The practical guide to starting an esthetics business
How I quit my spa job and started a successful solo esthetician career
Thirteen years ago, I graduated from esthetics school. I immediately went to work for a day spa that offered me a job. I was so pumped up and excited that I didn’t even take one day off to relax between school and my new job.
After the first year, I realized that I was in this for a career. But the rest of the estheticians there were in it for something to do until they decided what they wanted to take in college.
Because this was my “forever” career, I worked hard. It took all kinds of continuing education and courses (on my own time and paid for with my own money. ) I was the top esthetician at the spa. I made the most sales, was regularly booked, and my clients spent the most money.
The owners treated me like a money maker. I was a valuable employee, and they saw me (and treated) as a revenue source. It’s hurt.
Many of my clients started asking if I was going to open my spa. After the years of working with the other staff, I realized that I would never want to work for or manage anyone ever. I wanted to become a self-employed solo esthetician.
I was a single mom. I didn’t have the luxury to give 2 weeks notice and start my own business from scratch, so I needed to make a plan.
Over a period of 6 months, and with my boyfriend and family’s help, I set my goal to become self-employed. I need to be successful right from day one, so I had to put together a strategy.
After 6 months of planning, an opportunity to rent a room at a hair salon came open, and I took it. I was ready. Within a couple of months, I made more than what I was making at the day spa.
The hair salon was fine but I wanted even more control so my boyfriend and I decided to buy a house. After a long search, we found the perfect house that I was able to start my home-based business in a separate room.
After many years of helping my friends start their own businesses, I decided to write this blog post: The practical guide to starting an esthetics business. I have had a lot of success in my business and my hope is that with the help of this blog post your will too!
Why you need to read this blog post
This blog post will help you with your journey to self-employment freedom. I wrote it to help you succeed at self-employment, whether it be in a room rent situation or work from home situation.
What is in this blog post
You will learn tricks, tools and get other resources to help you start your esthetics or spa business from scratch or move from a current spa or salon job and transition to working for yourself.
Why do you want to leave your job now?
Remember when you went to beauty or spa school? Your teachers and peers filled your head with all the fantastic things you could do when you launched your career. But after working in your new spa job, you discovered there were a lot of things that no one ever told you about.
Wages can be terrible, cattiness among employees can drive you nuts, and you have no control over your schedule. If you want to be in control of every single aspect of your job, then continue reading this post.
What to do if you are quitting a job
If you are working at another spa or salon you will need to be careful about how and when you decide to give notice to your employer. You should keep quiet about your plans to start your own business.
Your current employers might not want to keep you around if they find out that you are planning to leave. Read through this blog post to learn what you should have in place before you quit.
How to start a spa or salon solo business if you are a new graduate
If you are in the middle of your beauty school training, you’ll find this blog post helpful. It will give you an extensive list of what you need to do before starting your business.
*Tip– If you are still in school, check out our blog post on study guides!
How to start your new business from scratch
1. Does your contract stop you from working in a certain region?
Check your employee contract. There may be a clause stating that you can only work in some regions of the city for a certain amount of time. Many contracts say that you have to work a distance of over 2 miles away from your current employer for 2 years. If if you have one of these clauses, you need to consult with a lawyer or check with your local labour standards to see if this will hold up.
2. Find a location where you will be working.
•Do you want to be home-based? Working from home is twice as hard as going to a separate building to work. Yes, it is nice to make your hours, but it’s not nice scraping ice off the sidewalk in -40 weather.
•Do you want to rent space out of a salon or spa? You will get some of the benefits of being self-employed but will have a few things to take into consideration like shared laundry, opening hours etc.
Click for a handy start-up planner
3. Make up a list of everything you will need to start out
List all the physical products you will need: implements, linens, cleaning and sanitizing supplies. Think carefully and include EVERYTHING.
•Common start-up items are:
Licenses and permits
Branding and Logo Design
Search for some of the more essential items you may need, online or second-hand, at places such as auctions or closing down sales. Keep your eyes open and try to take advantage of cost savings wherever you may find them.
*TIP:This is a list of some of the essential items you need to start your business in the esthetics and spa industry.
•Make sure you always get receipts when you make a purchase. The following information should be on the receipt: the date, a description and the details of the person from whom you bought it from, the price and taxes you paid on it as well. This will be important for your tax records and any warranty or repairs (if eligible).
It is also worth pointing out; you should only buy what you can store! Don’t buy any items that may expire. You can buy products and cleaning supplies closer to your opening date.
Keeping track of your budget is easy with the Start-up budget printable below.
