These days, technical prowess can only get nail techs so far. Sure, you may have broadcast your talents across social media and snagged thousands of “Likes” as well as a few new clients, but you may be missing the skills that not only turn these clients into devoted repeats, but ensure career success. Known as soft skills, these are the personal attributes you need to get ahead in the workplace (think: work ethic, time management and communication). To help you hone your soft skills for job success, we sought the advice of nail industry veterans who have built their careers on exceptional talent and a serious understanding of how soft skills can elevate nail techs in the eyes of clients, coworkers and salon owners, guaranteeing a long and fruitful career.
1) Professionalism – From the clothing you wear to the language you use, the face you project should be one of professionalism. “You’re in the beauty industry. Therefore, it goes without saying that your hair, makeup and, of course, nails must always be done when posting a picture on a professional social media site, attending a class and—most importantly—servicing clients,” says Viv Simmonds, director of Vivid Nails and Pure Bronze & Beauty in Melbourne, Australia. She reasons that clients subconsciously are attracted to a well-groomed tech; after all, if your nails look superb, why wouldn’t you deliver clients this same level of attention? This also applies to your workspace: A clean, organized nail station not only shows that you put in the time and effort to keep it spotless, but also allows you to effectively perform services without having to take precious time to dig around looking for products. For clients, these details don’t go unnoticed.
When it comes to professionalism, you should think of yourself as that big business buzzword: a brand. “Carrying yourself in a professional manner starts with an understand- ing that your persona is a brand,” says Hillary Fry, Essie educator and owner of Scenario Hair Design in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She notes that this extends to how you cope and interact with people around you daily. “A large part of
a professional projection is respectfully and diplomatically dealing with issues and people,” she says.
If you’re looking to boost your professional image, both Simmonds and Fry suggest asking for guidance from respected professionals. “If you find you’re struggling, learn by example. Who do you envision when you think of the word ‘professional’? Emulate this person until it becomes comfortable and you find your own style,” says Fry. Or, she suggests going the self-help route by listening to podcasts or buying books that can help you round out your skills.
2) Work Ethic – Diligent work, from putting in longer hours to going the extra mile for a coworker or client, can bolster business. “Whether you’re getting paid to or not, it’s always a good idea to put in the extra effort when you can,” says Sally Parks, owner of Plum Natural Nail & Skin Spa in Austin, Texas. “Get your coworker’s client seated or offer to wrap her nails for a gel removal if your coworker is running behind. One day you’ll appreciate the help in return.” Don’t forget managers and owners, too; arriving 15 minutes early to help them set up for the day without being asked makes a world of difference. “These gestures are a big deal to busy owners and a positive way to get on their good side,” Parks asserts.
Going above and beyond leaves a lasting impression, both in how you treat your clients and how you interact with your coworkers. When you exert effort in the day-to-day workings, it creates “positive energy that clients notice. They watch and see how we treat each other,” says Somer Adams, owner of Labella Salon in Glastonbury, Connecticut.
Yes, clients notice when you step up to the plate; however, don’t fall into the trap of over- promising and under-delivering, which Fry says can happen once, but any more and you’ll damage your reputation. Also, don’t expect that for every positive action you do, you’ll be given accolades, a kickback or an increase in pay. “Don’t think people owe you because of your enthusiasm,” Fry warns. Rather, exhibit a great work ethic because it’s the right thing to do—for others and, really, for you.
3) Graciousness – Being able to accept constructive criticism and learn from it is a true marker for a successful tech. “This job is about graciousness, including finding grace in difficult moments,” says Gino Trunzo, assistant vice president of education for Essie Professional. That includes keeping your emotions in check despite the fact that critiques can feel like personal blows. Be prepared for feedback from customers, coworkers and managers; as a service provider, you open yourself up to criticism that may seem unfair, but can be viewed as growth experiences. “Even in the most horrendous, icky, awful Yelp reviews, try and find the kernel of truth that’s hiding behind the writer’s anger,” says Elizabeth Morris, owner of The Nail Hub in Scottsdale, Arizona. “If you can listen to feedback, take it in, analyze it, and make changes for the better, you’ll evolve and prosper.”
4) Communication – To establish a business built on open communication with clients, develop a strategy. First, decide your target client, price point and where you see yourself. Then comes the hard part: You must be firm and clear in conveying information, says Fry. “Service providers tend to do a poor job of managing client expectations, often because they have not firmly decided their own business terms and expectations,” she says. To ensure that details don’t get lost in translation, make consultations a normal part of your service. “Ask clients, ‘What
do you like and dislike about your nails? What are your goals?’ Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment. You’re trying to build lasting, trusting relationships with your clients,” says Adams.
