The dream for many is to open their own salon, gain a loyal clientele and garner success. Some nail techs harbor this career ambition from an early age, and some actually make it a reality before they even reach 25. However, being a young boss comes with a laundry list of challenges—some of which are forced upon them due to ingrained societal biases. The resultis self-doubt that can plague the young owner before she even opens her doors. “I was concerned that I wouldn’t be taken seriously because of my lack of experience managing a team. I was worried that I would lack authority and people might see me as a bit of a pushover,” says Emily Jin, age 26, owner of Milly Nail & Jin Acupuncture in Brighton, United Kingdom. This line of thought can lead to what Jon Hill, Chairman and CEO of The Energists, an executive search and recruiting firm, calls the “proving period.” “The issue, I think, is that young bosses are more likely to internalize this reasonable skepticism from their team and feel pressure to prove themselves as competent, which can often backfire because it shifts the focus away from the success of the team and makes it all about the boss,” he says. “That kind of ‘me-centric’ approach is never going to be received well by a team, no matter the boss’ age.” So, how does a young manager push aside biases, take the focus off of her and lead her team with conviction so that staff and boss feel fulfilled? Here, young salon managers and veteran recruiters lend advice on how to navigate this tricky situation.
1. Come Prepared
Research is your friend. Acquire every bit of information you need to establish your business, right down to how to negotiate. Knowledge is power, as Sophie Goodwin, age 23, owner of Nirvana, in Buckie, North East Scotland, found out the hard way—even when you’re working with utility companies. “They definitely took advantage of me because of my age,” she laments. Her advice: Always come to the table with as much information as you can. Seek guidance from fellow salon owners or research information online so that your age will just be a number—not a deterrent—even in negotiations.
2. Find a Mentor
While the Internet definitely provides a wealth of advice for the young manager, Carla Hatler, owner of LACQUER nail studios in Austin, Texas, recommends leaning on a mentor. Hatler, who became a young salon manager at 27, says, “It’s invaluable to have someone who can guide you and give you tough feedback when you need to hear it. It has to be a two-way street, though.” Open yourself up to feedback and constructive criticism, and let your mentor know about your achievements and failures. “Most people who have been through the trials and tribulations of being a young manager or salon owner don’t want to see others make the same mistakes they did, so if someone you respect in your industry is willing to mentor you and give you advice—listen!” Hatler says.
3. Admit When You’re Wrong
Youth might make you feel like you need to prove yourself, which can run awry when you flounder. “Staff members who are managed by someone younger than them especially want to know their manager has the maturity to admit when she’s made a mistake,” says Hatler. By conceding your errors, you build trust. Plus, Hatler reasons, acknowledging your errors shows the team you have enough confidence to admit a mistake, and then correct it. “That’s what we all want to see from our team, so why not model the behavior we want from others?” Hatler asks,
4. Don’t Be Shy About Your Age
With youth comes this “age”-old question: “How old are you?” Do your nosy staffers deserve an answer? The answer: Yes—with some caveats. “I answer the question honestly,” says Georgia Wright, age 26, owner of Studio One in New Milton, Hampshire, England. “I do this because I’m proud of what I’ve achieved at my age, and I don’t want to hide that. It’s such a huge positive for me, and although I’ve had some hard times with staff and being a boss, I’ve taken so much from it and love the position I’m in now.” Qualifying your age with a positive about what you’ve learned can let staffers know that yes, you acknowledge your youth, but you also believe in yourself as a boss—and they can, too.
5. Remember Who’s Boss
When Bárbara Pereira, owner of Heirs of Venus in Lisbon, Portugal, decided to bring on employees at age 22, she thought of them as friends first and staff second—a mistake she soon regretted. “It’s hard to start setting boundaries a few months into the job when you should have set them from the start!” she laments. “I think the lines can be very easily blurred when you become too friendly and close with your staff,” agrees Wright. One of Pereira’s employees, who had nearly nine years’ experience on her, exploited the friendship, refusing to listen to Pereira’s lead—and, because Pereira had invested in the friendship, she didn’t want to rock the boat. Wright warns that young bosses should prepare themselves for some painful “breakups” in those first years if they don’t draw a line between friendship and healthy staff relationships. “You’ll want to establish a clear hierarchy in the salon right from the start,” she advises.
