Veteran nail tech Shari Finger — owner of Finger’s Nail Studio in W.  Dundee, Ill. — fields reader questions in the areas of salon management  and workplace politics. If you have a question for Shari, e-mail it to

Veteran nail tech Shari Finger — owner of Finger’s Nail Studio in W. Dundee, Ill. — fields reader questions in the areas of salon management and workplace politics. If you have a question for Shari, e-mail it to

I recently graduated from nail tech school. I want to start my own business in the nail industry working from home, but don’t know how to go about it. I have made up a price list and business cards — really everything I need. I do my friends’ and relatives’ nails, but still can not get the clientele I need to get myself out there. Do you have any advice on getting my business up and running?  Sincerely, A Newbie

Dear Newbie: Often new techs start out with high expectations and run out of steam or give up too quickly. Building a clientele is like putting bricks in a wall. One by one you carefully place them using your talent and customer service skills as the cement that holds them in place.

The real problem is getting them into your chair to start with. Because you are a new start-up and don’t have a large advertising budget, I am going to give you a lesson on how to market yourself without spending a penny.

> Wear your work. Your nails should always look great wherever you go, be it shopping, to church and parent groups, or doctors’ appointments. Think about all the places you go — every person you come in contact with is a potential client. If you wear your work proudly it becomes easy to sell. Wear fun colors and eye-catching nail art to create interest.

> I can’t say this enough: The best form of advertising is free. Word of- mouth is the best way to build a good solid clientele. Don’t be afraid to ask customers to refer friends and family to you. Develop a referral program that gives fun incentives.

> Put your name everywhere. Use community, church, and college bulletin boards. You want people to see your name over and over again.

> Donate a manicure to local fundraisers, fashion shows, etc. Not only do you get a chance to land a repeat customer, often you get a free listing in the program.

> Put nails on key people with high-profile jobs, such as hairdressers, bartenders, and grocery clerks. Give them an incentive to send people to you. Starting out is never easy but it is the people who use this time to fine-tune their skills and build a solid clientele that are successful in the nail industry.


Do you have any advice on how to build the trust of new clients who have gone to discount nail spas and had a bad experience? A Trustworthy Tech

Dear Trustworthy: A client from a discount salon who has had a bad experience can be turned into a long-term customer in your appointment book. To win her trust, you may want to take a close look at the source of her loss of trust. The three most common complaints about discount salons are:

> Communication. Start off by being a good listener. Often, a customer just needs a sympathetic ear. Listening goes hand in hand with communication. Make sure you schedule enough time to listen and answer every concern.

> Disinfection. Disinfect all implements in front of the customer. Allowing the customer to see this process leaves nothing to the imagination. Place signs reading “disinfected for you” on pedicure stations and implement trays. Keep the salon dust-free and clean. Pay special attention to how your salon looks and smells when a customer enters. What a person smells triggers emotions, so pick the feeling you want to evoke, such as lavender to relax or lemon to refresh. You might change scents with the seasons; try pumpkin in the fall and spruce for the holidays. Use all scents sparingly.

> Damaging or dangerous techniques and services. Chances are your customer may have been physically hurt during a service, or experienced extreme damage to the nail bed or cuticle area. Reassure your customer that you provide a pain-free service every time. Be especially careful during the service; don’t file hard, and ask her from time to time if she is comfortable. You want her to know that her comfort is a priority.

Don’t be afraid to address problems. For example, some clients have supersensitive nail beds, and hate when you prep the nail for enhancements. Reassure them you work with other customers with the same problem and have been trained to never file into the natural nail. Share your education and experience; it will develop trust.

Many customers are pleasantly surprised with the difference between a quality nail salon and a discount salon. Sometimes winning their trust is as simple as a smile and a proper greeting when they walk in the door. Others will make you work for it, but don’t let that stop you. Those tough ones often become the most loyal.


I’m having trouble dealing with hearing about clients’ personal issues. They seem to look to me for some type of counseling. How do I handle this? Sincerely, Had an Earful

Dear Had an Earful: I have to be completely honest about this (after all that is what this column is all about). You need to learn to deal with it! We provide an intimate service. Where else do you go where someone holds your hand for an hour? Think about it, it’s part of our job to listen. It’s not our job to get involved, but we must remain professional, considerate, and respectful. If a client was just diagnosed with cancer, lost a loved one, or had fight with a spouse, you should listen. That said, you can curb the personal conversations by following a couple of rules:

> Treat the client and the conversation as you would on a first date.

> If you don’t want to know details about your client’s personal life, then be prepared not to share any of your own.

> Stick to your job and discuss your client’s nails and services. Choose a theme each week. For example, one week discuss how to improve cuticles and the next sell the benefits of a home maintenance kit.

> Provide music and headphones with a choice of genre or a TV that can be tuned to programming the customer is interested in, whether it’s soap operas or CNN.[PAGEBREAK]

How do I get clients to respect their nails and to treat them more like “jewels, not tools?” Sincerely, Disrespected

Dear Dis’d: Most nail techs believe that charging for every broken nail will deter clients from abusing their nails, when actually the practice just enables that behavior. Clients then feel that they pay for them, so they can do anything they want.

Try educating customers on the proper maintenance and use of their nails. I like to give new customers an owner’s manual to go along with their new set of nails, listing all the do’s and don’ts of nail enhancements, salon policies, and complementing services they won’t want to miss out on.

Immediately address the problem if you see a customer with more than normal breakage. Try to pinpoint the cause and solution so you can improve the customer’s experience.

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