Strategies For Success as a Solo Esthetician - by Kin Aesthetics

Strategies For Success as a Solo Esthetician

Posted by Sarah Kinsler-Holloway on

When I started my skincare studio in 2019, I opened with maybe 3 clients.  I was coming from being employed at a spa, but a non-compete prevented me from bringing clients.  In hindsight I probably could have made more of an effort to reach out, but I was a new mom and my employer threatened to sue me, so I decided not to press my luck. 

It took me nearly three months to find the perfect location.  I checked out a lot of different office spaces, but they were either too expensive, or it would hinder the client experience in some way.  I finally settled into a 400 sq ft store front, which wasn’t much, but the rent was only $450, so I made it work.   See humble beginnings below...

 


My skincare studio was founded on Korean rituals + skincare philosophies. I spent time living in Korea, and it’s a huge passion of mine. I have since moved locations to a much larger space, and in addition to taking clients, I started an esthetic supply company where I bring Korean skincare to spa professionals in the US.

The road has not been easy, but I don’t believe it ever is for someone starting their own business. 

Below I’ve shared the strategies I’ve used to build a nearly fully booked esthetic practice, making six figures. 

My hope in sharing, is that it will lead, redirect, and inspire you, so that you find yourself booked + busy, too.

 

Networking

I believe the key to my success was the amount of effort I put into networking and building a community.  I didn’t spend time trying to find models, posting on IG, running google ads, or coming up with promos.  I literally hit the ground running, and started networking, and there were a few reasons I went this route:

  • I didn’t have time to sit around and hope that people would see my Instagram posts - I had bills to pay!
  • I realized that even if they did find my post, they would likely head over to google to check out the reviews, (it’s what 60% of consumers do), and they wouldn’t find any.
  • I don’t know how to properly run ads and I didn’t want to throw money away

So instead, I invested my time in the community.

I joined a small local boutique gym.  I chose this gym because I liked the vibe, but also I knew the owner, Julia, was also invested in the community. 

I built a friendly relationship with her by offering a free treatment to try my services, I shared and engaged with her posts, and I offered her members an exclusive discount.

This led to a very authentic relationship of us helping each other out, and even though I’ve moved to a different city (just 10 miles away), Julia and I are still great friends. 

I also signed up for a flower subscription with a small flower farm in town.  I displayed the flowers in my spa, and I would always tag the florist. She would then share my post with her large following.  This definitely brought in clients - want to know how I know?  I always ask first time clients how they found me. 

Any other local stores I shopped in to decorate my studio I made sure to tag the business, and more times than not, they also shared it.  I also noticed that more local businesses started following me.

The nice thing about small business owners, for the most part, is they want to see other small businesses succeed.  I truly believe it was networking that enabled me to be in the position I am today.

Think about small businesses in your community that you could authentically connect with and support.  Think of ways you could add value to their business, whether through purchases, a collab, or offering an exclusive promotion to their clients.


Here are some tips on what to look for in a business:

  • Invest in small businesses as they are more tied to the community
  • Look for businesses invested in their community.  Is the owner actively working in the business? Are they providing great customer service to their customers?  Check out their reviews. 
  • Women owned.  I have found that women owned businesses are more apt to advocate for you

I promise you will receive more new clients doing this, than any Instagram post.  Now, there are a few caveats to the above.  It’s important not to be pushy.  They are businesses too, and they don’t owe you anything.  Never have expectations.  Also, it’s helpful to think of this as community building rather than what you can get from it.  

Always be grateful, and don’t forget to express your gratitude.  It doesn’t even have to be much.  It could be as simple as a text extending your gratitude. 

Now that I’ve given a few ideas of how I networked, I want to share some examples of what I don’t recommend.  

  • Please don’t leave fliers on cars. Be honest, do you look at those fliers?  Because I know I don’t. I remember reading a Facebook post years ago from an esthetician who said she wasn’t getting any clients and she mentioned she put fliers on cars at a grocery store offering microneedling at a discount. Microneedling is an advanced, luxury service and promoting your business that way is doing yourself, and the industry a disservice.  Your ideal client isn’t going to find you by picking a flier off their car.
  • Leaving business cards at coffee shops.  I do sometimes look at business cards on the large cork board at my local coffee shop, but I’m generally looking for branding inspiration, not for actual help or services.  While this isn’t as tacky as the above fliers, it still isn’t a great return on investment of time.
  • Passing out business cards all willy nilly. I actually hate when this happens to me. I find it to be a bit intrusive and I generally just throw them away in the nearest trash can.  It’s just super impersonal and the exact opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish

So with all of this being said, I encourage you to find small businesses within your community, and see how you can build a relationship with them.

