Giampaolo Silvestrini is Trigger Happy

Italian massage therapist Giampaolo Silvestrini shares his experience arriving in London (without speaking any English) and taking the leap into freelance.

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Italian massage therapist Giampaolo Silvestrini shares his experience arriving in London (without speaking any English) and taking the leap into freelance.

Where are you originally from and how did you end up as a massage therapist in London?
I’m from Italy, a small village called Ancona. Its a small port on the Adriatic side.


How did you get into massage therapy?
At 18 I originally trained and worked as an accountant for 2 ½ years. So I didn’t get into massage straight away. But during this time working as an accountant I realised I was missing physical contact with people as I was working in an office on my own. As you grow up you start to understand yourself better and I realised that this is not what I wanted to do with my life.

I found a part time chinese medicine and massage course that taught Shiatsu (Japanese) and Tuina (chinese) techniques. Once I had finished this course I planned to further my studies in Asia, but as these were taught in English I realised that I needed to improve my language skills. So moving to London was both a personal decision to experience something new, and a professional decision to improve my language skills.


How did you find arriving in London?
Upon arriving I slept at a friends house for 4 days, and he gave me tips about doing agency work. I didn’t speak any English so did lots of different odd jobs to support myself. I didn’t need a visa as I’m a European citizen, but I did need to register and let the Italian embassy know I was here. Although I didn’t go until I’d been here four years as I wasn’t aware that I had to do this!

I took a break from my job and went to Thailand to study Thai massage for 3 ½ months in 2011 at the Chetawan Watpo school in Bangkok. Established over forty years ago and internationally recognised which made it easier to get work back here in the UK. It would have been possible to find work as a masseuse without it, but it definitely helped.


Where was your first job?
My first job was in Camden Town at ChinaLife. They’d been there forty years and so are quite well known. I was an employee of the Camden clinic for 3 years.


What’s an interview like for a massage therapist?
I did a couple of interviews which involved the usual face to face questions but most of the interview involved giving a practical massage to prove my techniques.


Was the job salaried or split revenue basis?
Most masseuses are self employed but I needed the stability and was happy to have a salary, and as I didn’t have any clients it was the perfect solution. Generally beauty spas offering Swedish massage pay salaries, whereas more specialised sports clinics split the revenue.

Whilst working here I studied a sport and remedial massage at LSSM part-time in Regents Park and that was a BTEC diploma level 5.


Can you go straight into level 5?
Yes, but you have to be a practitioner and have some experience.


For someone starting out, would you recommend concentrating on qualifications or experience?
You need knowledge and theory, you need to develop your skills and sharpen your technique and learn to understand and feel what’s going on underneath the skin with practice. But from time to time you need to refresh your knowledge. Of course it’s a practical job, so you’re obviously going to get better with practice. If you want to make people feel better with Swedish then practice practice, but if you want to help people with problems then you need the knowledge and that means you need to study and improve yourself.


To be a masseuse in the UK what qualifications do you need?
You can get by with any qualification: it can be Swedish, sport remedial, osteopath or chiropractor, but you ideally need to have a UK based qualification for a serious clinic. There is no legal requirement, so you could get work in a health and beauty salon and they may not request anything, but for a serious sports clinic like the Chiswick clinic I work at you will need a qualification.


Where did you go after Acuvedic?
I went to Avocado in Kings Cross, and then Acu Channel in South Kensington and The Massage Centre in Chiswick. And luckily my private clients from Camden asked me to do home visits.

Avocado didn’t work out and so now I am three days in Chiswick, one day in Kensington, and three days for home visits. Avocado didn’t work as it was more of a beauty clinic and not really focused on getting work for masseuses and therefore didn’t have a solid flow of regular customers.


How was the transition into self employment?
For me it was very exciting. It didn’t cause me any stress or frantic thoughts. Its just exciting to know nothing’s certain and everything is on me. I’ve never had any problems getting clients and have never had to worry about unpaid bills. Its pure excitement. I’m a visceral type of person, there was no business plan, I just followed my gut. I knew I just needed three clients a day and so with the Chiswick and Kensington jobs I got this number pretty much straight away. I was lucky! They had solid clientele and I was a hit.

If I analyse this move backward. It’s not just about the money. It’s about understanding all of the processes. Its about the challenge, can I make it? Sometimes you get so used to routine you get trapped, and part of the excitement of being self employed is what each day will bring and the thrill of running a business.


How do you promote yourself – as yourself or as the clinic?
At Avocado I promoted my services as ‘Paolo at Avocado’. I gave out flyers in Kings Cross and posted them through doors, promoting mondays as half price. I paid for the 10,000 flyers (£350) and gave them out myself. They had about a 1-5% success rate and it was a good way to introduce myself into the community. That’s the difference when you’re self employed, you have to be proactive. Whether its flyers or giving business cards out to clients or giving away freebies in a park.

The third best way to promote yourself is flyers, the second best way is website and the best way is word of mouth and business cards.

I don’t use Twitter or Facebook – I’m not very high tech! But I am planning to get my own website, that’s important to post expertise and referrals.


