Building A Successful Salon Career

There comes a time when we must realize that building a successful salon career requires more than technical skill. A ‘full book’ requires a great deal of time to accomplish and maintain. We would all be very lucky if it were just handed to us. I have seen many advertisements for nail technicians in the classifieds that state, “No clientele necessary.” Even so, one cannot guarantee ‘ready clients.’

Building a successful career requires hard work, dedication to perfection, continuing education, and a solid business plan. Many skilled technicians have failed to reach their goals because of other business factors not taken into account. Where do you want to start, and where do you want to be in 1, 5 or even 10 years? Do you wish to be a salon owner, a manufacturer’s educator, or the President of your own corporation? How do you plan to reach these goals? It is never too late to form a good solid business plan to guarantee your financial future. Let’s explore a few possibilities.


The most successful people I know do not consider wearing blue jeans and T-shirts in the workplace as appropriate dress. Yet, this seems to be the attire of choice in many of the salons I have visited. Why? It’s comfortable! As nail technicians, we sit all day long; therefore, wearing comfortable clothing is a top priority. The most comfortable jeans I found for long hours of sitting are Levi’s ‘Red Tag’ Loose fit. I still wear them – though I no longer wear them to work.

The clientele I wished to solicit and service were all professional executives. I could no longer put my comfort before my appearance because I quickly learned that playing the success ‘game’ meant dressing the part. These clients had money to spend, and did not mind spending it on looking good. They never appeared for appointments wearing anything other than professional clothing. This is not to say that I did not have clients who were casual dressers, because I did. However, my ‘jeans’ clients were either homemakers, or in a profession that required casual clothing. The term, “Professional Clothing” does not necessarily mean expensive suits or fancy dresses. It does, however, rule out jeans, T-shirts, shorts, or any other casual attire best suited for weekend wear.

What to wear to work? Opt to replace jeans with ‘Chino’ type slacks that offer the same level of wearability and comfort. You will find the cost factor to be comparable. If you like to wear shorts, which are understandably cooler during the heat of the summer, try replacing this casual look with a cool cotton skirt combined with a simple shirt. You might even enjoy wearing a simple dress that is cool and comfortable, yet easy to wear. Clothing that requires dry cleaning is not cost effective due to cleaning rates that make this type of material high-maintenance. When I changed my wardrobe from weekend casual to cool chic, I not only increased my confidence and self-esteem, but my clients were more receptive to my professional recommendations and bi-yearly cost of service increases. Just by altering my wardrobe, I exhibited the same type of professionalism as the clientele I sought to service. Developing a professional look and adopting a professional manner will aid in increasing your client base.

Successful Communication


Communication creates a bond between the service provider and client. Recognizing the client and calling her by name is the first link in creating a ‘feel good’ service atmosphere, and a long-term relationship. Acknowledge their presence within 60 seconds of their arrival in your salon. Should she be a new client, this is the available time frame in which to create an instant and positive impression. If you have a client information or consultation form, ask her to fill it out completely, then state that you will be with her shortly. Offer her something to drink, or direct her to the reading material, making her waiting time as pleasant as possible.

Building and maintaining a strong client base involves developing a solid ‘consumer relations attitude.’ There have been many times I have gone into salons to detail nail products, and not had anyone greet me. If I found a receptionist at the desk, I was usually greeted with a blank stare while she waited for me to state my reason for being there. If I had been a potential new client, I would not have felt very welcome. A person has about 60 seconds to make an impression before an opinion is formed. You are assessed in your actions, or lack of action, on your education, economic status, and even your intelligence, before the person will decide to do business with you. This is determined by the way you look and talk in that first crucial minute.

The most direct line of communication to prospective customers is the telephone. In many instances, the telephone is the consumer’s first impression of you and your salon. How you answer the phone, direct the conversation, or book the appointments are all a reflection of who you are, and is the deciding factor on whether an appointment is made. When I was educating, we took a video of ourselves making a presentation. Since I am from the South where strong accents are very evident, I had never paid much attention to the sound of my voice because I sounded like everyone else. I got the shock of my life when I not only heard what I sounded like to others, but also witnessed my body language. I either had my hands jammed to the depths of my jacket pockets, or was waving them around in the air, and I sounded like ‘Annie from the Country’. Jeff Foxworthy had nothing on me — I had ‘Redneck’ written all over me! I began to carry a small recorder with me in my car, and would recite my grocery list, list of errands, or recite some of my favorite family stories. I would listen to the tape, then start over with a new tape and repeat the same speech. Then I would compare the two tapes to hear my progress. I also set up my camcorder and filmed myself telling the same stories, then would play them back. I did this for a long time until I was satisfied with the results, and my new sound became known as my ‘teacher voice’.

When I answered the phone, I not only stated the name of the salon, but my own as well, and would ask, “How may I help you?” Asking that particular question, rather than the usual, “May I help you,” required the caller to provide more information. Asking questions that evoke a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response will only lead us to ask more questions before we understand exactly what is desired. Asking questions shows a genuine interest that will lead to commitment.

