Starting Your Career

Dear Diary...

From graduation to state board exams, from the job search to the first full set on a paying client, those first few months as a nail technician are filled with highs and lows. Two nail technicians opened their diaries to share theire experiences. 

Editor's note: At 43, Bitsie Stanger wanted more freedom to pursue other interests, but her career as a department manager for Liz Claiborne at the Bon Marche in Boise, Idaho, was demanding more and more of her energy. At the same time, she had become interested in nail care after she finally found a product that gave her beautiful nails for the first time. She now works at 267 W. Lincoln Hair-Skin-Nails in Inkom, Idaho. 

June 22: Graduation day! Even after 300 hours of nail school, I'm a little apprehensive about getting a job. I left a good job to go to nail school, and a new career at my age makes me nervous. Another worry: Am I technically proficient? I learned so much in school, but I know it's different in real life. On my way home I started thinking about getting a job in a salon, making some money to pay for school. I was thinking about the salon where I get my hair cut, and when I got home I found a postcard from them saying they now offered nails. I called and asked who was doing nails, and Kevin Hill, who owns the salon with his wife, Angie, said he was. I told him I had just graduated from school and he told me to come down and talk to him. 

June 26: I interviewed with Keven at 267 W. Lincoln Hair-Skin-Nails today. He's done my hair for years and I was very comfortable talking to him. I was there for two hours, and we covered everything- what I would be responsible for, what he would be responsible for. He said he was concerned about the unknown costs and obligations. We talked about booth rental vs. employee, and he said he didn't want a booth renter because he wanted control of products and procedures. That works great for me because I don't want to make a big investment in products. 

I was worried whether the salon had enough customers for me to build a nail clientele. He said he thought it did because he had lots of inquiries for nail services. 

I asked what products Kevin used, and he works with fiberglass only. We decided to use his fiberglass system and we picked an acrylic system. Kevin wants me to work regular hours, which is what I want, too, so clients know exactly when I'll be available. We also talked about offering complimentary mini-manicures and pedicures. We also decided I would be paid a straight commission- so I better get in gear! 

July 21: I did a set of acrylics for Angie today. I spent the past two weeks rehearsing on practice sheets. My husband and son were also victimized! I was still nervous because I hadn't done a full set on anyone since I got out of school.  Angie wanted tips with acrylic overlays, so we booked out three hours and it took me about two hours. 

While I was working, Kevin asked me questions about my procedures and product preferences. Angie just watched and relaxed. She has gorgeous nail beds with deep C-curves and the tips kept wanting to pop off. I was getting a little scared, but after the second nail popped off I figured out that if I put pressure on the side of the nail while rocking the tip down and then held it while the glue set, then the tip would stay on.

After I was finished, I looked at the nails and told Angie what I would have done differently. She was very happy with her nails- she had never worn acrylics before.

Kevin said he would call me in a few days to let me know how things are going with the insurance. I'm sure they want to talk about it. Me, I'm just going to relax. 

July 24: I called Kevin today and he told me that insurance is not a problem. I'm hired! I feel the salon environment is very comfortable for me and the clientele. We want to create a welcoming environment for our customers and develop an attractive retail area for nail products. I start in a couple of weeks. 

July 28: I took the state board today- that was a real education! When you walk in, there is a table with exams laid out, and the state board examiners are very methodical about checking you in. Before we went in they re-tested the people who failed before. When I saw how many women went in for their re-test, I got a little nervous so I went slowly and read carefully. I circled the questions I was unsure of and went back to them after I answered the ones I knew. When I left the exam I felt really prepared, and I feel better about starting a job now. 

August 2: Today was my first day and I had 3 manicure clients. I also spent some time finding out where everything is, familiarizing myself with retail lines, and organizing my table. I started introducing myself to hair clients that told them we were offering complimentary massages. They all said yes. I'm so glad I only had manicures today- what a confidence booster!

August 13: Oh my gosh! My license came in the mail today. After I finished jumping up and down I called the other nail technicians I went to school with to find out what their nail technician number was. We all got ours today. My friend Jeannie Christianson was just ecstatic. She was worried because she had broken her ankle and had to take the state board with her cast on. Her ankle throbbed and hurt during her entire exam. 

August 23: Well, I made it through the first three weeks! All I've down so far are manicures and pedicures. I spend about one-third of my time in the salon working on clients, and the rest of the time I spend working on promotions to build a clientele. I knew I would start off slowly, but I'm getting a little concerned that I don't have any clients who want artificial nails. I need the practice.

August 26: I had my first artificial nail client today. Lianne came in for a haircut and when she realized we offered nails now, she asked for a fill. She hadn't had a fill in a month and her nails were grown out three-quarters of the way. I realize now she needed a new set of nails because it took me an hour to file down all the lifting product and give her a fill. The person who had put on the full set had created a very high arch, and filing that out was hard.

September 2: I did my first full set today- a fiberglass and tip overlay- and the nails came out pretty well. I took me about two hours, but my client was comfortable with the time and she was happy with her nails. 

September 5: I had another client come in who wanted a fill. Again, I should have rescheduled her and done a full set because the lifting was so bad that if you pushed on the fronts of the nails the backs lifted up.

