One of the questions I am asked frequently is:
How do I bring my dream to reality?
Today I am sharing my interview with Katie who did just that — She turned her dream into reality! (You can listen to the interview on iTunes, Unleashing the Champion within Episode 4.)
At 29 years old, Katie is a successful entrepreneur who has exponentially grown her business, and is planning for an expansion. Katie will share how her business grew 150% in profitability, while maintaining a 98% client retention.
Katie will be sharing her expertise on setting prices and how outsourcing has grown her business. In closing, Katie will give us her 5 Tips to go from Dreaming to Launching your Business.
By the way, Katie is my daughter, so I get to brag a little bit too.
Cindy: Katie, tell us about your business and how you got started.
Katie: I am a freelance hairdresser. I got started when I was 15, answering phones and sweeping up hair at a little hair salon, and just fell in love with doing hair from there and went to hair school right after I graduated from high school. Then went on to apprentice under the same salon that I started at and that’s just kind of how I got into the industry.
Cindy: What prompted you to move from that first job?
Katie: I was living about 45 minutes away from where I was working. My husband and I had gotten married and moved more into the city, and so I was making the drive, 45 minutes back and forth. It was just really wearing on me. The time that I was spending in the car was exhausting. I was full of anxiety, and I just really decided that I needed to take a step back and simplify my life a little bit more and be working closer to home so that I could really have a full life in the city I lived instead of feeling like I was caught between two places.
Cindy: Yeah. That’s really good too. It’s hard when you’ve made a commitment and there’s that emotional attachment because you’ve been in it for so long.
Katie: Oh, yeah. It was a great job and I had an amazing boss. I mean, I couldn’t have asked for anything more out of a job there.
Cindy: Then making that decision to leave had to be a hard one.
Katie: Oh, it was terrifying. I actually, starting out, stayed half the time at the other job and half at my new job just because I was too afraid to make the jump and miss the people that I was working around for the past 11 years, so slowly I made the transition, but it was definitely a difficult decision.
Cindy: Then in making that transition, of course you went to work for someone else just near your house, right?
Cindy: What made you look at that and say, “This is not really what I want to do long-term”?
Katie: Well, I was working for someone else, and typically in a salon environment, if you are a commission-based stylist, you have to be there from, say, 10:00 to 7:00 just as an example, and if you don’t have any clients booked that day, you still have to be there. You still have to sit there and wait. I was spending days on end just sitting. The owner actually sold the business and we had some new owners. It didn’t quite feel right and I knew I could be more successful and be bringing more people in, but there was just something that wasn’t right there for me. It wasn’t my brand. It wasn’t my style. It wasn’t really a comfortable place, so a combination things, but I really just got tired of sitting for hours and hours a day.
Cindy: I can definitely see that. You know, the brand and style is a huge issue. Because when you’re trying to bring your current customers into a place that doesn’t fit where they came from, it’s got to be hard for them to feel like, “This is a good place for me to be.”
Katie: Definitely. I started in a little boutique salon that was really cute and kind of shabby-chic. Then I moved into like a really big, open, airy, industrial salon, which was cool in its own right, but it just wasn’t really the same. It wasn’t warm. It wasn’t, “Come sit down on the couch and have a cup of coffee, and let’s chat about your hair and your life and everything else.” It was very kind of cold and service-oriented and not very relational, so it just wasn’t really the same vibe.
Cindy: What did it take you to take that step out?
Katie: I mean, it was definitely scary, but just starting to do some research, and actually the owner of the salon that I had started with, I talked with her some and she just was like, “You need to get out of there. That’s not a good fit for you.” Started thinking of other ideas and kind of put a little seed in my head of going solo and kind of doing my own thing, so I just started researching how much it would cost, trying to put together whatever business plan I could of how much I had to make and how much I would be spending and how it would all shake out. Then I ended up getting some people to share the space with me because just starting out, it just was too expensive to do it by myself, so there was three of us and one little area just so we could kind of try to get it going.
Cindy: And it turned out really great, didn’t it?
Katie: It did. The first year was a little difficult just because there was three of us trying to rotate chairs and we had to be on the very schedules because there was three people sharing one space, but I was amazed after leaving the salon that I was sitting for six or eight hours and you know, maybe had one or two clients a day.
I left there to be fully booked a month later. I had broken-even on that within six weeks, so I thought that was pretty exceptional that just being in the right space can really bring in a whole different group of people.
