Sunday, 11 May 2014

My Experience: Building A Client Base

I want to tell you that when announced that I'd qualified as a nail technician, my business was hugely successful straight off, but that would be a massive lie.

I'm writing today's blog post in an incredibly frank manner because I truly do know how hard it is to build up a client base.  I hope you appreciate my honesty and that it helps you if you're new to the industry or you're struggling to bring in new clients.  I think that it's incredibly difficult (and pretty rare) to be brutually honest with how slow business is for fear of scaring off the clients that you do have, so here I am telling you my story.

Let's start off with my first honest statement... I thought that when I announced to the world that I was qualified, everyone loves getting their nail done so I would be instantly busy.  I figured that old work colleagues from the 7 year call centre job I was in would flock to me (let's just say I'm pretty well known locally as I worked there for so long and I'm somewhat of a character.)  I also thought friends and family would be guaranteed to book and support me.  All of which didn't happen.

Above is my typical week when I started.  Sarah was the girl I worked with so I actually only had two real appointments, making me a grand total of £33 for a whole week.

Now one thing I have to mention at this point is that I did not (and still don't) mix my actual business with LiverpoolLashes and none of my clients knew what I did at that time.  I say this because a lot of my friends encouraged me to tell people 'who I was' (pfft, I'm no one special but hopefully you get me!)  One friend is still keen and keeps saying 'Can I say I get my nails done by LiverpoolLashes and tell my friends to look you up on You Tube?' and I tell her not to.  If I'd of promoted myself this way then things almost certainly would have been different but it's just not me to be like that.  I wanted to say this to you so that you know that my client base is built with no other assistance and is exactly the same circumstances as you're probably in.

On a side note though, I have had more subscribers than I can count say that they would be willing to travel to have their nails done by me.    It's lovely that people think I'm worth travelling for but I won't allow this as I now work from home, it's a complete security risk for me but I'll get into my current situation in a little bit.

So let's get back to June 2011, I left my call centre job with a qualification but not a single hours experience of working in a salon.  The one thing I did have in epic proportions was determination.  Most people in the industry say that you can't do this job (or hairdressing) without experience being the junior, etc and working your way up.  In most cases this is true and I can bet that it's by far the easier route but it wasn't an option for me (I will go over what I did to try and give myself as much knowledge as I possibly could to balance my lack of experience in another post.)  At this point I was 26, married and thankfully my husband has a decent job that could cover the mortgage and bills at a push.  It also required a major lifestyle change (I could wave goodbye to my three/four holidays a year that I was used to for a while.)

I'd saved up around £3,500 before I left my full time job but obviously the stock cost me a small fortune and this money was my back up.  I was prepared for a low wage for a couple of months... I thought.

My room above the hairdressers.  I decorated this all myself.

I found myself a small room that was available to rent for £60 above a hairdressers.  I shared the floor with another self employed therapist which all of my friends thought was madness because I think they had visions of cat fights on the floor when a new client entered the salon.  I can tell you that this didn't happen for numerous reasons, the first being that we brought in our own clients and the second being that the location was not it's best so we very rarely got a walk-in.  Also when they did, it was more likely that they wanted a service that at that point, I wasn't trained in.

Let's get into the advertising side of things and what I chose to do.  The first thing I did was to set up a website.  Despite my online presence, when it comes to those magic codes (HTML) that you see on websites and stuff, I haven't got a clue.  I set my website up with Vistaprint which was literally a few pounds each month.  Now I hear from my knowledgeable friend Steve at GWiz that this isn't always the best idea as if you then want to move your domain (your internet address) elsewhere, they can be a pain.  For me though I was happy with my set up of it and it remained with Vistaprint.  It was really easy to use, literally like creating a Microsoft Word document and you just typed in the boxes and added images.  

Now, no matter how fancy your website is, if it doesn't come up on Google then there really is no point you having it.  The first thing that I recommend you do is to get your business onto Google Places.  This means that when your potential client types in 'Nails, Mossley Hill Liverpool' for example, then your business will show up on the map on Google (as above shows.)  The clients can then hover the cursor over the location for more information.  From memory, I think that Google posts a letter with a code to your business address for you to then type into their website to confirm you are where you say you are and then it's on there!  Plus it's free!

The next thing I did was to sign up for Google Adwords.  This allows you to chose certain words or phrases so that when your potential client types them in, your ad will appear.  I used to pay around £18 a month for the words 'Shellac' and my various local areas so that they could then visit my website.  I have to say, although it is another added cost per month, whenever I got a new client booking I always asked them where they had been referred from and almost 90% of it was my website.  It did bring me the highest amount of success with new clients.

Next up, get yourself on  This was something I couldn't do as they only allow a maximum of two business to register at each address.  As the hairdressers and the therapist I shared with had beaten me to it, I was unable to add myself but I believe it to definitely help.

Let me also tell you about some things that completely failed for me too.  It's not to say they would fail for you but it's worth mentioning.  First was a 150 leaflet drop that we did in our local area with a special offer on Shellac.  This was complete flop and I didn't get a single person from it.  I hear that statistically it's something like only 3 out of a 100 that even get looked at before they hit the bottom of the bin.