Ask the right questions to get the desired feedback. If you do not ask questions, you will never know what the clients’ true desires and expectations are. She wants her nails done, that’s why she came to you – but what exactly does she want you to do? Does she want a simple manicure, or can you see that she needs a more complete service? Does she want nail enhancements? She may want her nails longer for a special occasion and does not intend to return for maintenance. She may not understand that you offer other services that are more temporary and less invasive to the nail plate. She may have very weak nails that require strengthening. Though she may request a nail enhancement, you may feel she would benefit more from regular manicures and home care treatments. Make suggestions! Ask questions! Listen to their needs! Repeat the question in your own words, and then ask her if that is what she desires. If not, more discussion is necessary. Do not be guilty of ‘selective listening’ by hearing only the key phrase. A good listener is perceived as a good friend. Your client may have told you something about herself that may affect the success of the service, and you missed it because she was not given your full attention.

How often do we talk, and not get the feedback we desire? How skillfully we make our desires known depends on how well we speak. The use of slang words, terms, or too many ‘empty’ words can lead to misunderstanding. Are you guilty of using the ‘ummm’ word too often? Using this word gives your mind the time it needs to organize thoughts. It can also make you appear not to be knowledgeable. To organize a thought, simply take a pause in speaking. By organizing your thoughts in this manner, your words will command more attention.

Communication means that what you say is understood before you can receive an effective response. Listening is not only accomplished with the ears, it is also being aware of the non-verbal messages being sent to, and from, us through our body language. As effective communicators, we organize and make sense of what we hear before we can understand the ideas presented to us. We can evaluate and make a decision only after we have gathered all the important information. We ask questions! We also curb our need to speak only of ourselves, and allow our clients to speak. Controlling the conversation, giving out too much unsolicited personal information, or the use of ‘gutter words’ is a sure fire way to lose clients. Allow your client to speak without interruption. Process what she is telling you before you respond, and express genuine interest. Be open, sincere and helpful. A successful nail technician is approachable, energetic, personable, fun, excited, educated and motivated. She shares her knowledge and accomplishments with her clientele and fellow workers. This type of nail technician is usually a trendsetter in their local area. She is the first one to sign-up for continuing education and to offer her clients the newest products or try the newest techniques. Her success can be measured through the variety of services she performs, her skill at performing them, her product sales and her consumer relation’s techniques. She knows that customer feedback is crucial to her success.

There is something to be said for etiquette, even in business. Though the advice of Emily Post may seem to be a bit old-fashioned, etiquette is still a rewarded and accomplished trait. Our parents, or our grandparents, may have taught us the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. This means that if you treat others with respect and dignity, you will receive the same in return. Likewise, if you treat them poorly, you will in turn receive poor treatment. Everyone is entitled to personal thoughts and opinions. We are not duty bound to change an opinion to match our own. We should only attempt to educate our clients on subjects related to the business at hand – and that is Nails!

Many of my clients (after 10 or 15 years) became good friends. We visited in each other’s home, and enjoyed sharing weddings, birthdays, special occasions, and sorrows. We lived in each other’s lives on a personal level. Before we could accomplish this level of friendship, we developed a solid business relationship. I never gave them a ‘free’ service, or discount, and they never expected one. (Though one Christmas, in with my newsletter, I included a special ‘Thank you’ card with a $5.00 discount off any service.) Before friendship can develop, one must build trust. Trust comes through honesty and shared goals. Your client comes to you expecting beautiful, long-lasting nail enhancements. She has seen your work, your advertisements, or was referred by a friend or business acquaintance. Her expectations are high. The success of the service depends not only on your skill level, but on your communication skills as well. Listen to what she is saying. Digest the information, than make suggestions. Do not leave yourself open to failure by second-guessing, or selective listening. I know several very talented nail technicians who have been performing services for an average of 5 years, yet they are still attempting to build a clientele. They have a good command of language, are highly skilled and artistic craftsperson’s, and yet their business is not successful. Why? They have not learned effective listening or communication skills. Every one of their clients leaves the salon with the same application; nail length and type of service. In order to build a successful consumer relationship, we must first learn to listen, and then process the information before diagnosing their nail needs and prescribing the proper service.

Know your products! When the client asks for an explanation of the service in order to improve her understanding, keep it simple. There is no need to go into a long lecture, or to attempt to educate the client in one sitting. Impress her with short; simple to understand terms, service descriptions, and home care maintenance information. Should the client desire to know more, an in-depth explanation may be given while performing the service. Educating your client on nail enhancements and home care will not send her off to her favorite supply outlet to purchase the needed supplies to perform her own nail service. Educating the client will increase trust, respect, and create a long-term relationship. Suggest what they need for home care, walk with them to the retail area, show them the items, and close the sale. Suggest she pre-book the next appointment in order to guarantee a convenient time for her schedule.

If you do not already have one, design a ‘Client Consultation’ form. Write down any questions you feel are pertinent to the success of the service. Use this form as a reference guide at every visit, and keep the information current. You may use it as a guideline to design and personalize one that best suit your needs.


