Whether you've just acquired your cosmetology license or are looking for a new challenge after years of renting a station at someone else's salon, the management of your own nail studio may be just the ticket.
Scope out your competition. In large cities, for instance, there's clearly no shortage of manicure and pedicure businesses located in shopping malls, beauty salons, and luxury hotels. On the other hand, a small town or rural community may not have any at all. The latter condition, however, isn't necessarily an easy invitation to start one, especially if the town's economics are bleak, and expenditures on beauty services would be deemed frivolous.
Identify your clientele. If you live near a college campus, for example, your primary customer base will be comprised of co-eds. Conversely, a community that attracts retirees will bring older clients to your door. Both of these populations will be looking for a salon that offers lower prices to accommodate their respective budgets. At the same time, older ladies often regard salons as both a leisurely setting to be pampered and a social setting to catch up on gossip. In metropolitan areas, your clientele is likely to be comprised of working women who have more discretionary income, are short on time, and don't necessarily live downtown or spend time there on the weekends. These customers would be more attracted to weekday salon services that they can access (speedily) first thing in the morning, during their lunch hour, or right after work.
Identify an aspect of your nail salon that will set you apart from your competition. Perhaps it's that you were formerly a manicurist to the stars. Maybe you make the best coffee drinks. Perhaps you serve your after-work customers a chilled glass of champagne. And don't forget that convenient parking figures prominently when people are deciding which salon to go to; you could have the prettiest studio on the planet but if there's never a place to park, you're not going to see much business.
Write your business plan for the salon. The business plan should address how you plan to finance your business (such as purchase/lease of a shop, salon equipment, products, insurance), staffing, hours of operation, fees, and marketing. The more thorough and realistic your business plan, the greater likelihood that you'll be able to get financial assistance through your bank. The website of the Small Business Administration (see Resources) will provide you with the steps to then get a business license, register your salon's name with the Secretary of State's Office, and acquire a federal tax ID number.
Choose a location that will be easily accessible in terms of parking and proximity to public transportation. The location you choose should also encourage walk-in clientele (for example, if it's down an alley or located at the top of a flight of stairs, potential newcomers will be likely to bypass it). If you decide to operate the salon out of your home by appointment only, you'll need to make sure first that your address is zoned for a commercial enterprise and that you have a separate entrance for your customers. If you want to skip the high overhead cost of having a brick and mortar shop, consider providing a mobile service wherein you drive to the customer's home or office. Note: A mobile operation is more feasible for manicure services than pedicures.
Get the word out. Start by telling your friends and neighbors that you're open for business. Run weekly ads in neighborhood newspapers. Establish relationships with the owners of businesses that are close to yours and offer their employees an introductory discount. Post flyers on grocery store bulletin boards. Introduce yourself to the management of nearby apartment complexes; many of them put out monthly or quarterly newsletters for their tenants and may include an announcement for you.
Carry your business cards with you everywhere you go. Consider making some introductory flyers/discount coupons and ask if you can drop some off at neighborhood businesses. Offer incentives for frequent customers (i.e., a free polish change every 10 visits) or discounts if they provide referrals to friends and coworkers.