The second one was a £35 lesson.  I decided to pay for a box style advertisement in my local paper when my business was probably around 8 weeks old.  Let me tell you, when you're sometimes not even earning the £60 to cover your rent for the week, £35 doesn't get you very much in terms of advertising but equally, its a small fortune to you.  So I spent the morning deciding on my words and trying to keep them within the limited amount of characters available to me for my budget.  I then happily drove to the salon where the girl I shared the floor with laughed and wished me 'good luck' after I had told her what I'd done.  Totally confused, I asked her why and she said that she did 'all that' when she started out and didn't get a single response.  Since what's done was done, I just hoped it would prove her wrong but you've probably guessed at this point that I didn't get a single phone call, haven't you?  To make it worse, my advert was actually the only one to feature in the 'beauty' category that week so it's not like it was lost amongst many others!

If you've not yet heard of Salon Geek, it's a professional forum that you definitely need to check out.  Particularly, this is an amazing post filled with literally hundreds of ideas on how to promote your business.  I feel sure that if you sit down and read through the thread, you will then be inspired to take your business to the next level.

One thing I want to say to you is to try and not be too offended if you have friends or family that won't come to you.  What you have to remind yourself is that this industry is very much built on reputation alone.  Those women have probably been going to a certain place for many years and are loyal to them.  Perhaps they like the therapists work, their price and it's just how it works.  I always told myself that I will reap the rewards of the loyalty clients have when I am busy too.  If people were willing to switch therapists quickly like that then you wouldn't even ever have a regular client base.  In some respects, it's best to not have many friends and family as clients as it can often be abused (they don't turn up, don't want to pay a proper price, etc) so it might actually do you a favour in the long run.

Although I have learnt to accept this, there's nothing to stop you giving everyone that you know a gentle reminder of what you do.  I did this unintentionally at first because I created a 'Nail Art' album on my personal Facebook page, just for fun to show friends and family.  I soon realised that the occasional upload of an interesting set of nail was getting me multiple private messages to book appointments, so I have carried on doing it.  I've even found ladies who I wouldn't have ever thought would book with me have booked, based on my photos.  I still add photos to this album and almost always get at least one booking off it.


I'll finish with this, don't give up.  Too many businesses fold within the first few years because they're not mad busy.  A year/two years/three years  sounds like a long time so they think that it will never improve.  It's a really tough time when some weeks, you may be paying out for overheads out of your own pocket.  Perhaps you haven't earned enough to cover the costs, let alone pay yourself a wage too.  It's stressful, you may even start considering that you've made a mistake but only the determined will make it through.  Keep looking at your previous months appointments.  If you've been open longer than a year, look at the same month last year and count the amount of appointments you had.  I can definitely see a huge difference year to year.

My biggest advice is always appear busy - always, always, ALWAYS.  If a client phones for an appointment, they will assume you're busy and maybe ask what you have available.  If you tell them that you have every day and every time available then it's all going to look suspicious.  It might even make them question if you're very good at what you do.  You want to sound helpful so ask them what day they'd prefer and tell them 'you'll see what you can do.'  My Mum laughed at me once as she was sat watching me on a phone call, I told the lady to bear with me and sat with my empty appointment book for a minute moving pages back and forth noisily, then I eventually named a specific time.  I'm not saying to be deceitful, I just mean that you need to fake it until you make it.  


I suppose you'd like to know where I am with my business now, three years on?  I left my room after a year, for many reasons.  Firstly, I'd outgrown it as I was then trained for beauty and had no space for a massage bed.  Secondly the location wasn't right and thirdly the £60 rent was still meaning that I was earning very little (if anything) as any left over money went to building my supplies to ensure that my clients had choice.  After looking into renting a small place myself, I then decided to bring my business to home.  I had spoken to my clients at this point and they told me that they were happy to come to my home instead.  I was fortunate enough to know someone who builds structures as a business.  I designed a log cabin style summerhouse and he literally built it to my specification.  When I moved, I made the decision to close my website and stop all advertising.  I now work on a recommendation basis only because I didn't want strangers in my home.  Another key factor in me stopping advertising was because I didn't want my business to grow to the point where as had no time to balance my online presence with it.  As it is at this very point, I would quite happily not accept many more clients as it's becoming a little bit of a struggle to continue juggling appointments, filming my tutorials, running this daily blog and everything that goes hand in hand with that whilst also attend college two evenings a week - but I wouldn't have it any other way!

If you take nothing else from this post then take this from it, make sure quitting is not an option.  I didn't have alternative plan, it had to work.

I'm going to talk about training, prices, my personal policies and other thoughts in different posts as this one as has turned into a small book!  Keep your eyes peeled for those.  Until then, I truly hope that you have found this post useful.

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  1. Inspirational read! Thankyou, it's such a relief to know we are all in the same boat x x

  2. This is wonderful inspirational advice when i need it most. Thank you! Having just relocated from essex to manchester, having closed the doors of my essex business after 6 very successful years, i hadnt anticipated just how hard it would be to break into the manchester market! I think i was very lucky and in the right place at the right time before, and it's been a shock to find how slowly things are building in my first two months of opening. Its great to know im not alone and the advice in the article is awesome. Youve also reminded me that NEVER GIVE UP is the most important thing! xx

  3. I am so glad I have found you!! Brilliant read, just what I needed, 2 months in to my mobile Shellac business. x

  4. Hello thankyou for this interesting read, i am trained in massage therapies and have now taken extra training in facial,and waxing to try and add more bread and butter items. I am currently renting a room on a daily basis and want to do some after work appointments if i can from my own home


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