Let’s take an objective walk through your salon. Look at the salon and get a feel for the atmosphere – the clients experience what you see and feel as well. Is the radio blaring, is the TV on, is everyone talking at the same time? Is the reception area open and inviting, stocked with current magazines, and contain a neatly stocked retail area? Is the reception desk easily accessible, and is the receptionist wearing a smile? Is the furniture arranged neatly, and does it allow for ample space around each station?

These are a few of the questions I asked myself when I interviewed at a salon in which I eventually worked. When I walked in the door, I encountered a shelving unit immediately to my right, and chairs to my left, crowding the entrance. The space between the shelving unit and the reception desk, which led to the styling area, was no more than 3 feet wide. I felt I was not allowed into the main area of the salon without being invited. The main area was cluttered with too many chairs, tables and accessories. The stations were mere inches apart. There seemed to be no design concept, just a bunch of ‘stuff’ set around in every available space. Supplies that had just been purchased were sitting in boxes by the front desk, which was cluttered with papers. The employees were forced to hunt for needed supplies because there was no system for tracking or storing inventory.

The owner of the salon was cheerful, inviting, and open to suggestions to improve her salon look. Making a few simple changes can drastically improve the salon, giving it a whole new atmosphere. Rearrange the furnishings to ‘open up’ the salon, giving it a more inviting feel. Remove or discard excess clutter and items that are no longer used. Keep stations clear of clutter. Paint or paper the walls in relaxing tones. Utilize attention-grabbing displays in the retail area. Store extra supplies in functional cabinets near your work area, or in the dispensary. Is your target clientele young, or established professionals? Consider installing a fax machine, or extra outlets for their laptops. This will let them know that you appreciate their time, and value their position. Subscribe to newspapers and magazines that will interest your target clientele. If they are mothers with young children, teenagers, young or established professionals, or sports enthusiasts, make sure you have periodicals that meet these interests.

What type of image do you wish to portray to your potential clients with your business materials? These materials would include brochures, postcards, flyers, letterhead and business cards. Are your business cards white with traditional black print, or are they an eye-catching design? Is your salon menu printed on plain paper, or is it a professionally designed brochure? Does all of your business material project your salon image? There are several ways to develop and design business materials. Having them professionally designed and printed should be figured into your overhead expenses. Depending on the amount of materials you wish to distribute, and the type of copy, type of paper, etc., this avenue could be quite costly — Especially for the technician that is an independent contractor. For those technicians that would prefer to design and print their own materials, there are a great many desktop publishing programs available through office supply stores, and over the Internet. Some of these software companies also offer a variety of papers in many different styles to meet any need. Remember, you want your salon image to be immediately recognizable, so be consistent. Make your salon a reflection of who you are — Dare to be different!

advertising advertising

One of the best, least expensive, and free forms of advertising is word of mouth. I experienced great success through client referrals. I also carried no less than 20 business cards with me wherever I went. If the grocery store checker commented on my nails, I gave her a card. If the mechanic working on my car commented, I gave him a card. I gave cards to clients to give to their friends, relatives, and coworkers. Since I am an outspoken ‘Nail Enhancement Advocate’, I take advantage of any opportunity to educate, answer questions, and solicit business. I never go anywhere unless my nails look perfect, and because I do not wear polish (only pink & whites), I spend approximately an hour on my nails every week. Because I am very active, I wear my nails at an average or shorter length. This length is the most attractive and functional for my hands. It also gets the most attention because potential clients can see that they are functional. You cannot just say that you do beautiful, long-lasting nails – you should show them by wearing them! Invite them into your salon for a free consultation. Do a free demonstration nail, explaining the process and suggesting home care maintenance during the application. After applying one perfect nail, they will want 9 more! Be consistent, use a soft touch, and never hurry. Remember – this is a ‘feel good’ service. The client should leave your table feeling great about herself, and confident in your abilities and knowledge. One satisfied client will tell ten of her friends. Of those ten, three will call to book with you and one will remain loyal. However, one dissatisfied client will also tell ten of her friends, and it can ruin your business. That is why I say, “Be consistent!”

Before you spend big bucks on a newspaper advertisement that will reach the entire city, you must first decide on an advertising budget and in which area your ad will be most effective. An Industry report shows that the average cost of advertising not exceed 3 – 5% of your gross income. This percentage should be figured into your overhead, while allowing 7.5% for rent, 7-8% for supplies, 7% for all utilities, 5-6% for all taxes, 2% to bookkeeping 2-3% for insurance, 3-4% for depreciation, and your percentage for payroll. Once you have determined your advertising budget, you will need to determine the best type of advertising campaign to suit your needs. Are you looking for prospective clients, or do you wish to encourage your existing clients to try new services, or to use your services more often? Lets look at a few of the available options.

