How to Create Powerful Salon Policies

Salon policies are rules that you set and boundaries that you define. They apply to the services you provide and the ways in which you operate your business. A random example of this would be, “We do not apply drugstore haircolor.” That is a service policy communicating to clients that they can’t just show up with a box of Natural Instincts, slap a $20 on the counter, and expect you to apply it for them.

Where policies are concerned, there are three types of professionals.

  1. “I’ll do anything as long as I’m getting paid.” These professionals don’t have any service policies. The client wants Cruella deVille’s dye job with Miley’s unfortunate Beiber cut? No problem. That’ll be $110. Show me the money.
  2. “I won’t do X…unless Y or Z. Then, I guess it’s okay.” These professionals have a rule or two, but they’re not in writing or they’re relatively flexible. This kind of nail tech says, “I won’t do acrylics on teenagers–unless they’re a ‘mature’ teenager and/or their mom says it okay.”
  3. “I won’t do it. Period. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” Some of us are hard core. We know how we like to do business and we’re very specific about it. We will not negotiate our policies with terrorists clients. If our policies state that we won’t do something, save your breath. Don’t even ask. The answer is NO. This kind of nail tech says, “I do not fill nail enhancements that I did not apply. No amount of money, begging, bribery, or blackmailing will change that fact.”

I’m not advocating any one stance over the others. Whether you have service policies at all is entirely up to you. Everyone does business differently.

For your consideration, here are the advantages and drawbacks of having policies in place:

You control the quality of work you produce. When you set clear rules and boundaries, you gain complete control over your output. For example, by refusing to fill enhancements someone else applied, I am communicating to clients that I will not accept responsibility for someone else’s questionable prep, poor craftsmanship, or cheap product. By refusing to perform hair services that will end in disaster, you’re communicating to clients that you aren’t motivated by their money–you really do want them to look good.

Clients who leave our chairs are wearing our reputations on their hands, their heads, or their faces.

We should ensure they’re advertising our skill and experience in the best way possible. Setting service policies is a surefire way to accomplish that.

Clients will see and appreciate the passion you have for your work. A lot of the time, our policies benefit the clients as well–even policies that may seem crappy on the surface. For example, a lot of spas have policies that state, “If you are delayed in your arrival, please remember that your service will end at its original time.” While this policy benefits you by deterring late arrivals, it also benefits the clients because it doesn’t allow those latecomers to inconvenience the customers that do show up on time.

You can eliminate the hagglers/bargainers. A confident, passionate professional is a magnet for quality clients. That same confidence will absolutely repel hagglers. We’ll use the late arrival policy as an example. Some clients might look at that late arrival policy and say, “Screw that place! What a ripoff! If I’m paying for the service, I should get the full service regardless of how late I am.” Other clients (the ones who are more likely to respect your time), will read the same policy and appreciate that you respect their time.

And now for the drawbacks:

You may lose business. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the clients you lose tend to be the ones you probably didn’t want to attract to begin with. Nonetheless, if you are a “show me the money” professional who doesn’t really care about anything outside of your immediate bottom line, policies may pose a problem.

You may come off as “stuck-up.” Again, the people who hold these opinions may belong to that undesirable client group. I’ll admit it, I am stuck-up and rigid about my policies and procedures. I hold myself and my clients to a higher standard.

We’ve worked hard to be good at what we do. We shouldn’t be ashamed of that and we shouldn’t be humble about it.

If you can walk your talk, embrace the “stuck-up,” “uppity bitchface” label. You earned it.

Do we refuse to do cheap, crappy work? Hell yes we do.
Why? Because we actually give a shit.
Do we charge no-shows for disrespecting our time? You bet.
Why? Because this is our career; not a hobby. Our time has value. We’re here to get paid.

Anyways, this a “con” that I wouldn’t take seriously for a single second, but some professionals really care about the opinions of clients who aren’t likely to value them. (Obviously, I’m not one of them.)

Clients may not be receptive to the policies. Clients who are disdainful of policies tend to be those who violate them. They’re the kinds of clients who confuse service workers with servants while shouting, “The customer is always right!”

we’re not servants–we’re highly trained professionals–and the customer is almost never right, especially with regards to our technical knowledge versus theirs.

(Sorry, clients. Sad truth. If you could do our jobs as well as we can, you wouldn’t be in our chairs. So, if your professional refuses to do something or insists on an alternative, they generally have a reason for it. Usually that reason is, “It’s for your own good.”)

Alright, so there you have it. A list of pros and cons not as awesome pros. Now how can you create and implement them in your business?

When you think about what your service policies will be, I’m sure a few things come to mind immediately. Make a list of them and prioritize it by severity. Things you absolutely will not allow go at the top and things you might be flexible on go at the bottom.

My list looks like this:
1.) No children in the spa.
2.) We do not fill or repair enhancements we didn’t apply.
3.) No shows will be charged 100% and will be required to secure all future bookings with a credit card.
4.) No food or drinks in the spa treatment areas.
5.) I require the client’s full attention during their services–cell phones off, magazines put away, eyes on me.