Click to get your start-up budget planner
4.Start saving money now
Pinch every penny you can so you can live for two months on a minimal budget. It is essential to have some cash tucked away to pay some of your bills while you are in the first quarter of your business. You will also need to buy products right before you open your new business.
You want to have as stress-free as possible at the time of opening. Finances are one of the most significant stress on your mind, and if you can put that on the back burner for a bit, you will have one less thing to worry about when you open.
You may also want to get a second job or ask for overtime at your current job to add to your bank account. This book is by far the best at helping you plan your personal budget and get a hold of spending.
5.Learn from other people’s mistakes
I wish podcasts were a “thing” When I was starting my career. It would have saved me so much time to list to other professionals stories of starting in the industry. Take a look at some excellent podcasts that will be useful to you HERE.
6. Start a portfolio
Take pictures of your work to save for later for when you start your social media account.
Think outside the box. Take pictures of the view from your new workspace windows. Take photos of your linens, all setup. Even images of open product or products that you use in your services can be displayed beautifully. Above all, do not post poor quality photos.
If you need advice on photo tips, Google the type of phone you have + photo tips. You will find a lot more information that will be helpful.
One of the best free graphics programs you can get is Canva. You can turn your images into social media posts quickly or edit them.
*TIP: This is an excellent free course on Canva
7. Goal setting
It is vital to make a goal-setting plan. After all–if you can’t see where you are going–how can you create a plan to get there?
Click to get your goal setting planner
8. Market research
Find out what similar businesses are around you, what they specialize in, what their prices are and whether they offer related services to yours.
Ask yourself how you compare to the other businesses? Can you specialize in a niche in your industry? Is there enough of a demand for opening a business in that area of the city? What credentials do others with the same service offerings have? Print out multiple pages of our market research planner to keep you organized.
Click to get your free market research planner
9. Licencing and health regulations
Be aware of all the requirements for running your business, such as licensing, business structure, tax information and conditions of operation.
Make a list of these requirements and check them off as you apply for them. Are you renting a room out of a salon or spa? Or are you working from home?
Both will have different requirements as far as licensing and approvals.
•Some licences you may have to apply for are:
Tax licences federal and local
City or town regulations
Professional body licensing
10. Make a budget for monthly expenses.
Start planning out a budget. Your budget needs to incorporate operating costs, rent, product costs, power, insurance, your web costs, phone, online booking and point of sale system. Make sure you include everything you can think of, as well as some contingency.
FreshBooks is an excellent program and is easy to use!
11. Business insurance
If you have your location picked, apply for these now. You do not want to get stuck holding back the opening of your business because of paperwork.
There are a couple of ways to do this. You can purchase it online or through an insurance broker in your city.
12. Set up a business bank accounts
Call the bank and make an appointment to open up your business bank account. Ask for business checks, a deposit book and a business credit card or debit card. The bank associate will teach you how to fill out the deposit slips.
They may even have small business classes. Take advantage of all the free information they will have to give you. Set your business account up online.
Will you be accepting Cash check, email money transfer, credit cards or gift certificates? Cash is usually the best option as it doesn't cost fees to process it.
Some online booking systems will allow you to process credit cards and gift cards through their system.
If you are looking for online gift certificates I recommend The Gift Card Cafe. I have used them for over 8 years and have never had a problem. My clients and friends like the option that they can just pay and print a certificate to give to someone.
If not, check out Stripe. They are an excellent, easy to use credit card processing system for small business. They are inexpensive and easy to use. It does cost fees to use them. You might want to politely ask clients to pay cash so that you can avoid these fees. You should be able to write these fees off as a business expense, so make sure you keep track of them.
13. Sanitation standards
The trickiest part of starting your business is to get all of the sanitation requirements sorted out. Your best bet is to call the local health authority and city hall to find out what the rules are. If you are looking for some basic industry standards, we have a few informational booklets online HERE
Pricing your services can be a daunting task. And to be honest, I am not an expert. But what I did what I followed Tina Alberino's pricing strategy from her book The Beauty Industry Survival Guide: A Salon Professional's Handbook. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is in the industry.
*Tip: Check out these free training modules. They go more into detail about retail calculations.
15. What's your business name?
Have you ever walked passed a business and thought, “Gee, that’s a catchy name.” Or maybe you have passed a salon and asked, “What were they thinking?”
A business name can affect how people take you and your services. So how do you choose the best business name? There are a few things to take into consideration when choosing a name. Studies show that a name that's harder to pronounce (such as cylinder) underperforms more than a business name easy to pronounce (such as round). Also, words that have multiple ways of sounding can be displeasing to the brain, so try to stay away from those.
