Think of the nail salon as the “third place.” The place other than work or home where people feel a sense of community, where ideas are shared, and where patrons leave better off than when they arrived. Heather Goodwin understands the concept of a third place. The owner of A Totally Unique Nail Boutique in Palm Harbor, Fla., Goodwin opened her salon two years ago with the goal of creating “the neighborhood salon.” It’s where everybody knows you, they are always glad you came, and you feel you’re part of a quirky extended family. “Think ‘Cheers,’” says Goodwin.

When clients create a quasi-community in and around the salon, the salon becomes a natural gathering place where people swap stories and gather information. “Our salon is seen as the go-to place for all sorts of resources,” says Goodwin. “People ask us to refer them to plumbers, photographers, roofers, etc. They come to us for all sorts of things that have nothing to do with nails.” Goodwin capitalizes on that natural starting point and positions herself and her salon as a resource among local professionals, non-profits, and businesses in the community. It’s something Goodwin loves to do, but it also expands the presence of her salon in the community.

The how-to of networking, marketing, and public relations comes more easily to some than others, and Goodwin admits it’s a natural part of her skill set. “It does come naturally to me to make connections between different people I know,” she says. “I like to think of what everyone needs and act as a point person.” As a success coach for Inspiring Champions, Goodwin has been able to help other techs who may not have a innate compulsion to network, but who understand how essential it is to make a name for themselves and their salons in their communities.

“The best way to get your name out to the community is to give back,” says Goodwin. Start with local business groups — women’s organizations, co-ed groups, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. Goodwin says she researched or joined these groups with the idea that she wanted to surround herself with people who would sharpen each other professionally through education. “I give, but I also get back when we meet one-on-one or when a coach comes in to present at a meeting,” she says.

Educate Your Peers

Adrienne Schodtler also suggests techs begin to build their network through local groups. A nail tech at Bella Trio in Durham, N.C., Schodtler says she joined a networking group of business owners when she moved to North Carolina three years ago. She quickly realized that in addition to making connections, she was now in the position to educate influential women about the nail industry. A nail tech had never been part of the group before, so when Schodtler wanted to speak about what to look for in a reputable salon, they didn’t understand. “They actually said to me, ‘Nails are nails,’” she laughs. “I was able to explain what is involved in quality nail care.” Schodtler recommends techs also look at moms’ groups, book clubs, and school or preschool connections. “I would always try to be involved with a group that was an outlet for me,” she says.

Along with making connections through business groups, techs can make a name for themselves in the community by participating in local charity events or fundraisers. If you aren’t already affiliated with a charity of your choice, ask clients what causes are important to them and if there is any way you can use the resources available to you through the salon to support their cause. The possibilities of where to participate are broad: local walk/runs, benefits, fundraisers, golf tournaments, and many more events offer techs a place where they can raise the profile of their services, build the reputation of their salons, and support worthy causes. Techs may have the chance to donate a gift certificate at, for example, a silent auction, or they may be able to go in person and set up a table at events, such as at a 5k or the Relay for Life, and offer mini-manis, pedis, or hand and foot massages. The events allow techs to meet people from the community who aren’t customers, which broadens their network in ways that would be impossible in the salon.

“You would think that these types of events would generate business, but they really don’t,” says Goodwin. However, that doesn’t mean techs should avoid the opportunity. Industry educator Millie Haynam says, “It’s about networking.” The salon may capture media attention if the event is covered by the local news, but techs may be disappointed if that is their main purpose for participating. It’s about letting people know that you are willing to use your resources to support what is happening in the community.

Promoting the Salon

Of course, techs should take advantage of the chance to promote the salon. Haynam suggests techs bring menus and business cards to the events and then hold a drawing. “Put a fish bowl on the table where people can register to win a service, and include a box they can check that gives you permission to contact them through e-mail,” says Haynam. “Pick one winner from the event and contact the others to invite them to the salon.”

Social media also offers salon owners and techs a way to earn name recognition. Twitter has business tools that can expand a salon’s network through tweets about salon specials, new services, and industry updates. Facebook, too, is gaining popularity among business owners as a way to communicate to current and prospective customers. Use social media not only as a way to promote or “sell” the salon, but also as a way to give back to the customers. “We use Facebook to let people know what’s going on in and around the community,” says Goodwin. “We also use it to share information we find. We just posted a note titled ‘10 Steps to Improve Your Image.’ It’s not just about selling; it’s about keeping people interested.”

“If you’re only looking out for yourself, it will be harder to succeed,” says Goodwin. Instead, techs can use the inherent opportunities available to them in the salon to give back to clients and to their community, and in doing so, they will experience intangible rewards. That’s not to say there is no financial benefit. Certainly the salon that successfully raises its profile in the community will naturally attract new customers, although the return may not be immediate.

How to Get Started

Choosing to go beyond the walls of the salon begins with a change of attitude. Instead of viewing yourself as only a tech who works at the salon, begin to see yourself as the “go-to” person for making connections. Take the first small step: Ask your clients what services they provide and challenge yourself to “introduce” one client to another through a verbal recommendation during a nail service. It won’t be long before your network increases from clients who offer you business cards of friends and family members.

Next, set a goal to get out of the salon and into the community. Clubs, business groups, and charity events all offer ways to support the community and raise the profile of the salon. If you’re especially creative, you can bring the community to you: Use your salon to plan and promote your own events. Kim Baker, owner of Bijou in Skaneateles, N.Y., frequently generates buzz about her salon from events she organizes through her clients. Featured in the local press, the salon earned recognition for providing a way for every client to help with the Gulf oil spill: Baker sent all discarded hair to Matter of Trust, a company that uses the hair to absorb the oil from the spill. She’s also worked with local author Tim Green to sell raffle tickets at a fundraiser for Susan Major, a Skaneateles resident and breast-cancer survivor. The winner of the raffle won a unique prize: His or her name will appear in Green’s next book! By understanding the pulse and the mores of the community, Baker is able to use her connections to rally support for people and causes that are dear to her. Additionally, she is able to help people in her community channel their desire to help through these organized events.

When techs take the steps to expand their connections from the salon into the community, the benefits are enormous. Not only do they have a chance to recharge their battery from participating in meaningful events, they also have a chance to go from a cute salon on the corner to a powerful professional presence in their community.

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