October 1: After two month I've built up about 20 regular nail clients. Eight of them are artificial nail clients. I spend about half my time in the salon working on paying clients, and I know that it's just going to keep growing. I was really worried when I graduated from school, but I'm so glad I'm doing this!

Editor's note: Sondra Rosante, 29, chose nails as a new career when she decided to return to work when her son Marke turned 3, because she wanted a career that would give her enough flexibility to meet the needs of his schedule. After working out of her home for almost two months, Rosante rented space in a nearby hair salon, and she now works Tuesday through Saturday at His and Her Nail Couture in Studio 282 in Huntington, N.Y. 

June 17: It's the last week of school and I purchased my nail table and some other supplies today. Mark, my husband, helped me prepare an ad for the newspaper. I'm going to work from our house and I'm advertising a free warm lotion manicure to build up a clientele. I have a few clients that I got during school as models, but I need more.

June 20: I got my first appointment today! The ad came out and when I got home there was a message from a woman who wanted to book a manicure. Mark and I did a high five. I was singing, "I've got customers! I've got customers!"

June 23: I graduated from school today. I really feel ready technically to start taking clients. Our instructor reminded us today not to postpone taking our state boards just because we have a temporary license good for six months. I'm planning to take the exam next month. I start work tomorrow doing nails from my home.

June 24: Mark left with Marke, and I got my nail station and pedicure set up. My appointment for a manicure wasn't until 11a.m., but I was ready by 10 a.m. I didn't tell her she was my first client until the service was all done. It took me three hours because I was nervous and we were talking, so I took my time. Because it took so long I told her she was my first client. She laughed and said it was great.

I didn't have any other appointment scheduled and no one else called so around 4 p.m. I went to go meet with my "cappuccino club" friends. 

June 25: I got a few calls today but didn't do any services. One woman called wanting me to come to her home and do the free manicure, and I said yes because she booked a pedicure as well.

June 27: Well, it's the end of my first week and I've done a few fills on clients that I used as models in school as well as a few more manicure from my ad.

July 1: Never again will I go to someone's home! It took most of the day to do the woman's manicure and pedicure not only because I am slow, but because she kept stopping me to answer the phone for her business. Plus I had to pack everything up and drive there and back.

July 11: Business has been sporadic but good. I had a few full days, but that's partly because it takes me 1 1/2 hours to do a fill. I told Mark tonight that I just have to get faster. I'm happy, though, because for the first time in a long time I have my own money that I've earned.

July 20: I've had a fairly steady stream of clients because of the ad I've been running, but responses to it have been dropping off recently. My friends in the cappuccino club asked me today why I don't want to work in a salon. I told them it's hard because there are so many discount salons around that it's hard to find a good job. Still, I'm starting to think about it because I'm not getting enough business at home and I'm worried.

July 27: I've stopped by several salons to see about job openings, but they either already have nail technicians or they said they don't have a market for nails.

August 4: A friend of mine suggested checking out Studio 282 yesterday, and today when we were having our cappuccino club meeting, Tina, one of the hairstylists from 282, came in. My friend introduced me to her and she told me they didn't offer waxing or nails right now. She recommended that I visit the salon.

August 5: I stopped by Studio 282 today. I was nervous before I went in, but all the hairstylists were so welcoming and friendly! When Tina told them I was the nail technician she had talked about everyone came up front to meet me. I just know this is the place for me. They've all been there for at least five years and some have been there for as long as 11 years. Pam LoScalzo, the salon owner, wasn't there but they'd said she'd call me.

August 7: Pam called me tonight and we talked on the phone for an hour. She told me that she had tried adding nails before, but the nail technicians she hired didn't do anything to build their business. She is interested in trying nails again, but she wants to rent the space, which is what I want, too.

We also discussed promotional ideas. I explained to her that sanitation is very important to me and that I want her sanitation practices to represent mine as well, and she agreed. We just "clicked" on every topic. We decided to meet on Saturday.

August 9: I met with Pam today and she showed me around the salon. We negotiated a rent, and she says she'll have construction started next week on the pedicure and waxing room. My nail station will be right up front by the window.

August 20: It took two carloads to get my things to the salon. When I first got there everyone was watching me, but they quickly offered to help me move in. One of the women even helped me cut the carpet to fit the pedicure room. I didn't have any clients today because I wanted to set up.

August 23: I sure am glad I took my time the first day to get everything set up because the last three days have been so busy. I made my first two weeks' rent on the first day! Of course, I owe part of that to everyone in the salon who has promoted my services to their clients for the past few weeks. I also have brought all of my clients with me, and I'm still getting calls from cards I've passed out.

September 9: I did another ad in the newspaper, but I didn't get a very good response so I made up some fliers that I put on cars. I didn't get one response from that!

I get most of my new clients from the salon and from client referrals so I'm going to focus on that. A few clients have complained to their stylist that my work takes a long time. I feel a little discouraged, but better that they complain about my time than the quality of my work. I've started timing each portion of my service with a clock to make sure I'm where I should be at a certain time. Everyone I work with has been great: I never hear, "Sondra, you have to get faster." Instead it's "Sondra, how can we help you get faster?"

October 7: I have my fill time down to an hour now and my business continues to grow. Waxing has been phenomenal! My appointment book is about 60% full now, and I have yet to take my state board exam! It seems that every month something has come up to prevent me, but I'm going in November no matter what! 

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