Business Essentials: An image problem for a beauty therapist

Rachel Prescott wants to reach those people who don't see the attraction of her working from home, finds Kate Hilpern
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The Independent Online

or someone in the business of relieving stress, Rachel Prescott has a few pressures of her own. After qualifying as a beauty therapist and gaining four years' experience in salons, she decided to set up her own business in 1997. But while her Beauty Studio, in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, has attracted a steady stream of loyal clients, she has found some people are put off using her service when they find that she works from home.

Unlike most of her competitors, Ms Prescott works holistically, taking account of the whole body as she works to help customers restore "optimum skin health". For example, all one-hour facial treatments start with an anti-stress back massage using aromatherapy oils. They also include a face, neck and shoulder massage incorporating lymph drainage and accupressure.

Other treatments include reflexology, Indian head massage, aromatherapy and body wraps. On the more cosmetic side, she does make-up, manicures and pedicures.

This wide-ranging approach, and the tailoring of her treatments in skincare and body therapy to an individual's specific needs, has brought in long-standing clients from a range of backgrounds.

Some people, however, lose interest on discovering that she works from a room in her house. "They assume I'm not skilled enough to get a job in a salon or that I don't really take my job that seriously," Rachel explains. "Quite often, potential clients have asked me whether I do something else, as if this is my hobby. Others feel uncomfortable with having a hands-on treatment in somebody's home."

Once people have come for a treatment, they tend to realise that Rachel's studio is a professional alternative to a salon, with many commenting on the added benefits of a completely tranquil atmosphere and a more thorough service.

"In fact, it's not only lack of resources that puts me off setting up my own salon," says Rachel. "It's my experience that you start off giving clients plenty of time, but as the salon gets busier, you have to cut it shorter and they don't feel so looked after. Ultimately, the quality of the service suffers."

Nonetheless, even loyal clients can take advantage of the fact that she works from home. "I get a lot of people forgetting they have appointments booked, turning up late or cancelling at the last minute. I have thought about introducing a charge and notifying clients of this policy via a notice on the studio wall. But when I did it once in the past, I found that when I reminded the client she'd need to pay that charge the next time she came, she never booked another appointment."

Rachel has considered a number of options to improve the situation within her limited budget. Among them is marketing. "My main form of advertising has been through leaflet drops, but they aren't very successful," she says.

"I have thought about advertising in local magazines and newspapers, but other beauty therapists say it doesn't work."

She has also contemplated redecorating her studio. "I have gone for the homely look, but am torn about whether to change it because many clients say they like it."

Finally, she has thought about giving the business a new name. "But, then again, that might lead people even further into thinking I work in a salon rather than at home."

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Alison Hopkins, the managing director of small business, Barclays Bank

"Rachel needs to consider how to complement her strengths - tailored treatments and a thorough service, administered in a tranquil atmosphere - with a more professional presentation.

"Developing a brand by introducing simple things such as letterheads, appointment cards and price lists would help Rachel to retain the homely touch but add a more professional image. She should consider marketing for the business and approach her local Enterprise Agency, which will be able to provide advice or courses to help her make the most of her limited budget.

"Rachel should also consider asking her existing clients for their views on how she could improve her business. They can help through word-of-mouth recommendations."

Judy Jeffrey, the British Association of Beauty Therapy & Cosmotology

"Leaflet drops and press ads can be costly and often produce poor results as they are impersonal. By profiling existing clients, Rachel could target similar local groups with talks or demonstrations, taking her appointment book and price lists and offering incentives if treatments are booked on the night.

"Rachel should promote the client benefits - like the relaxed environment and holistic approach - that set her apart from the high street. What about an editorial in her local paper?

"Finally, no-shows can be minimised by phoning clients the day before to remind them of their appointment. If they do not appear, phone them again to show they matter."

Jonnie Oldham, business services partner, Deloitte

"There are three options: work from home, work from a salon or go mobile.

"Going mobile would reduce cancellations, with clients more compelled to keep a home-visit appointment. But travel time would reduce the amount of business each day.

"Rachel could work from a salon attached to a related business such as a hairdresser. The advantages would be the professional feel of a salon, and through-flow of customers. However, she would have to make overhead contributions.

"Ideally, Rachel should set up her own salon, using a stand-alone facility either attached to or near to the house. This would give a professional touch without losing the advantages she currently enjoys."

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