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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Kids on the Floor

You've just graduated cosmetology school and you're ready to hit the floor. Or, your hard-working hubby has been transferred across the country and you don't know a soul. Maybe you've just sent the last of your kids off to first grade and you're ready to go back to work. Your top priority: establish a new clientele. Here's how to do it, and make ends meet in the meantime.
Who Do You Love?
Before you go after customers, you have to decide what kind of person you want in your chair, so take some time to define your ideal client. "Spend two days at your kitchen table or home office, doing some soul searching," says PHYLLIS SADLER-TAMPIO, industry relations leader, HAIR CUTTERY. "Ask yourself, 'Where do I want to be?' and 'Who do I want to work with?' not 'How can I get a job?'" Jot down

your ideas in a journal, make a collage, draw diagrams, compose a Haiku. You could even write a little personal ad: "Stylist seeking perfect client. Must love highlights, garage rock, and razor cuts." You get the picture. Just create a portrait of the kind of person you'd like to see at your station.

Finding "The One"
You can't cut hair without a chair. Once you have a dream client in mind, look for a shop that will attract that person. "Go in as a customer to get a feel for the place," says SUSAN PETTIGRASS, area supervisor, REGIS SALONS. First, think like a client. Note the service, the way the stylists dress, and the interior decor. Is this a place your fantasy customer would love? Then think like a potential employee. Pettigrass says, "Choose a location that will provide built-in ways to get new clients. A mall is a great place because it has a lot of foot traffic." Beyond the Adidas factor, make sure a salon actively pre-books, provides education, builds customer loyalty, has a hands-on owner or manager, and does promotions. This means the shop cares about bringing in new clients - and retaining them.

A Financial Affair
"The salon you choose may not have an opening right away, but if you really want to work there, hold out until they do," advises ERIC FISHER, NAHA winner, owner of ERIC FISHER SALON in Wichita, KS and author of salon success books. To keep from going broke in the interim he suggests becoming a salon receptionist at your target workplace, or getting a position in the customer service industry. Gigs like waiting tables let you practice a part of your skill set that has nothing to do with scissors but just as much to do with building a book: communication. "The key to being a success in this industry is not just having a license, but how well you work with people," says Sadler-Tampio. Don't be shy about sharing your career goals with customers you meet at your temporary job. It may be that the guy who orders French fries today likes your service style so much that he comes in for a fauxhawk tomorrow.

First Date
If you're savvy, you may already have a few clients lined up once you start working at your chosen salon, but how are you going to fill the rest of those empty appointment slots? Ten years ago, Pettigrass was in that very situation. She and her husband had moved to a new town, and she had to start from scratch. First stop: your manager. "The salon should be run by someone whose primary job is to help you get business," she says. "One huge thing they should do is to send a high amount of walk-ins your way, because the stylists already working there should have well-established books." Pettigrass's manager let her put a chair outside the salon door during slow times, so she could offer free consultations and demonstrations to attract new clients. Fisher's salon has performance coaches that assist stylists by graphing their progress and creating strategies for increasing business.

Make Them Want You
But to get up to speed, you can't just rely on the boss. "Self promotion is so important when you are the new kid," says Sadler-Tampio. Fisher suggests having a business card, and an opening statement about yourself that defines who you are. "I handed out my card to everyone I met - neighbors, the mail carrier," says Pettigrass. "I even picked up clients at beauty supply houses." Fisher's new employees are required to court people he calls "influentials," highly visible members of a community. They don't have to be mayoral candidates or chamber of commerce presidents, just folks who have a circle of influence. Stylists must approach twelve of these heavy hitters a month with a VIP card offering a free service. "That person influences their peers, plus they come in and buy products," says Fisher. Another tip for raising your profile comes from Pettigrass, who volunteered to work at mall fashion and bridal shows and did makeovers on the local news anchors in order to get noticed.

More is Better
Once you have established a fledgling group of clients, ask for their help in bringing in more. Let them know you are looking for new customers, and promise to reward them if they help you. A method that always works is referral cards. Give each client three to five, and when all of those cards have come back to the salon in the hands of new clients - give your original customer a free service or a gratis bottle of shampoo. Sadler-Tampio points out that Hair Cuttery provides referral coupons to all employees. The company also pays for stylist mailings - either thank-you notes with attached coupons, or "Come Back" cards for those announcing their return to the business.

Don't get discouraged if the salon phone isn't ringing off the hook right away with booking requests. "It takes a stylist about a year and a half to get up to 100% capacity," says Pettigrass. But if you are determined, you can do it faster. Check out Fisher's two CD set, "90 Days to a Lifetime of Big Earnings," in the BTC bookstore for more tips on client building. And while you're getting your book to the bursting point, stay informed. "Read Vogue. Pull tear sheets from hair and fashion magazines. Know the top five celebrities and models influencing style," says Fisher. "Your knowledge will impress potential clients." Most of all, don't let the process get you down. "When I went through this, I was excited but also scared," says Pettigrass. "To go from a great clientele down to nothing…it was fear of the unknown. But everything worked out great."

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