6. stand Your Ground
“Don’t let employees use their age as a way to demean or belittle you,” warns Hatler. “I’ve been on the receiving end of this before and almost always it’s a cover-up for some type of insecurity.” Do some self-reflection: When you understand your strengths and weaknesses, and are consistent and fair in your management style, age becomes inconsequential—and you can say as much when veteran techs use their age as leverage. “I’d say consistency and follow-through are the most important things any young boss can do to establish credibility and trust,” Hatler says.
7. Learn From Your Staff
Nobody likes a no-it-all. “I like to say, ‘Be the boss, but don’t be bossy!’” Pereira shares. “Remember that no one knows everything; you’ll learn a lot from your staff if you give them the chance to use their voice.” Treat veteran staffers’ years in the industry as a bottomless well of knowledge. “I’ve found I’ve learned some valuable things from older staff, as they have different experiences than me,” says Wright. Seeking veteran staffers’ thoughts and guidance is particularly important to keeping a balanced work environment, according to Paul French, managing director of Intrinsic Executive Search, a recruiting firm. “Veteran staffers need to feel heard, perhaps more than other workers do. Asking for their input every so often can help to diffuse the stereotypes that your older staffers might have of younger managers,” he shares.
8. Encourage Growth For All
On the flipside, “if veteran staffers can improve something, help them get there. Show them you’re a real person who works hard and wants them to work alongside you instead of behind you,” Pereira says. Jin will ask her veterans to show her what tips and tricks they’ve acquired over the years, and keeps an open mind on which of these can be more broadly incorporated into the salon. But Jin also wants her veteran staff to continue learning. “I ask for their opinion on new trends and show them how I would like to introduce them to the salon. I make sure they know I value their work whether it’s new or not and that we’re all learning together as beauty changes,” she says.
9. Never Make Age-Based Assumptions
Making assumptions that the older generation doesn’t know the trends or new techniques is a surefire way to alienate them. After all, as Goodwin points out, “Everyone was new at some point!” Like Jin, Goodwin suggests working as a team to learn everything together—age notwithstanding. “As a team, we encourage each other to try new things, whether it be using an online booking system together instead of having paper appointment books or trying out new trends and using each other as models and helping each other grow our businesses through social media,” Goodwin says.
10. Finally: Go Easy on Yourself
Young entrepreneurship should be celebrated, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Put trust in your abilities, enforce rules, set boundaries and soak up as much experience as you can from those around you. “As a younger boss, you’re naturally inexperienced in certain areas, but you need to learn that experience will only come with time, and that it’s OK to not know everything,” says Wright, who just opened a bigger salon and admits she’s still learning every day. Mistakes will happen along the way—and that’s OK. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; all of the most successful people do! And if you’re not, you’re not trying hard enough,” shares Goodwin. Use each mistake as a teachable moment, and you’ll earn trust from not only your team, but from your clients, too.
The old adage, “Age is just a number,” is true—if you put in the hard work to learn, be open to suggestions and criticism, and lead with positivity. “We created such a positive atmosphere that we often forget who’s the oldest and the youngest,” says Pereira. “When clients come in, if they booked through the salon’s Instagram, they have no idea who’s the boss. Everyone is treated equally!”
Karie L. Frost is freelance writer, copywriter and artist living in Glastonbury, Connecticut.
Tips on Working With a Young Boss
You’ve paid your dues, working a decade—sometimes several—to get where you are. But your boss is young, and you can’t help but feel superior. Here, Hill and French help you ease into this power dynamic gracefully.