By Natasha Pilbrow. Launching a beauty business is no easy feat, as I quickly discovered after setting up on-demand beauty app LeSalon in 2015. Working in such a competitive market brings unexpected challenges, and as the team and supply chain grows it becomes increasingly important to spend just as much time focusing on the wellbeing and development of your team, as it does on the health of your business. One thing the process has taught me though is that with some hard work, team work, dedication and perseverance, it can definitely be done: and done well.
Here’s my advice to anybody looking to set up their own thriving beauty business.
Gauge interest and demand before starting anything
Just because you think something is a good idea, doesn’t mean everybody else will. Therefore it’s essential that you determine whether your business proposal is of interest to others by carrying out some thorough market research early on. Identify your target market (in my case, beauty enthusiasts with a certain level of disposable income) and ask rather than tell them what they need. If what they want matches what you’re offering, then you’re onto something.
Secondly, identify any competitors. The existence of competitors doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t forge ahead with your idea, but you do need to ensure you create a distinct brand identity that differentiates itself from existing businesses in the space. Nobody wants to be accused of being a copycat.
Build a great team
The success of your company, particularly in its early stages, rests on the individuals that you choose to surround yourself with. There must be a shared vision and a deep sense of trust amongst the people involved.
Each person needs to be able to bring a unique skill set to the organisation to add as much value as possible. For instance, we have three co-founders at LeSalon, and we all bring something distinct to the operation. I brought beauty know-how and am able to handle the Salonette and operations side of the business; Jean-Michel Chalayer is our CEO and he came from a business background; and Nabil Freeman (our CTO) brings tech and development experience.
Put your staff first
One of the most commonly used phrases in business is ‘the customer is always right’ or ‘the customer always comes first’. I agree, but I also think your staff should come first, too. This is particularly true in a business like ours, whereby lots of our beauty therapists are freelance or working within the gig economy. This brings lots of freedom and flexibility, but it also comes with a degree of instability. We work tirelessly to balance supply and demand are we’re also looking for new ways to support and empower the team: whether through technical training, social events or desirable perks.
It’s importance to establish a supportive and trusting working environment if you’re to retain staff, whether they’re working in HQ or working on a more ad hoc basis. Without staff there is no business, and happy workers will be happy to work hard to make a success of it. This is particularly important when it comes to the customer-facing staff, who ultimately are your best brand ambassadors.
Go for quality over quantity
When it comes to the beauty industry (and beyond) you should always opt for quality over quantity. This applies to both physical products and services. Whatever you’re selling, you’re better off selling less but ensuring it’s perfect than over-committing yourself and offering a shoddy service.
LeSalon offers fewer treatments compared with some of our competitors, but we ensure the services we offer are delivered to the highest standard. Once you’ve perfected what you’re selling and are executing it perfectly, you can build on this success and introduce new elements to your beauty business.
Focus on ethics and sustainability
Consumers nowadays are becoming ever more influenced by the ethics of the companies they choose to affiliate themselves with; so it’s of the utmost importance that you factor these things into your business plan from the very beginning. From the way you treat your staff, to the sustainable credentials of the products you use, there’s no reason not to ensure your business is ethically watertight. Investing in sustainability early on will pay dividends in future, as we become ever more conscious of where we spend our money and the brands we advocate.
Network with as many people as you can
Sometimes, in business, success comes down to meeting the right people at the right time. Give yourself the best chance of success by building strong connections with influential individuals and like-minded people in your field. These relationships could be critical when it comes to giving advice, making introductions, encouraging customer referrals and generally advocating and supporting your fledgling business. Not to mention, it’s always great to have friends who understand what you’re going through and how the start-up world works! Put yourself out there and get networking, because you never know what opportunities could arise from a chance encounter.
Don’t be shy
In order to make moves, you need to be loud and proud of what you’re doing. Make people aware of your business and make sure they’re listening. There’s no value in a great idea if nobody knows about it! Talk about what you’ve created, set up a strong social media presence, get yourself in the public eye through interviews and press coverage; don’t be shy when it comes to putting yourself and your business out there, and becoming the face of the brand.
Become an expert
As the founder of a beauty business, it is your responsibility to have a deep and full understanding of your business and the beauty industry at large. Being aware of all aspects of your organisation and the sector allows you to grow and change in line with changing trends and developments, rather than remaining stagnant and being left behind. Engage with the industry at conferences, events, fashion shows, in magazines and online in order to keep your finger on the pulse and keep abreast of changing consumer interests.
Craft your message
In order to make your beauty business stand out you need to have a clear message that makes your brand instantly recognisable and memorable. You want to stand out for all the right reasons, and you want to speak to your target customers. This means crafting a message that you are proud of, that truly represents who you are and what you’re offering.
For example, at LeSalon we’re all about empowerment. We empower our staff to continually improve their skills and increase their earnings; and we empower our customers to feel their best by making premium beauty treatments available whenever and wherever they want them.
Whether your thing is going to be accessibility, convenience, sustainability, luxury, inclusivity or diversity, own your narrative and make sure it’s front and centre of everything you do as a beauty brand.
As with any business, launching a beauty business requires perseverance and resilience. It really is a roller coaster ride, and you must be prepared to hold on through the ups and the downs, and carry your team with you. Setbacks are important though, as they teach you important lessons and make you stronger as a team.
Natasha Pilbrow is COO and co-founder of LeSalon: London’s leading on-demand beauty app.