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?
Ignore the detractors. Do your homework. Test and re-test every assumption. Have your friends play devil’s advocate with your plans and if they still stack up, get on and do it! I found even when I had the vision of what I wanted to do, and even after backing it up with meticulous preparation, it was still far too easy to be put off by someone’s throw-away remark.
Secondly I would say break down the problem. In the early days I found my To Do list was completely overwhelming. The only thing that helped was to break it all into chunks and tackle it piece-by-piece. Chipping away. Before you know it the whole thing will somehow have come under control!
Finally I think it helps to keep a bigger picture. Of course when you start out you want to be building a business that lasts forever, but it helps to remember that there is no such thing. What you’re doing now might last, and it might not; all you can do is be confident that it will, and give it your best shot.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
I think the single biggest challenge, and one we face in this industry all the time, is the negative connotation attached to massage. Even mentioning that I run a massage shop often causes raised eyebrows and sideways glances. It really protracted the discussions with our landlord. Opening a bank account was far harder than it should have been. Sadly I’m not sure we’ll ever truly overcome these negative stigma, because ours is, by definition, a business of physical contact. Perhaps it’s a mixed blessing: the more people frown on massage, the fewer will open their own shops, so the less the competition!
The other challenge – actually this was a welcome challenge – was my husband’s skepticism. He asked so many questions and raised so many problems that by the time I was finally ready to start, my business plan was unbelievably detailed and I had (or at least thought I had) considered everything.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?
I had no formal mentor, but I am lucky to count quite a few small business owners among my friends. Their support has been invaluable – mostly providing reassurance in times of self-doubt and sheer panic.
What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?
I always thought networking was something other people did. I never went to trade shows, industry events, or talks. My networking is much more informal than that – and that’s just what works for me. It is common in the massage and beauty industry for therapists to strike out on their own and setup their own businesses. Rather than begrudge those people leaving, I think it’s good to help however we can, and that way maintain a network of other business owners. That gives me a group of people I can call on for advice, share problems with, and has helped several times in referring staff.
What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?
Ask me in a few years!
What does the future hold for you?
I would love to add one or two more locations. We’ve looked at a few properties, but as with all “bricks and mortar” businesses, nothing moves at the pace we want. I also want to look into selling some of the massage products we use – our oil and balm are already blended by hand. We are looking into branding, and contemplating a million miles of red tape. But if the past is any indicator, perhaps I’ll be doing something completely different!