Isn’t it everyone’s dream to one day work for yourself? Doesn’t it sound amazing to answer to no one, but you? Well, let me tell you how that dream became my reality.
I graduated from beauty school in August 2010. I took a 10-month local course and tuition was around $9,000 and some change. Let’s say… $10,000 ish. This course covered everything from natural manicures, pedicures, full body waxing, lash/brow tinting, lash perming (which is pretty much unheard of now), and gel and acrylic nail enhancements. I always prefer to say nail “enhancement” because “fake” nails just sounds so harsh. Like when people ask, “Are your lashes fake?” something about it just rubs me the wrong way. I prefer to say lash “extensions” or even “false” lashes sounds better. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, just thought I’d touch on that lol. Oh, and my lashes are my own for those of you who send me questions on that. Luckily, I have a decent set of lashes so mascara is enough to give my lashes the look that I want. The odd time I’ll throw on some (say it with me now), false lashes for a special occasion. Okay, I’m getting distracted. Let’s get back to the topic at hand.
Another thing you should know before I get into it is I come from a family of estheticians. My mother, sister, and my aunt (who I work with) had all been estheticians before I decided to enroll in school. With that being said, I grew up watching my mom give a thousand manicures and pedicures, and I was my sister’s guinea pig when she was in esthetics school (which was the same school I later attended). It would be safe to say that esthetics is just in my blood.
My aunt (the one I mentioned earlier) found this awesome location to move her then home based business into. This new location had two rooms, a bathroom, a front desk area, and a little storage space that could double as a mini kitchen. It definitely needed some TLC so my aunt put some work into it to make it look a bit more feminine and pleasing to the eye. A few weeks before I graduated, she approached me and asked if I’d like to apprentice under her and she could show me the ropes of the real world. At this point she had been an esthetician for 10 years, so I was so fortunate that this opportunity was presented to me. Now, you may ask, “Why didn’t your mom or sister teach you?” I’ll tell you why. My sister was already working full time somewhere else and there was absolutely no room for a second esthetician and my mother had built an addition to my parents house to work from home, so there was also no room for me there. Another note, my aunt is uhhh-mazing at doing a set of gel nails and this was something that I needed to work on. Even though we learned how to do gel and acrylic nails in school, it just wasn’t enough practice.
So after I graduated, I started to spend my days at this new salon with my aunt. I would watch her do nails all day and she would teach me different things that weren’t necessarily taught in school. Sometimes tips and tricks are picked up only when you start to work in the industry, and these tips are helpful to say the least. As the days turned into weeks, my aunt had me slowly do her clients nails. I would do one hand and she would do the other hand. She would watch me work and correct the things I wasn’t doing properly. This went on for weeks and I was shocked at how much extra information I was learning. I slowly started to find my own method of working, even down to the smallest thing like holding a nail file. It’s almost like learning to hold a pencil all over again and when it comes to nails, there’s a lot of filing done. Another thing I had to learn was to use an electric drill. We weren’t taught how to use drills in school so this was very different for me. Once I got my own technique down and practiced, practiced, practiced, I slowly started to feel more comfortable and confident in creating a beautiful set of nails (or whatever service I was doing). I keep saying nails, because that’s mainly what I do. Slowly, my clientele started to grow. One person turned into two, two turned into three, and these people became repeat clients.
I can remember doing my first client by myself without the help of my aunt. An emergency had come up and she left work abruptly and I was left to work on the client that had just come in for her appointment. Oh shit, here we go. I was trying to remember all the steps so I didn’t screw up. Almost an hour later my aunt comes back and I’m still working away. She walked into the room and she took one look at the nails I was doing and said, “No. We have to remove these and do them all over again.” Oh my god, I totally bombed. I was so nervous the entire time I was working on that client and it obviously showed. I did a terrible first set. What makes it even more nerve wracking, is knowing clients are paying to get their nails done. So there’s a lot of pressure to make sure they are satisfied with your work, especially when you’re a beginner.
I started my esthetics career as an employee of my aunt. She was technically my boss, but really she just let me make my own schedule. I would come to work everyday and hoped that someone would walk in or call the salon needing a service done. I didn’t make a lot of money in the first year and even the second year. One thing that everyone in this industry knows is that growing a clientele is hard. It takes people years to have a full clientele and when you’re in this line of work you get paid per client. Not all the time, but usually and this is how it was for me. If I wasn’t working on a client then I wasn’t making money. So, my mom suggested that maybe I get a part time job just to ensure a paycheck every two weeks, but I said no. I was committed and determined to esthetics. Esthetics is what I wanted to do and I didn’t want any other work distracting me from my goals. The only thing I could do was work my ass off and make sure every client left satisfied.
Producing quality work is incredibly vital and takes time because word of mouth is the best advertisement you can have. The thing about nails, pedicures, and waxing is people need these services done 3-4 weeks at a time (depending on the service). One tip that my aunt told me was to make sure you book their next appointment before they walk out the door. That way you don’t leave it up to the forgetful client to book because believe me, lots of them will forget and just take a break from their nails. Which is not good for business. This tip has always worked for me and I continue to do this now in my career.
It was around the 3-year mark when I really started to get busy. I was working like crazy and found myself always at the salon. I would work a minimum of 8 hours a day and 6 days a week. The nice thing about not having a boss is that with all these hours I was putting in, I took it upon myself to start taking vacations. During my early years at the salon, Tim and I started our relationship (read about my relationship post here) and it was incredibly helpful to take a week off every month to go see him in LA, or just take a week off and stay home. My aunt never acted like a “real boss” in the way that I didn’t have to ask for time off, but I would always let her know of course, and I would always make sure my clients were taken care of. I never abused the freedom that I had because my aunt and I were running a business together and clients were always number one. As much as I love my clients, this is my livelihood and I need a paycheck the same way everyone else does. Not only that, but when you are self-employed there is no vacation pay for the time you take off work. Meaning you do not get paid for the days you aren’t at work. So if I took a whole month off, I would make $0 that month. Kind of sucks, right? There’s a lot of budgeting that goes into my month to make sure my expenses are met.
I officially became self-employed year 4 into my career, (I’m in my 6th year now), so this meant that my aunt was no longer writing me a paycheck. I was writing my own and it’s a big responsibility to handle your own money. I had to learn about running a business, how to manage money, book keeping, taxes, and a whooole buncha of other stuff that sometimes still doesn’t make sense to me. To this day there will be always be something I’m unsure about so I’m constantly asking questions. It’s better to ask questions than to guess and find out you’ve made a big mistake.
Being self-employed is an absolute dream, but it’s a ton of work. I’v been extremely lucky in this life to have an incredible support system and I’m surrounded by experienced and talented people to help me along the way. This story would not be the same if these people didn’t exist in my life and I’ll be forever grateful for them. If you’ve turned your own passion into a career you’ll find it’s the most rewarding experience. You’re motivated, driven, creative, and your work will reflect that. You show up to work everyday because you want to and when you do what you love, it really isn’t work at all.
What’s your dream job?