I came across an old appointment book recently and began to thumb through it. What I saw surprised me. I almost couldn’t remember what it was like to have the schedule that was drawn on those pages. It was a schedule all too familiar to many of us — 50-60 hours a week, crammed days, no lunch, and way too many clients. And what I noticed most of all was zero variety. My days were filled with what has become the most popular service of the nail profession: the fill. I didn’t realize how working so hard and seeing so many clients for that particular service was slashing my profits. Here’s how I changed my schedule to work less, make more, and achieve total balance in my business.

Know Your Rate Per Hour

I began the journey of change two years ago by connecting with a certified business success coach in the field. Through my sessions with her, I learned something incredibly valuable — my rate per hour. This is the amount you earn per hour based on the service price and the amount of time it takes to perform that service. For example, if I scheduled 60 minutes for a backfill and I charged $35, my rate per hour was $35. After listing all the services I performed, I learned that my most popular services were bringing me the least profit for my time. I knew something had to change, but how?

I began by focusing on my most profitable services first: pedicures and polish changes on toes. Because of my pricing structure, pedicures netted me $12 more per hour than fills. Polish changes on toes gave me an additional $18. Now that excited me! But where was I going to put all these additional services in an already cramped schedule? I knew that in order to make such a drastic change, I first needed to identify who wanted to try these new services and make them a priority in my schedule. In less than a year, I went from working 50-60 hours down to 32 hours per week. I cut my daily client base from 14 to eight. All of my clients receive two services from me. I did all this with a $3 price increase on all services, which moved my average service ticket from $33 to $70, giving me a $25,000 raise working on 40% fewer clients. It may seem impossible, but it’s not. It’s simply a matter of employing some easy tips when it comes to strategizing your day.

Working Hard Versus Working Smart

I recently interviewed nail techs from all over on what they felt were the biggest barriers in scheduling their days so I could present a few “case studies.” What I found was that the problems all seemed very similar — too much wasted time, not enough clients or too many clients, and too many hours on the job.

My first stop was a nail tech working on commission in a full-service day spa. Nichole Fruge of Sophisticated Styles in Palm Harbor, Fla., has been in the business for five years and loves the decision she made to leave the corporate sales world for a rewarding career that gives her the flexibility to earn a living while enjoying motherhood. She allowed me to dive into her appointment book and help her understand her strengths and weaknesses. Being fairly busy day to day led Nichole to feeling complacent. What I saw were some easy tasks that could bring her business to a new level.

First off, there was not a cancellation or no-show policy in place, which gave her too many holes in her schedule. Implementing that one system could make a difference in thousands of dollars annually. Nichole also had quite a few short openings on her book. This problem arises when people choose appointment times for future bookings that don’t tag onto another appointment. For example, having a manicure from 9 a.m. until 9:45 and no one scheduled until 10 a.m. for the next appointment leaves 15 minutes of wasted time. That seemed to pop up frequently for her. Solutions could be to schedule more tightly so as to not allow down time or to entice that manicure client into a toe polish change to fill in the time. A $10 polish change used to fill in some of those wasted minutes — even four times a day — could give her an increase of $10,000 per year.

Another easily remedied situation I noticed was the difference in minutes booked for two-week backfills versus three-week backfills. The price was the same, but an added 15 minutes was required to make up for the extra work. That was a loss of $6 per hour based on a $30 backfill. By not maintaining a standard of rebooking every two weeks, she was losing an average of four bookings a year per guest, causing a loss of nearly $5,000 a year with her clientele.

Think About Time

Jynelle Waymire had a different set of challenges in her schedule. As owner of Jynelle’s Salon Retreat in Lakeland, Fla., she runs the salon and works full time behind the chair as well. According to her computer scheduling program, she recently completed 122 client bookings in one four-week period. Out of those 122 appointments, only nine had a second service booked at the same time, and only one client booked three together. The double services were a combination of fills and pedicures, and the triple service was a manicure, pedicure, and paraffin dip. This told me immediately that Jynelle had too many clients to serve and not enough hours in the week.