A newspaper ad can run from one day to five, include the weekend (or not), and is very expensive. Everyone in the city, rather than the intended ‘target area’ will also see it. You will need to find out which newspapers or magazines distribute only in your area – a 3 to 5 mile radius. Ask that a representative visit you at your salon to help you develop an advertising campaign. Having them visit your salon, will give them a definite idea of your image. You will need to tell them how much advertising money is available for the year. They can then help you determine the advertisement type, size, and design. To keep your salon name and image in view, I found it profitable to run an ad once per quarter. I also found it profitable to advertise in the area business magazine vs. the weekly newspaper, because the majority of people keep a magazine for several weeks or months – especially if the ads feature ‘dollars off’ for first time clients or for special events. According to Lee Hartman of The Herald Coaster, the majority of newspapers are more widely read on Wednesday and Friday, than any other day of the week. Planning to have your ad run on one of these days will give it more visibility.

Many businesses favor the use of direct mail, whether it is flyers, newsletters or postcards. For a nominal cost per postcard, this is one of the least expensive ways to get your message to existing and prospective customers. Mailing direct to existing customers can increase the amount your clients spend and the frequency of their visits. Existing clients can be encouraged to spend more by offering a ‘free gift’ or discount with a service. You may wish to introduce a new service, a new technician, or to announce a price increase. Special event or holiday promotions can be announced this way as well. A newsletter can not only introduce your salon to prospective customers, but will keep your existing clients informed of any changes you have made since their last visit. Some businesses choose to participate in the ‘coupon packet’ approach to advertising, although reports show that the majority of these coupons go immediately into the trashcan.

Many businesses use postcards as ‘reminders’. I always get one from my Vet, Optometrist, Dentist and my G.Y.N, when it is time for checkups. I would never remember otherwise. You can try this same approach with clients. A reminder that it has been ‘2 months since your last pedicure,’ may prompt the call for an appointment. Whatever the good news, or current promotion, let your clients and prospective clients know – put it in writing.


Another profitable (and free) form of advertisement is to associate yourself with a Dermatologist in your area that is knowledgeable in nail diseases and disorders. Write them a letter outlining your reasons for the association, and include brochures and business cards. Back up this letter with an invitation to visit your salon, or make an appointment for a business meeting. Tell them of your interest in exchanging referrals for clients in need of specialized services. For instance, you may have a client with severe ingrown toenails and they may have a client that cannot bend over to cut their toenails. In this case, you both would profit from the exchange of clients. You would maintain your original client for monthly pedicures, and add the referred client as a ‘regular’. Remember, one satisfied client will tell 10 of their friends!

Is your salon located close to a Hotel or Motel? Visit with the manager, offer a brochure, and outline your salon services and your intentions. Explain that your salon is located within a certain distance should any of their guests inquire about the location of a salon. Ask if you may leave some brochures at the front desk. If the answer is positive, be sure to bring your own brochure holder. Your brochures may be discarded if they are left ‘loose’ on the desk and cause clutter. You might consider offering ‘dollars off’ coupons to the hotel staff for their referrals, or to the guests themselves. You can try this same approach with a variety of businesses in your area. They display your brochures, and you display theirs. Just be sure you have space for these brochures. Office supply houses carry a variety of display holders (wall mounted and free-standing) with up to 8 pockets that will hold 25 brochures in each pocket.

Do you wish to reach the High School crowd? Contact the school in your area to discuss advertising in their yearbook, and their homecoming booklet. Introduce yourself to the school administration; leave a business card, service menu and brochures. Pick up a school calendar before you leave. Ask what the school colors are, and if school logo merchandise is available. You might also ask for student volunteers to be models for your print layout. Become involved with school programs through career days, school clubs, or home economics and health classes. Create special offerings for students, and stay on top of teen trends.

My least favorite form of advertisement is the ‘flyer’. When I come out of a store and find one on my windshield, I usually throw it on the ground without looking. I rarely ever look at the ones attached to my doorknob with a rubber band either – they go in the trash immediately. I do, however, have friends for whom this approach has worked well. The advertisements were impeccably designed, executed, and targeted for a special event such as Mother’s Day, Valentines Day, or another special holiday.

You will need to determine where your flyer is best placed to ensure the greatest success. My suggestion is to designate a ‘target area’, then distribute the flyers in a different area each month. Distributing them in this manner will allow you to track the amount of new clients generated in each area. Since the majority of mailboxes are required to be at the front curb of each home, the homeowner usually needs to go get it. Whenever I find a flyer tucked between the mailbox and the flag, I will usually read it while walking back to my house. I must tell you that I have a very long driveway, so I can read several flyers before going inside and deciding what to do with them. This is how I chose the water company that delivers to my home.

Why does one ad increase appointments while others fail? Successful print ads contain certain characteristics that, if used well, will grab the consumer’s attention. Less than 30% of readers will notice any given advertisement. Less than 10% will read more than half. Therefore, it is vital that every element of your ad grab and hold attention.

You may already have an established salon image, though if not, you should. The ‘core message’ of your ad should reflect this image. A strong salon image will stick in the client’s mind. Is your service quality better than that of your competitors? Have you won any awards or honors? Are your everyday prices lower than those of other salons? Do you specialize in a certain service? Do you treat clients like family? What is it about you or your salon that attracted your existing clientele? If you do not already have a salon image, and don’t know where to start, ask your clients a few key questions. What is it they like most about the salon or the services? Clients are always willing to tell you what they think. You might even make up a questionnaire for them to fill out, and involve them in helping you to design your new ‘image’.