Try to make your name unique and unforgettable. Google your name to see if there are any business names like it. Keep it easy to pronounce. Remember that you will want to make your name the URL of your website and all your social media accounts.
Register your name with your local business authority and/or government. This is crucial. It can prevent you from being sued and protect you if someone is using the same business name.
*Tip: This free module goes into detail about how you can register your name with the government. (Canada)
16. Create your logo and brand
“Branding is how you communicate to the public why they should choose your salon. In other words, your brand is your business. The problem is that many salons imagine they can compete solely on the quality of their respective work. So, they select the same overused fonts, decor and colors as a hundred other salons and focus solely on getting their names out there. They try to maintain a competitive edge through quality alone but, in reality, doing a good job is not a basis for competition in the salon business; it is a requirement.
Many salons do a good job; they wouldn’t exist otherwise. The question is why someone should choose your salon over another. If the only answer you can give is the quality of the work you provide, the decision to choose your salon will be based solely on location and price.” The Power of Brand- BeautyMark Marketing
Once you have a name, you need a logo. If you have a little artistic side in you, then you can go ahead and create one. Our favourite resource for free design help is Canva.
17. Get online – because this is where your customers are.
Claim all social media accounts. And set up a coming soon page.
Stick to the same name as your business. If there are other businesses in the world with your same business name, you might want to add your city after your business name. You may not want to use all of the accounts, but it is important that you claim them. Learn more about setting up social media profiles here.
If you are currently employed at another salon or spa business: It is crucial that you don't give away any information that people may use to connect you to the company. You don't want your employer to get wind that you are leaving. If they do, they may wish to fire you so that you won't "Take their clients."
18.Thinking about online marketing
Marketing vital in the first year of business. Follow the best practices for each social media platform you will be using. These practices change almost weekly, so it is best to check out well-known bloggers such as Social Media Examiner.
I highly recommend Angie Gensler's social media calendar and images. Running social media for your business is a ton of work and it never stops. This can be a game-changer.
Another idea is to trade services with a friend or acquaintances who have knowledge in the marketing area.
*Freebie Alert: Free social media cheat sheet
19. Get a website
Creating a website is pretty easy if you are pointed in the right direction. I highly suggest working with a company like Bluchic.(see below) They are invaluable when it comes to setting up websites, and it's pretty inexpensive.
*Freebie Alert: Email Course - Launch Your Dream Website
20. Get on Google.
Now you need to set up your Google account. You will need to set it up as a business account. This is important because everyone is going to "Google" you. HERE is a more in-depth post on how to get your new business on Google.
21. Start price shopping for products and supplies
Sign up for newsletters or email blasts from the suppliers you will use. Create a bookmark on your website browser with links to your suppliers’ websites. Compare prices. Take note of the minimum requirements to purchase and the shipping costs.
Sometimes local companies will offer free shipping. Items such as linens can be bought wholesale clubs. Sanitizing products can also be purchased at janitorial suppliers for less than at an industrial supply store.
22. Set up online booking
One of the most important parts of your new website is online scheduling. Trust me. It frees up a lot of time so you can work on more clients.
Two-thirds of people now book appointments online and prefer to choose a service provider that provides online booking. It’s hard to trust a computer to schedule your clients, but currently, a vast number of clients prefer online booking, find it very convenient, and encourages them to book add-on services.
Online booking changes the way you do business. Clients love online booking. With just a cellphone or computer, they can book 24 hours a day and compare your schedule with their agenda and book themselves in.
Online scheduling is effortless and inexpensive to set up. Most scheduling systems can hold appointments for clients with a credit card, which reduces no shows. With most programs, you can also add little promotion pop-ups that show your service add ons. This is a great way to increase your sale per customer.
*Tip: If you have any friends who are already in the industry and are using online scheduling, ask them if they have a referral link. You might get a better deal.
23. Set up your accounting
Check with your local government about the requirements you will need to meet as far as to record retention.
Accounting and taxes for self-employed estheticians can be pretty easy once you have everything prepared.
FreshBooks is our top pick!
24. What about income taxes?
If you have the time and the basic understanding try Turbo Tax. TurboTax is also known to me as “Income tax for dummies.” It just walks you through the whole process by asking you questions.
If you are not comfortable with this, look for a local accountant or tax provider who specializes in small businesses, specifically salons, spas or home-based businesses.
25. Finalize designs for cards and brochures
For the DIYERS or people on a strict budget, one of the easiest places to purchase all of your brochures and cards is at Zazzle. You will find incredible designs and pre-formatted cards and brochures. Remember to keep everything consistent. We wrote a blog post about business cards and templates you might find helpful:” Affordable business cards for salons and spas.”