Cindy: Oh, man. I can’t believe it, so breaking even-within six weeks. Tell us, as people that are listening, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re people hungry to see their dream come alive, they’re looking for tips and really trying to figure out, “How do I do this?” What are some of the things that you learned pretty quickly as a business owner?
Katie: I think the first thing I learned as a business owner is responsibility. Like, when you’re sick, no one is going to call your clients and tell them that you’re sick and they need to reschedule. You have to drag yourself out of bed and call every single person and try to reschedule them. You know, if you mess up on something or if you’ve made a mistake or if there’s some miscommunication, that’s yours to own. You can’t brush it off on to somebody else to try to make up an excuse anymore. You can’t kind of hide behind something else. If you’re the owner, it’s you. You have to take that responsibility and so that was a big thing.
Another big thing I learned was if you’re not good at something and you can, pay to have somebody else do it for you.
There was a long time that I was trying to do my finances and trying to figure out financial stuff and that’s just not how my brain works. I’ve never been good at math, so by hiring by someone, just in the past six months I’ve hired someone to do all my finances, it has taken a huge load off of me so that now that time that I was spending stressed out, and trying to add numbers and do division and things that I just am not good at, now I can use that time and be behind in the chair and working harder doing the things I am good at.
Cindy: Yeah, and I think that’s important for us to realize. Sometimes as small business owners, we think we have to do it all, and whether we’re good at it or not, we feel like we really can’t afford to hire someone, but sometimes you can’t afford not to hire someone. Because you’re spending so much time, that really your hourly rate is so much higher than the hourly rate you pay to get that done for you.
Katie: Oh, exactly, exactly.
Cindy: So it’s worth it and you can make more money because they’re making sure that you are profitable and that you are watching those bottom line figures. That’s really good.
Katie: Yep, and even giving you ideas that you’ve never thought about or breaking down things that you just weren’t sure about. It definitely pays to hire someone to do. I mean, even if it’s graphic design or something that you know you can’t do by trying to do it yourself and fake it, it doesn’t always work.
Cindy: Yeah. Absolutely. What was one of the biggest surprises you’ve found out from your new accounting person?
Katie: Biggest surprises. Probably how much I was spending. I didn’t realize instead of really making a list every time I needed a new supply or needed something, I would just go to the store and buy willy-nilly. I had no plan. I didn’t know how much I was spending. I didn’t know how much I was making, honestly. I just had no idea. I just hoped at the end of the day that there would be enough money in the bank account that I could pay all my bills, and there was, so I didn’t have to worry that much, but once he broke it all down, I was like, “Oh, I’m making this. That’s really good. Oh, wait, but it’s all going to things that I don’t really need.”
Cindy: That’s good.
Katie: Or it’s going to things that I’m just going through so fast. It kind of made me step back and say, “You know, I could be bringing home more money or I can be saving more money if I just adjusted a few little things here or there.”
Cindy: And you’ve seen your profitability go way up.
Katie: Oh, yeah. Way, way, way up. Yeah. From right now, the first few months of the year, I’m 150% more profitable than I was at this time last year.
I mean, I’ve changed a few other things. I now have raised my prices and a few little tweaks, but yeah. I mean, it’s pretty amazing. Having someone tell you exactly what you’re doing financially can be really eye-opening.
Cindy: Yeah. You know, what’s interesting is the raising the price. I just want to hit on that for a minute because sometimes we undervalue ourselves and we undervalue, we put low prices in a market that bears a higher price, so you saw that that made a big difference really evaluating not only the market around you, but your expertise and increasing your prices.
Katie: Definitely, and I wouldn’t even necessarily say that the first thing you should do is look around you and see how much everyone else is charging. If you’re not good with numbers like I’m not or if you’re good, do it yourself, but you can go through and figure out how much is everything that you’re charging for, how much does that cost and then after that, how much time does that take and then how much money do you need to bring in, to be making not only to pay yourself or to pay employees, but to pay your bills. With all of that information combined, figure out how much money you need to be making hourly or by the day or by the week, and then figure out your prices from there. You know, by just saying, “Oh, a haircut is going to be $40. There’s no background information for why it needs to be $40.”
Cindy: That’s good.
Katie: By looking at that information backwards, maybe your prices might be a little bit more or might be little bit less. At that point you can start looking around and see what other people are charging to see if you’re consistent with the market around you, but if your prices need to be more because that’s how much you need to make or that’s how much your rent costs or that’s how many bills you have to pay, it needs to be that much. You can’t undervalue yourself, or else you’re just not going to make the money that you need to be making and it’s going to end up failing in the end.
