OK, so you’ve finished beauty school. Maybe you’ve even passed your state board exams and have your nail technician license.
Most cosmetology schools give little beyond the most basic instruction in the finer points of being a nail professional. Their focus, really, is to give graduates enough information to pass their state exams and earn a license — not to help you perfect your sculpting technique or build and keep a clientele. As an aspiring technician, it’s up to you to find experienced people willing to help you learn the ropes.
What you may need is a mentor. But, though some states require continuing education, there are no officially recognized mentoring programs for new licensees, says Kirby Morris, immediate past president of the National Interstate Council of State Boards (NICSB).
“Kind of scary, huh?” Morris says. “The time allotment for schooling in our profession is so small for the things we do. How could a teacher possibly teach someone how to do nails in 100 hours? Those new nail techs, they just have to have that ambition to get out there and find a licensed tech who’s willing to mentor them.”
Sometimes, those ambitious young technicians later complete the circle by mentoring others in turn. When that happens, mentors find they empower others, groom good employees, and increase their long-term income potential.
Mentoring Empowers Everyone
When Michelle Smith got laid off from her job at a computer manufacturer, she looked for a career that would give her freedom and let her empower others. She chose nails, and completed her education in 1999. But like so many new graduates, she lacked salon skills.“Very, very early, I sought out a mentor,” Smith recalls. “I found Rhonda Taylor. She gave me so much advice and great information.”
Smith met Taylor, a nail technician and manufacturer’s educator, at a trade show in Atlanta. The two stayed in touch by telephone, mail, and e-mail.
Smith worked at different salons, eventually got her cosmetology license, and took classes. But she saw the need for mentoring in all areas of the beauty industry.
“Mentoring can make or break a nail tech, and I know first-hand,” Smith says. “That’s why I started my mentoring program.”
In 2001, she founded Beauty Education & Resources, Inc., a professional mentoring service operating out of Raleigh, N.C.
“I started at my house teaching seminars on nail art and acrylic application,” Smith says. “Some people were fresh out of school. Some had been in the industry for a while and wanted the education they needed to go forward.”
She and four other beauty professionals now travel and mentor beauty professionals throughout the mid- and south-Atlantic states.
“In the nail industry, a lot of people have problems and they can’t find anybody who’s qualified to teach them in their area,” Smith explains. “We’ll travel to whatever area they’re in and give them one-on-one training on whatever they need.”
Smith offers help to students, recent graduates, and experienced techs. She’ll come in for one to three days for intensive, hands-on work. Afterward, she checks back in with clients on a regular basis. For one-on-one training, Smith charges from $25 for an hour to $800 for three days. She also offers long-distance mentoring at a nominal fee.
Smith helps with the nuts and bolts, starting with a basic manicure and pedicure, acrylics, nail art, and perfecting one’s technique in each area. She also teaches how to present oneself professionally, upselling and retailing, creating a portfolio, and what products are available. She offers instructional DVDs on all these topics as well.
Part of Smith’s mentoring is inspirational. “I tell new grads, ‘You have to have the willpower inside of you to stay the course. Your success is going to come from you,’” Smith says.
“It all started from my own mentor,” Smith explains. “She helped me and empowered me to do what I wanted to do. That’s why I think the mentoring program is so important. Any kind of mentoring program will help you reach your goals.”
Despite the rewards Smith finds in mentoring, she sometimes feels like a voice crying out in the wilderness.
“Right now we don’t have a lot of people willing to mentor,” Smith says sadly. “Seasoned techs don’t want to share their information. They’re afraid new techs are going to steal their clients. A lot of them say they don’t have the time. But I’m the kind of person who wants to share my information.”
Smith’s next project: to get her mentoring program accredited through the North Carolina Board of Cosmetic Arts, providing statewide standards and recognition for those who complete an accredited program. If she does, it could be the first state-recognized mentoring program in the United States.
Mentoring Grooms Employees
Rhonda Kibuk of Ford City, Pa., graduated from a nail program in 2001 and found herself with nothing but the most basic skills. She knew that getting to the next level was up to her, so she drove to the nearest networking meeting to find experienced techs — five and a half hours away.
“They advised me on technical questions I had, such as ‘Why do my client’s natural nails curl away from the acrylic?’ That was the turning point for me,” Kibuk recalls.
Kibuk also found help on the bulletin boards of beauty websites, in magazines, and at trade shows.
“Mentoring is really needed in Pennsylvania, but there are few techs here who are willing to mentor,” Kibuk says. “They’re afraid you’re going to share secrets or steal clients.”
In 2004 when Kibuk opened The Purple Pinkie Nail Salon, she needed help. She encouraged her cousin, Crystal Corson, to complete a nails course and come on board.
“She was fresh out of school, so I was able to ‘deprogram’ her,” Kibuk laughs.
She sat with Corson and taught her how to hold a file, use a brush, make sure she gets the proper acrylic ratio, and prepare the nails correctly.
