The old adage about being on top mocks, “There’s no place to go but down,” but is this a statistical observation or a foregone conclusion? Let’s observe the career of the nail tech. She spends numerous hours building her clientele only to arrive at a place where she is “too busy” to take new clients. Too often, this position of being on top can begin a vicious cycle where the too-busy tech is booked so tight clients begin to murmur they would cancel a doctor’s appointment before their nail appointment because it’s easier to reschedule. Pressure builds and the nail tech becomes frustrated, complacent, or even cocky, knowing she has plenty of business if anyone decides to leave.

A more professional scenario is that the too-busy tech maintains an appreciation for her clients, but she works crazy hours to accommodate her burgeoning book. She shields the client from her stress, but behind the scenes, the tech is on the steady road to burnout.

Neither scenario paints a pretty picture of the so-called pinnacle of one’s career. However, one of these is likely to play out if techs don’t have a plan in place for how to maintain their position on top. Business coaches may advise expanding — add another tech, open a multi-station salon, franchise, etc. — or raising prices. However, many techs prefer to stay successfully small over increasing their responsibility by expanding to a larger business. Many times that same tech has raised her prices to a premium, so a price increase isn’t viable. So, here she is: successful but strained. No worries, you say, stop taking new clients and wait for a few people drop off to get some breathing room in the book.

Here’s the tension: Any tech with a full book has been in the business long enough to learn it doesn’t stay booked when she begins to refuse clients. Even the most faithful clients leave because of relocating, taking a break from their nails, or even changing salons. Add that to the natural ebb and flow of business, and you realize it’s essential to market yourself even when you feel you’re working at full capacity. The quandary comes in knowing how to advertise during those blissful few months when you’re so booked you feel as if you can’t take one more appointment. How do you keep your name in front of potential clients without creating such a demand you have to turn them away when they call?

Accommodating New Clients

Sue Carman has been a nail tech for 20 years. She is an independent booth renter at Volpe Nails and Hair in Johnson City, N.Y. She fills her book Tuesday through Thursday, starting at 8 a.m. and working until 7 or 8 p.m. She books appointments every 45 minutes, seeing up to 15 people a day. Though she appears to be gridlocked, Carman says she is able to fit new clients in regularly. “I’m always taking new clients,” says Carman. “I know I can start the week with no openings and have five cancellations by tomorrow,” she explains. To accommodate new clients and offer flexibility to current ones, Carman says she maintains a waiting list. When someone moves an appointment and opens a spot, she calls a person on her list. Clients see Carman as being flexible and accommodating, though most techs would view her book as being at full capacity. If it happens to be an exceptionally busy week with no cancellations, Carman will work her unscheduled Friday. She leaves that day open as a buffer. Sometimes she uses it, but often she gets a four-day weekend. Either way, leaving that time open for potential business allows her to accommodate clients during busy times while enjoying plenty of time off during calm seasons. “It’s the nature of the nail business,” says Carman. “You have to be available when clients are available. When you stop taking new clients, business declines.”

Business can also decline simply by communicating wearily that you’re “so busy.” Consider this: when you communicate you’re too busy for new clients, you put current clients in the position of thinking they’re protecting you by not promoting you. They don’t want you to feel the stress from people demanding your attention. Further, current clients want you at their disposal, so if they feel it’s already difficult to get an appointment with you, they won’t be eager to encourage their friends to book with you and make your schedule even less flexible. So, be careful. If you comment regularly about how busy you are, how many hours you work, or how difficult it is when clients move appointments, it sounds like you don’t need new business. You may not need new business today, but you will soon.

On the other hand, you don’t want to solicit business from clients if it’s difficult to accommodate new appointments. When happy clients ask if you take new customers, answer honestly, but leave it open-ended. You might say, “Well, I don’t advertise, but I do take new clients when they are referred, and I can usually get them in if they are flexible.” This way, you communicate you’re available but selective.

“I don’t advertise,” says Carman, “but I absolutely accept new clients — by referral.” This way, clients still talk about her to their friends so when the slow seasons come (and they will come), she has a continual network of people who are talking about her. “If there comes a point where I realize I have spaces in my book, I start talking to my clients about their friends,” says Carman. If a client mentions a friend who likes her nail color, for example, Carman will encourage the client to talk to the friend about making an appointment. In this way, her business quickly expands back to bustling.

