Lessons I Learned My First Year in Business as a California Esthetician

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Lessons I Learned My First Year in Business as a California Esthetician by popular California beauty blog, Haute Beauty Guide: image of a esthetician salon.

Thank you for the feedback on the first part of my series about becoming a California esthetician. If you haven’t read it yet it is part 1 in this series, you can find it here.

After all the drama of beauty school and getting a license, I found a job. It was the first place I interviewed at. The plan was to go on commission–it was legal back then– and continue to work as a bookkeeper. After interviewing and coming to an agreement with a local salon owner I showed up for my first evening at work. The salon owner met me at the door and told me she changed her mind.

She was no longer willing to pay for the facial products or equipment needed and the current girl decided to leave so I couldn’t use hers either. She also no longer wanted to offer commission and if I still wanted to work there I would need to have rent, $550, on the first of the month. But, she would generously give me the next 12 days until the first free. I didn’t know what to do.

In hindsight, I should have just said no and left. We had nothing in writing and she was changing the terms to something that just wouldn’t work. Instead, I said ok. Not realizing just how much I would need to get started. I was crushed when I went home that night.

I went online and ordered a room equipment package. It was a 10-in-1 machine with a steamer and mag lamp and a bunch of other modalities beauty school forgot to mention or go over. The machine was on special so it came with a bed and a stool for free. Score for me! Then I called up Eva’s Esthetics to order a starter wax and skincare package.

I showed up the next day to clean out the room. The old tenant left it a mess. There was 1 plug in the whole room! The wall wabbled because the owner put it up herself and you could hear every word, comb drop, and car right outside. But, I was proud to have my own space.

Lessons I’ve Learned as a California Esthetician

Over the next two weeks, I hustled spending every available minute at that salon. I got nowhere. Not realizing the salon had kind of a bad rep and had been through dozens of estheticians over the past few years I struggled to get anyone to book me. On a call with Patty from Eva’s Esthetics, I mentioned my struggles.

She told me to grab my book and go to every local hotel offering the front desk girls a free facial. I did. I booked three girls willing to get a free facial. I worked harder on their skin than any in my life silently willing them to love it and me enough to tell every guest about me. It didn’t work.

I asked the owner for an adjustment on the rent, half on the first and half on the 15th, and she agreed. I had made exactly $25 up until that point and she required us to use her credit card machine. She then kept the money until the 10th and charged a 10% fee to use it. So we paid her on the first but didn’t get paid until the 10th. It was a disaster.

After my first month and a half, I listened to the bad advice of one of the hairstylists who said I wasn’t booking clients because I only worked in the evenings. I still hated my bookkeeping job–the manager got meaner by the day. So I quit! I now worked every minute of the day at that salon. It opened at 9 am and closed at 7 pm. I stayed all day often times making about $10 a day… the price of a brow wax plus tip.

The next month I had a little over $250 so I paid the first half of the rent. I was in my room waxing one of the other stylists when the owner came in SCREAMING at me about where my rent was. I explained I put it in the register. She continued to scream telling me the check was short. No, I reminded her I paid half on the first and half on the 15th. “NO. That was a one-time deal to help you get started. It is $550 on the first or get out.” she screamed.

Everyone in the salon heard. I was beyond embarrassed. I wrote her another check and transferred it from my savings to cover it. I should have left but, I was desperate to succeed. This was my dream. I had to make it work. I never paid late again… but by the end of the year my clientele hadn’t increased by much and my savings were dwindling.

The next 11 months just got worse and worse. I hustled harder than I had ever in my life only to be met with setbacks like buying a whole makeup kit for a wedding only for the owner’s sister to go behind my back and steal the clients and my makeup to do it! She had a key and often helped herself. One stylist who was upfront often talked about sex and politics in front of clients. I lost two because they didn’t feel the salon was professional enough.

On a trip to my own hairstylist, I told her what I was dealing with. She had a son my age and took it upon herself to mentor me about business in the local beauty industry. She told me I had to leave there and that she would find me a good salon to go to. She called me a week later and said to call this number and ask for her friend. I did. Soon after I met the owner of the new salon and knew it was a better fit. I gave notice to the salon the same day. That night she and her sister threw my stuff out.

I packed up by myself that day in my little Jetta and called the new salon to see if I could store it there until the first. They agreed. The vibe of the new salon was refreshing and I knew it would be a better fit. But, it was like starting all over again.

Lesson Learned… I didn’t go with my gut. I had a feeling the salon wasn’t a good fit and tried to force it. There were nine stylists in that salon! It was like a mean sorority all fighting for the same job. They fought over walk-ins, phone appointments, combs you name it. The place had nice decor but a few of the stylists were dirty giving the place a kind of dingy feel. It wasn’t a place I would go to get my hair done. That should have clued me in that it was the wrong place for me to work.

Each stylist was struggling hard to build their own clientele and pay bills mainly because they fought all the time and the vibe was off. I realized that my first month but didn’t follow my gut to go find a better fit. I went from making 55k a year to making pennies–weeks into a recession.

DON’T EVER WORK IN A PLACE WHERE YOU ARE NOT RESPECTED FOR WHAT YOU DO. The other stylists were constantly bad-mouthing my products, my technique, my prices, and my job to each other and their clients, and even to ME! They constantly convinced me to give them free services so I could “practice” and they would feel comfortable recommending me. It was a scam. Very little of my clientele came from the other stylists. I didn’t realize how this affected my self-esteem or my ability to grow until I was in a healthy salon.

DO YOUR RESEARCH. Interview them as much as they are interviewing you. Before you interview go there and get a service. See what it is like from the client’s perspective. If you wouldn’t get a treatment there don’t work there. Make sure the owner is a great communicator and that you understand the terms. Get a contract in writing!

Here are a few questions I ask myself each year to make sure I am growing and happy in my space.

Part Three is up now. I’ll link each piece in this series here as I publish.

Lessons I Learned My First Year in Business as a California Esthetician by popular California beauty blog, Haute Beauty Guide: digital image of a esthetician check list.

Are you a California esthetician? Or, do you know one? Tell me in a comment below!