Beauty industry showcase: YouTube star Natasha Lee
A qualified nail technician and beauty therapist, Natasha Lee has notched up millions of views and a six-figure subscriber count with her YouTube channel.
Here, she talks us through her journey from beauty trainee to social media success. Lee has also helped us with some social media tips for hair and beauty professionals to help you showcase your own skills.
Direct Line For Business: Have you always worked in the hair and beauty industry?
Natasha Lee (NL): No, actually I haven't always worked in hair and beauty! When I was 19 years old, I got a job with a train company. I started on the refreshment trolley, then became a conductor and eventually qualified as a train driver, which is what my husband, Ric, still does.
However, our son James - our second of three boys - was born with special needs, so I gave up my job to look after him full-time.
But as he got older and started nursery, I had a little more time to spare and I was keen to find a trade where I could be my own boss.
Direct Line For Business: What attracted you to the hair and beauty industry and what training did you do?
NL: I've always been quite arty. In fact, there are a few artists in my family. So I was looking for a creative new career when I opted to change direction and work in the hair and beauty industry.
I also needed to do something that could fit around James's needs and wasn't too stressful - so when I gave up work my creative outlets helped keep me sane.
I was attracted to nails and manicures as I'd always enjoyed doing my own nails...despite being a nail biter! So in 2011 I took an NVQ Level 2 Beauty Therapy course at what is now Coleg Cambria in Wales.
Whilst I was doing my NVQ, I also did a six-week CND Foundation Acrylic Nails Course. Since then I've done all of the CND courses, qualified as a 'Grand Master' and also worked as a CND educator.
You cannot undervalue education in any career. If you want to set yourself apart and keep your passion alive, do something to inspire you. Don't pick the cheapest courses; pick the best, even if you have to save for it.
In my personal experience, a hair and beauty college course gives you a great foundation for your future career and is a great way to find out what you really like doing (e.g. nails, brows, waxing, tinting, hair, makeup).
It's also great for getting hair and beauty insurance as they're recognised courses, which means that insurance companies can tell that you're properly qualified to carry out the treatments that you perform.
Direct Line For Business: How did you use your new skills after you qualified?
NL: My original plan was to build up a client base working from home as a freelance nail technician, then work in a salon, and finally open my own nail boutique.
I actually fell pregnant with my third son during my course and after starting off with a couple of customers at home, one of my best friends referred me to a space in a salon that was around the corner from me.
I approached the owner and started renting a chair in that salon when I was seven months pregnant! I worked three days a week, right up to my due date and then reduced my hours in the period after George was born.
Direct Line For Business: When did you make the jump from freelancer to beauty business owner?
NL: I became a nail salon owner in November 2013 when I opened my own nail boutique, Divine by Design in Chester.
It happened after I'd been selected as an educator for CND, so I was able to set up a training room in the salon as well.
Direct Line For Business: What were some of the things you did to give your boutique nail salon the best chance to succeed?
NL: When I started out in the hair and beauty business I was very conscious that I needed to create a brand. So I made sure that I had a name that could still be used if I decided to expand or add new beauty services. Often when people start out, they don't think about their brand and end up having to rush creating one.
Hair and beauty is a competitive industry so pricing was something that I thought about very carefully when I was considering how to brand myself.
I realised I was the most qualified nail technician in my area so I looked at my main competitors and priced myself above everyone. That might sound surprising, but I wanted to attract people that would come for the experience as well as the service, and look after their nails between appointments.
There's a saying in the nail industry: “Cheap nails aren't nice and nice nails aren't cheap.” So I thought to myself, “If I was paying money for this appointment, what would I expect from it?” So I made sure that I gave people a good service and made the experience special.
Never undervalue your work because if you do, people will undervalue your talent and your time.
Direct Line For Business: How did your transition from boutique nail salon owner to online nail guru begin?
NL: Well, these days everything is online and it's all about shareability, so I did that from the outset. I started a blog for my nail technician students and filled it with written tutorials and photos.
Eventually I started making nail art tutorial videos because I got tired of typing things out. My early work was filmed on the dining table with a £2 tripod from eBay! Although my nail boutique's Facebook page audience was mainly customers, I used to share the videos there to subliminally show existing and prospective clients how much work goes into a manicure, and the service that they could expect.