Now you know where you draw your lines and how firmly you press your pen down when you draw them. With this knowledge, we can move on to wording, placement, and enforcement.

  • Choose your words wisely. On policies you feel strongly about, make your wording very clear. Keep your sentences concise and firm. Stay away from polite words. If “please,” “kindly,” or “we ask” are anywhere in those policies, you’re doing it wrong.

Those words are soft and make the policies seem optional. Stick to phrases like, “do not,” “will not,” “not permitted,” “for any reason,” and “no exceptions.”

These words are strong. They form an immediate impression. They make it clear the policies are mandatory and non-negotiable.

  • Choose your placement. You don’t want to slap your clients in the face with a rulebook. Think about where you can place policies so clients will see them only when necessary.

Important rules go in multiple places. More specific ones will go where they’re relevant.

  • Prepare to enforce your policies. Sometimes this means making the consequences clear so that you have something to point at when you’re enforcing them. Also have a reason for each policy you create so you can defend them when necessary.

You don’t need to have a reason for having a particular policy.

For example, I don’t do facials on men. My reason? When I was nineteen, some a-hole propositioned me for sex in an aggressive, threatening way in a facial room.

Is it likely to happen again? Probably not.
Does that mean I’m going to start taking male facial clients again? Nope. Never again.

Don’t feel like you need to defend your policies. It helps if you can when confronted about them by clients, but it’s not a requirement.

Take a look at my list as an example of how wording, placement, and justification work:

1.) “No children are permitted in the spa for any reason.” 

WORDING: No “please,” “kindly,” or “we request” nonsense here. The wording in this policy is as straightforward as a pistol shot.

PLACEMENT: This goes on my website, my brochure, the reception desk, and pops up during online booking. This policy is critically important, so it shows up multiple places.

REASON: We use a lot of dangerous chemicals and sharp implements. We also have expensive equipment. It is a liability and we cannot be held responsible for a child’s safety while we’re working. Children also interfere with the relaxation of the other clients and can be distracting for the technicians. Children do not fit in the atmosphere my business creates. It’s an oasis away from the outside world; not a daycare center.

2.) “We do not fill nail enhancements that we did not apply. No exceptions.”

WORDING: Again, this policy doesn’t fool around. “We do not.” “No exceptions.”

PLACEMENT: This goes on my website and on my brochures where the nail enhancement prices are listed. New clients who book a Fill & Rebalance will be called and offered an Enhancement Removal & Full Set. If they refuse a new set, they will be denied the appointment.

REASON: We do not know how well the natural nails were prepped prior to application. Bacteria could be brewing under there. If the infection manifests a week after we fill them, we don’t want our name attached to it. If those nails pop off due to bad prep or crumble due to garbage product, we’re not fixing it or taking the blame for it. If the client is going to walk around telling people they’re wearing our nails, they need to be wearing our product, sculpted and finished our way.

3.) “Clients who fail to provide 24 hour notice of cancellation will be charged for the full amount of their appointment. Future appointments will have to be paid in advance.”

WORDING: Remember how I said I was rigid and strict? This policy’s wording lacks those nice, gentle words because it’s not a nice, gentle policy. You fail to cancel with appropriate notice, we’re still getting paid.

PLACEMENT: This goes out with reminder emails, pops up during online booking, and is posted on the reception desk where people sign their credit card receipts. It’s also on brochures and the website.

REASON: This is our business. We get paid for the time a client reserved whether or not they decided to show up for the service. It’s not an unreasonable request and I haven’t had a single person complain about it.

4.) “No food or drinks are permitted in the spa treatment areas.”

WORDING: This policy isn’t a “please” or “thank you” policy either, largely because it’s a health code violation to have clients eating and drinking in service spaces.

PLACEMENT: This sign is on the door that leads back into the treatment areas. I don’t care if clients eat and drink in reception, but they absolutely can’t while we’re working.

REASON: It’s gross, but really, the policy exists because it has to.

5.) “During services, we require your full, undivided attention. Please plan to be an active participant for the duration of your service.”

WORDING: Oh look! I said “please!” This policy is still one we enforce, but not one we’re extremely rigid about.

PLACEMENT: This goes on the intake form the clients fill out and sign. Our intake forms explain our sanitation practices, home care, and other important information.

REASON: Since a lot of our clients suffer from peripheral neuropathy (and we use sharp tools and e-files), we do require their full attention. This means no phones, no books, and no tablets. We’re flexible on this policy after the first appointment, depending on the client’s needs, so we don’t need to have it posted anywhere or worded in a way that sounds as if Hitler were barking it.

Do you have policies? Are you realizing it may be time to implement a few? What problems have you experienced that required you to implement some ground rules? Let us know in the comments!

The Policy Creation & Enforcement Pack

Need help creating your own policies? Get The Policy Creation & Enforcement Pack today!