Cindy: Yeah. That’s good advice because I think sometimes we’re afraid to raise our prices, and like you were saying, when you back into it, you break it down, you realize … because I know you said there was like one service that you were actually losing money on because it was-
Katie: Yeah. It was like I was paying the clients to have the service done.
Cindy: That is really interesting, so hear that guys. Make sure you understand why you’re charging what you charge and what you need in order to not just survive, but thrive if you’re going to be a business owner.
The other thing I wanted to talk about a little bit is your customer satisfaction because I know hair, makeup, that whole thing, that’s a big deal and even for men that come in and get their hair done … I know you do some men’s hair, some high profile, so how do you keep that customer service satisfaction way up there?
Katie: You know, I think every business is a little bit different, but in mine it’s about building a personal relationship with the client. I mean, I’m sitting with my client for, the smallest service I have is 45 minutes, so 45 minutes plus. Sometimes three or four hours, I’m with one person, so talking to them, getting to know them, remembering their kids’ names, remembering like what vacation they were going to go on. Next time you see them, ask about that vacation or ask about, “Oh, I remember this. Your kid was getting married” or, “Your grandkid was just starting to walk” or something. By bringing that up and being personal with them and sharing some of your life with them as well, and treating them like you would want to be treated … If I was going to a service provider, I’d want them to remember who I was and what’s going on in my life. You feel special when someone remembers those things, and when they take the time to acknowledge you and to make you feel comfortable.
Cindy: That’s good.
Katie: I mean, even offering coffee, tea. Just making them feel good and not being fake with them, trying to really be your authentic person because that’s who they want to see. They don’t want you to be some fake person. They want to know who you are.
Cindy: Yeah, that’s really good. You know, it’s interesting because for some people it’s natural, it’s easy to make conversation, and for some people, they just have to make that determination that, “I’m going to …” I just did a podcast. “I’m being present with people” and not thinking about the 10 things we have to do next, but really investing in that 45 minutes or that three hours that I have with that person.
Katie: Yeah, and some days it’s harder than others. Some days, you wake up and I’m like, “You know what? I wish I just had a job at a coffee shop where I didn’t have to see one person. I’d put my headphones in. I didn’t have to talk.” On those days you just have to kind of prep yourself up and say, “Okay. I have to do this. This is my job. These people are paying me for this. They’re paying to talk to me about the drama in their life or they’re paying to be reassured or whatever.”
Just by even, before you start today, think, “What are some things that are going on?” You know, flip through the news or flip through the movies that are coming out or something and try to think, “Okay, what’s going on that I can say, ‘Oh, did you see that video on Facebook that’s been going around?'” Something to start that connection. Sometimes if they’re not super receptive or they’re being quiet, they may want some quiet time.
Cindy: That’s good.
Katie: They may not necessarily want to be talked at for a few hours, but most people like to have at least a little personal connection just to feel like you’re making the effort and that they matter to you.
Cindy: Yeah, that’s really good. Sometimes it’s hard to remember because you do have busy days and some days, like you said, you don’t really feel like, but it’s just, “Yep. I’m going to do this.”
Katie: That’s your job. You got to do it.
Cindy: I’m going to do this and they’re not going to go away saying, “Boy, she was a grump today.”
Katie: Yep, and I’m sure someone has before. I’m sure that I haven’t been pleasant every day I’ve worked, but I try.
Cindy: What are some of the core values?
Katie: Let’s see. Probably a big core value is relationship and being honest with people. You know, if someone comes in and says they want something, and I can’t do it, being honest and saying either that won’t work for you or, “That’s not something that’s in my skillset.”
Boundaries is another big thing I’ve learned. Instead of bending over backwards, which sometimes especially when you first start a business, you do have to kind of bend over backwards for people and do things you don’t want to do, but as you get more successful, putting up some boundaries so that you’re not overwhelmed and so overtaken with work and with stuff going on, and people texting you and asking for email things and stuff all the time. Setting up some boundaries, keeping that relationship open, but sometimes you need to take a step back and have a little distance as well.
Cindy: Since you’ve been on your own, what would you say your client retention is?
Katie: I just checked and it was 98% returning clients.
Cindy: But I think that’s a pretty high percentage. That’s really good. Because of all that you do, is it hard to add new clients in without overtaxing yourself?