What idea do you want people to walk away with after they read your ad? What idea or image have your current ads been sending? Is it the message you want to express to existing or prospective clients? Look at the ads of your competitors. What idea do they express? If they are advertising price, you may want to emphasize quality, or specialized services. Using this message in all your advertisements will help the reader to remember your business. You also have to deliver your message fast, or they will lose interest. You have about 3 seconds for your ad to be noticed before the reader flips the page. Is the headline an attention grabber? Is it simple? Does it get your message across? The reader needs some reason to keep from turning the page. “Mother’s Day Special” is simple, but it’s boring. “Mother’s Day Moonlight Madness” sounds more exciting and will gain more attention. Using your name as a headline, or the salon name, only tells them who you are, not what you can do for them. Get their attention by stating a benefit.


Building a Solid Business Plan

Being a success takes careful planning. You can be a top award-winning tech, but if your salon is not easily assessable, has inadequate parking, is far from a business district, or receives little community awareness, your business will probably suffer. By working with a plan, it is easier to step into the role of salon owner, independent contractor, or successful employee. Have you just received your license, or are you looking to relocate to a new salon? If you are a new tech, seeking out salons that offer a mentoring program and/or continuing education for new employees might be high on your list of prospective employers. This type of salon is highly aware of their image, and eager to train a potential employee to join their team. A nail tech that is a good team player will work for the welfare of the salon, rather than independently, and is a valued asset.

Are you looking to relocate? Do you have an established loyal clientele that is also willing to relocate? Are you thinking only of yourself in the move, or considering the benefit to your clients as well? A successful listener will know which benefits interest her clients, and these desired benefits should be placed on your list as well. List the salons in your area that interest you, and visit them before you make an appointment for an interview. Making these visits will allow you to witness the everyday workings of the salon. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of a ‘cold’ visit, make an appointment for a simple manicure or polish change. Present a professional image at this appointment, keeping in mind that someone will remember you on your next visit. Watch how the employees interact, observe the owner, receptionist and the clientele. Do they appear happy, knowledgeable, skilled and articulate? How many of the important issues on your list will be met at this location? Observe, listen, and then make notes after you leave. After visiting the potential salons, review your notes, and then call the salon that best suits your needs for an interview.

Remember that you have only 60 seconds to make a positive impression, whether on the phone, or in person. Dress for success, and wear a perfect set of nails. Be prepared to perform a nail application as part of your interview. Present your resume, communicate your desires and needs in a positive light, and if relocating from another salon, never say anything derogatory about your previous employer or salon. Ever! Gossip about past salons, employers or employees will only make you look bad, and may cost you a desirable position.

While location, educational opportunities, available clientele and salary or commission is an important issue when starting out, one must still set goals. What do you hope to accomplish in the first 6 months of employment, the first year, five years, or ten years? Write down these goals and keep abreast of your deadline. Devote yourself to reaching one goal at a time. Trying to attain too many goals at once is not only frustrating, but it can destroy your well-developed plan, leaving you open to failure.

If planning to open your own salon, you must be education and marketing driven, while developing a unique level of customer service techniques that will set your salon above others in your chosen area. Keeping abreast of current trends, new product developments, and new technology will help you to become a trendsetter. Seek the advice of industry consultants and marketing specialists to aid you in the development of your business. One cannot just open up a salon on an available corner and be successful. It takes a carefully designed, creative, specific long-term plan. Define your objectives and plan a strategy to reach them. Your objectives are your goals. Your strategy is a map to help you reach your goals. This technique will also work should you be seeking an employment position with a salon or as an educator.

When it comes to cost for opening your own salon, how much is too much for you? Are you planning to reach your goal within 6 months, or have you given yourself a more realistic goal? Can you purchase all the equipment and supplies you need immediately, or have you given yourself room to grow? Have you canvassed your target area for cost per square foot, build out costs, etc.? The planning stage is where you will need to project all build out costs, equipment, supplies, furnishings, advertisement, computer purchases, plus employee salaries, commissions and benefits. Covering all your bases before you ‘dive right in’, will give you an idea of your total start up costs. You will then need to determine how much revenue the salon will need to generate to order to cover your monthly overhead and employee commissions.

