Marketing on the Cheap: 3 Low or No-Cost Techniques That Produce Clients

Written by Douglas Preston

One of the first questions new aestheticians ask as they set out to attract and build a client following is, “What’s the best way to market my business?” Marketing – that mystifying process of projecting messages designed to appeal to those seeking specialized skin care services and result in an appointment booking – seems simple enough, but how do we know what method of marketing will produce the most new clients and at what cost? How long does it take after launching an advertising campaign before interested prospects begin to respond? And, when they do respond, what’s the most effective way to sell them on an appointment? Then, there is the question of expense. When we don’t have a fat advertising budget, how can we find potential clients without draining the bank?


Seven years ago, I began a new aesthetics practice in northern California. We were just barely emerging from the depths of the great recession and the skin care services market was being hammered by discount programs such as Groupon, Living Social, and others, all weighing serious downward pressure on local facial treatment prices. Knowing that I wanted to serve a higher-end client (this client is always present, even in tight economic periods) and avoid the discounting trap so many professionals were falling into, but also short on marketing money, I devised a plan to promote my practice employing resources I did not need to pay for. I now have a thriving, independent skin care business that requires almost no marketing effort to sustain it beyond word-of-mouth referrals, a website, and a Yelp listing.


In this article, I will share with you the promotional techniques that produced the most new clients at little or no cost. Certain of these methods may challenge some aestheticians to step out of their comfort zones, but the payoff can really prove to be worth it. And, hey, it never hurts to grow a little extra career confidence.



All businesses need new clients and all face the same marketing questions that we do. Few savvy entrepreneurs will pass on an opportunity to net some free advertising if the message and means is keeping in line with their company’s quality and image. I knew several local hair stylists with client lists – appearance-conscious people who were likely to take an interest in aesthetic skin care treatments. Without exactly detailing just how big my client e-mail list was or was not, I offered to promote these stylists’ services in my monthly newsletter if they would do the same for me. If they didn’t produce a newsletter, I would help them create one, even write much of the copy, and include appropriate images from the internet or scan photos of their work. For my own newsletter, I asked each stylist to promote a specialty service to differentiate themselves from the others I planned to promote in future mailings. This reduced concerns of competition from my contacts. They also offered an introductory special exclusive to my clients.


While these campaigns never produced a flood of new business, nor did I expect them to, they did generate a steady trickle of queries and bookings that helped my goal of growing a practice.


This same technique can be offered to massage therapists, nail care professionals, personal trainers, and virtually anyone servicing the health and beauty market. Best of all, it does not cost a thing but time.



This is my absolute favorite and, by far, most productive form of business marketing. Not only is it essentially cost-free, but it is also a method that will pay you to do it. Simply, find a friend or client willing to host a skin care presentation in their home and invite up to six people they know who might like to learn antiaging or acne prevention methods from a true aesthetics professional, instead of a multi-level-marketing salesperson – that’s you. Offer your host a free facial treatment or a gift from your product line. Keep the whole session to about two and a half hours, with the talk no longer than 40 minutes (the boredom threshold), then, conduct one-on-one consultations for each guest once a little wine and cheese has been enjoyed. Be sure to bring a small collection of products to sell to guests post-consultation and present all with your spa brochure and a special incentive for visiting you if they schedule that evening (online scheduling systems are really handy here, but your paper book will do, as well.)


I would earn as much as $1,000 per evening event in product sales, plus typically book two new clients for spa appointments. There really is no better way to promote a skin care business than this.



It’s interesting how this easy and remarkably productive marketing approach is so routinely overlooked. Yes, many skin care professionals do incentivize their clients by offering credits or service discounts when they refer new clients, but that works best for those who are discount motivated. Much of the time, the discount motivation is forgotten in the course of a busy life. In the direct appeal scenario, skin care professionals are tapping into something more meaningful than mere monetary benefits. They are calling on the personal and emotional connection between us and those who truly appreciate our work and the relationship that has developed with us over the course of that work; and this stimulates referral activity. In other words, clients are inspired to refer us to friends and family because they like or even love us. It’s a gift from the heart, not a potential relief in the wallet.


It’s as easy to do as this: “Jenna, may I ask a special favor of you? First, I want to say how much I appreciate your visits; it’s always such a pleasure to have you here. My practice grows because thoughtful customers are kind enough to refer others to it and, if you have friends or colleagues who might enjoy what I do, I’d be honored if you would mention my skin care center to them.” Then, offer some business cards and a nice “thank you” hug (if you communicate on that basis). Research demonstrates that a sincere personal call to action between two people with a strong bond produces a far greater response reward than a generic request or one where financial gain is the primary driver. Not only is it a better way to seek referrals (and an inexpensive one), but it also strengthens the relationship by prompting you to reveal your deeper care for clients. That’s a win-win.


One more thing about marketing – the payoff from any promotional campaign, if there is any, is a slow and patience-testing process that few businesspeople have the cash flow or will to see it work. Think of marketing like a flower seed. You open the ground, drop in a seed, cover it, water, weed, fertilize, and then wait, wait, wait, until, luck permitting, the effort rewards you with the beautiful blossoms you envisioned. The trick is to never stop marketing, so you always have seeds in progress every day you’re in business.



douglas preston 2016Douglas Preston, president of Preston Beauty Professional, has a career that spans 33 years in professional aesthetics, education, and skin care career mentoring. His business articles appear in DERMASCOPE Magazine, Spa Management Journal, and others. He is a past president of Aesthetics International Association and a former committee chairman for The Day Spa Association. Preston has started and operated award-winning day spas, trains spa and skin care professionals internationally, and is a featured speaker at numerous spa and skin care trade events.

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