•Business cards and service cards are a great way to spread the word about your business. Start with a pack of 500 because you will want to give out a lot in the beginning. Always keep a stack of cards in your purse or car.
If you can, make your business cards a unique shape, size, or texture, so they stand out. Make your cards multi-purpose: include your business information and contact details. Also, put a notice on the back stating your referral program and include a line where you can add an appointment reminder.
•Price lists and brochures are easy to have printed up too. There are so many price lists, templates available on Zazzle.
•Get your gift certificates done quickly too. They are an important moneymaker for your business. Read more about how you can make more money with gift certificates here.
26. Telling your employer your leaving
Preparing to quit can be scary. Check out the local labour laws and make sure you know your rights.
Out of respect for your employer, do not discuss the details of your leave with current employees or clients. When you hand in your notice, don’t just leave it on the counter and walk away. Speak directly with your employer. Explain why you are leaving.
Request to take any holidays from current employers that are owing to you. This can be an excellent time to finish up loose ends that you haven't gotten too. Remember: You want to leave on good terms.
Your employer may choose to have you stop working on clients but continue working in the back of the spa (cleaning, filing etc.).
They may also wish to pay you out for the rest of your time and escort you out of the building. This is usually because they don't want you to have access to client information.
Client files belong to your employer. But they do not own clients. This is often a sore spot between your current employer and you.
If a client does not return to your current employer's workplace after you leave, it's not because they don't like that "spa". It's because you have developed a connection with the service provider (esthetician, nail tech, massage therapist etc.).
Do not discuss your new venture with your clients. If a client wants to follow you after you leave, they will find you. By following the steps to opening your new business, you just going to make it much easier for them to find you.
Ensure all social media accounts are set up and listed on your website.
Open up the online booking. As soon as your clients find out you are leaving, they may want to go online and pre-book their appointments.
Add finishing details such as prices, biography, your credentials and your portfolio to your website.
Make sure all social media accounts have your website in the profile.
28. Officaly announce to friends and family
If you are moving from your employer to your new venture, it will have been hard to keep a lot of this process to yourself.
If you are at the beginning of your career you can share the process openly.
Write up an announcement with your opening date, and put it out on social media and email it to everyone you know. Ask everyone to support you by sharing your website!
29. Add your esthetics or spa business to free listings
Google your business name. Add your business profile to all free listings wherever you can or update any information that is already posted.
There will be hundreds of free places to list your business. Look for pages such as Kijiji 411, Yellow Pages and Craigslist. Make sure that all the business information on those sites is correct. You may need to contact them to correct the information that is on them, but It will be worth your while.
Woorank also has a list of free local listings.
It is important to check these listings every few months to make sure your business information stays accurate.
30. Start setting up shop
Unpack supplies and organize them. If you have stock for retail, start pricing it and placing it on shelves.
Put together your big furniture. Move it around until you find the perfect positions. If you have any trouble with this, take advantage of some design programs that can help you optimize the space.
Just Google “space planner,” and you find one to suit your needs. Don’t forget about some of the smaller details: a coat hook, a boot tray, hand sanitizer, tissue and other things like that.
Figuring out the cost of stock for sale and how to keep track of it can be quite confusing. When your ready to get more in-depth about those calculations, read Business Management.
31. Set up client cards
You can do this online or on paper. There is a wide variety of client information you will want to keep track of, such as name, address, allergies, service notes etc. Best practices will require that you keep this information secure and confidential. You can take a look at the in-depth Manual- Business-Management on our website.
32. Hand out flyers to local businesses and homes within a 10 block radius
You can drop them in mailboxes or order custom door knocker styles. Make them detailed. And emphasize online booking! It can also be handy to add a little map to show your exact location.
33. Create your cancellation policy
Post your policy in your workspace on your online booking and your website. A standard guideline is that if the client doesn’t give 24 hours to notice to cancel, you will charge their credit card 50% of the service cost. After 2 missed appointments, they with be excused as clients. The Blogpost 8 way to prevent no show clients is a great guide.
Your open. Now what?
Congratulations! Unless you are an already established service provider you are going to have some downtime.
Bonus: What to do during while you're growing your client list
Here are some ideas to keep busy and promote your business at the same time.
•Engage with potential clients online. Be active on your social media accounts.
•Volunteer at animal shelters and other community events.
•Get a second job for a hours a week. It's a great way to make a little extra money and to meet new people.
•Keep adding pictures to your portfolios.
•Ask your clients for referrals.
•Ask clients to post reviews on social media sites and Google!
•Set up your monthly email list. You should make sure your website and other social media platforms have a platform to collect client emails. Email marketing is an excellent way to maintain loyalty and keep your clients in the loop in regards to what’s new and exciting in your business. You can also offer promotional coupons.