Katie: It is. I always ask my regular clients to pre-book their appointments so they are on the book, because I would rather have them be able to get in than have a new person and then me, because I will stay late or do other things for existing clients that I wouldn’t necessarily do for a new client just to keep that relationship open.
Cindy: That’s good.
Katie: I try to tell them to pre-book their appointments so that I can get them in and that at that point, I have an online booking system that some people will book through, but usually if you go on, I’m booked at least three weeks out, and so if new clients are going on there, they’re not really going to find something unless they call me or they’re booking far enough out.
Cindy: Tell me about this other adventure, the Boho Bride, and how you got into this.
Katie: That is my little side gig, my side hustle. It’s still hair, obviously, but it is an onsite bridal hair and makeup business. I’ve done bridal hair since I started doing hair. I love doing up-dos. I love braiding. I love being on site just for a wedding day, the excitement of everyone is happy and excited and having mimosas. Just hanging out, all families together, and I love that environment, so I decided to kind of market directly to new brides by starting a new Instagram page, a new Facebook page, and a new website just targeting those people. The bohemian type of look is really in right now especially with brides, so by calling it Boho Bridal, I was hoping to attract that specific kind of girl because that’s the kind of hair I do. Yeah. I started that about a year ago and I think so far for 2017 I have 10 weddings booked, which is pretty good.
Cindy: No, we are recording this March. That seems to have picked up pretty good, right?
Katie: It definitely has. It definitely has. I’m getting inquiries at least twice a week and people wanting the same days. I mean, it’s really gotten pretty busy.
Katie: I do destination weddings as well. I have a destination wedding company that refers to me, so that helps book some of the destinations, but usually those are more of the summer. If you live in Florida, you don’t get married over the summer. You just know that, because it’s too hot, so most of those destination weddings are what fills my slow summer, which is really nice because that’s the time in Florida that it really slows down with the wedding season since it’s so warm, but the majority are all here and in marketing Boho Bridal, all the hashtags I’ve used have our area, have St. Pete, Tampa, Clearwater. Have our areas and have the hotels that are around, have the wedding venues.
I hashtag all the wedding venues and make sure to market the location where we were, where the wedding is, or even like the hotel that we got ready at so that when people go through and look, like, “Oh, I want to see what wedding at the Don CeSar looks like,” they look at #DonCeSar wedding, which is a hotel down by us. When they look at that hashtag, they’ll see my images come up even if maybe the wedding wasn’t at the Don CeSar. We were down the street from Don CeSar or on within a 20 minute drive there, so I want the people who are looking at those hashtags to want to come to me.
Cindy: Okay, so now you have two businesses, you’re married, so how do you find time for everything? Your husband, for working out, for eating right. I know you go to the gym, so how do you find time for all of that?
Katie: For a long time I made excuses that there is no time, that I didn’t have time to eat. I mean, even at work, I work a 10 hour a day and I would just live off of drinking coffee all day, which is not healthy, so I’ve decided to stop making excuses and start making time, so I bring my lunch to work. Prepare it the night before and bring my lunch. I make sure I work my schedule so that my husband and I can have time together whether it’s in the morning or in the evening, and really plan things into my schedule and no longer make excuses that I’m too tired to do this or I’m too busy to eat. No, there’s always time if you make time, but there won’t be unless you make it.
Cindy: Yeah, so you schedule it just like you would an appointment?
Katie: Pretty much. I mean, as far as the gym goes, I try to go every day because I know that there’s days that I won’t want to go, so if I say, “I’m going every day,” then I say, “Okay, let’s see. On Tuesdays I can go in the morning. On Wednesday I can go on the afternoon.” So I have a time every day that I can go, so for those days that I can’t get there, it’s okay because I’ve already done enough this week or I have it scheduled into the next because … I don’t know. I have it in my schedule, or else I will not do it.
Cindy: Yeah. I can understand that. Tell me, I know that you’re going to have an expansion, so tell me a little bit about what that looks like and how that fits into your dreams, your long-term plans.
Katie: My goal is to open a new space. Right now I just rent a small space under 200 square foot. That’s just one chair and it’s just me, so I would like to and I’m working on renting out a bigger space that I can have other hairdressers in there, maybe even nail techs as well, working with me. I can rent out some space to them, so that would alleviate some of my burden of rent and maybe I can even make a few dollars off of their rent as well, so then I could be a little bit more flexible with my working hours. I’m definitely playing with a lot of balance right now, trying to figure out how much work is okay for me and trying to still work enough to make money, but take enough time off that I feel balanced and good.
