How to Build a Book: Three Big Lies You’ve Been Told

Debunking common myths about building a client base in the beauty industry. Effective marketing strategies for salon professionals. How to grow your clientele base intelligently and sustainably.

In our industry, building a clientele is often presented as a nearly impossible, monstrous task. People have designed outrageously priced systems to help salon professionals “market themselves” so they can get “booked solid.” Educators teach classes on it and have written books about it. Entire blogs are based on it.

In classes and in professional forums, three of these popular pieces of advice are perpetuated and hammered into the skulls of recent graduates. They’re preached like gospel by veteran professionals who swear by them. Unfortunately, a lot of new graduates realize that several factors come into play when building a clientele, and what worked for some may not work for them—it also may not be the most efficient or productive strategy available.

The three strategies for clientele building highlighted in this post are counterproductive and inefficient at best, completely ineffective and potentially damaging at worst.

Lie #1: “You have to pay your dues.”

This usually gets thrown around to justify sitting in the salon for weeks or months, waiting until the clients somehow eventually decide to flock to you. The people who tell you this are wrong. You do not have dues to pay. Paying your tuition, graduating, and becoming licensed was sufficient.

Sitting in the salon like a lump will not build your clientele.

Unless you have enough savings to sustain your laziness, you need to aggressively advertise and promote yourself in your down time. In a perfect world, your salon owner would be responsible for keeping you busy—otherwise they wouldn’t have hired you to begin with. However, rarely ever are our work environments perfect (or even well-managed). So, often, professionals must fend for themselves.

Since not every owner or manager is perfect (or even halfway-competent), you need to be focused on getting asses in your chair, not sitting on your own ass waiting for your book to fill up. This can be done for free without leaving the salon.

Be present, but be actively building your name while you’re present.

  • Work the desk for a few hours a day, greeting clients and answering phones. Get the clientele familiar with you.
  • Promote your work on social media and your own online portfolio. If you don’t yet have a portfolio, click here to learn how and why you need to build one immediately. 
  • Start a blog and be sure to disclose your location. You never know when someone in your area might stumble across it and decide to give you a shot.
  • Get involved in your community outside of the salon. Attend events, volunteer, and make some friends.

The more people you know, the more people know you.

Lie #2: “If you can’t form connections or build personal relationships with your clients, you’ll never build a book.”

Are people skills important in a customer service business? Of course. Does your success as a professional depend entirely on your ability to make your clients like you? Absolutely not.

If you’re skilled, polite, conduct yourself professionally, and provide fantastic services, your clients will return.

You don’t need to “connect” or “build a relationship” with your clients.

That’s what your client’s friends, family, and spouse are for. You are the salon to do your job and they are at the salon to enjoy a service. Nothing more, nothing less.

You are not your client’s friend. You are not their therapist. It’s not your job to entertain or amuse them through the duration of their appointment. Some clients don’t mind a nice, idle chat, but a good deal of them aren’t interested in your opinions and aren’t there to hear you yammer on throughout the appointment. Be cordial when your client arrives and ask questions pertaining to the service when necessary, but in general, it’s best to follow the client’s lead, keep the conversation professional, and only speak when spoken to.

Overly familiar personal relationships with clients are inappropriate, unprofessional, typically unappreciated by the client, and will likely lead to consequences you haven’t considered. If you need more convincing, read the post, “Why Favors Don’t Pay and Clients Can’t Be ‘Friends.'”

Lie #3: “You should do heavily discounted or free services to get your name out there.”

No. You absolutely should not discount or give your services away—unless you’re interested in attracting the wrong kind of clientele.

Never devalue your work.

A 10% discount is a sufficient new client incentive if you feel you absolutely must offer one. Anything in excess of that is ridiculous. (I wrote an entire chapter about Deep Discount Dumbassery in my book, The Beauty Industry Survival Guide, so I’m not going to list the dozens of reasons why discounts are a terrible idea here.)