Another interesting point of discovery was the amount of minutes she scheduled for appointments. Some fills were 60 minutes, while others were 75 minutes. Full sets were 90 minutes. She shared with me that she allowed far more time than necessary. I asked her if she had a lot of downtime during her day and her response was, “Oh, yeah. But I need some time to take care of things around the salon and handle interruptions throughout the day.” That’s a typical problem when an owner is also working behind the chair. My suggestion was to schedule more efficiently in general and to schedule in breaks that could be counted upon to get things done. That seemed to really excite her.

“I could plan ahead for what I need to accomplish that way,” she noted. By having too many clients to serve, Jynelle seemed never to have time away from the salon. As an owner, she has the opportunity of passing on clients who don’t want to try new or additional services to technicians working for her who are still trying to fill their schedules, and that makes it a win-win for the entire team. Another common problem revealed in my conversations with techs was how to schedule double appointments. For example, many technicians who book a manicure or fill with a pedicure will perform the hand service first. After that, the client would soak for 15 minutes in the pedicure bowl to soften the feet while the technician sat with downtime. On a day with four pedicures, this could cost you a full hour of lost time. Over a year’s time, that’s a loss of over $8,000 based on a $40 service. Ouch.

By booking clients’ pedicure services first, it allows you to overlap services with the previous client to maximize your work time. Think of it like a stylist might. A stylist will apply color and let the client sit under the dryer while she performs another cut or color treatment, maximizing her time. It’s no different for us. By setting your client up to soak her tootsies 15 minutes before the earlier client finishes, it allows you to complete the first service and be ready to begin the next. That could free you up to offer add-ons such as polish changes and paraffin dips, or even give you a lunch break.

Sure, I’ll Stay Late for You

How many times in the past have you uttered the words, “I’ll stay late for you,” “I’ll come in early,” or “I can squeeze you in”? What we’ve done with this practice is train our clients to think that it’s okay to not pre-book their next appointments. In doing so, a technician can lose six to eight services per year per guest and encourages a terrible habit within their clientele. As a service provider, it’s up to you to teach your clients how to reserve their next visit and to show them how convenient it is to plan ahead.

Jennifer Mastrosimone, also of Jynelle’s Salon Retreat, was on top of this game. “Most of my clients have standing appointments making it easier to plan ahead,” she says. She even has her clients trained to arrive early to choose polishes and settle in before their scheduled visit. This keeps a consistent flow within her day.

What About Retail? How many times have you said, “I don’t have enough time to sell retail”? This is common when a technician is too tightly booked or serving too many customers. When you offer solutions to your clients’ problems by recommending products to help them maintain their services properly, it builds client loyalty. It’s also true that a repeat customer will spend 67% more with you than a first-time customer might. A client who is completely served will more likely remain loyal and try additional services with you, giving you the opportunity to work smarter and not harder.

Some other situations I encountered during my interviews were salons that don’t carry any retail items, and salons that have clients pre-pay for their services when they first sit down at the station. While pre-paying lowers the risk of polish smudges as the client reaches into her purse, it also makes it inconvenient for the client to pay for retail solutions at the end of her service.

By employing a few tricks of the trade, it really is possible to design the schedule of your dreams. By taking the time to analyze your business, diagnose your strengths and weaknesses, and build a game plan, you can determine exactly what you want your career to look like. It’s given me a renewed sense of excitement in my career choice, and I know it will for all of you.

Heather Goodwin has been a top-producing nail technician and makeup artist since 1996. Goodwin is also a certified success coach with Inspiring Champions. She can be reached at (727) 224-0518 or tarpon777@aol.com.

Doing the Math

In order to determine your most profitable services, you need to figure out how much each service is generating on an hourly basis. Since times and fees vary depending on the service, you’ll need to do a little math.

For each service you offer, perform the following calculation:

  • Cost of Service ÷ the number of minutes it takes x 60.

    For example, if a fill takes 45 minutes and you charge $30, your equation would look like this:

  • 30 ÷ 45 x 60 = $40 per hour.

    If a polish change takes 15 minutes and you charge $12, your equation would be:

  • 12 ÷ 15 x 60 = $48 per hour.

    If you are a booth renter or owner, the cost of supplies also affects the relative profitability of your services.

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