Have you ever dreamed of leaving the industry to get a “real job”? Techs who have tried it share their stories of how they came to realize their first love is their true love. They also share the challenges they encountered when they returned after an absence.
Finding your perfect spot will be a big factor in your success. Make your decision based not only on pay but opportunity. Being an independent contractor may sound intimidating if you don’t have a clientele, but if the opportunity is in a busy salon where you’re the only nail tech, it could be the perfect relationship. Conversely, a 50/50 split that includes your supplies may sound like an ideal arrangement, but if the owner of the salon doesn’t value the staff in the nail department, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. “In one salon, the general attitude was, ‘Oh, it’s just nails, and You’re just the nail tech,’” says Kellie O’Connor, a tech from Jacksonville, Fla., returning to the industry after a five-year break. Make sure the atmosphere is as beneficial as the financial compensation.
Kelly Saddleton has noticed that professional nail services appeal to a broader range of clients now than when she first entered the business.
“I’ve found the range of clients has broadened,” says Saddleton. Instead of appealing to women 25 to 50, today’s salon draws clients of all ages — and both genders. “More men are coming into the salon, and it’s awesome for our business,” says Young.
The demand on the salon to host parties for showers, bachelorettes, and young divas continues to grow, opening up an additional stream of revenue. Techs have the opportunity, then, to develop a reputation for themselves within a niche market. Develop a reputation as the go-to destination for girlfriends, the spot where men can feel comfortable, or the after-hours party stop. Other options: build a reputation as the tech with the highest sanitation standards — proven by your referrals from local podiatrists — or the tech who always knows (and can provide) the latest and greatest. “I found my niche in unique and wearable nail art trends,” says Bradford. “I’m known in Nashville for my creations, and that niche has helped me cultivate a following.” Her advice: “Find your passion. Passion is contagious! Do what makes you happy and success will follow.”
Janice Luper left the California salon where she worked as a nail tech and moved with her family to Arizona. Within a short time, she was put on five months’ bed rest due to a high-risk pregnancy. “I was still out of work at my six-week checkup,” says Luper. “I simply wasn’t in a position financially to go without a steady income while I tried to build a clientele in a new city.” Luper took a job as a waitress, and then moved into the health care industry. It would be almost 10 years before she was in a position to risk getting back into the business.
Kellie O’Connor, a tech from Jacksonville, Fla., says it’s important to find a salon where nail techs are valued.
“I became licensed in 2005,” says Young. “I worked at a nursing home full-time and tried building a clientele while working part-time in a salon.” Young says she quickly became frustrated by the challenge of building a clientele while still holding down a full-time job. Her frustration turned to disillusionment, and she dropped out of the industry. It would take seven years before Young could position herself to build a clientele.
The obstacles that challenged these two techs — and many others like them — are the same today as they’ve always been. It takes time, consistency, and availability to build a clientele. Much of that time is spent in a salon with no clients, hoping for calls and walk-ins. Scheduling time to go out and promote yourself means time away from the desk. At the same time, most techs need to work a job that pays a steady income in order to pay their bills. It can be overwhelming and seem nearly impossible to think of doing both. And, as any tech knows, there’s no shortcut.
Many times, techs need to be ready to make a radical change: a decision often made in desperation. “At one point, I found myself in a job I hated,” says Young. “I was miserable. I would cry on the way to work, cry during lunch, cry after work.” One day, Young was sitting at work, talking on the phone with her boyfriend. He was lamenting the situation, hating to hear her so unhappy. “He finally asked me how much longer it would take for me to get a degree,” remembers Young. “As I started to explain, I stopped in mid-sentence and said, ‘This is crazy! I have a career; I’m a nail tech.’” Young knew from past experience how much time and dedication it takes to build a clientele — and this time, she put herself in a position to be successful. “Even though I had lived on my own for 12 years, I moved into my grandmother’s house so I could take a real chance on doing what I love,” says Young. “I can now proudly say I work at Anthony’s Hair Design, and I am so glad I made the transition.”
Lowering costs as Young did is one way to set yourself up for the challenge of building a clientele. Another way is to re-imagine the source of your “steady” income. For example, instead of trying to build a clientele while holding down your full-time job Monday through Friday, drop the demanding job for a position that gives you the time you’ll need. This could mean working weekends as a waitress, working shifts at a grocery store on Saturday night through Tuesday so you can be in the salon Wednesday through Saturday morning, or picking up some other job that may seem menial, but allows you to focus on your true love. No one said it would be easy. They said it would be worth it.