Another great way to avoid client miscommunication: Set up a professional Facebook page, Instagram account or website that includes your most up-to- date service menu and pricing—and keep it current. “Be upfront at the start of the service about cost so that clients have a choice, and stick to your pricing based on your qualifications regardless of what the salon down the road is charging,” says Simmonds.
As for coworkers, an open line of communication can only help strengthen the team. “That means making a conscious decision not to create
drama out of pent-up fear as well as wisely picking and choosing your battles,” says Fry. Resist the urge to jump to conclusions; sometimes a cooling- off period allows for greater insight. If a problem is worth addressing, Fry advises not allowing it to fester; talk it out before it becomes a bigger issue. “Go straight to the source of your concerns at a time when you feel level- headed, and talk things out directly,” she says.
5) A Positive Attitude – It goes without saying: Putting on a happy face attracts others. And, let’s be honest: Negativity can be poison for business. “Your skill and talent may be amazing, but they have to match your attitude in order to be successful,” says celebrity manicurist Pattie Yankee. A positive attitude inspires open communication, allowing you to better service clients. However, authenticity is key; clients can identify when you’re putting on an act. “When you’re yourself, you’ll attract clients who are like you. Eventually, this leads to building a clientele that has similar interests, which makes doing nails fun,” Yankee says.
If negativity starts to seep in, tamp it down before it spreads by surrounding yourself with positive influences, like a mentor. “Seek out people who are well-known and respected in the industry, and who conduct and present themselves in a professional manner,” says Simmonds. With social media a major form of marketing for nail techs, some newbies may feel like they can speak freely—and negatively—on-line, which any successful veteran tech will tell you is not the case. When seeking respected peers or mentors, Simmonds recommends finding people who “do not put down, discredit
or bully others, but instead who offer support or encouragement and are generally positive individuals.”
6) Time Management – Time is money for everyone—clients included. “We all want to make more money by squeezing in an extra client, but you should never do it at the expense of making your next client wait,” warns Phuong Luu, “The Nail Boss” and owner of #NotPolish. Being respectful of time includes not rushing through services, not being late to work or appointments, not taking too long due to inefficiencies and booking smart.
“Time management allows you to take control,” asserts Trunzo. “As you accomplish more each day, people notice. Leaders in your business will come to you when they need to get things done, which ultimately helps put you in line for advancement opportunities.”
On the flip side, when time gets away from you, you tend to feel rushed, overwhelmed, out of control and, ultimately, stressed. If time management doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t fret: It’s a learned process. “Remember that seasoned techs didn’t get where they are in a short amount of time. It takes time and practice to get to a level of feeling comfortable performing services,” Yankee says. She advises minimizing chatter (at least
until you have a handle on your speed) and keeping an eye on your time while not becoming frustrated if you aren’t hitting your goals right off the bat. If you really seek to maximize time, Yankee offers this tip: “Practice on coworkers or family members during your off hours to improve service speed.”
7) Problem Solving – When things go wrong, a good problem solver will help find a solution. Not everyone possesses this skill from the get-go; as Morris notes, “You have to fall flat on your face sometimes to learn how to get up again.” Rather than fear problems, Morris advises viewing each one as a learning experience. Once you’ve mitigated the issue, take a class or do online research to better your under- standing for the next time the issue arises—which it will. Or, truly hone your problem-solving skills by anticipating issues. “Mistakes can and do happen, even to pros, and you can get ahead of these issues by reading up on common problems that other techs are experiencing and identify solutions before it ever even happens to you,” says Morris. Search “nail tech support group” to find online forums where members will answers your questions or join a Facebook group to glean advice from fellow techs.
8) Be a Team Player – Perhaps the most important soft skill of all for nail technicians in salon settings is being a team player. When you work closely day in and day out, the tendency to take coworkers for granted can happen easily. But utilizing the aforementioned soft skills,
like staying positive (and keeping your head above any work drama), having work ethic (by offering help whenever you can) and communicating (by addressing issues), can establish you as a true team player. For Adams, it’s simple: “Treat your coworkers like you want to be treated: with kindness and consideration.” Something as little as saying good morning or good night, or ask- ing if anybody needs something when you run an errand, helps boost moral, says Adams. Larger gestures, like weekly or monthly meetings in the salon, can also keep up spirits and encourage team dialogue.
In the end, being a team player can improve your skills as a tech. “Working well with techs that may be stronger in a different area than you allows you to learn from them and grow,” says Yankee. “And, it goes both ways, as you may be able to give and teach other techs from your strong suits.” After all, that’s what being a part of a team is all about.
–by Karie L. Frost