The responsibilities of a business owner are varied and ever changing. At the intersection of change, when things go from “oh yeah!” to “uh-oh,” owners might respond by ignoring what they know to be true and simply hoping the problem will go away. We should know better.

If you’re stalled at any of these common crossroads, listen to the directions of those who have been this way before. Then, make the first turn. Before you know it, you’ll be through the intersection and back on track.



Illustrations by Yuiko Sugino

Illustrations by Yuiko Sugino

1. As a salon owner, I can’t work ON the business while I’m working IN the business on clients all the time.

Whether you’re the owner of your own booth or a multi-tech salon, you know to be successful, you’ll need to do more than provide great services. You’ll need to balance books, clean, run to the bank, place orders, generate new business, study the industry, attend classes, etc. How are you going to do that if you’re “building your business” by filling up every hour with appointments?

“It takes serious discipline to do it, but if you don’t take time to work on your business, you will find yourself out of business,” says Maisie Dunbar, owner of Maisie Dunbar Spa Lounge in Silver Spring, Md. “Take at least one day out of the week to work on your business.” Working on your business also includes taking leadership classes so you’re a better boss and manager, says Dunbar.

If you’re working five days a week, that means 20% of your time will go toward working on business responsibilities instead of clients. How will you grow your business if you cut your hours of income by 20%? “You must have a trusted team,” says Dunbar. “Find each of their strengths and delegate as necessary.”

Working on the business one day a week doesn’t mean you have to be unavailable one full day. Schedule time blocks in two- to four-hour increments so you still have time for clients every day the salon is open. As you grow, and learn to delegate and trust your staff, the idea of a full day away from the desk will be more realistic — and more necessary. “Do not be afraid of your team being better than you, or being able to run the salon without you,” says Dunbar. “That means you’ve done a great job!”

This is often a hard turn for a salon owner to make. It can be difficult to perceive the time you spend learning, goal setting, creating systems, thinking, and brainstorming as “work,” since you aren’t officially bringing in money. However, every successful business owner knows it’s essential.

First Turn: Schedule two hours next week when you won’t take clients and will work on the business. Write in what you hope to accomplish during those hours.



2. My supply costs are going up. I’m going to have to raise prices or make other changes.

“The prices of supplies are going up and it’s killing me,” says Ally Conley, owner of Mani Pedi Cutie! in Hermosa Beach, Calif. “We are an eco-friendly salon, and we use the best products. I’ve hinted to clients that we may need to raise the price but have received only negative feedback on that.” Like many business owners, Conley’s tension comes from wanting to offer the best products at reasonable prices. When costs go up, it seems as if there are only two choices: raise prices or lower standards. Shari Finger, owner of Finger’s Nail Studio in W. Dundee, Ill., offers another suggestion: Try reinventing the service menu.

Instead of raising prices on bread-and-butter services, change things up a bit. For example, add a “Happy Hour” service that may be five dollars more, but it includes a martini. Maybe you’re in an area that can offer services to 11- to 14-year-olds in the hours right after school before evening clients are out of work. Be creative with how you change your menu depending on location and clientele.

Dunbar says she raises the prices in her salon every year by at least $1-$5 per department. “If I raise the price on our hand and feet services this January, next year I’ll raise prices on skin care services. The following year it will be on services for the body, such as massage,” says Dunbar. In this way, there isn’t anxiety about when or how to raise prices, and many clients go years with no price increase.

Retail offers a way for salon owners to generate income without raising prices. To learn more about how to create a stream of revenue through retail, go to and click on “Retail” in the left column.

First Turn: Choose a special service to try out on clients and run it for a month to see the response. Also, is there anywhere you can reduce costs? A couple ideas: Portion out pedicure products so you know exactly how much each pedicure costs the salon. Use reusable cotton or bamboo towels instead of paper towels that need to be continually repurchased.



3. Social media isn’t going away, and I’d better get on board.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. Right now, today, those are the big guys. Only four. See, it already seems more manageable than the vague and limitless term “social media.”

Just like years ago it was a wise business move to get a website, so today it’s important to have a presence on social media sites. But first, remember the why of social media: It gives you a place to talk with clients and prospective clients. It really is just a conversation: interesting links, great pictures, funny stories, thoughtful comments. It gives people a chance to learn about you, your staff, and your salon.