Pricing Your Services

Whether beginning as an employee, independent contractor, or salon owner, one must first determine how much you need to earn in order to meet overhead and enjoy a profit. According to George Orsatti’s editorial in On The Cutting Edge, George says, “It would logically follow that you should conduct a time study to ascertain how long it takes to perform the various salon services you offer. Next, determine your monthly, weekly, daily and hourly earning goals to reach, for instance $50,000 per year. To have an income of $50,000 per year, you must earn $4,166 per month or $969 per week, or $194 per day. If you wish to really be precise you can take this one more step to the number of hours you work in a day. If you need $194 per day, divide that by 7 hours. You must generate $27.50 per hour (round up to $30.00) to earn $50,000 per year. Keep in mind as you run the numbers, that the dollars you generate in the salon represent “gross profit” (not net profit) dollars. You must factor in the overhead such as rent, supplies, insurance, advertising and other traditional business expenses to determine your ‘net profit’ on a particular service. Overhead expenses are prorated against all services rendered. Assuming your overhead expenses are paid on a monthly basis, it would be prudent of you to add up all overhead and divide that number by the number of days of hours you will work in a month (about 25 days, or 175 hours)*

*Reprinted with Permission of: George Orsatti Publications, On the Cutting Edge

Raising Prices

Many salons and independent contractors hesitate to raise prices. They are concerned that when an increase is implemented, clients will leave, and in some instances this statement will apply. You have already figured an initial service charge that will allow you to meet your goals. You must not forget future goals; supply cost increases, education expenses, and other overhead cost increases.

Review your overhead expenses twice per year. Performing a review will allow you to see which expenses have increased and which ones have remained the same. Have you discovered that certain service products increased beyond a comfortable level while others have remained the same? The services whose products have dramatically increased in cost designate a price increase. For instance, have you purchased a more expensive manicure or pedicure system, and still charging the same price? Project additional increases for these services, and then raise the price of that service to cover future costs and raise your profit level, while retaining satisfied customers.

Still hesitant about raising your prices because you are afraid of losing clients or revenue? Consider that you are booked solid; no time for yourself or your family, no time to fit in repairs, or you have increased your hours in order to earn more money. It is great that you are in such demand, however; unless you plan your work hours to include breaks, you may be headed for burnout due to over-extending yourself. How can you allow yourself more time without sacrificing income? Lets say that during a 40-hour week, you service one client per hour, and charge $25.00 for a fill. Your gross would be $1000 for that week. Raising your price 15% would allow you to earn an additional $150.00 a week. Now, you could afford to loose 6 clients, and free up some time while maintaining your weekly income. You can utilize this extra time to send thank you notes to new clients, order supplies, eat lunch, or to service emergency clients.

Another simple guideline in raising prices is to determine how many of your available appointments are consistently booked. To figure your percentage of booked appointments, you need to determine how many appointment hours are available per week. To find this figure, divide the number of filled appointments by the number of available hours. If the number is higher then 85%, you should raise your prices. This is the level at which appointment problems arise; you are unable to service clients for repairs, to change their appointment times, take periodic breaks, and make or return phone calls. What if the level reaches 85% again? It’s time to raise your prices! This is how I arrived at my charge of $80.00 for a full set, and $45.00 for a fill, while my ‘competition’ down the street was still charging $25.00 for a full set, and $12.50 for a fill.

Many nail technicians and salon owners fear raising their prices because the competition down the street charges far less for their services. Does the competition perform at your same level of expertise? Are they using the same product system available in your salon? Are they practicing high levels of sanitation? Have they participated in continuing education, won awards, or specialize in certain services? Another thing to take into consideration when raising your prices is to ask yourself the question, “Are my clients coming to me because of my low prices, or because they receive excellent service at a reasonable cost?” Over the years I have come to realize that consumers can be placed into two main categories: Those that strictly price shop, and those that value shop for quality. The second group will determine if the quality they receive is worth the value of any given item or service. However, In order to justify your service charges, you must maintain your high level of skill and professionalism.

Consumers recognize good quality service as meeting an immediate need, though these needs constantly change or evolve. Lets explore how consumers utilize their purchasing power:

  • 20% of consumers seek information in answer to their concerns. They listen for power words, such as: New, Improved or Revolutionary.
  • 10% seek simplicity and ease. They want to reduce complexity in their lives.
  • 10% are warranty seekers, wanting a promise with a condition.
  • 50% of consumers like to experiment.
  • 20% are confident that they are worth the amount they spend.

The information seeker desires education on a product or service before making a decision. With this type of client, you will need to be knowledgeable of your product, and secure in your abilities. He or she will ask the most questions, demanding all the details. Those clients that look for something easy do not accept any breakdown in service or product. They do not want to spend extra time in the salon getting repairs. To satisfy this client, increase your expertise in nail preparation and product application techniques to prevent problems from arising.

The consumer that enjoys experimenting will be the first one to try any new service or technique you have to offer. Are you considering adding airbrushing to your service menu? Introduce the new service to this type of client. They are quick to try something new because they hate routine, and being bored. This type of consumer is also in the group that believes they are worth the price of the service.

The warranty seeker is looking for a guarantee – a promise with a condition. She may say, “I will try it, if you – – -.” You are courting disaster if you guarantee this type of client. She is normally a selective listener who changes the subject after she has heard the key phrase. She gestures a lot, and is constantly moving. She may also be the one who wasn’t doing a thing when one of her nails just fell off! Although this type of client is the most difficult, she will become an ally through education. Always involve the client in the decision making process in order to reach a solution that will best suit her needs.


