Graduating from cosmetology school is only the beginning of what can be a fulfilling career in the nail industry — provided you take a step in the right direction. Knowing where and how to look for the perfect job and keeping up to date with trends are only a few things you can do to be successful right from the start.
So you’ve graduated from cosmetology school and feel ready to put what you’ve just learned to good use. Now it’s time to start working on real clients and making some money.
But if you think it’s as simple as graduating from school and stepping into a salon, think again. There is plenty of information you didn’t get in school that you’ll have to find out on your own. Before you start looking for a job, consider a few things, such as how you’ll build a clientele and how you’ll go about finding a job, not to mention what type of work environment you’re interested in.
While developing good work habits and building a clientele don’t happen overnight, working on them early in your career will help you stay one step ahead of the rest.
Searching for the Perfect Job
The good thing about searching for a job is that you’re bound to find one sooner rather than later.
“Nail techs are in high demand,” says Tanis Darling, an instructor at Ottawa Academy and West End Academy in Gloucester, Ontario, and NAILS’ 2001-2002 Educator of the Year. “My class sizes have increased regularly in the past year. I find that the more the student has to offer, the better the rate of pay and the demand.”
When scouting for the perfect salon, do your homework, says Kristi Valenzuela, a “success coach” and founder of Crystal Focus in Ortonville, Mich. Some important questions you should be asking potential employers include:
• Does the salon offer continuing education?
• What kind of compensation schedule does it provide?
• How many nail techs are still building a clientele?
• How many nail techs have come and gone in the past few years (and why)?
• Does the salon offer superior products?
• What is the fee schedule for services?
• How often does the salon raise its service fees?
Start by visiting salons, but be sure they’re ones you know practice proper sanitation methods and have a good reputation. Stop by on their slow days (usually Mondays or Tuesdays) and ask the receptionist what their protocol is for hiring new nail techs — even if they don’t have an actual opening.
Ask for the best time to call the manager or owner to discuss career opportunities. Make it clear that you do not expect to be interviewed at that moment, and that you are simply inquiring about their hiring procedures.
You can also do a job search through a school. Many offer placement services or have a network of salons they refer new graduates to. Some distributors also post job openings.
Put a resume together, and list the skills you learned in school, as well as your grade point average. Make it clear that you’re a recent graduate and are willing to go the extra mile to earn a position in a top salon.
Also keep in mind what type of compensation structure you’d like to be on. “I tell new nail techs to first work as an employee at a salon to gain experience, even if their goal is to be selfemployed,” says Joanne Linck, head instructor at Cosmetique School of Nail Technology in Burnaby, British Columbia. “Start as an employee, then become a booth renter.”
New nail techs may find booth renting difficult, since they may not have the steady clientele needed to pay for taxes, supplies, advertising, and booth renting fees.
As a salaried employee, you can then switch to a commission basis, which brings in more money.
Once you have a job lined up, figure out a work schedule you can stick to, says Wetzel. It’s not uncommon for an employer to ask for six weeks’ notice or more for planned days off that are contrary to your normal work schedule. Your employer may be booking appointments based on your schedule up to six months in advance.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to take the first job you’re offered if you’re not completely satisfied with it. It’s normal to feel nervous about not finding another job, but with nail techs currently in high demand, the odds of that occurring are slim.
Words from the Wise
Recent graduates can always use a few words of advice from their more seasoned peers. So what do the pros have to say about starting out in the nail industry? Read on.
“I’m a confident nail tech, but it took me a long time before I felt totally confident answering questions from clients. It took my being around other professionals and never being afraid to ask someone who could give me an answer. You can only grow as a professional with time and patience. Also, eagerness is important in building trust and confidence with clients. It really does have to be all about the client.” – Gina Marsilii, Perfect 10 Nail Salon & Day Spa, Wilmington, Del.
“New nail techs should expect to still be gathering information at a rapid pace even after school is over. There is nothing like experience and learning from veterans. Surrounding yourself with the right people is essential in the beginning. School is your basic overview of everything; the details come with experience.” – April Franks, Digits Professional Nailcare, Rockford, Ill.
“To be successful, a nail tech should practice friendly greetings, have positive energy, make pleasant conversation, and of course, maintain client confidentiality. Clients will return to you for the long term if they know you’re an enjoyable person.” – Lori Starnes, The Manicurean, Macungie, Pa.
“Take your career seriously. Being able to touch others’ lives is a wonderful thing — and the satisfaction is incredible. Don’t think you’re going to be a top producer in your first or second month working in a salon. Be patient, and you and your business will grow by leaps and bounds.” – Melody Umbs, Natural Nails Hand, Foot & Body Spa, Milwaukee, Wis.
Bringing in the Business
So you’ve got the job. Now how do you bring in the clients? “New nail techs should be telling everyone they come in contact with who they are and what they’re doing, even before they graduate,” says Jay Lacy, owner of Lacy Cosmetology School in Aiken, S.C. “If they know where they’re going to work, they should tell everyone they know.”
When it comes to attracting clients, use your networking skills to the hilt. Contact church groups, hospitals, and senior citizen groups. Volunteer your time and services.
