Often it seems as though there are limitless possibilities to what you can learn, while at the same time you may not be able to find just the right thing for you. When you do, you worry about whether it will be worth the time, effort, and expense. You may also wonder if it really is the right thing for you in the first place.
As aestheticians who use your hands to treat patients on a daily basis, you most likely are kinetic learners — those who learn best through activity and by doing. Pay close attention to your own learning style, however, as many aestheticians also possess a combination of spatial visual, language, and the classic logic styles of learning.
Most often, successful aestheticians focus on learning as much about their actual work as they can. They seek out courses that will teach them about skin physiology, disease pathways, specific skin conditions, the most effective ingredients and ingredient combinations, and advanced treatment options, including the use of medical devices. Through this gained knowledge, they are able to design protocols and daily treatment regimens specific to each patient’s individual skin condition. Typically, you can attend a full-day seminar covering one or more of these topics. Often, you have the opportunity for a general overview or a specific subject during industry trade show workshops.
Our educators also recommend taking classes that support our industry but are not directly related. For instance, a favorite recommendation is a class on nutrition, since it will cover the benefits of vitamins A, C, D, and E, all of which, topically, are important ingredients for skin health.
You can go even further and earn a certification. Options range from programs focused on medical devices or specific products to broader programs from independent associations. Patients will immediately recognize your dedication and ability when they see that you are certified. It also demonstrates your desire to develop an expertise in your field.
Several successful aestheticians credit a mentor with their achievements. They have sought the advice and counsel of someone with far greater experience and knowledge within their own practice to help them advance their skills. Unfortunately, not every aesthetician has this opportunity. Those that are sole practitioners or the most senior member of their team can reach out to others in the industry instead. Make a connection with the educator who gave that talk you absolutely loved at a workshop or network with your peers on the tradeshow floor. You can use social media tools such as Facebook to exchange ideas and interact with others who share your passion for improving your patients’ lives.
If you do not work directly with a physician, establish a relationship with one or more in your area. Spend time with them in their practice observing how they analyze, diagnose, and prescribe. This is an opportunity for you to gain hands-on training in treating more advanced skin conditions. Clinicians who have done this within our own medical center comment at how invaluable the experience was to them. We also have had dermatologists and plastic surgeons express their appreciation for the learning that they have received from aestheticians. You have the same desire to treat as a physician and often you have intuition and stronger connections with patients that can exceed the care a patient currently receives.
Of course, there is more to running a practice than being clinically sound. It is a business as well, and you need those skills to be successful. At the very least, you must have a basic understanding of your profit model. In other words, knowing what generates revenue for you (typically through the services you offer patients and sales of retail products) and where your expenses go (rent, utilities, pay, inventory, etc.). Obviously, the aim is to take in more money than you send back out.
There are other issues as well, such as human resources, facilities management, and marketing, advertising and promotions, just to name a few. While large corporations have entire departments to handle each one of these, you are frequently left to your own devices to get things done without breaking the bank. You will want to know how to manage these essential business functions effectively.
Again, you have similar options as above with workshops, seminars, and mentors. You also have other resources at your disposal. Community colleges and local universities often have non-degree programs targeted to business owners who want to address their own specific needs. Programs usually address entrepreneurship, general management, business writing, and other key topics. Organizations such as your local chamber of commerce can be an excellent resource as well, as their mission is to help businesses thrive. Their meetings, normally a breakfast, lunch, or happy hour, provide a venue for networking as well as presentations ranging from the local economic outlook to tools that help you build your business.
Your clinical education combined with this basic business understanding gives your practice a solid foundation from which to grow. Here your development must start to expand beyond the basics into areas that will drive your business forward. Look for other workshops and seminars that focus on personal selling, overcoming objections, and conflict management. These skills will help you recruit new patients to your practice then deliver excellent customer service to them. If you are looking to improve your presentation and public speaking skills, join a Toastmasters or similar club. You will learn how to present in a variety of situations and receive helpful feedback from other club members. We have had a number of people from our own team who have joined Toastmasters and become confident speakers, regardless of the audience.