This pack includes a 55-page PDF with everything you need to understand why certain policies may be required, who should and shouldn’t implement them, and when and how to introduce them in your salon. The kit includes:

  • templates for every salon policy imaginable
  • placement and wording recommendations
  • scripts for communicating policies
  • enforcement tips, and
  • enforcement correspondence.
  • $19.99Add to cart

I’ve also provided guidelines for creating and effectively communicating any additional polices your salon may require in the future and a suggested appointment reminder schedule with reminder templates.

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberino
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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  1. Tina thanks so much for the article, I already made my salon policies thanks to you. I am about to boothrent and I would like to have a policy in place for no shows and late appointments. I wanted to charge a deposit fee to book an appointment or a no show fee to book another appointment. Since I have no clientele Im afraid it may prevent walk ins and me building my clientele quickly. I didnt use the credit card idea you suggested because in our country alot of people dont use credit cards. I was thinking to wait until I build my clientele to charge this fee but Im afraid I may get some friction. How do I go about this Tina? Im so confused

    • Policies that require deposits for appointments won’t discourage walk-ins (actually, it will encourage them, since walk-ins won’t have to worry about providing a deposit in advance). When and how you implement it is up to you. Personally, I had no choice but to institute it when we were already booked up. For me, it’s worth it to ensure I’m attracting the best quality of client from the beginning, even if that means that my book builds slower than it normally would, but that route isn’t for everyone. Every business is different. Since your country doesn’t use credit much, you may be better off waiting until no-shows and late-cancellations become a problem before implementing the deposit. Many salons have deposit policies that don’t kick in until a client has stood them up, punishing that specific client for their irresponsibility and disrespect. For you, that’s probably the best route to take while you’re building. Down the line, you can always change your policies as you see fit. 🙂

  2. Hi Tina,
    Was wondering how being “too strict” may affect bottom line? I have great clients who generally show up for their appointments, but may cancel last-minute due to sudden flu or illness. How can I minimize the blow on these clients if the policy may be too rigid even for the wonderful clients I have? I don’t want to scare my good clients away or create a bad taste in their mouth and lose the clients that support me.

    • Most of my salon’s clients are elderly, so it isn’t abnormal for them to have a late-cancellation due to illness or injury. In those rare instances, it’s totally okay to be flexible on that policy–just don’t announce it on your website or every cancellation will be an “emergency” cancellation.

  3. If you’re making exceptions to these policies how is it fair to others that have paid in the past? I own a salon and have gotten to the point that I can’t let it slide for certain clients “sometimes”. It’s too hard to determine whose emergency is more important than another’s( it used to keep me up at night). We have found it’s a small world and clients talk. I don’t want to lose credibility by excusing some from a fee and not others. We have clients that are really understanding about our cancellation policy and others who get very upset. Even though we are very clear about them, email confirmations, online booking pop ups, intakes at first visit, etc. I’m wondering how no one complains to you about it? Not trying to be rude at all, just curious. Thanks!

    • We’ve had some people question it, but existing clients have never outright rejected it or refused. I think this has to do with several factors:

      1.) I think there’s a lot to be said about how your demeanor sets the tone for clients. I’ve always been cordial with clients, but I’m very firm in how I communicate my expectations of them and my employees. Because of this, I don’t deal with a lot of the same problems my colleagues are faced with. (Simply put: they’re too nice, and clients know there’s a possibility they can be manipulated. That isn’t the case for me.)
      2.) I don’t allow clients to question my management decisions. They’re welcome to comment on whatever they like, but a client is not going to confront me about an exception I made for a client who broke her hip because they’re upset I didn’t excuse them from a cancellation fee due to a conflicting doctor’s appointment they “forgot” (or any other excuse), and expect me to bend to their will. My response is that I’m simply not in the business of losing money. Exceptions are rare and they’re made at my discretion. End of discussion.
      3.) My clientele isn’t much like a typical salon clientele. Our clients are mostly seniors (aged 55+), so I think to a degree, we’re unlikely to ever be challenged because of our client demographics.
      4.) Should a client try to challenge a cancellation fee or any other policy, I’ve established systems that make it impossible for them to form valid complaints. Like you said–you send reminders, confirmations, pop ups, intakes–what more do they need? You have done literally everything you can do to ensure they’re informed and aware. Should they violate the policy after all the work you’ve done to prevent that from happening, that’s on them.

      It sounds cold, but it’s important for us to stick by our policies, even if that costs us a client. When we make exceptions, we set precedents. We give clients room to argue or to dismiss our policies. It can be hard to be firm, but it’s harder to let violations go unenforced and to become a doormat. New clients who take issue with our policies are politely shown the door, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. If they won’t respect our business from the beginning, we’d rather not have them. 🙂

  4. How do you deal with the impact of people paying for services that weren’t rendered? This is not legal in many places and leads to charge backs for the credit card?

    • I don’t know of a single state in the US that considers no-show fees illegal. Businesses have to make those policies conspicuous and ensure the client has been made aware of them, for instance, by making acceptance of your terms a requirement before booking an appointment. Clients may attempt to place a chargeback, but if you can show the credit card company that your policies are conspicuously placed and that the client’s confirmation email also contained the policy and a link to enable rescheduling, they’ll have a hard time arguing that they shouldn’t have to comply with that policy.


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