Continuing Education for Estheticians: Put Your Mind Where the Money Is!

By Douglas Preston

It's no secret that professional estheticians are education hounds! They love to learn and are hungry for new treatment techniques, products, and an advanced peek into the future of skin care. Education is an investment into one's personal and professional growth, and should be considered an obligation for maintaining career status. But how much of what we learn in classes transforms into increased clients and income? Do we actually measure the net benefit of a day in class in terms of dollars earned? And, while not all education will or need result in extra money, money is the foundation of all careers and I don't know many estheticians that claim to have enough of it. Not nearly enough even. While we may learn a new way to exfoliate the skin or perform a better facial massage most estheticians have discovered that the road to an adequate income is long, discouraging and, for most that enter the field, ultimately futile. The active professional shelf life of the average esthetician is not long: statistics differ, as they can be difficult to substantiate but, anywhere from 11-18 working months is a reasonable estimate. And the primary reason so many licensed people drop out of the profession: the impossibility or unwillingness to survive on a shoestring income early into the career. Here's a sketch of my first 3 years as an esthetician:

  • Appointment schedule: 50+ hours per week (whether I had any appointments or not)
  • Home makeup parties with our products 3 nights per week—about 16 hours total
  • On-site makeup jobs for brides on weekends (6-8 hours including driving) when I could get the work
  • Hustling around promoting our shop and services at businesses, clubs, church groups—anywhere!
  • Praying that the car would start, the water heater wouldn't fail, a client check wouldn't bounce, and that I wouldn't get a cold or flu.

This is just the BIG stuff! And the money I earned from all of that? Don't make me laugh—that was to come later. I attended skin care courses of every description from any manufacturer that offered them, and spent my own hard-earned money on them, too. And, at long last when I was finally earning a handsome income a simple fact became brilliantly clear to me: it wasn't my technical skills that made successful but, rather, my communication and sales ability. Before I could serve and I had to attract people willing to be served, and that education wasn't in the curriculum of any school around at that time. In esthetics, politics, and entertainment: it's not the most talented or qualified that succeed, but always those that have the most compelling personality, charisma, or know how to immediately make others they meet feel good around them. The last of these skills can be learned, whether or not you were born with a sparkling charm or wit.

My point is this: if you want to advance your career in the shortest possible time then focus your education on learning what will impress people the most, even before they ever reach your treatment room. With that I offer my list of favorite learning topics for the success-minded esthetician:

Customer service
Such a program would include professional conduct, sensitivity awareness, etiquette and proper, elegant communication. Great customer service is in knowing what makes people feel important, respected and cared for, and genuinely appreciated. Do you always treat customers in accordance with how you would want to be treated as a customer yourself? Visit enough spas and you'll eventually be forced to endure the drama or vapid behavior of the technician you're assigned to. In one well-known and expensive spa I was informed that my massage therapist had 13 years of international experience and trained all of the other therapists employed there. And yet, for all of her massive experience, I was asked nothing by her, learned nothing from her, received no instructions for post-spa care, and was not asked to return for another visit. She did finish by saying that it was nice working with me but I didn't feel as though she meant it. I felt like nothing, and I was disappointed. The therapist was technically focused, not people focused. And yet this was superior to employee complaints, juvenile conversation, and the unpleasant sense that you were an unwanted addition to one's late-in-the-day schedule. I've paid good money for all of the above, over and over again. Don't wait for your employer to offer this type of professional education. Look for these classes on the web or in trade magazines and shows. Most spa customers will be far more satisfied with people skills over hands-on technique any day of the week.

Sales skill
Here is the feared and loathed subject that most spa employees avoid if at all possible. Just say the word "sales" and spa the professional recoils with visions of predatory sharks and offended customers. Which is exactly why so many need this sort of training—to get that idea and impediment to success out of their head! Selling isn't, by definition, a dishonest and unpleasant act although that's certainly an option for those inclined to behave that way. Selling is making something attractive even more attractive through the presentation of it, whether by verbal or printed description, by sampling, or even by scent. Have you ever visited a spa where the lobby is devoid of exotic scent or soothing music? Something's clearly missing, and that fact alone can negate the chances for a second customer visit regardless of how wonderful the service treatment was. Selling is pleasing, it's seduction, it's the massing of desire in our potential customer so that they become a real and permanent one. And selling begins with your own demonstrated delight in the thing that you want others to want, too. Dishonesty doesn't sell, it fools. But your own enthusiasm and conviction for something you have to offer is all it takes for another to want it too. And when they do, and follow through by having it for themselves, you have a sale. Now, was that so bad? Spa educators are aware of how hard it is to fill a sales class with students, and it's one reason why spa personnel are still so poor at selling. Take another look at your paycheck. Too low? There's something that you can do about it...

Yes, even you can do more to market your services to the world around you. Why wait for the spa's institutional advertising to make the phone ring? I've never met a spa technician that's come close to maximizing their self-promotion potential. 20 years ago when I was a fairly new esthetician it was easy to stand out among my peers—there simply wasn't very many of us. But today the industry is flooded with experienced, new minted, and aspiring skin care professionals. We forget that it is a select and relatively unusual person that purchases the services of the esthetician, and those uncommon individuals have a lot of service selection these days. Waiting for business to grow is about the worst thing one can do to promote their career, that is, if the waiting is passive. Don't have the money to run print ads or launch a big mailing? Who said that you needed to? How much do you actually talk to others about the work you do? How often do you initiate such a conversation? How regularly do you create and work co-promotional relationships with people that can help you find customers—ones that need a certain customer of their own that they might find through you? What you need are ideas and the wherewithal to promote through them, ideas that you might discover in a marketing class, not another seminar on lymphatic drainage.

And there it is, Preston's prescription for advancing your career success faster than you are now. The next time you sign up for a professional class ask yourself the following:

  1. How will this class bring me more business and income?
  2. What will I do differently now to achieve the above?
  3. Has that plan really worked in the past?
  4. Who do I know that's truly seen their clients and income grow as a result of that education?
  5. Is there a better way than this?

Most licensed estheticians have almost all of the essential education that they'll ever need to perform competent skin care services but they severely lack the ability to sell them. They don't know how to compete in a crowded market and are short on the confidence required to "blow their own horn". If this in any way describes you then skip that next treatment class and spend some time on self-improvement education. It'll prove to be the better investment!

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