Nail salons on every corner. Salon prices going nowhere. Competition getting fierce. Supply costs are a constant pressure. What’s a nail technician to do to earn a little more money these days? NAILS talked to some successful nail professionals and considered their advice in compiling these 10 ways to increase your income. They might not all work for you, but there’s sure to be something here to help you fatten your paycheck.

The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to work longer hours; the trick is to make the hours you do work more productive. Sometimes this means making better use of what you’ve got. Other times, it’s putting together several small resources to create a giant reward. Farther away, it means more money for you.

1. Raise Your Prices. It’s your most obvious option, but likely one of the hardest to do. But unless your prices keep pace with your costs, your growing experience, and inflation, you’re going to be losing financial ground. According to the NAILS 1994 Fact Book, service prices have barely increased in five years. Many nail technicians and salon owners are hesitant to raise prices, in fear of driving away customers. To determine whether your services are priced appropriately, consider these questions: Do your current rates cover your supplies, equipment, and labor costs? Do they provide an adequate profit margin that gives you an opportunity to earn a fair living? Do they reflect your talent, experience, education, and the demand for your services? And do they provide enough capital for you to expand your business? An answer of “no” to any one of these questions should cause you to consider raising your prices. For example, if you have so many referrals that you have to turn business away, the law of supply and demand says that the high demand for your work will allow you to raise your prices to the point where you will have lower clients, but they will pay higher prices. The idea is to raise your prices just enough that you weed out those clients who can’t or won’t pay you what you are worth.

And how do you raise your prices? Bite the bullet, just do it, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised. Jesse Briggs, co-owner of Yellow Strawberry Global Salons, says, “You have to take a stand. Be willing to accept a loss of business because over time you’ll get it back three times over.”

Briggs raised his prices in June of this year. He notified his clients well in advance by posting an announcement at the front desk. He noted that although some business was lost, many clients accepted the increase, telling him his talent is worth the extra money. Your own announcement may read something like Applause Hair Studio’s in Anaheim. Calif., “Due to an increase in product costs, we have had to adjust the price of our services.” Clients’ reaction? “We haven’t had any complaints,” reports the salon owner.

2. Offer More Services. In an era where one-stop shopping is a big winner, you can make more money by giving your clients more services to choose from. What services are in demand that you don’t offer now? Do a survey of your existing clients to find out what new services they would like to see you add.

Keep in mind a few key considerations when expanding your services. You can add an entirely new line of services — say, hair care — but that will require an investment in equipment, personnel, and training. If you can’t afford to take that step, you can still expand your services simply by learning a new nail technique. If you don’t offer wraps, for example, sign up for a class and learn to do them.

Cindy DiBrino, a nail technician at Westside Salon in Beaverton, Ore., added gels and her profits soared. “I found a gel system with pink and white gels for my clients, all of whom love French manicures. I found that it saved time, brought me more clients, and tripled my business in three to four months,” she says.

You may need to invest some time and money to learn new skills. Can you afford the investment? This is the time for cost/benefit analysis. In other words, will the time and money you spend to educate yourself (and possibly others in your salon), as well as to stock the equipment and supplies, be returned to you with an acceptable profit?

Not ready for big changes? Ease your way into expansion by making some small changes first. You may not consider yourself an artist, but couldn’t you follow the simple steps we outline in “Nail Art How-To” every month and add a few dollars to your service tickets through nail art? What about offering paraffin dips or reflexology?

3. Start Retailing. This should be a piece of cake. A pretty nail polish always needs a matching lipstick, and clients always need hand lotion.

Maybe you have noticed that your clients already have product preferences. If so, retailing offers the opportunity to capitalize on these preferences.

Laurie Tedesco, owner of Les Mains Jolies in Greenwich, Conn., began retailing Chanel nail polishes after noticing many of her clients brought in their own Chanel polish. She investigated the line and decided to add Chanel polish as a retail line, even though it was not a professional-only brand. The results? “Sales took off right away. There was no hesitation from my clients to buy,” says Tedesco.

According to the 1994 NAILS Fact Book, nail technicians who earn a commission on their retail sales add an extra $75 to their monthly income.

Just as if you were planning to offer a new service, the question of whether selling retail is right for you needs an educated answer. Make sure the products you plan to offer are well-suited to your clientele. Work with your distributor to develop a retail line, pricing strategies, and display options. Many distributors and manufacturers offer displays and other sales aids to salons willing to make a commitment to retail. Tedesco, for example, receives free display cards and press kits for advertising.

4. Visit Your Accountant. One way of putting more money in your pocket is to control what goes out of it. Work with your accountant to get your finances in order and to ensure that you are getting every tax deduction you are allowed. If you don’t have an accountant, consider getting one.

Besides preparing your tax return, an accountant can offer a lot of money-saving advice and suggest budgeting systems for you. You can get help with business planning, loan applications, and setting up an accounting system. Taking care of things like these can save you quite a bit of money, says Patricia Bell Harik, tax supervisor at Zdonek and Wolowicz Accountancy Corporation in Torrance, Calif. “An accounting system is especially important because it keeps your paperwork in order. If you take care of paperwork monthly then you won’t have to spend hundreds of dollars in accounting fees to have me do the math for you at the end of the year.”

A common problem faced by many businesses is missed opportunities due to poor tax planning. Your accountant can help you with this, too.