“Schools in Pennsylvania don’t allow students to clip the nails,” Kibuk says. “The students have no working knowledge. They basically read the book and take the test.”
Kibuk’s second employee, Kylie Shaffer, “was more challenging,” Kibuk admits. Shaffer had been working in a day spa for three years, but wanted a nails-only environment. So, before Shaffer gave notice at the spa, she started seeing Kibuk on Tuesdays after work for one-on-one mentoring.
“She would bring in friends and do full sets. Then she brought them back to do fills. She didn’t have the opportunity to learn acrylics up to that point, and I wanted her to feel confident in her acrylic skills when she gave notice,” Kibuk says.
That process took about four months. “It was a good investment,” says Kibuk, who does not charge for her assistance.
In both cases, Kibuk says, she offered her new employees a 60% commission from the beginning. “That’s still what they get today.
Their first clients were family. They were more than happy to pay them to basically practice on them,” Kibuk says.
Kibuk has gone on to offer mentoring on Monday evenings to nail students at the local beauty school. So far, she has worked with two graduates, though neither is now at The Purple Pinkie.
Still, Kibuk remains passionate about mentoring. “Somebody was nice enough to do it for me, once I found them five and a half hours away. Now I’m paying that back,” Kibuk says. “We need to share our tips and ticks. This isn’t a secret cult. We’re all in it together.”
Mentoring Expands Income Potential
Jill Wilson became a mentor as a result of her own growth as a nail technician. She had been working at Snips SpaSalon in Bloomington, Minn., when the owners brought in KRS Consulting Group. The Plymouth, Minn., company does one-on-one business mentoring for salon owners and their employees.
“I was an established tech, my times were good, but I was topping out,” Wilson recalls. “Five grand a month was the highest I could get.”
Through her work with KRS, Wilson saw an immediate reward in becoming a mentor: With a pair of helping hands, she could double-book her services and double her receipts to an average of nearly $10,000 monthly.
KRS owner Randy Kunkel eventually asked Wilson to formalize her mentoring program. Wilson now helps salon owners in several states to implement the six-month Nail Associate Program in their own shops. Fees for this typically range from $3,500 to $5,000.
Now a part owner in the salon, Wilson also finds that the mentoring program improves business.
“When a nail tech is fresh out of school, our guests aren’t happy with the service and that employee isn’t confident in her skills. But once they go through this program, that changes,” Wilson says.
Wilson first puts her mentees — she calls them “associates” — to work on models.
“I watch and critique,” Wilson says. “Once I feel comfortable, they start doing some of my services — the pedicure massage or the paraffin dip, for example. We may scrub implements together. They learn computer skills.”
In 2004, Alicia Remme graduated from nail school and started the program. She and Wilson worked side-by-side at a station especially set up for two technicians. The client stayed seated, while Remme and Wilson moved around as needed for the different services.
“I liked doing it,” Remme recalls. “You learn their products and the way they do things. I felt more comfortable working one-on-one with the clients. It wasn’t so nerve-wracking, being thrown out on the floor.”
Remme also learned to mimic Wilson’s language when discussing service upgrades and other business skills. “The associate learns how to set up for additional services prior to the appointment so we’re ready to upgrade the service,” Wilson says. “She can pre-book my guest before she leaves and set up retail products at the front counter. It becomes normal because she sees me do it every day. It becomes a culture.”
Associates earn an hourly wage. When they graduate, they get a job offer that sketches out a 10-year career path; raises are tied to meeting performance goals.
Because Remme learned both business and technical skills, she was able to grow her clientele and service totals from $1,000 the first month after completing the program to $4,800 after just six months. After eight months, Remme received a promotion and a raise.
Of Wilson’s seven graduates in the past five years, most remain at the salon. Those who did not stay left for reasons unrelated to the business, she says.
“If you want to build a nail department, having an associate program is a great way to do it because you grow your own people,” Wilson says.
Eight Reasons to Become a Mentor
• Double your income with an extra pair of hands
• Train employees in your technique
• Help new employees feel comfortable quickly
• Create uniformity of service in your salon
• Improve customer satisfaction with the work of new licensees
• Improve employee retention
• Grow your salon
• Gain the satisfaction of passing on what you know
Find a Mentor: It’s Up To You!
Finding a mentor will take work and creativity on your part. Keep your vision and be persistent! Here are some suggestions:
• Contact your state board and ask if they know of anyone with a mentoring program, or someone willing to take on a new licensee.
• Contact nail product manufacturers to find out about educators in your area; they may have contacts or even be willing to work with you themselves.
• Find people to network with: Call your local cosmetology association, check on beauty and nail websites and chat rooms, talk to manufacturers’ educators, read magazines, go to trade shows, and attend continuing education courses.
• When you talk to a prospective mentor, offer a commitment to stick with the salon for a certain number of years after you complete your training. That will ease concerns about you stealing your mentor’s clientele.
• Visit BeautyTech.com’s mentor database at www.beautytech.com/mentordb.
Trina Kleist is a freelance writer based in Grass Valley, Calif.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.