If I can get some more people in with me to take down my costs and I could step back a little bit, and really hopefully look more towards doing weddings more full-time. Maybe work in the salon one or two days a week and then like Friday, Saturday, Sunday commit to being at weddings if I’m booked those days, so that’s kind of where I’m shifting to because weddings are really the thing that I’m passionate about, I love doing. If I know I have a wedding on the weekend, I wake up happy to be there and excited, so by shifting it that way, and still having a salon to work at out of so I can be creative and still have my space, but having shared expenses, that would help me some.
Cindy: Yeah, that’s really good. Let me just ask you, because we’re starting to kind of wrap this up a little, let me ask you, did you think you would be where you are now at this time in your life?
Katie: You know, I’m not sure. My dad always told me that the only way to make money is to own your business and the only way to live is to own your business, and of course, both my parents have owned their own businesses for a very long time, and so I always said I didn’t want to do it. It was too much work.
Cindy: I remember that.
Katie: That, you know, “I just want to go in somewhere, do my work, and then leave. You know, punch a clock. I don’t want the responsibility. I want to be able to have more flexibility,” but when it comes down to it, the flexibility that you have working for someone else isn’t the same that you would have for yourself.
I mean, maybe at first or maybe some, you work more than you thought that you would working for yourself, but then you can also start taking vacations or start, “You know what? I want to give myself a little extra day off here or half a day there” or when you have kids and someone’s sick, you don’t have to bring in doctors. You don’t have to do any of that stuff. It’s you, so I think that started shifting my mind a little bit, being able to have more control over my schedule and my life, but I never really wanted to own my own business. That wasn’t really my idea, but I’m so glad that this is where I’ve gone to.
Cindy: We’re going to end this with your five tips for the listeners. You know, what are your five tips of just dreaming, launching, taking those steps? Just whatever comes to you.
Katie: The first tip is do your homework and to figure out how much it would cost to start your business, how much keeping it going costs. If you’re not good at this, like I said, have someone help you even if it’s not hiring someone. Ask a friend who’s good at math or who’s owned a business before, ask them to help you figure it out and calculate how much you’d be spending and how much you need to make, and see if that’s okay with your lifestyle.
The second tip is, don’t start a business unless you’re ready to really work. If you’re starting your business so you can chill and so you can relax, it’s not that. It’s a lot of work and it’s responding to clients and it’s not always fun work that you have to do. It’s days off that aren’t really days off and you may go for a long time without a real day off.
The third tip would be to be ready to take a little bit of a pay cut because sometimes if you don’t really have clients that are ready to pay you, you may not be able to fully go into that business at first. You may still have to straddle two worlds or have a part-time job unless you’re willing and you’re at a place that you can really take a significant cut if you just don’t have the people who are willing to pay you at that point.
My fourth tip is to ask for help, whether it be from a mentor, somebody who could guide you, who’s been there before and done what you’re wanting to do before. Being able to ask them for help or, like I said, hire someone who can help you with the things that you need help with. That’s definitely a huge thing. If you’re not good at something or confused or not sure what to do, there’s no shame in asking for help because we only know what we know and unless we ask, we won’t be able to figure the rest out, so finding a mentor is really a great way to help grow your business and see some insight that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of yourself.
The fifth tip is to be yourself, to really try to be who you are, your true person, and to express who you are through your business. People can really see if you’re authentic or if you’re faking it, so I think by really being real with people and if you can’t do something, say you can’t do something … don’t over-commit. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. You know, really be your authentic person, and people like that and people see that. Everyone has their gifts that they are talented in, and don’t try to make somebody else’s gifts your gifts. Really focus on what you’re good at and what your strengths are and run with those things.
Cindy: Those are great tips. You know, I love that last one because so many times we try to be all things to all people, and just being able to step back and be comfortable and confident in who we are, and what our dream is and what we want to accomplish, and know that there’s always plenty, there’s always more. If you need to refer them to someone else, that makes room for someone else that you really are excellent at, so those are great tips. Katie, I’m so glad you came and hung out with us today. How do people get in touch with you if they want to book their wedding or get connected with your hair salon?
Katie: My website is katiecharos.com. You can book appointments online there.
My bridal business is Boho Bridal Beauty, the website is bohobridalbeauty.com, or you can find me on Instagram or Facebook at bohobridalbeauty.
Remember, live your life as a champion making every day count. Thank you!