5. Improve Time Management. Time is one of your most important resources, so it pays to use it wisely. Like many professions, nail care means being harnessed to the clock. The variable is the number of clients that fit into the hours you invest. When you work efficiently, you can see more clients and increase your profitability. But good time management doesn’t mean doing everything faster- it means doing things faster and more efficiently. It means organizing the way you do things, the way you think about work, or possibly the order in which you do things. By making just a few easy changes in your work habits, you may find that the amount of work you can do increases. Paula Gilimore, owner of Tips Nail Industry Solutions and a columnist for NAILS Magazine, suggests appraising what just 15 minutes of time in your salon is worth. Gilmore explains that if 15 minutes is worth $5, and if you waste time five times daily by, for instance, scheduling a 1½ hour appointment right in the middle of a two-hour block, by the end of the week you will have $125 in lost income. By appreciating the value of even small units of time and thinking ahead when scheduling appointments, Gilmore says, you may see more money come your way.

There are hundreds of best-sellers on time management and organization. Take a look at The One-Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. They have put together a concise, easy-to-read handbook on organizing your time in the most efficient way so you can get more things accomplished.

A great book on how to arrange your business priorities and strategies is Thriving on Chaos by Tom Peters. It specifically addresses business management issues and is as informative as it is motivational. This is better suited for the salon owner or owner-to-be.

6. Use an Assistant. Using an assistant can help you expand your business and provide better service to your current clients. Properly scheduled, an assistant program will allow you to book an extra client every hour, effectively doubling your business without doubling your expenses.

Briggs insists that using assistants gives him a financial edge. “I use assistants, and I can make more in one day with them than I can in a week without them,” he says. He uses assistants to greet clients, show them to their stations, and bring them refreshments. His assistants eventually “graduate” to doing more primary services. “I think hands-on experience is where the talent is developed in a nail technician,” Briggs says.

The extra business you can book will usually pay all of the assistant’s wages. Briggs pays his assistants no more than $70 per day, but what they make in tips could potentially be twice that amount. “I have people waiting to get an assistant’s position at our salons. Word-of-mouth brings nail course graduates here because they hear about what kind of tips they can earn,” Briggs says.

7. Reduce Expenses. Making the most of what you’ve got means monitoring your product usage, controlling your inventory, eliminating waste, and buying in bulk.

There are little things you can do to keep product expenses in line, like recapping liquids when they are not being used. Put only the amount of product you need in your dappen dish because any extra will have to be disposed of. Same goes for nail polish — why waste money by letting polish dry up when all it takes is a few seconds to replace a cap?

Eliminate waste even further by regularly cleaning your stock room. A sloppy stock room will only get sloppier. When supplies are misplaced they are hard to find, and when they’re hard to find, you may mistakenly buy more.

When you do buy product, order in bulk to reduce your costs. Even independent contractors can take advantage of bulk ordering discounts by going in on an order with other independent contractors. Some distributors offer discounts for cash or credit-card payments. Investigate all money-saving payment options.

8. Reactivate Old Clients. Get clients you haven’t seen for a while to come back to your salon.

Assuming a client hasn’t left because she was dissatisfied with your work, it usually isn’t as difficult (or expensive) to reactivate an old client as it is to find a new client.

If you keep a database of all your clients, go through it for those you haven’t seen in at least three months. There are lots of promotional ideas you can use to get these former clients in again. For example, you can send them a discount coupon as a “welcome back” gift. Amy Forster at Stylette Salon in Portland, Ore., sends fliers to clients she hasn’t heard from in a while. “Eventually they do come back,” she says. A salon newsletter detailing all the services you have added since her last visit, maybe with a handwritten note and a discount coupon inviting her back, may do the trick.

9. Eliminate No-Shows. No-show means no money. Get your clients to either keep their appointments or make room for some by confirming their appointment the day before. (This would be a great way to use an assistant.) Clients do forget appointments, and they do forget to cancel. You may find that a quick courtesy call the day before will help you keep your salon full of clients.

Brenda Choike, owner of the Nail Place & Boutique in Borneo, Mich., has a couple of ways she deals with no-shows. With new clients, she confronts them right away. “I don’t let them get away with it. I tell them that someone was waiting for her for an hour, hour and a half, and that I just can’t have that.” She is, however, more subtle with clients who have been coming to her salon for a while. “If they are more than 10 minutes late, I give them a call at home. I say something like ‘Oh, I was worried about you; I thought something might be wrong.’ That turns it around on them — they are pretty embarrassed, it makes them feel guilty, and it usually never happens again,” Choike says.

Gilmore suggests keeping track of chronic no-shows and having them pay in advance for services. “For us (nail technicians and salon owners), what we are selling is our time, and we can’t afford to have chronic no-shows wasting it,” Gilmore says.

Another trick is to use client appointment reminder cards. They can look just like your business card or they can be combined with your card. Leave spaces for the date and time of the next appointment, as well as the nail technician’s name.

10. Continue Your Education. Time and time again, it has been shown that advanced education is the path to increased income, and it is certainly true for nail technicians. According to NAILS’ 1994 Compensation Survey the average weekly income (excluding retail income) for a nail technician who attended three to five classes per year was $55.88 higher than a nail technician who took fewer than three classes. That survey also showed that the nail technician who took more than six classes earned $138.82 more than the one who took less than three classes. You have nothing to lose by continuing your education, which, by the way, is usually tax-deductible (see point #4).

The nail industry abounds with specialized advanced education, but don’t limit yourself to just beauty education. Your community college probably has accounting or management courses that will teach you a lot about how to make your business more successful. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is in the phone book under “United States Government Offices”; it offers educational services to business owners free of charge. It has management training workshops to teach you how to keep your business successful. SBA also sponsors the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which offers free counseling and can give you all kinds of information, ranging from tax issues to legal matters.

Another great resource is your public library. Do you like the suggestion to use promotional gimmicks to reactivate old clients, but you’re not quite sure what would work best for you? Spend a little time at the library and you will find more information on marketing and promotions than you could ever use.

Although our tips are designed to help you earn more money quickly, your income won’t skyrocket overnight. The most important thing (and probably the hardest) is to be patient. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see results right away. Have faith and you will be duly rewarded.

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