Lisa McElhone opened Lacquer Lounge Nail Bar & Boutique in Philadelphia at the end of June 2012. Within only a few weeks, she had over 150 “likes” on Facebook, giving her an opportunity to educate prospective clients about what makes her different. “I can advertise all day, every day,” says McElhone. “People are visual, so I post pictures of our work; plus, I use Facebook to educate clients on topics such as the reasons we use FootsieBath instead of whirlpool tubs.” Clients have begun asking McElhone if she is on Twitter. “They’re already talking about us on Twitter,” she says, “so I know I need to get on there.”

Mark W. Schaefer, in his book The Tao of Twitter, offers very practical and easy-to-understand advice on how to use Twitter. He says to start by devoting 20 minutes a day to learn. In that 20 minutes, post one tweet so people know you’re active, find and follow interesting people, and occasionally respond to a tweet. What do you tweet? Links you would like clients to read to learn the benefits of your salon products, or nail art photos you could do on clients. You could also thank clients for coming in or ask questions to people in the industry. So many possibilities!

In the last year, Pinterest exploded into the social media world, and it’s not losing traction. It’s literally a way to organize pictures. Pictures of the salon, your staff, your products, your art … the list is endless. People can even make money off Pinterest by linking pictures to their site where products can be purchased.

Google+ is still in the early stages, so many of your clients may not have the expectation of finding you here. Nonetheless, it’s wise to get on board when the largest search engine site offers you a chance to create your own business page.

It can be overwhelming, it’s true. You work all day; you don’t have the time to learn how to use social media, even if it appeals to you and you can see the benefit. So start small. One step at a time. But take the step. In fact, combine this step with the first suggestion above and schedule time next week to work on social media.

First Turn: Open an account on all four sites. Make at least one post on each.

[Editor’s note: You can find useful articles at]



4. That problem employee won’t just go away on her own.

Did you ever dread doing something only to realize the anticipation was worse than the actual event? Such is the case with dismissing an employee. “When I first opened the salon, I would hire and fire a new tech every week,” remembers Conley. “I would fire someone if they were late, wore perfume, gossiped, gave a bad foot massage, called in sick and then posted pictures of themselves partying on Facebook, if they were rude to the receptionist, even if they didn’t like kids.” Conley says she would give one warning, and if the problem didn’t change, the tech was let go. Though it was frustrating, Conley said she earned the respect of the techs who work hard and are dedicated, and consequently, they’ve stayed with her. “I haven’t had to hire a new tech in three years,” says Conley. The longer you wait to deal with the problem, the more toxic it becomes.

First Turn: Schedule time with the tech to have “the talk.” Either make it a warning (if you’ve never mentioned the problem before), or, if it’s past the warning stage, explain your reasons, and let her pack her things and go. Then, sigh with relief and carry on.


5. Continuing education is important to keep my skills sharp and to learn what’s new.

“Continuing education has helped me reinvent myself at least five times in the last 32 years,” says Athena Elliott, owner of SPAthena and GlitzyLips in Houston. “Continuing education must begin with a desire to learn more than you already know.” In other words, keeping up on industry trends, reading business and management tips, and watching manufacturers’ videos to improve technique all come from a desire to expand your knowledge. “I actually just watched a manufacturer’s how-to video and learned a ‘missing step’ that was causing service breakdown for the last two months,” says Elliott.

While you can certainly learn a lot on your own, an added benefit of learning in a classroom setting is the energy you can get from other techs. Being in a room full of creative entrepreneurs tends to help us refocus on the positives of being a business owner in a great industry — a perspective that can blur when we’re overwhelmed with the day-to-day responsibilities of running a business and managing people.

The truth is, you can’t afford to ignore the need for continuing education. Clients want to know you’re up on the latest techniques and can give them the unique or special services they see and read about online. “You need to keep your skills sharp if you want to stand out from all the other salons on every corner,” says Elliott. “Going to tradeshows or reading a book, even a small investment of time can make a big difference in my business.”

First Turn: Schedule time for one tradeshow or networking event in the next year. (In the meantime, choose a book or business article to read and watch videos on technique so you can continue to learn on your own.)

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