Along with the growing pains came a lot of lessons that I will share with you. Hopefully my experiences will help make your dream of having a successful solo business come true!
First thing you need to do before you go out on your own is: learn the business. Work for at lease three years in the most professional location you can find. Learn as much as you can and then go out on your own. If I would have started straight out of school, there is no way I would have surviced. Thee is so much to learn and the best way is hands-on experience! I remember my first job straight out of school was as a receptionist in a medical spa. I was so disappointed that I was not given an aesthetician’s room right away. Well, that ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me and my future solo career. As a receptionist, I learned a lot. I learned how to multitask very effectively. When you have three clients waiting for you to either check them in or out, the phones are ringing, people are asking you a hundred different questions, the Fed Ex guy arrives, your computer crashes, and the credit card machine runs out of paper, you better be prepared to handle all this with a smile on your face! Never let them see you sweat! You think all that can’t happen? Well it has… and it does!
When you are a solo aesthetician, you have to be the master of multitasking. You are the receptionist, the aesthetician, the marketing PR person, decorator, data entry, menu builder, and so on and so on… The list of duties is endless. As an aesthetician, you are in your room working all day and you don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes. So never take for granted all the different jobs you’ve had in the past, because they will help you in the future.
Before you begin your dream of being a solo aesthetician, you have to consider the following as a minimum:
- What are the state limitations on the aesthetician's practice?
- Do you have the finances to carry you for at least a year with no profit?
- Do you have the capital to buy the equipment and supplies you need?
- How many hours a week can you work?
- What location do you want?
- Do you want to rent or own?
- Will you have to get plumbing and electrical?
- Do you need to take out a business/personal loan?
- Do you have insurance?
- What is your advertising budget?
- What services do you want to perform?
- What are your overhead costs?
- How much money do you need to make to cover overhead and still make a living?
All of these questions must be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, I have seen many solo aestheticians fail because they did not consider the above issues. The price in the beginning is a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears for very little pay off. If you can hang in there, then you are ready! Your efforts will pay off in the end. With planning, the right resources, and a little luck, the first year will fly by.
EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES NEEDED TO START
Once you find your great location, the fun begins: getting all your new toys to open your business!
Before you make your purchases, do a lot of research. Industry tradeshows are great places to look and there are hundreds to pick from. If there are no tradeshows in your local area, trade magazines also offer a variety of companies who advertise equipment.
There are many companies that offer complete aesthetic room packages. Make sure you buy from a reputable company and ask what warranties they have on their equipment. They offer everything from basic packages with a bed, steamer, stool, and trolley to deluxe packages with electric beds, steamers, hot towel cabinets, sterilizers, stools, trolley, and even microdermabrasion machines. Consider your budget, space available, and whether your state allows a solo aesthetician to perform the procedure. Your purchase can be very basic or high tech. Everyone wants the latest high-tech toys and gadgets. I have been to both very high tech spas and spas with very simple equipment and have had an equally wonderful facial! It is completely up to you.
I started very basic and got just what I needed for all my services. As I grew, I went more high tech and started getting more and more equipment. My advice would be to keep your overhead low and put some money back into the business to help it grow. As my business grew, so did the equipment and services I offered. Now my clients expect the latest and greatest this industry has to offer and it's up to me to keep up with the times! And believe me, it changes at a fast pace. Stay on top of industry trends and even more importantly, make sure you do your research before buying expensive equipment. Also ask if they offer on-site training or if you have to travel to be trained. Be sure to ask about loaner programs. If your machine breaks, will they ship you a machine while yours is getting repaired?
MARKETING AND ADVERTISING
When I first started out, I had to find clever and inexpensive ways to get my name out there. So, I was everywhere! Literally, I gave my cards out to anyone that would talk to me. So don't be shy! Tell everyone what you do for a living. When you talk to people about something you are passionate about, they will respond to you.
I went to every elementary school craft fair, health fair, and fundraiser I could find. I went anywhere someone would allow me to come in and set up a booth to talk. I would take brochures, menus, retail product samples, my skin scanner, and my microdermabrasion machine. I did complimentary skin analysis and microdermabrasions on people's hands. I explained the benefits of good skin care. I set up a beautiful table with flowers and candles and really dressed it up so my little display got everyone's attention.
After that, I went to all the local salons that did not do skin care. I would speak to the managers or owners and offer them a free service in exchange for letting me put out some brochures. I would gladly promote their business as well. I offered to put out their cards at my studio as well as providing their staff members a 20 percent discount on all services. Next, I went to all the women's gyms, nail salons, and weight loss centers in my local area. I would do the same for them. I would offer free services to the owners/managers and offer discounts for the staff.
I went to colleges, children's dance studios, even my tax attorney's waiting room. When I say I was everywhere, I mean everywhere. But, it worked. When people saw my name at the gym, nail salon, and the tax attorney, they finally called. I am not an advertising expert, but people in that line of work tell me that potential clients have to see you in at least three places before they will call you. It was true!
I took out a small bi-weekly ad in our local newspaper. I occasionally would do coupons in the newspaper to entice potential clients. Eventually, clients would call and they would all say: "I saw you at my nail salon, the gym, and the newspaper so I decided to give you a try." I made a point to go out every single day and do something to grow and promote my business. Not a day went by without me doing something.
Did I make mistakes? Absolutely! My husband and I drove around our neighborhood and recorded over 500 local addresses. I sent out 500 menus the first month I opened. I was so worried that I wouldn't be able to handle all the new clients… not one single person called.