What sort of agreement should a therapist have with a clinic?
You establish an agreement on paper with the clinic that you will work there for 3-4 months (and then this agreement is re-confirmed when the time period is up). Actual rates are negotiated between both the practitioner and the clinic. The revenue split between a therapist and clinic is generally 50/50. At the end of each day, week, or month the clinic will pay my earnings into my bank account.

Your rates aren’t really down to your qualifications. But more reliant upon your capacity and your clientele. You can be super skillful but not capable of retaining clients so you need to find your own balance. A regular client is important, and once they know that you provide a good service they will be happy to pay more. I don’t really vary my rates, I work out my rates depending upon what I want to earn a week and I stick to it.


What’s your average day like?
On Fridays I get 6 – 7  clients a day. Weekends are much busier, but generally you can expect to get 3 – 10 clients a day.


How do you manage payments and deposits?
Most clinics take a card payment and charge for a deposit, around 20%. Its common sense, so that they are safeguarded against a client not showing up. Clinics usually allow a 24 cancellation period. This is trickier though if they only accept cash payments.

For self employed practitioners I’d recommend a card reader that you can attach to your IPhone so that if the client doesn’t have cash they can easily pay with card. You should then give the client a physical receipt from a receipt book and keep a copy for your accounts.


How do you manage your own accounts?
I use Excel. I keep a cash book and record daily all my expenditures and income. I’ve opened up my own business account for tax purposes which I need to complete in April. HM Customs and Revenue make it very easy. Before you start as self employed you must register with them either 7 days prior or 3 months after you have started work.


Being self employed and within a clinic alongside other therapists, is there a tendency to compete with each other for work?
The receptionist decides which clients go to which masseuse. She will distribute the clients fairly and point the clients in the direction of a masseuse who has particular skills or knowledge in that area (for example lower back, swedish or trigger point). There is a healthy competition but there  is no pressure or negativity from others, we’re all friends.


How do your home visits work?
Home visits should be more pricey as I’m bringing everything – table, towels, roller, oils, music etc. Which is heavy! I have a roller, but its tricky getting that on a train and the journey time does add up, normally 45 mins each way. I’ve only ever seen three others struggling with the equipment which shows you how rare it is. If the client outside of zone 3 I’ll charge for transport.  But ideally, if I client wants a Tooting Broadway massage, then thats easy!


Can clients come to your home?
I unfortunately don’t have space so can’t take home visits.


Would you recommend networking?
If you start to work in a certain area you should definitely establish a network of health professionals. So for example you should be able to refer clients to nutritionists or personal trainers if you feel your skills can’t completely cure their problem. And vice versa – personal trainers should be able to refer injured clients to me. I’ve been to local gyms in Tooting Broadway and got to know the personal trainers and receptionists and giving away discounted massage sessions.


One of your specialties is trigger point massage. How does it work?
If you’re not using a muscle properly it may become stiff and form knots. The subsequent pain then occurs in a different area to the knotted muscle. The knotted muscle is the trigger point. If I press it I can relieve pain elsewhere.  For example if I press a point on my forearm I can get a sensation in my thumb. This tells me these two areas are connected. To practice trigger point massage you need to know anatomy.


Can you give an example with tension headaches?
If someone comes to me with headaches I’d ask them over a short consultation period various questions that should help clarify the cause of the pain – how are sleeping, are they emotionally balanced, what is their diet like, or could it be sports related. This establishes if its an emotional or musculature pain.

I would then press hard on the knots (which I would be able to feel) within the muscle or tendon that is related to the area of pain. Pressing (painfully) hard into the levator scapulae, the temporalis and masseter muscles and asking my clients how they feel (I ask them to rate the pressure from zero to ten – aiming for ten). I’d generallyhold for 120 seconds to break the knot. Trial and error and repeatedly asking the clients how they feel guides me in knowing which muscles to work on.


Do you give them stretches or any other exercises to do in their own time?
As a takeaway I’d prescribe some stretching exercises (which the clients must keep up!) and also show them how to self massage their own trigger points.

I would also ask them to consider changing their pillows and posture at work, maybe drink less caffeine and sugar and also address emotional issues. Are they stressed and anxious?


How long does it take for Trigger Point therapy to take effect?
If the client has a long term condition then it may take 2-3 sessions for the trigger point massage to have an affect. Without the client changing their daily habits and being open to change then its going to be hard to rid them of the problem. It’s about pain relief, maintenance and well being. It’s all down to the clients aspirations – what do they want to receive. Short or long term relief.


Is it similar to Thai massage?
Trigger Point massage is very closely related to Thai massage. Instead of calling them trigger points Thai massage refers to them as treatment points.


Where do you want to go from here?
The number one guy to go to for massage in Tooting Broadway!… Honestly, I don’t have any goals right now. I live each day as it comes. I’m in the middle of a big change, it’s only been four months, and I’m happy being self employed. I always like to keep the door open to chance and uncertainty. I’m happy at the moment helping as many people as possible.


Giampaolo Silvestrini practices at the The Massage Centre in Chiswick, and Acu Channel in Kensington.
He is also available for home visits. Telephone: 0758 7140339 or Email:

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