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But Seriously ... Are You a Professional?

Monica Villar September 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
woman getting facial mask treatment

It is a wonderful plan … attend esthetic school, get your license and open your own business. Who wouldn’t want a job where you can choose your own hours and make a lot of money doing something you love? Unfortunately, this method of opening a business doesn’t always work in reality, and many estheticians find themselves ill-equipped to take on the task. Although most schools are good at teaching the basic skin care knowledge required to pass the state test, fewer provide the skills needed for building relationships with clients and even fewer provide the business training necessary to open a spa. After all, the business of skin care consists of much more than simply caring for the skin.

The successful esthetician who has a lucrative income and a high client retention rate did not achieve these by luck. It is difficult enough to reach this pivotal point in an esthetic career, but now, with the challenge of a difficult economy, it can be even worse. If you are a single esthetician or run a small business that is not experiencing the successes you anticipated at the onset of your career, there is a chance that your problems are not related to the economy. Before you sell your equipment and start looking for a new job, however, now may be the time for you to do an analysis of your business to determine what you need to change. Evaluate your commitment to success, and decide if you are willing and able to make the necessary adjustments to treat your business like a business. You can start this examination by considering the following common sense tips for building a serious spa.

1. Take yourself seriously

How can anyone else take your business seriously if you don’t? Have you obtained all of your necessary city and state licenses? Have you established a business plan on paper that includes your vision? Are the decisions you are making—from the name of your business to its décor and marketing—reflecting your vision? Have you established a separate bank account for your business? It is also important that you have the capability to accept credit cards. With more and more clients choosing not to use personal checks, credit and debit cards have become the top method of payment, so without this ability, you could lose sales. Speak with a representative at your bank who can help you find the most efficient way to make this part of your business.

It is also important to meet with a certified public accountant (CPA) when starting a new business or reviewing your existing one. This simple step will go a long way when claiming on your taxes that yours is a legitimate business instead of a hobby. In addition, a CPA will help you understand matters such as sales tax, employee tax, quarterly returns and appropriate deductions.

It is also important to decide the type of business you want to be and the clients you want to attract. One of the worst things you can do when opening or re-evaluating a current business is to spread yourself too thin. As you grow, you can expand, but you have to start somewhere. Do you want to focus on teens with acne, men’s skin care or aging skin? Making this determination early will not only help you target your marketing dollars in one direction, but also will allow you to eliminate the need to have excessive inventory.

Once you have established your focus and position, write it down and put it in a place where you will see it every day. Do not panic and compromise your standards, or start discounting all of your prices and buying every treatment on the market in a desperate attempt to make money.

2. Answer the phone

It is hard to imagine any type of new business, from a medical office to a fast food restaurant, that would ever consider opening its doors without a telephone. Even with all of the advancements in today’s technology, it is still via telephone that most clients contact a spa. Ultimately, the ideal scenario for any business is not only to have a receptionist available during business hours, but also to employ the right receptionist.

Receptionists set the mood of the business. How they answer the phone, provide critical information, relay messages and maintain a positive atmosphere within the environment will play a critical part in your business’ success. Therefore, a spa owner should take care when selecting the appropriate candidate, and treat the position with the importance that it deserves. If, however, you are unable to have someone else answer the phone for you, consider the following suggestions for making it easier for clients to reach you.

Make sure your voice mail reflects the name of your business. Some of the worst examples of poor voice mail include businesses that use a nickname, a family phone or, worst case scenario, spas that don’t change the automated voice mail that only repeats the phone number in a robotic voice. In any of these cases, there is nothing on the message that tells clients they have reached the intended recipient.

Do not give too much information in your voice mail message. Callers may get tired of waiting and hang up. The name of your business, operating hours and physical address are the most important pieces of information you should supply. Don’t play music for several seconds before the message begins—this can also be time-consuming for the caller.

Always return calls in a timely manner. If you do not have a receptionist, consider allowing a little more time in between clients to check your voice mail and return calls.