Facebook is a free way to keep your name in front of  the public and fill any last-minute holes in your appointment book.

Facebook is a free way to keep your name in front of
the public and fill any last-minute holes in your appointment book.

Don’t Stop Looking

Jill Wilson, nail tech, consultant, and salon owner at Snips SpaSalon in Bloomington, Minn., agrees with Carman’s method. “There never comes a time to stop looking for clients,” says Wilson. “We always need fresh faces. This keeps us in-tune and hungry.” But Wilson realizes that it doesn’t pay for a busy tech to advertise through print and other traditional media. This could prove frustrating when new clients call only to be told they can’t get in immediately. In addition, though it may be tempting to “keep your name out there” through fundraising or networking events, it often puts the tech in a position of giving a lot away without getting a big return, says Wilson. Instead, look to your current client base as your richest resource when it’s time to advertise.

“Word of mouth is always the most effective advertisement,” says Wilson. She affirms techs should never complain about being busy, which will reduce the amount clients brag about their nails to their friends. Instead, maintain a grateful attitude to clients, and then reward them for bringing in friends when you need the business. “I suggest techs have gift certificates printed to hand out, and then listen as clients talk,” says Wilson. When clients mention a friend who loves her nails, give her a pre-printed certificate with your contact information and an incentive for booking with you. For example, you could offer $20 off any service booked by a certain date. “It’s very important to add an end-date,” says Wilson. “You want there to be a call to action.” Wilson also suggests rewarding the current client with a matching discount. “I like to thank my clients instead of offering specials only to new clients,” says Wilson.

Techs can also use Facebook and Twitter, two free advertising venues that have proven to be very effective for keeping your name in front of people and for filling holes in the appointment book. First, ask clients to “like” your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter. This way, you’ll have a way to communicate quickly to your client base. Keep a conversation open with your “friends” and “followers” by posting about new products, interesting beauty facts, or any other salon-related subject. On days when you have time to fill, use these networking sites to offer a one-time special. Then, when you’re ready for a new client, you have a place to advertise yourself.

Retailing allows you to increase your income without increasing your  client base.

Retailing allows you to increase your income without increasing your
client base.

Boosting Income

Along with how to advertise effectively, busy techs face a second issue: the income cap. Income is limited if it depends solely on client count. You charge a certain price for a service, you fill your book, and you make the same general income each week. This is often the routine, but it doesn’t need to be the rule. To combat this, Wilson suggests techs become comfortable with add-ons. “Add-ons to techs are like the appetizer, drinks, and dessert to a waitress,” says Wilson. The increased ticket price means a higher income for the tech. Add-ons can be as simple as a moisturizing cuticle treatment or pedicure scrub, or as profitable as up-selling a client to gel polish over traditional polish. Challenge yourself to grow business in this way once the goal of a full book is sustained. Motivate yourself by setting daily and weekly goals.

Along with add-ons, techs can take advantage of additional revenue through retail. It’s becoming more and more common for professionals in the industry to suggest “at-home care” for clients. Techs can have a variety of at-home care products available to recommend to clients based upon their service. Files, moisturizer, top coats, nail strengtheners, cuticle oil, etc. These don’t need to be pre-packaged sets, which could communicate you’re trying to move product rather than personalizing a maintenance routine. Instead, recommend specific merchandise you believe will benefit a specific client. Don’t be shy about making recommendations. You choose the products you use because you believe they offer a benefit.

Explain that benefit to the client and save her the confusion of choosing from the drugstore’s “wall o’ moisturizers.”
Techs at the top of their game defy the adage; they always find ways to not only stay on top, but to keep business growing. Their flexibility and grateful attitude will continue to bring in new business, and their recommendations for an improved experience — through add-ons and retail — will keep current clients confident you stay abreast of the latest products, colors, and techniques. When you’re on top of your game, don’t worry about how to advertise to the large, faceless masses. Think of marketing yourself to a niche market: the one sitting right in front of you. 

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.