Like most small, entrepreneurial organizations you probably do not have the budget to hire an agency, leaving the design and layout of your promotional and advertising materials entirely up to you. Take a class on basic graphic design, using popular tools such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Although you may not become an expert designer, simply having a good baseline can dramatically improve your collateral.
You may want to consider other topics related to improving efficiency in your operations. Such courses might include inventory management, time management, or project management. These are important components to your bottom line, as increased efficiency in any of these areas reduces your costs. For example, by finding the right level of inventory to maintain, you will spend less money keeping inventory in stock. If you can identify activities that take significant time with little benefit to the practice or your patients, then you can spend more time on activities that will generate profit. By learning how to set up a project properly, a marketing campaign for instance, you will spend less time and money during the course of the project because you scoped it correctly in the first place. As with any of your endeavors, bring in a best friend who, even if they do not have formal business training, will likely be able to give you a “gut” reaction and provide feedback on your thinking.
Further development becomes more personal, but that does not mean it cannot have a business application. These are lifelong learning courses, not necessarily associated with any degree programs. These are programs primarily for people who enjoy learning new things. They allow you to explore such talents as creative writing, photography, cooking, backpacking, or any other activity you enjoy doing in your free time.
Through creative writing, you will improve your copywriting for promotional and advertising materials as you learn how to craft a story that resonates with your audience. An exploration of photography, whether it is portraiture, landscapes, or an introduction, will help you take better before-and-after pictures of your patients for demonstrating the dramatic results your clinical expertise delivers for them, because the principles of good photography remain essentially the same. Cooking classes will teach you how to use the senses of smell, taste, and sight (how the food is composed on the plate) to create an experience. This understanding will allow you to create an experience for your patients that focuses on multiple senses at the same time, such as smell, sound, and touch. Backpacking will teach you how to organize your things for maximum space utilization, leading to a clean, organized, uncluttered area.
When it comes to your personal development, the possibilities are, endless. You can study Eastern philosophy, Victorian literature, Renaissance art, or driving a car around a race track. Each will give you a different perspective on life and people. They will offer you a glimpse into others’ world view, which will offer you a deeper understanding of the various patients you will treat.
I highly recommend you explore as many of these suggestions for furthering your professional and personal development as possible. You are surrounded by learning opportunities on a daily basis. It is what many refer to as “street smarts.” It is the everyday encounter with individuals that offers insight into how people react in situations, what concerns them, and what the general feeling is, or “zeitgeist,” in the world. This is a challenging way to learn, since you will be without a guide or instructor to help you interpret and understand what you experience; however, it is that very experience that allows you to grow, to gain a deeper understanding of the world around you, and to relate to your patients on a personal level. The lessons themselves are free (though not without some cost associated with them), but they are the most difficult to learn.
Treating patients goes far beyond understanding their skin and whatever challenges they may face. It includes operating a practice that treats them with dignity and respect, has the right products to address their concerns, and creates an environment that gives them confidence that they will achieve dramatic results. As an aesthetician committed to improving your patients’ lives, you owe it to yourself, your patients, and the community you serve to develop yourself professionally and personally. You will continue to expand your ability to relate to and understand others. I understand that while running a business it is difficult to take time for yourself, but it will pay off if you are deliberate about your learning. When you take care of yourself, you are better able to take care of your family, your patients, and your community. You will see the results in your patients’ skin, how others view you as a professional, and in your practice’s bottom line. You will contribute to the world around you, and we all know that we have much work to do there.
Richard Linder is the CEO of PCA SKIN. Prior to joining the company, he held executive positions at Greenwich Street Partners, the St. Louis Economic Development Council and KPMG in Zurich, Switzerland. Linder’s long-standing interest in the health care field dates back to his studies at Harvard Business School, where he earned his MBA. While there, he was awarded a grant from Harvard University to study the purchasing behaviors and preferences of the aging baby boomers. This study focused specifically on brand recognition of companies that solve health-related issues. Linder also serves on the Board of Directors of the National Holistic Institute.