Then once you have clients coming in, treat them like gold…



Treating Clients Like Gold

Every time a new client comes in, I ask them how they found me.  If it’s a referral, I make sure to thank my client that sent them. I’ve never offered discounts for that, I just make sure to send a heartfelt text or email, thanking them! 

I also treat all of my clients like gold.  I greet everyone with a positive and warm hello, even if I’m annoyed they’re late.  I let them take their time, I listen to their concerns, I ask them questions about themselves, and really make their time about them.

I don’t understand this new trend of service industry workers believing they are doing a favor by servicing a paying customer. I am not a fan of that culture at all, and I think that attitude can absolutely hinder growth. 

It’s all about giving out warmth and positivity.

For any new facial treatment, or for new retail purchases I follow up with the client. It’s a way to let the client feel cared for.  This is not something all estheticians do, especially big day spas, so if you can extend this personal touch it will work in your favor. 

To make sure I don’t forget to follow up, I create a reminder in my booking app a week from the last date of contact.

For my OG clients I make sure to recognize them on their birthday. I always send a text, and will often get them something small, but I do not discount my services.  Some gift ideas I love include a delivered flower arrangement, something small that reminded me of them, or a gift card to a local coffee shop.  

There’s always strategy, but it flows from an authentic place.  



Trading Tips for Reviews

Probably not the popular opinion, but I really do not like the tipping culture. Of course I tip 20% at restaurants, but have you noticed that more and more places are putting tip jars out?  

A well known boutique grocery store in my town has a tip option and it starts at 15% and goes up to 25%.   As a customer, and I know I’m not alone, I feel put off by this.  Why am I tipping you for checking me out after I did my own grocery shopping. You’re providing a check-out service that is required to run a store and employers should be paying their employees accordingly.  I could go on and on. 

One of the things I love about the countries I’ve visited in Asia and even some in Europe is the amazing service that’s provided without any expectation.  There is passion, and genuine love in the creation, with no strings attached. To me, that is beautiful, and that is why I decided not to accept tips when I went solo.

I don’t ever want to end the service with an expectation. I want them to leave feeling my genuine gratitude for choosing to spend their time and money with me, when there are so many other businesses they could have chosen. 

Inside my business I have a small sign that reads, “Gratitude over gratuity. If you enjoyed your service today please consider leaving a google review”. 

This has worked amazingly well for my business model.  I have over a hundred 5 star reviews, and to be honest, it’s not even about the reviews for me.  I am building my presence on google. Your google review count, and score,  factor into your local search ranking.  That means, if someone googles the word “spa” and my city, I will be well ranked; thus easier to find.  

 

The Deal with Discounting

I will admit that when I started my business I was so desperate to be successful I discontinued my services. I did not fully appreciate or realize just how unique my niche was. It’s Korean skincare, by the way.

Do you know what came with the discounts?  Crazy customers that were never satisfied, clients who felt they could message me at all hours of the night, and clients who showed up late expecting a full service. Once I raised my prices, and stopped undervaluing my skills is when my ideal client started showing up.

So I know it’s tempting to discount, especially when you so badly want to be fully booked, but it’s truly doing yourself a disservice.  What is a better use of your time, doing a facial for $40, or  getting out and networking within your community to bring in your ideal client?



Realizing The Importance of Retail

I hated selling retail when I first became an esthetician.  I felt sleazy, and I felt uncomfortable asking my clients to purchase homecare after they spent $115 on a facial.  But, the truth is, if a client comes to you for a facial, they more than likely care about their skin, and we all know 80% of the results we see come from homecare.  So to help them achieve their desired goals, homecare is a must!

Selling homecare with your facial should be an extension of your service, and it should account for 50% of your income.   

As service providers we make money by giving our time, which is limited.  Retail helps close that gap, and there are many days I make double in retail than what I do in services. 

So if you’re shy about selling retail, just remember it’s an extension of your service. 



Niching Down + The Importance of Branding

It may seem scary to cut services, because we immediately feel like we’re losing possible income.  But, the truth is, niching down allows us to charge more for the services we provide. 

