I became a booth renter in my family’s full service salon in 2008, when we switched from commission to booth rent to attract higher quality talent. I kept the same prices as when I was on commission: $35 for a pink and white rebalance and $45 for a full set. I remember being in awe of my neighbor, Stacy, who charged $45 for a pink + white rebalance. I remember thinking I’d never be confident enough to charge that much for my work.
Fast forward to 2021, when I moved out of state + put my nail business on a brief hiatus: my rebalance was $48 and my full set was a $72 investment. (Low key…I still don’t think I was as good as Stacy when I was charging that much.) While that 37% increase tracked well with the 33.5% rise in cost of living between 2008-2021, I made all kinds of mistakes as I adjusted my prices to keep up with inflation. Here are the mistakes that led to the biggest revelations in pricing my services and running my business in general.
Mistake 1: Basing prices on what neighbors are charging
The upside of surrounding ourselves with talented nail professionals is that we’re inspired, learn new techniques, and refer clients to each other. In my experience, it’s the best way to raise our game. The downside is looking up to our neighbors can also set us up for a sneaky case of comparisonitis.
Comparison is the thief of joy! And it’s the thief of opportunity.
Working alongside someone whom I thought was more talented than me somehow made me believe I needed to earn the higher price tag based, ultimately, on my confidence. In reality, your neighbor may be more subjectively talented and/or experienced than you. But they might be charging more (or less) because their products and operating costs are different from yours. They may require a higher income than you to support more humans at home.
Don’t limit yourself based on what others are doing. You have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes that informs their prices. Your work must sustain YOU.
Mistake 2: Asking others what to charge
It’s never the best idea to ask our parent, cousin, pastor, BFF or clients what to charge. They have no idea about the ins and outs of running a nail business. Experts, educators, and mentors can be a useful resource for guidance, but just because they are experts doesn’t mean we should take what they say at face value. They don’t know where we live, or what we require to run our business or sustain our life. A single parent hustling their nail station is going to need different financial sustenance than a parent in a two-income household, for example.
Other people’s opinions–experts or otherwise–don’t take into consideration other societal factors that we may be dealing with. For many indie nail pros, part of our perfect pricing includes breaking patterns that have prevented us from owning our own homes, seeking adequate healthcare or being assured that we’ll be able to retire comfortably, if not thrivingly. One of the main reasons I raised my prices by a straight 20% in 2018 was because I wanted to start saving for retirement, something my refugee parents didn't teach me because it wasn't necessary in the country they were displaced from.
The one half-exception of this general lesson is that if you’re going to ask others for their opinions on your business practices, make sure they’re an ideal client. Not a client you simply love, but someone who fits the profile of your business’s dream client. Ask 100+ people who fit that profile, even if they aren’t your existing client, about a price range rather than a set price. This is also a great way to develop new products and services.
Mistake 3: Only considering supplies in cost per service
I personally applaud ANYONE who prices their services based on cost per service. It’s a precise science that helps to minimize costs and maximize profits…and it also makes my eyes water just thinking about it. So I tried to make it easy by using the cost per service information supplied by my manufacturer. A Shellac manicure costs $4.02 per service and I book an hour, which is worth $35 based on my location, so the cost for a Shellac manicure is $40. Simple enough, right?
But what about other costs involved in running our business like: rent, electricity, water, internet, cell phone, scheduling software, website, business insurance, magazine subscriptions, coffee/tea/wine/water, client gifts, etc.?
What about costs that don’t come out of our bank account, like the time it takes to clean the salon, market on social media, return calls and texts, bookkeeping or continuing education? If you added up all the hours you pour into your professional development, how much would that time “cost”?
The cost of doing business goes far beyond the cost of supplies alone, so we need to make sure we cover all costs before they accidentally eat into our profit, which is how we pay for our living expenses.
Mistake 4: Discounting and pricing based on emotion
Maybe we raise our prices and then don’t actually charge for the work because it’s “fun”. Maybe we’re worried our clients will get angry or leave when we ring them up at the new rate. Maybe we keep long-standing clients at a “loyalty” rate. (I did them all! 🙊)
Whatever the reason, discounting coaches our community to expect a discount and to never pay full price. If we’re discounting because we feel insecure or unconfident, clients can definitely pick up on that energy. Discounting from that place of insecurity can even position our business as unethical or using lower quality products, even if that’s not true.
Through trial and error, I’ve found that limited time discounts can work with introducing new services or retail products. But what feels best for me is adding value to my services, like providing free cuticle oil refills for clients, gifting a $5 coffee gift card on their birthday or client anniversary and always giving a Christmas gift. The added value has the same effect of "compensation" as discounting a service, except it coaches our clients to feel special and surprised, increasing the value of our salon over a one that simply discounts services.
Price nail services based on what YOU need
Next time, I’ll be sharing different ways to price your services because one method isn’t necessarily right for everyone. (Heck, one pricing method may not even be right for one nail professional for 5 years!) A beautiful thing about being an indie nail tech is that we can adjust our business model based on our current needs and future growth.
“Properly” pricing our nail services is something that can change from year to year, even quarter to quarter. While we don’t have to change our prices that often, it can be helpful to assess our pricing quarterly so that we can plan our price changes before they become urgent. Case in point: The rising costs of supplies and the added expense of personal protection equipment have pushed even the most uncomfortable nail techs to raise our prices at least once over the last couple of years.
When you know why you charge what you charge for your services, it takes the guesswork out of pricing. Your service prices become rooted in your reality instead of other people’s opinions, your competitor’s prices, or your beliefs about money.
Download your Perfect Pricing Calculator to better plan for price increases and build the confidence to implement them without getting sweaty in the underarms.
About the Author
Mary Chhea (she/her) is a nail professional and marketing nerd who helps indie salon professionals build healthy businesses financially, mentally and creatively. She believes that, as co-creators of beauty that moves and lives in the world, we deserve to be well compensated for our creations and we get to decide what that means.
Creator of the Service Menu Makeover, Mary has helped 30+ nail professionals discover their perfect pricing and redesign their marketing to increase their profitability with services they love and best-fit clients.
A #coloRADo kid living in Vermont with her husband and cat, Mary is a sucker for pho noodle soup, English panel comedy and any excuse to visit a Harry Potter themed anything. Download your Perfect Pricing Calculator here.