The best advertisement is word of mouth. Unfortunately, it is also the slowest. It just takes time for it to happen. But, once you start growing, word of mouth will really grow your business.
I can't emphasize enough how important education is in our industry. But, I think it is even more important for a solo aesthetician. You will have no one to compare ideas with or share. You have to do it all on your own. You really have to attend conferences, seminars, and read, read, read. Trade magazines are a great source of information. You really have to stay on top of this industry. It is changing really quickly. In order to be the best at what you do, you have to get out there and learn. You will never know everything and there will always be someone else to learn from.
When I look back at the menu I first started with, I laugh at how amateur it was. Your menu will evolve and improve with time. I started with a pretty basic letter head from my local stationary store. My services included: four facials, microdermabrasion, and a chemical peel. Start with the basics, get feedback from your customers, then expand to meet their demand. I now have professional custom made menus with 10 facials, three different microdermabrasion treatments, four different chemical peels, and lash/brow tinting.
Retail is 50 percent of my business. Choose products that you love and truly believe in. Choosing the right products is hard, daunting, and fun. There are millions of choices out there. Do your research carefully before making a final decision on what products to retail. Retail is very important for your business. Many aestheticians feel like they are being too pushy if they try to sell products to their clients. And I've been to spas where they have been. Just remember, they only come to you every few weeks. Their everyday skin regimen is very important. You don't want your clients using bar soap to wash their face. If you don't educate them, that is exactly what they will do. We are there to guide them, not strong arm them into buying products they don't need.
I usually tell my first time clients to bring me everything they use on their skin. We go through each product and read the labels together. If they have acne problems, I look for possible culprits in either their makeup or skin care. If their concern is anti-aging, I look for antioxidants, peptides, and sunscreens in their products. If their concern is sensitivity, I look for fragrances or over-exfoliation with AHAs, BHAs, or retinoids. My clients don't feel like I am pushing products on them – I ask them their concerns or what bothers them about their skin. Then we make a plan to improve their skin. Slowly, we transition to better skin care product choices.
So now that you've got them through your door, it's up to you to keep them coming back and becoming loyal clients. This is a very important part of our business. How many times have you walked into a spa and been completely ignored by the receptionist? It completely ruins the spa experience for you. First impressions are huge! They have to feel welcome and reassured that they are in good hands. I insist that every new client fill out a complete questionnaire. Not only asking questions about their skin, but their health or any potential allergies. You must be well informed and this lets your client know you are a professional and are very thorough.
You always have to look the part. Just because you are the boss does not mean you get to wear sweatpants or flip-flops to work. I personally chose to wear a uniform; it could be as simple as a black shirt and pants with a lab coat or a spa uniform. I think looking professional at all times is important. Healthy looking skin, simple makeup, short manicured nails, and hair off of your face is best.
No one wants to walk into a spa to relax and find a cluttered disaster. Always keep your studio clean and organized. The tools you use must always be sterilized. Today's clients are much savvier and pay close attention to how clean your studio is. I remember getting pink eye after having a treatment at a spa for a lash tint. I never went back again and I told all my friends about it. Bad news travels a lot faster than good news. So always make sure your instruments are well sanitized!
I wanted to offer an exceptional service to all of my clients. I did not want to do the same thing everyone else was doing. I would go to local spas in the area and be an incognito spy. I would look out for things I did not like and things I did like.
I recently asked this question to some of my loyal clients who have been coming to me every four weeks for the past four years: "What is it about my studio that you enjoy the most?" They all said the same thing. They like the fact that it does not feel like a factory. I know their name when they walk in the door and they feel welcome. They are the only ones at the studio during their service and they get pampered. It's all about them. They want to escape into another world and relax! Much to my surprise, I thought they would say how great their skin looks and feels after my service. It was all about the experience I gave them. That's what kept them coming back.
Quite a few years ago, a good friend of mine who owns a very successful salon told me, "The bottom line is if they like you they will come back. You may not give them the best haircut or facial in the world, but if they like you, they will come back!" I have always remembered that and try to put it into my practice every day.
I remember the first time I went to her salon. I got a thank you card a week later and a letter saying if I needed help blow drying my new hairstyle to please call and they will help me. I also got a birthday card a month later. I thought: "Wow, now that is great customer service."
Well, those little extras are exactly what I do. Every new client gets a thank you card with a coupon for their next visit. Every referral gets a thank you card for referring someone and a coupon. Every client gets a birthday card with a coupon they can use in their birthday month.
Keep organized records and files of all your clients. Tracking everyone's birthdays, allergies, and health concerns can be impossible without good, precise records. Meticulous notes of people's likes and dislikes are very helpful also. I keep a treatment record on every client's visit. Some people love steam; others hate it. Scents that people like or dislike. Some people don't like machine treatments; others can't get enough. Your knowing all the little things about your clients will show that you pay attention to details.
I can honestly say I love what I do. This journey has been a wonderful one and I know it will be for you too. I will continue to learn and grow as I go along. My business has evolved through the years and yours will too.
Martha Miller is a certified medical aesthetician. Licensed in the state of New Jersey, she graduated from the Christine Valmy Institute. She continued her aesthetic studies at the Victoria Rayner Institute for advanced studies. She started her aesthetic career in medical spas working with dermatologists and plastic surgeons. Miller owns and operates a thriving skin care practice in central New Jersey. She has trained several aestheticians and has consulted for medical spas in the local area. Currently, she is a product development associate for a medical grade skin care company as well as formulating her own branded skin care line.