Every licensed aesthetician, whether employed by a spa or managing a solo practice, will be confronted with the hard facts about career business. From marketing to banking, inventory control to customer service, and cost management to sales – all will likely require the skin care professional to learn much more than facial or waxing techniques. And while it is not necessary to be a business genius to start and steer a practice, the better professionals understand what is ahead, the sooner they will thrive with it.
The following is a list of key business details to master as soon as possible.
- Define the business! What is it? What customers will it serve? And, where is the best place to establish it? Too many professionals simply find a location and set up a practice without really knowing what it will mean to the local market. Advanced research will pay off well in this area.
- Have some financial backup. A big mistake made by many aestheticians is expecting their profession to deliver a survivable income far earlier than it will. They rely on their work to support them right away and panic or abandon the career when they discover the long wait between starting out and a comfortable checking account.
- Plan to work and work and work – at least in the early months and possibly years. Building a business demands full-time attention and effort. Eighty-plus hour weeks for little or no pay is not uncommon for the new solo aesthetician, while some professionals may see long periods of weak client bookings. No one likes to invest long hours for low returns but, if a professional cannot handle that, this may not be the career for them.
- Price services to survive, not just to sell. The price of what is sold in a business must reflect two important numbers: operating costs and what the professional wants to take home after those costs are met. This means planning ahead – well ahead. Let’s say a professional grossed $100,000 (before taxes) this year and needs to keep half of that for their own living needs. Will their operating costs allow them to do this? This is where volume and pricing come in.
- Understand the meaning of and need for profit margins. This business detail relates to the previous point. How much is brought into a business does not matter most. Rather, it is the difference between what is paid for goods and services sold and what is charged for them that is essential. The difference between those two numbers is margin. Never stray far from that equation.
- Philosophies can be lethal to business. Aestheticians frequently cling to specific or personal values when structuring their practice or spa – organic, vegan, spiritual, and many other perfectly virtuous perspectives. But, since they have to survive on their own earnings, they must be honest with themselves about how big the local market is for that idea. Aesthetics is a niche business as it is, so when a niche is created within a niche, the potential customer base to draw upon is significantly narrowed. It is nice to imagine a certain reality, but safer to go with a known one.
- Beware of partnerships! Those who have ever had a roommate who ate their food, left dirty dishes in the sink, and had to be nagged for the rent check know something of what many business partnerships can become. They begin emotionally and in high spirits until the hard work and tough decisions move into the picture. After that, emotions can sour as the dirty dishes pile up. Try to avoid partnerships if possible.
- Learn to love retail and service sales. Master the art of persuasion and make products and services too attractive to pass up. There is a huge difference between being pushy in sales and describing offerings in an alluring way.
- Do not assume customer loyalty or even their respect, but work hard to earn it and keep it. It is a hard fact to swallow but customers are loyal visit by visit and may leave for seemingly no reason at all. Some will cancel or fail to show up for appointments without so much as a thought to how that affects the spa. Learn to live with it and love clients’ business while the spa has it. Avoid wasting time trying to change reality.
- Know that nothing is predictable in business except unpredictability. If a professional stays in their career long enough, they will see recessions, competition, innovations, changing client markets, and every sort of event that will render business outmoded, inconvenient, or irrelevant. Do not feel obligated to follow every trend, but also recognize that nothing remains the same forever. Keep an eye on the horizon.
New aestheticians have access to many decades of co-professional experience and deeper customer awareness of their services, making the process of beginning a skin care practice less of a wild guess. Take advantage of every learning resource possible but always be wary of becoming another business’s tool instead of an independent success story. Professionals have years to get all of this right but starting out with the above 10 points in mind will make the journey pay off sooner than it otherwise might.
Douglas 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