How many of us have passed up an opportunity to sell an add-on service or a retail item? Do you educate the client on your products features and benefits while doing his or her nails? Do you make suggestions for home care retail items? If not, you have missed a window of opportunity to increase your profit. Retail sales in the salon can increase your profits 50% – 75%. According to a recent industry survey, a salon can average $923.00 a month from retailing. The top 10 best-selling retail items are: Top coats and Nail treatments, Cuticle treatments, Files/Buffers, Quick dry products, and nail jewelry or charms. *

*Nails Magazine: 1999 Fact Book, Page 50

Don’t wait for your client to ask for suggestions. It is a vital part of the success of the service, to suggest and sell home care items. If you lack sales training, or are reluctant to introduce something new, try the ‘soft sell’ approach. Introduce new products or services with ‘tent cards’ placed at your station, the front desk, and the retail area. Introduce this new service in your salon newsletter or on reminder cards. Use the new product during the service, explaining the features and benefits. Clients are more apt to purchase retail items if they understand that the item will fill a particular need. For instance, a natural nail client that experiences polish chipping after a few days would benefit from purchasing nail and cuticle oil. The client with dry cuticles would experience the benefit of re-hydrated cuticles while reducing the chance of tearing.

I enjoyed combining several different retail items into ‘home care packages’. The smallest of these retail packages contained a 3-way buffer, a 240-grit file, a 360-grit buffer, and a ¼ oz. bottle of nail and cuticle oil. On the client’s first visit to the salon, I would include this basic package with a full set of nail enhancements. To order to include the package, I raised my full set price to cover the cost of these items. I explained the benefits, and how to use them. I never failed to have the client as a return retail customer. These home care packages can include any item relevant to the success of the service rendered. They can also be retailed as gift packages during holidays or for special occasions, and may include a sample size base coat, enamel, topcoat, or treatment.

When you have increased your service menu to include aromatherapy massage, paraffin, or spa-type services, airbrushing, nail art, or any other new service, it becomes an add-on service opportunity. Place new service items close to, or on, your table so they are highly visible. Clients are very observant and will notice anything new. When they ask, “What’s this?” it is the perfect opportunity to introduce the new item, state the features and benefits, and close the sale. If you have added nail art to your menu, wearing a simple design on one or two nails will raise curiosity, and give you the opportunity for an add-on service. An add-on service will increase your profits with very little effort on your part. All you have to do is peek the client’s curiosity. Change the content or position of retail items frequently. What a client may not see at one height, she may notice at another. You might also take a cue from the restaurant industry by putting an easel in the reception area that lists your new services or retail items. Create eye-catching displays throughout the salon. A client is someone who seeks only services, a customer is someone who seeks services, and purchases retail. You will increase your profits by turning clients into customers. Qualify yourself, qualify your product choice, qualify your experience, and always use your best judgment.

Independent Contractor or Employee?

In my 32 years in this industry, I have been both an employee and an independent contractor. There are certain benefits to being either one. As an independent contractor, I enjoyed having the opportunity of setting my own business days, hours of operation, service menu and costs of service. I was also responsible for the success of the service, greeting clients, booking my own appointments, paying my own taxes, supplying insurance, advertising, and all other business related costs. I had to follow all the rules and regulations as set forth by the Cosmetology Commission, and the I. R. S. In other words, an independent contractor is a one-person salon within the confines of an established salon. With a busy career as an educator for a major manufacturer, the independent contractor status suited my schedule, while allowing me to plan personal time as well. During the busy Trade Show season, I could easily rearrange my salon schedule to accommodate the required Saturday show set-up. I was my own ‘boss’ with all the responsibilities attached to the position. Check with your state board prior to operating as an independent contractor. Most states require an Independent Contractor license in addition to your manicuring license.

Should you decide all that bookkeeping or responsibility is not for you, then the position of employee may better suit your needs. This is how I began my career. I could devote time to perfecting my technique, customer relations and communication skills, continuing education, and still spend time with my family. I learned everything I could from my employers – from successful promotions, business plans and strategies, to the ideas that ultimately failed. Beginning your career as an employee will allow you ample opportunity to learn and grow before you take the giant step to independence. Most veteran nail technicians are eager to play the part of mentor.

As a salon employee, you are required to follow the salon rules and regulations. You may be asked to play several different roles in addition to manicuring: Greeting clients, booking appointments, helping fellow team members, or stocking inventory. You may be required to perform only manicures and pedicures until your skill level increases. Don’t despair! Take advantage of every opportunity to perfect your skills. With every skill you conquer, there is another one to learn. As an employee, the salon owner is required to withhold income taxes, withhold and pay social security and Medicare taxes, and pay unemployment tax on wages paid to you. An employer is also required to provide insurance coverage through the Workers Compensation Commission should you experience an injury in the workplace.

As an employee, the salon owner may offer to place you on straight commission, weekly salary, or offer a salary + commission, or a sliding commission pay scale. Lets examine the earning potential of each of these pay scales.