Niching allows us to become unique, an expert, and honestly, more desirable. 

Korean skincare has been my niche since I opened my studio.  Not only do I offer professional Korean treatments, but I also bring in the element of intention.  Shoes are replaced with slippers, tea is offered, gratuity isn’t accepted, parking validation is offered, etc.

When I ship packages to my clients they each get a handwritten thank you card, I have branded stickers, and tape, and I always include a few Korean candies. 

I highly recommend focusing and centering your business around what brings you joy.  Then find all the little elements and details that can help support your foundation, and make your brand shine. 


A few last words about customer service… 

I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said, when someone messages you with a question about booking, they aren’t necessarily looking for a link to your website, they are looking for a connection and a reason to book.  I always try to take the time to provide great customer service in my responses, regardless of how inconvenient it can be.  It’s easy to direct them to my website, but customer service starts at the first point of contact.  That is so important to remember!

One of the benefits of working for ourselves is the ability to create and maintain boundaries that resonate with us, but I feel like many estheticians are forgetting that we are not only business owners, but service providers.  There is an art to customer service, and it is the most important part of running a business.  One way I’ve found to maintain these boundaries, and not get overwhelmed or feel inconvenienced is to keep business hours.  Normally I don’t respond to messages past 5pm or before 8am.  I really try to stick to that, although the last two months have been tricky as I navigate relaunching my distribution business.  I also respond to all messages at once for efficiency.  


And last but not least, a few parting thoughts….

It takes years to become successful. Social media very much distorts how much goes into running a successful business.  It’s also important to realize success is subjective. 

Don’t get caught up in what other people are doing.  You’ll drive yourself crazy.  It’s also important to realize that there really is no such thing as competition.  Our customers find us because of the energy and vibrations we put out.  If you’re a busy esthetician, you know this to be true.  So much of building clientele is building relationships and vibing with people.  So don’t worry about what the esthetician is doing down the street, just focus on what’s in front of you, and I promise you’ll be a lot happier, and successful. 

If you’re interested in niching down, and bringing Korean skincare into your practice, I would love to chat!  I spend Tuesdays talking one-on-one with estheticians all over, helping them integrate Korean skincare into their practice. 


Email me at info@esthisupply.com

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Comments

  • Thank you so much for taking the time to share such valuable information. I’m soaking all this in as I embark on my solo journey. Grateful 🙏🏾

    Tania Harris on
  • Great Article, thank you so much. Life of blessings to you.

    Love Kessy on
  • Thank you for a great article. As someone who is older, and generally weak on social media, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you recommend. I’m on the Board of Directors of our local, tourism agency, because as someone who is basically an introvert, it allows me to know, meet and interact with most of the local businesses in town. It is the best method of networking for me. I get referrals from the local B&Bs and Airbnb’s on a regular basis. I am not solo, I have a small spa/studio in a building that is being converted into a hotel. Would love to speak to you directly about Korean skin care. I know very little about it.

    Amy Levinson on
  • What a great article! I just opened my suite in January and was luck enough to have a few clients follow me. I haven’t done any marketing because my back office isn’t set up correctly (mainly intake forms). I purchased a package and I’m converting them to Jotform now. Your article was like a confirmation for me. I don’t obsess over social media but will use it as a tool to inform. I plan on making a sign about tips as well: Gratitude comes in many forms; a review, a referral, or gratuity. I only ha e 10 clients or so and there tips actually help me out for now…. but I do agree, no need to tip me since I set the prices. I wasn’t as interested in Korean skincare since their line seems to focus on the higher Fitz scale and I need product that are more universal. I may be wrong so I’m hoping to have a call with you to discuss your product line. Thanks again for this article.

    Tawanna on
  • I am interested in learning more about your Korean line.

    Sarah White on
  • That was a great article you wrote. I appreciate that you didn’t put all of your weight on Social media. I really like your perspective. I feel like it aligns more with mine. That being said, I would like to order a few products from you. Spicules, I’ve been reading about for awhile now. I’d like to purchase and try it out as I don’t believe anyone in my area does this treatment yet! Any info you’ve found on using them would be awesome. Thank you for your time!
    Monica

    Monica Leis on
  • This was a great read and very insightful. Thank you!

    Kyle Rodgers on

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