Learn the ins and outs of online pre-scheduling social media, so that when your busy you won't have to worry about it.
*Tip: Check out this awesome deal from Tailwind
Bonus: How to get new clients and keep them coming back
Most people reading this don’t have the resources to buy expensive advertisements in magazines or hire an expensive PR firm to launch your business. But how can you compete with bigger competitors?
All it means is that you will need to gain and retain customers in unique and inexpensive ways. If you have a small budget and you’re looking for marketing ideas that are effective and inexpensive, here are some top tips:
•Use inexpensive promotional business cards. Get promotional business cards that are made by a discount printing service such as Zazzle. We found Zazzle the best because there were so many pre-made templates, and quality was top notch. Read more about business cards here.
Choose places your targeted customers or clients frequent and leave a few promotional cards there. Print business cards that offer a specific discount or coupon code that can be used either on your website or in your store.
•Get involved in charitable events. Offer your services free or donate some of your products for a gift basket. You’ll be spreading the word about your business, and you’ll also meet potential clients like event organizers, participants, and attendees.
•Send handwritten thank-you notes to your customers after they have been in for a service. When was the last time you received a handwritten note? By sending a handwritten note to a customer, it will add a personal touch to your business or service. Entice them back with an offer of saving off their next purchase or a coupon.
•Send promotional email newsletters. Depending on your customers and what they like, send them promotions or updates. There are email services that offer this free of charge. Also, if you use online scheduling, there may be a function within that application.
•Follow up with clients. Send a quick text or email to ask how a client liked the service and ask for any feedback they might have about the products, service or new workspace. If they have great things to say, ask them to leave a review on Google for you. Google reviews go along way!
•Send your customers rebooking reminders. Go through your customer list every month, identify, and contact the clients you haven’t seen or heard from for a while. Many online scheduling programs offer a way of searching your customer databases using variables to find a specific group of people.
Bonus: The power of business cards
Business cards are very useful tools at the beginning of your career or for anyone who is trying to get new clients actively. Follow some of these tips to learn how you can use business cards to grow your business.
•Place service cards in every non-competing business within a 5-block radius.
•Hand out cards at the business that you bank with. Add discount cards as an incentive.
•Drop a small gift pack off at the closest schools along with business cards and ask them to raffle it off for teachers.
•Pick 5 businesses with a large employee base. Write a letter to the human resources manager letter explaining why your services are essential. Ask if they would post a notice in the lunchroom along with business cards.
•Hand out business cards at a local fair.
•Offer discounts to other small businesses in the area.
•Put cards in the race packages at marathon events.
•Meet up with other professionals in your industry to offer your services if they are going on holiday.
•Put cards in kids' Halloween bags.
•Send cards to work with your family members.
•Ask current clients to give 3 cards out to each of their friends.
•Ask your favourite restaurant if you can place cards in the washroom along with a dish of candies.
•Write letters to local charities offering discount cards and or prizes for functions.
•Drop cards off at doctors’ offices.
Bonus: Build your business quickly with referrals
Work with your current clients to get referrals. Creating a referral program for your existing customers is an effective and inexpensive marketing strategy. Let your customers get a reasonable reward whenever they send a new customer to your business.
Give every client 3 business cards and ask them to write their names on the back. When they give them to 3 friends, tell the friends to present the card to you, and you will provide the referrer credit on their next service.
Bonus: Connecting with other entrepreneurs
Get together with fellow entrepreneurs. Work together. There is no reason to work against others in your industry. There is no reason to talk badly about others in your industry. One day you may need to call upon one of them for a favour. If you're too busy or need to take time off, you will have to refer your clients to someone.
Refer them to someone you trust. More likely than not, your clients will come back. As entrepreneurs, we are unique individuals, and all have something a little different to offer.
Bonus: How to get clients to spend more and fill your appointment book
It’s easier to upsell to existing clients than it is to bring in new clients to your business. That's a fact. Before you devote all your time to finding new clients, explore a few ways to get your existing clients to spend more money on services or products. Some strategies may include:
•Take a look at the next few days in your schedule. Do you have a lot of openings to fill? Pick an appointment/client with an empty gap either before or after their appointment. Give that client a call and offer them another discounted service or add-on which would fit in that spot.
•Using the same idea, offer them a free consultation with the purchase of a product that you sell. For example - offer a makeup consultation if you sell makeup or show your client how to use a curling iron if they purchase one.
•Send an email blast out to your existing clients, offering a discount on any service they have never tried before.
If you need more ideas to grow your business check out the home page