  • Straight Commission: A percentage of gross sales from service procedures. You may receive a commission rate of 40% up to 60%, with the national average being 50%.
  • Sliding Scale: A percentage of the gross sales from services dollars. The higher your gross receipts, the higher your percentage of commission. For instance, if you sell $400.00 in services per week, your percentage is figured on 40%. Sales of $600.00 per week, or higher, would be figured at 60%. The commission percentage would vary from week to week, depending on your gross sales.
  • Weekly Salary: Your weekly salary is generally figured by determining your skill level and current client listing. The least amount you can be paid is current minimum wage.
  • Salary + Commission: In this category, you are usually offered minimum wage, plus a commission on gross sales. In order to reach the commission status, you must generate enough gross sales to match your salary amount. After this amount is reached, you will receive a commission percentage on the additional sales. Figuring the minimum wage on the current amount of $5.15 per hour, you would need to generate gross sales of $206.00 for a 40- hour workweek. Any sales over that amount would be paid as commission. In other words, you will need to earn your salary before a commission is paid.

These rates only serve to give you an idea of the various pay scales, and are not implied to be industry standard. Each salon owner calculates employee pay according to salon overhead, earning potential based on available salon appointment hours and technical skill level.

According to an industry survey conducted by Nails Magazine for the 1999 Fact Book, 27.2% of nail technicians are employees, earning an average of $469.24, including tips, and working 44.6 hours per week. Total service income for 1998 was up 2.4% over 1997. The number of licensed nail technicians has risen by 12,356 since 1998. 29.7% of nail technicians are booth renters, with 96.8% purchasing their own products and spending an average of $150.22 per month on supplies. The national average for booth rental fees is $262.52 per week. For further information, the Nails Magazine Fact Book is available the first of every year, and is a complimentary addition to the yearly subscription. You may contact them at:

According to the Internal Revenue Service, employee status is determined by Common Law Factors. We have heard a lot about a list of 20 factors that the IRS uses to determine employee/independent contractor status. According to the regulations I found on the government Internet site,, Market Segment Specialization Program (MSSP), Beauty and Barber Shops, it states: “The question of whether an individual is an independent contractor or an employee is one fact to be determined upon consideration of the facts and application of the law and regulations in one particular case. As an employer, anyone who performs services for you is your employee if you can control what will be done and how it will be done. This is so even when you give the employee freedom of action. What matters is that you have the right to control the details of how the services are performed.” Never take for granted that acquiring an independent contractors license is all you need to go into business for yourself. It would be advisable to search the government Internet site and look for current information. Ask the employer how much control she plans to have over your activities. It may also be advisable to have a lawyer familiar with these laws to draw up a contract between the salon owner and yourself, covering these vital issues.

Team Building

Whether an employee, independent contractor, or employer, it is important that the salon atmosphere reflect team effort. If you wear too many hats, your business will suffer and you will experience mediocre results. A salon owner that also works behind the table cannot afford to lose clients because she is also responsible for the telephone, booking appointments, paying vendors, etc. Building a strong team involves providing leadership, designating responsibility to the staff, setting goals, and working with the team to achieve those goals. Setting policies and procedures are the guidelines that help you and your staff grow. Set an example by following your own guidelines. Many salon owners have failed to set an example for their employees by showing up late, while lecturing their employees on the importance of being on time.

A well-trained, personable, receptionist that understands time management, service descriptions and menu pricing is of key importance to the team. The receptionist is of vital importance in client relations, and in keeping the salon running smoothly.

According to my clients, the most irritating service interruption was my having to leave the table to make an appointment – even though we had a receptionist. The second was for the receptionist to ask me if I could take an appointment or join our conversation with unsolicited advice, or to share her own thoughts, ideas, or needs. The third was to hear my fellow employees talking about another client. It made them wonder what was being said about them after they left the salon. My personal opinion on gossip? Never tell anyone anything you would not want to see on the evening news!

Part of the clients first impression of you or your salon, is how well the employees interact with each other. If there is one employee, or staff member, that consistently criticizes everything and everyone, it can create an undesirable atmosphere. Teamwork is the heart of the salon. It makes the client willing to return and creates a positive atmosphere for employees and clients alike. A team player is always willing to mentor to his or her fellow employees, and to share new ideas or techniques. A team player does not have to be asked for help, but will offer it freely. The clientele, who in turn will respond with a positive attitude, notices this type of attitude. The salon with a positive attitude and friendly atmosphere will be awarded success.

Many salon owners seek out employees that are high-performers, thinking that if they just turn them loose, they will be successful. In reality, many salons fail because of this thinking. A good team is more powerful and more successful than the individual because they are all working together to reach a common goal. If the salon is successful, they are successful. A nail technician that is fortunate enough to work for a salon owner or manager with an intuitive managerial style will not only be successful, but will grow faster in his or her field of expertise. This type of owner/manager will insure that all employees are not only technically trained, but trained in communication and business skills as well. The intuitive owner/manager realizes that teamwork cannot be developed or implemented overnight, but takes concentrated effort to develop and maintain. Setting team goals is a joint accomplishment, builds confidence, and assures individual and team success. One ‘grouchy’ member can destroy the morale and atmosphere of a salon, however; if the employees and manager are truly a team, they will work together to bring this employee back on track.