How do you get your name “out there?” Referral programs, photo shoots, an online portfolio, heavy social media participation, advertising in your area, making friends in your community, attending local networking events, and above all—providing fantastic service. Word-of-mouth is the most effective advertising. All of these solutions will cost you far less than a Groupon or huge discounts offered across the board and they’ll attract the right clients—loyal clients that are far more likely to become regulars if they’re treated properly during that first appointment.

Repeat after me:

  • I am a licensed professional and this is my job, not a hobby.
  • My work has real value.
  • I will not work for free or for less than my talents are worth.
  • I am not a volunteer or charity worker.
  • I have bills to pay like everyone else.
  • I will not feel guilty about charging my clients appropriately for the services they’re certain to enjoy.
  • I want to attract clients who appreciate my efforts and attention to detail–not clients who are unable to see the value in the job I perform for them.
  • I want to attract clients who are serious about their personal care and sure to become regulars–not coupon clippers that only obtain services when the price is right or when they receive a gift certificate.
  • I will be successful and I will do it without compromising my value.

Woo-saaah. Deep breaths. Calming waters. Chirping birds.
Got those crazy discount thoughts out of your system?
Good. Moving on.

So, what are some good tips for building a book efficiently?

Tip #1: Retain what you obtain! Rebook. Rebook. Rebook.

Never, ever forget to rebook your client’s next appointment before they walk out the door. Before you process their payment, say, “Does this day and time work for you for your next appointment in [x] weeks? I want to make sure we get you in your preferred time slot before that week books up.” Get them locked in. Have them commit.

The quickest and easiest way to build your clientele is to retain the clients you obtain.

Tip #2: Be confident–and when you can’t be confident, be genuine. Never let your pride compromise your professional integrity.

Let your clients know they’re in good hands. You may think this means acting like you know it all, but that’s not the case. If you’re uncertain about something, be up front about it. Let your clients know that you aren’t ashamed of admitting your limitations. If you need a second opinion on a procedure, ask for one.

Some professionals argue that this makes a technician or stylist look like an amateur and that asking for help will shake the client’s confidence in that professional’s ability. Those professionals are fools.

What are you going to do? Fake your way through a service, botch the job, and lose the client?

You know what happens when professionals do services they’re not confident in performing? Those pissed off clients tell everyone they know about their terrible experience. One bad experience with a client could lose you a ton of potential business. Your reputation is your currency in this industry. Never let your pride compromise your professional integrity.

Being honest about your skill level communicates to your client that you’re honest and trustworthy. It tells them that you care about them and the quality of service they receive. Never be afraid to take a step back and say, “Let me bring in another professional for a second opinion on this before we move forward. I just want to make sure we’re doing what is right for you before we get started.”

Being honest is very important–and not just in regards to admitting your technical shortcomings.

Be honest about the outcome of potential services.

Clients are coming to you because you’re a professional. They don’t understand the ramifications of some of the truly crazy crap they ask for sometimes. It’s your responsibility to inform them.

Take the Compulsive Kitchen Colorist, for example. She has colored her mane all 55 shades of Natural Instincts over the last two months and now she wants you to bring her fried hair from a level 1 blue-black to a level 10 white-blonde in a single appointment.

Do you do the service even though you know it’s a big mistake? Hell no.

You refuse to compromise your professional integrity. Explain why you can’t perform the service and offer an alternative strategy that will eventually bring her hair to the platinum color she desires. If she insists, give her a recommendation for another salon. Tell her you won’t be responsible for the negative consequences of her request.

Performing services you aren’t comfortable in or can’t guarantee the outcome of is the equivalent of aiming a loaded gun at your foot and pulling the trigger. Don’t fake it–you won’t make it.

Be honest and set realistic expectations. Never compromise.

Tip #3: Be consistent.

Before you sit down to work on Day 1, have your service protocols memorized and make sure they’re the absolute best they can possibly be with the time you have allotted. What keeps clients coming back are consistently great services. You want your clients to know that each time they come to you, they can expect a fantastic, luxurious scalp massage with their shampoo and conditioning treatment.

You can’t just do a kickass job on the first appointment and then slack off once they’ve committed to seeing you again.

