Home-based salons offer techs flexibility, tax relief, and independence. We asked new and seasoned techs who took the plunge how they handled issues that are particular to home-based salons.
On Being an Entrepreneur
“You need to be well-organized and disciplined, and have excellent people skills and a sense of responsibility,” says Kim Hope, owner of The Nail Shoppe in Binghamton, N.Y. Hope has been a nail tech for 17 years, 12 of which she has spent working from her home. She reminds techs that customer service and reliability must remain a top priority.
Cindy Wentzel, owner of Nails at the Carriage House in Newmanstown, Pa., agrees. Wentzel earned a license in 1991 and has worked from home for eight years. “I will never forget when I was taking a nail art class, a woman with a home-based salon said some mornings she just didn’t feel like getting dressed and would do her clients’ nails in her pajamas. I thought that was atrocious,” says Wentzel. Techs should be quick on their feet to be able to handle problems, not only from temperamental clients, but also from unplanned upsets that affect business such as school closings and electric outages. “Techs need to have an understanding of how to budget, how to handle clients effectively, and how to set a tone for the salon,” she says.
On Making the Announcement
“I simply told my clients I was opening my own salon, and I told them they were welcome to come,” says Wentzel. “All but four followed me.” Her situation was seamless, but it’s not always that easy.
“My boss was supportive at first, but it didn’t take me long to realize she wouldn’t take to the idea of my leaving and taking my clients with me,” says Teresa Shackleton, owner of Tee’s Nail NV in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. “But I had built up a loyal following, so when the time came for me to go out on my own, I wrote my phone number on a business card and ‘gently’ told my clients of my decision. It was met with a great response from them.” To further entice clients to follow her, Shackleton lowered her prices by $5.
“I would never recommend coming straight out of school and setting up shop for yourself,” Shackleton says. Shackleton has been a nail tech for 11 years, the last seven of which have been out of her home in Canada. “It’s a daunting task to build a steady and loyal clientele,” she says. “I needed to gain the experience of first working in a salon. I needed the interaction with other employees, and I needed to see how a salon is and should be run. I learned a good way of doing business — and what I thought was the wrong way of doing business,” she says.
Some techs are ready for the risk early in their careers. Missy Kalico-Johnson opened her home-based salon, Kalico Nails, in Otsego, Mich., only five months after becoming licensed. “Two days at a nails-only salon where every rule and law was broken was too long for me,” says Kalico-Johnson. “Opening a salon with no clients was hard. I started at zero, without experience other than what I got at school. But I couldn’t imagine working elsewhere. I believe if someone is independent your best bet is a home-based salon.”
“Techs can be successful, even without a following,” says Lynnette Madden. Madden opened Salon 29 in East Greenville, Pa., five years ago when her client base was not very large. “I was bringing home only about $100 a week,” she says. Her salon has the advantage of being a store front on the first floor of her home, which is located on Main Street. She worked hard to create an atmosphere that appeals to her clients, and through referrals, she now has a full clientele.
On State Regulations
Most states allow home-based salons, though many impose regulations and restrictions. Those that rule emphatically “no” to home-based salons: the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Maryland.
If you don’t live in these states, you can learn the specific regulations by calling the state board of cosmetology and your town clerk. Some local governments might impose tighter restrictions than the state.
“In the beginning, the town set a lot of boundaries on my business,” says Hope. She bought her home with the intention of converting the first-floor family room (which was originally a one-stall garage) into a salon. However, neighbors were leery of a home-based business on the street, and she had to contend with a circulating petition to prevent her from operating her business. “At first, I was restricted to working from 9 to 5 with no Saturdays, and I wasn’t allowed more than two cars in the driveway at one time,” says Hope. She had to return to the court each year to reapply for the right to operate her business. “It was so frustrating,” Hope recalls. “Here I was being limited in my business, but my neighbors with teenagers had multiple cars in the driveway every day.” After her third year of working from home, Hope was able to operate her business without the added restrictions.
Restrictions on home-based salons vary from state to state. Below are some common restrictions you may need to consider:
• Special zoning or parking permits
• Special licenses: Some states/towns require not only the manicurist license, but also a business license for both your location and for you personally, which may be a simple DBA license.
• Separate entrance to the salon
• Separate bathroom for clients
• No employees
• No renters
• No one other than members of the family can work in the salon
• Sign restrictions
With a small salon that’s off the main thoroughfares, attracting a clientele on a small budget can present a challenge. “I paid extra to have my business listed in the phone book,” says Hope, “but I had a bill every month, and it became very expensive.” Hope also paid to have her salon in small, local coupon books and even a full-color, glossy coupon book. “It’s not worth it,” she says. “My regular clients were bringing in the coupons!” she laughs. Most techs agree: referrals are still the best source of new business.
“Working from home, you have to be careful of who you allow into your home,” says Shackleton. “I would love to build up my male clientele, but often I’m the only one at home. So the only men that come right now are my clients’ husbands, brothers, etc.” “Enter competitions and even if you don’t win, use the competition pictures to advertise in small, local papers,” says Madden. “Never offer free sets; instead go to different businesses and ask to do a business card exchange. Build through your current clients. Referrals and word of mouth are the best ways.”