People will look at and like pictures but they don't always give you a true impression of the work that goes into them. Videos can be a great tool to help fill in the gaps.
Direct Line For Business: Did your nail art video tutorials build a rapid following?
NL: It didn't happen overnight. It was a slow burn but I'd built a blog following by the time I started making nail art videos.
Originally I just saw my YouTube channel as a great marketing tool for the salon, so at first it was just videos for nail technicians.
But then I started making instructional videos for customers because I wanted to help them care for their manicures, and for them to know how to remove the nail products safely if they weren't able to return to the nail boutique to have it done.
From here it ended up becoming a two-fold tool as it helped support my business as a professional but it also brought me extra visibility.
I'd make videos on techniques that I'd be asked about and one tutorial that I did on water marble nail art gained millions of views. My friend Steve Grady then explained how I could make money from my channel, which hadn't crossed my mind when I first started out.
Initially I only used products that you had to be qualified to purchase, but as my following grew and I started thinking about using it as a product in itself, I had to appeal to everyone. So now, whilst I use a lot of consumer products, I know that nail technicians will replicate my artwork with professional products.
Direct Line For Business: What happened after you became aware of how popular your nail videos had become?
NL: In August 2015, YouTube contacted me directly and explained that my channel had one of fastest-growing subscriber rates in the UK.
They put me (and 17 others) on a series of courses over six months to help me grow my channel as a business. I now regularly travel to YouTube Space London to meet the friends I've made through the experience and film some of my nail art tutorials.
In late 2015, I decided to sell the salon and focus on becoming a full-time vlogger and blogger.
I put an advert on Facebook and it was sold within about 20 minutes!
I was keen to sell it to someone who would run their salon and treat my clients like I had - as an extended family and not just a business.
Luckily I found a great buyer who has been the only person (besides myself) who I've let do my nails!
Direct Line For Business: Why do you think your nail art videos became so successful?
NL: Nail art is very creative and visual, so it lends itself well to video tutorials. The designs are artistic and are an extension of the technician. Just like an artist, you can tell a person's work by the strokes and the styles.
It's also worth noting that 95% of my nail art tutorials are for the layperson. I make videos for all ages and skill levels so everyone can follow along with them.
As far as I'm aware, I'm one of the highest-qualified individuals providing nail art tutorials for consumers and I'm a real advocate for educating people about natural nail care. I've been on the receiving end of bad service and I take pride in using my beauty industry experience to educate people.
Occasionally I'll do nail art tutorials that remind people I'm a professional and to set the standard. The hair and beauty industry can be really competitive and many hair and beauty professionals don't like to share knowledge as they've spent a lot of time and money training.
But there will always be DIYers and I'm not threatened by that - I like to give information and inspire. I once had a brilliant message from a lady in her 50s, who said I inspired her to get qualified...and she did it!
I keep my videos the same way I used to keep my salon - professional, but with a boutique feel. It can take a full day to film a tutorial and up to three days to edit it.
Direct Line For Business: Do you do live art nail demos and are you ever asked to advise other hair and beauty businesses on promoting themselves online?
NL: Yes, I do live nail art demos and like every nail professional should, I have nail technician insurance for this.
I err on the side of caution and do a client consultation card because I use products that people might be allergic to.
Other hair and beauty business owners often ask me for advice and I'm more than happy to offer that up. I'll also recommend other people to help if they want it. It's important to understand what you're doing or find someone who does - I've seen a lot of people spend money on websites that are missing key things.
Direct Line For Business: Finally, what are your thoughts on careers in the hair and beauty industry and what have you gained from yours?
NL: In any industry there will be people who just scrape by, but it's possible to be successful if you work hard and plan well. After all, I ran a successful nail salon that was only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
I chose a career in the hair and beauty industry because I needed to meet the needs of a family that now includes three disabled children. By being my own boss, I don't have to answer to anyone and I'm able to have the great career that I want without sacrificing the support and care that Mike, James and George need.
If you want to follow Natasha's lead and become self-employed or run your own salon, you'll need business skills and knowledge of matters like tax and insurance.
To find out more and style your own pathway to success, click here.