Every time has to be like the first time. Any idiot can do a pedicure, but the tech who works efficiently on the nail care portion of the service to ensure she has ample time at the end of every service for a full massage is the one who will fill a book.

Consistency doesn’t just apply to your service protocols, it also applies to your scheduling.

Set your hours and be there.

If you’re an employee and your employer sets the hours, make sure they put you on a regular schedule.

Tip #4: Be a professional.

I’m not going to go over the obvious here–the majority of you should know better than to talk about sex at work, dress like streetwalkers, or fight on the salon floor. I’m talking about the little things.

Have beautiful, professional business cards (the simpler, the better). Participate in photo shoots in your spare time so you have some gorgeous, professional work to put in a physical portfolio at work. Submit your work to the trade magazines to get your name out there and impress those people sitting in your chair.

Give clients reasons to brag about you.

For example:
“My nail tech does the nails for the HSN hand models and did the nails on that Fashion Week billboard on the interstate, you should check out her website. Her work is in magazines all the time.”
“My hairdresser is a platform artist for Paul Mitchell. She teaches classes all over the country and has even been on TV! You should see some of the work she does! Here’s one of her cards.”

A banging website is easy to put together, affordable, and will give you loads of professional credibility over your competition.

Tip #5: Keep it exciting.

When you aren’t busy, be planning. Learn new techniques, try new products, design new services. Come up with ways to keep clients interested in you. If all competing salons in your area are going left (Brazilian blowouts and crackle polish), you should veer right (hair extensions and rockstar gel services). Set yourself far apart and develop a reputation for always one step ahead.

Commit to being “special.”

This is the one tip that made me more successful than anything else. All of the tips I shared have benefited me extremely well, but this one in particular is what sets apart the stellar from the mundane in this industry.

Either take what others are doing and do it better, or do something none of them do, better than any of them ever could.

Keep them scrambling to catch up with you and what you can offer. You want their clients to say, “Well, I heard this stylist in the next town over is doing this…” Be the trendsetter. That’s what gets clients talking.

Always be learning. Always be evolving.

Do you have any tips for building that I haven’t shared or do you have any “big lies” that you’ve heard perpetuated over the years that were absolutely ineffective for you? Tell us in the comments!


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10 Responses

  1. This is absolutely the most awesome and inspiring blog I have ever read. I can’t put it down. I purchased the Survival Guide and I am more confident in my decisions. Decisions that weigh heavily on my career and the success stored in my future. Thank You Tina. I am inspired to start my own blog and help out my community. Your Guide literally brought me to tears. I have come to meet some pretty bad salon owners. I wish my school would just by this book and make it a required reading.

    Thank you again. I have been a follower of your website since December 2013. Keep up your amazing work and contribution to this ugly beauty business we work on.

    Sincerely a now truly educated “professional cosmetologist,”


  2. Terrific article! I plan to share this with my students in tomorrow’s class! I’ve been introducing them to the idea that they need to quit playing games on Facebook, and develop a professional page, prof. IG, and a professional website! This article fully supports the information that I give them!! Thanks for such a great and on-time article!

  3. Once again Tina-telling it like it is-excellent blog, and reading this today was perfect timing as just restarting in my new hometown. Thankyou!

  4. Oh my gosh!!! You are amazing. This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. I recently relocated to a diff state and now I’m starting over again. I’m getting so many different opinions and ideas and suggestions from others and I’m so confused. Some make sense and others sound completely counterproductive. I needed this SOOOO much. I am going to go find everything I can you’ve ever written and get my hands on it TODAY. Thank you so much!!!

  5. This is something that I needed to read aloud. I’m in a salon where I’m the newest person so I started doing nails because no one else does them and I and so enrolled in barber college because I rarely see the ladies do men’s haircuts. So I felt I took a positive step for me and got a lot of criticism. I almost started to question myself….Almost. I am so happy in barber school and know without a shadow of a doubt I can do this. Thank you for your assistance with this blog. I will keep reading because you are the friend I need to talk to about this business. A beauty industry friend is needed in this field, thank you for being there for us all. Have all beautiful day:)

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