“When I first started,” says Madden, “my clients would come early and ring the doorbell — and I would answer it!” Now, Madden is right up front with new clients. “I tell them that I will open the doors of my salon five minutes before the first appointment of the day, but not before that.” Madden sets boundaries in other ways: She has a separate phone line for her business and she will not answer it after hours. Also, if clients call her home number, they don’t get a return call.
“I’m a work-a-holic,” says Shackleton. “I take clients early in the morning and work late at night. My clients love the flexibility, but I remind myself that work isn’t everything. I try my best to set aside a date night with my husband or some real one-on-one ‘girlfriend’ time with my daughter.”
“I’ve had a problem with women bringing their children with them to my home,” says Kalico-Johnson. “One client brought her two small children, ages 3 and 6, and let them play in our backyard instead of joining her in the salon. They broke the sprinklers, so I had to ask my husband to ‘babysit’ them as I did her nails. The next time she brought her 3-year-old. During the pedicure the child threw a temper tantrum, throwing himself on the floor and kicking my walls. He would get up to smack his mom every couple minutes and grab whatever was loose on her (purse, cell phone) and throw it across the room. He was screaming at the top of his lungs the entire time. I performed the quickest pedicure in my life just to get her and her child out of the salon. She returned without children for a repair. I told her in a joking manner that I was thinking about calling her husband to ask if it was possible for him to watch the children so she could better enjoy her services. She never came back after that. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything, but truth is I don’t want clients to bring kids into my salon. I feel it prevents them from receiving a quality service if I have to concentrate on their children instead of the service I’m providing.”
The advantages of working at home are many — from being there for the kids and the dog to the non-existent commute. “I find several advantages to working at home,” says Kalico-Johnson. “First, you don’t have to travel to work. But also, when you’re working it feels like you’re playing dress up or like you’re having a girls’ spa night at home. When you are closed, you can sneak away and relax in your salon.”
“Convenience,” says Shackleton. “If I have a gap in the day, I can throw in a load of laundry, tend to the garden, or simply sit down and watch TV. Plus, there are lots of tax benefits.”
“I don’t have to go out in the bad weather,” says Wentzel. “Another advantage is that I can let the dogs out during the day.”
“I get to be home with the kids,” says Hope. “If the kids are sick, I can reschedule appointments. I love being my own boss, and arranging my workday the way I want. When the kids were young, I could set my schedule to when I needed to nurse so that their schedules weren’t disrupted.”
“I never close for bad weather, and I have only to walk a few feet to work!” says Madden. “Plus, there are a lot of write-offs — for utilities, outside renovations, etc.”
On the flip side, working at home usually means a staff of one. Home-based salon owners may miss the camaraderie of a larger staff, not to mention the ability to put some distance between themselves and “the office” when they leave for the day. “I love my job, but I’m never away from it,” says Hope. “Work is always here. Also, as new salons open in town, they don’t know about me. I have no exposure to meet and network with them.”
“I miss the ability to say to the client ‘I’m sorry; I can’t stay late. The salon is closed,’” says Shackleton. “I also miss having other people to rely on for help if I’m running late.”
“People have a hard time thinking of what I do as a real job,” says Wentzel. “They become so familiar that they think they are coming to a friend’s house, which causes them to be late or to call when I’m closed because they are in a panic about a broken nail.”
On Working Alone
Working alone has its disadvantages, but it provides an opportunity to create a special experience for clients. “It’s what makes my salon unique,” says Hope. “I market the salon experience as a relaxed atmosphere and a warm, comfortable setting. My clients don’t miss the hubbub.”
“It’s very hard to take vacations,” says Wentzel. “Sometimes I refer my clients to a different salon if I’m on vacation. But they complained and moaned because they’re nails weren’t the same.” Overall, though, the clients love the one-on-one attention and the intimacy of a home-based salon.
“I miss having someone to talk to who understands. I don’t want to go back to the salon setting, but I miss having the network of people,” says Wentzel.
Know Your Deductions
Phil Strawn, a licensed CPA in Pennsylvania, says the key is converting “otherwise personal expenses into a business write-off.” For example, plan a vacation around a seminar. “Be careful,” he says, “it’s not Christmas. But ask your accountant ways to maximize your write-offs.” He lists more than a dozen places you can claim a percentage of your bills to use as a deduction on your taxes:
• Travel to and from business-related destinations
• Meals or entertainment (check the regulations)
• Dry cleaning clothes after a tradeshow
• Home insurance
• Repair/maintenance on your home
• Water and sewer
• Land tax
• Home phone (if the lines are not separate)
• Snow removal/lawn care
• Mortgage interest
• Office/computer expenses
What About Payroll Taxes?
Payroll taxes are not deducted for you when you’re self-employed. Techs should consider hiring an accountant to counsel them how to prepare for and pay income tax. Many accountants will suggest reserving a percentage of each week’s receipts to prepare for quarterly taxes.
What’s a DBA?
It’s short for “Doing Business As.” To help regulate and track small business, some states require individuals to register under a business name. The DBA offers an easy solution for an individual to operate a business. This entitles her to a tax ID number, gives her the ability to apply for a business license to operate a salon, and provides her with the paperwork many banks require to open a business account. Contact the town/county clerk to learn requirements and costs.