3. Walk the walk

The manner in which many estheticians arrive to interact with their peers at professional events is astounding. It is interesting that some estheticians refer to themselves as professionals, yet if you compare many of the attendees at esthetic conferences to their counterparts behind cosmetic counters at department stores, it is obvious the latter has a better understanding of customer perception.

Networking is an important part of building your business. There are probably many opportunities in your community to join organizations and meet potential clients. Looking the part of the professional in your dress, hair and makeup will create a higher level of credibility. You will find that more people will inquire about your occupation when you dress professionally.

4. Tell people what you do

An instructor recently asked a class of 40 estheticians for their business cards. Out of the 40, 21 had business cards—23 if you count the two people who tore off a small sheet of paper and wrote their names on it. From these, seven had been altered or scratched through with new information. Not only is it important to have business cards, but it is just as crucial to keep them updated and hand them out. Challenge yourself to dispense at least one business card per day to a prospect.

5. Stay in school

If you are going to set yourself apart as a skin care professional and compete with the cosmetic counters, you are going to have to constantly educate yourself. In recent years, the lines between professional and mass market skin care lines have become blurred. Companies that were previously defined as mass market are now marketing themselves more scientifically, while those that used to be considered professional-only are found in department and drug stores.

With this new emergence also comes a greater focus on educating the individuals who sell products. If you can’t explain to your clients the differences or don’t understand how the ingredients you use in your treatments work, you will not be taken seriously. The other benefit of education is that it gives you the opportunity to step away from the familiarity of your business and network with your peers. It is also important to take that commitment to the most professional level. Arrive on time to any class to ensure that you are seated and ready for the presentation to begin. It is very disruptive for both the educator and the other students to have people come in late. Full commitment also means that you are prepared to spend the time without your cell phone. Make sure it is turned off and put away during the class. Finally, arrive prepared to learn. Whether the course was your own choice or required by an employer or supplier, there is always something you can learn. Bring paper and a writing utensil to ensure you take information back to your business.

6. If you don’t have it, you can’t sell it

Make sure you have inventory to accommodate your clients. It is not required that you have a dozen or more pieces of each item, but make sure to have what clients needs when they need it. This will go a long way in preventing them from looking elsewhere. Many product manufacturers offer incentives with higher purchasing. Spreading yourself among too many suppliers will not only limit the benefits, but will also increase your costs in shipping and slow down your turnover rate.

7. Be happy

There is one critical component in your business that is reflected in everything you do. It plays a role in your relationships with your boss, staff, fellow employees and clients. It is something that cannot be purchased and cannot be disguised—it is your passion. You can pretend not to be tired, you can take medication for a cold, you can eat if you are hungry, but there is no cure for lack of heart. Without it, you will lose focus, alienate those around you and damage your business.

There are many jobs that can be performed successfully without passion, but unfortunately, esthetics is not one of them. A successful esthetician has the ability to create a relationship with clients that extends beyond the boundaries of a typical business acquaintance. Passion provides the drive to get to work early, even if an appointment is not scheduled. Passion makes you want to tell everyone you meet about your spa and what you do. It makes you look at the clock at the end of the day in disbelief and with a tinge of sadness that the day is done. With passion, you are whole, and without it, you are flat.

If you find yourself in the situation where you dread going to work, feel a sense of relief when a client cancels an appointment or have no desire to attend a training course or trade show, it may be time to recharge your battery. I like to refer to it as “finding your silly.”

Sometimes when your job or personal life does not seem to be meeting your expectations, you may have a tendency to blame others, or, in the current situation, the economy. It may be time to change the channel from CNN to Comedy Central; rather than rearranging furniture on a rainy day, take a walk; instead of sleeping late, get up and exercise. One of the best ways to find your silly is to spend the day with children, living by their rules.

Make a commitment

Making a commitment to your business can be the difference between being successful or not. It means devoting time—even unpaid time—to promote yourself. It means constantly looking at what you are doing and finding ways to do it better. A personal mentor says, “If you want to be successful, you have to inconvenience yourself.” And that’s advice you can take to the bank—literally.

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