Advertise in places potential clients would likely frequent, such as a local coffeehouse or clothing store. Visit neighboring businesses and suggest joint promotions that will get clients into your nail table and into their store or restaurant.
If you work in a full-service salon, offer your services to clients who are getting a haircut or a facial.
Implementing a referral program can also work wonders. Valenzuela suggests putting a program into place where clients would get a free gift for every three clients they refer to you. Frequent client cards also work well. Each time a client comes in for a service or to purchase a product, she’ll get her card punched. After 10 services or purchases, she’ll receive a free gift.
In essence, go the extra mile for the client, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly word will spread that you offer great services along with a great attitude.
“Outstanding customer service is the most important and quickest way you will build an amazing clientele,” says Valenzuela. “After all, they say that 85% of why a client returns is due to her total experience in the salon. Only 15% accounts for the technical work you perform.”
What to Do When There’s Down Time
New nail techs often have more free time in between clients than seasoned professionals do. But just because there’s extra time to spare doesn’t mean you should sit and read a magazine. Here are some tips to help you get busy.
Create a checklist for clients to maintain their nails between appointments. Hand them out after each service.
Tidy your table. Dust off those polish bottles, straighten your retail displays, and get rid of anything that shouldn’t be on your table.
Offer to help other nail techs or hairstylists in your salon. Although some of them might turn you down, they’ll undoubtedly appreciate your thoughtfulness and help you out when you need it the most.
Use this time to make reminder calls to clients who are due for a fill or give out your card to prospective clients.
Ask another nail tech if you can see what she’s working on. You’d be surprised at the helpful tips and techniques you can pick up just by watching someone work.
Work on your retail sales strategies. Familiarize yourself with all of the retail items in the salon and come up with interesting ways to get clients to purchase them.
School’s Never Really Over
It’s often said that your education really begins once you obtain your certificate from cosmetology school. And in many ways, it’s certainly true. Although many schools are doing a better job of educating students on nail procedures and business practices, continuing education only helps to enrich your career.
“Continuing education is important. I tell our students that they should attend at least two quality classes a year to stay up to date,” says Lacy. “It can be expensive, but if you don’t stay motivated and up to date, you’re just going to slip away and not keep up with the pace.”
Continuing education classes are offered everywhere. Manufacturers sponsor workshops through distributors, and some distributors offer their own classes.
Push yourself to attend classes on techniques that give you trouble or that you don’t perform that often.
Besides taking continuing education classes, new nail techs should attend a few local trade shows and one larger trade show each year. Also, take advantage of books, videos, and magazines. You can refer to them when you’re having trouble with a technique or are uncertain about a business strategy.
Don’t just settle for taking classes or attending shows, however. Join an association so you can be up to date on issues that affect you directly, such as licensing and regulation changes.
Develop the Right Skills
Let’s face it. If you’re looking to build a good client base, you’re going to have to offer more than just great customer service. You’re going to need nail skills.
“Whether you work with gels or acrylics isn’t important, but you do need to excel at manicures and pedicures first to get your first good job with long-term possibilities,” says Wetzel.
Darrell Camp, owner of Northwest Hair Academy with locations in Mount Vernon and Everett, Wash., says that besides giving a good manicure or pedicure, it’s important to make each service a great experience for the client. Giving them a paraffin dip, using soothing scents, and offering massages are sure-fire ways to make clients aware that you mean business.
“Remember, most people are using discretionary dollars to come have this service,” says Camp. “Respect the client’s decision to spend this money with you by making the service a memorable one. In short, make them want to recommend you to their friends who also have dollars to spend.”
Although it may not be financially convenient for some, Wetzel suggests apprenticing at a salon to better hone your skills.
“See if you can apprentice somewhere for free or hopefully for minimum wage to supplement your knowledge,” says Wetzel. “Even school teachers are required to teach for free for a semester before they enter the workforce and many of us can go on to earn more than they do.”
Above all, practice, practice, practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll become. And that’s where continuing education classes come in. They’re a great way of helping you improve your techniques.
Besides working on your nail skills, it’s also vital to hone your professional skills. That means taking your profession seriously and setting goals for yourself. Don’t go to work with messy hair or rumpled clothes, for example. And, above all else, make sure your nails look neat and presentable.
Be courteous with clients, and avoid bringing up your personal life. Badmouthing other nail techs or salons is also a definite don’t.
A great way to work on your professional skills is to find a mentor. Look to experienced nail techs for training and advice. The good thing about this industry is most people are willing to share their techniques and give advice.
Ask a nail tech you admire to take you under her wing and show you the ropes. It could be a veteran nail tech working in your salon, or someone you meet at a show. Whatever the case, having a mentor helps ease the stress and uncertainty that can come with being a new nail tech.
Entering the salon workforce can be a harrowing ordeal for some, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re prepared — and dedicated. Know that you may not be making loads of money from the start, be prepared to work undesirable hours, and be willing to work hard to better yourself.
But also know that the career you’ve chosen can be a rewarding one. “Most people don’t think it’s possible to have a career you actually like, but I really, truly like my job,” says Wetzel. “If you get into the nail industry because you love doing nails, then you will do very well.”