What do I need to start booth renting?

Booth Renting 101: The Definitive Checklist For Opening Your New Salon Suite or Spa Room in NC




First thing’s first, let’s throw a party! Making the transition into renting your own space is one of the most nerve-wracking things a beauty professional can do. Especially if you’re leaving behind the cozy, comfy securities of a guaranteed paycheck!

Should I do it? Will I make it? Will my clients follow me? I remember all too well the questions and doubts swimming through my head as I clocked in and out of my job at that corporate beauty chain on the corner. Little did I know those would be some of the last times I would ever have to touch a time clock again.

Coming into the world of renting wasn’t just terrifying. It was confusing. Suddenly I needed a business degree if I wanted to do this right. You’re telling me it’s not all glitter and makeup brushes?! The closer I got to pulling the trigger, the more I realized I needed to do. Courage was now my lowest priority, pushed down to the bottom of the list by financial, legal, technical, tasks I had absolutely no experience with. Taxes especially intimidated me. I imagined the IRS knocking on my front door to arrest me over a math error. Oh god. What was I doing?

Would it just be safer to stay at That Corporate Beauty Chain? Would it be easier? Would it be less expensive?

The answer was yes. It’s always safer, easier, and less of an upfront investment to work for someone else. Heck, I even had health insurance. But was it rewarding? Was it flexible? Was there room to grow? When I finally came to my conclusion, I held my breath, and signed on the dotted line. There it was. A lease. A year commitment, to which I was now bound. With my courage and self-doubt in an endless tango, I went over both of their heads and locked myself in. I had everything I needed to start, and if I couldn’t do it then, I knew I never would.

So I dove in.

Almost 10 years later, my business is so successful I’ve upgraded to a better space several times, added new services, and am booked out for months with a waiting list. When I look back at that 25-year-old girl I was on the day I signed that first lease, I can’t believe I ever doubted myself, and I can’t believe how close I was to throwing this all away out of fear. What I have now is something I would have never been able to attain working for someone else.

I set my own pay, my own hours, schedule, and prices. I can mold my schedule around my son’s school and activities so I never miss a thing. I’m making more than enough to support my family. And every day that I work, I walk into a space that is uniquely mine, a sanctuary of my own design, where clients who are more like friends come to visit and play with me all day long. I could be back under those blinding fluorescent lights with a nametag pinned to my uniform right now, listening to Christmas music in October.

Do you want to break out of your endless loop? Do you have what it takes to forge your own path? Of course you do. You’ll make it, too. But you need to be prepared. Stay brave, don’t catch yourself slacking, and take a look at this checklist to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered. I made it just for you!

Your Booth Renting Questions Answered

Find A Space

When it came to going out on my own, the first thing I knew I had to do was find out where I would actually go. This was a little more tricky for me as an Esthetician. Ideally, I would need a private room, and in an industry dominated by hair, this can be harder to come by. I ended up finding my first spot at a hair salon where my best friend worked. It wasn’t perfect, but it got the job done. There was minimal privacy and I had to walk between stylists working on an open salon floor to get anywhere or service my client. But hey, I was doing it!

After moving around a few times I finally found the perfect fit at Salon Lofts in Ballantyne Village. I have my own private room, and the route to it isn’t cluttered with people working on their clients. These suite-style booths were what I had always considered “end game content”. Just short of leasing an entire storefront in a mall or shopping center, there’s nothing out there that feels more “yours”. The rooms are private, well-maintained, and the best part: no nosy salon owner going through your stuff.

Though a suite was my best fit, for many others, a traditional salon is the way to go. If you thrive in more of an entwined community environment, where everyone is out on the floor socializing and working together, you’ll probably gravitate more toward a salon. Some salons offer extras to their booth renters like towel service and usage of backbar, and most will provide you with a chair, station, and floor mat that fits with the look of their salon. Salons are already furnished, decorated, and all you have to do is bring your own tools and supplies to be ready to go.

Suites are more private, and that can be great for people like me. If you’re the type of person who likes to be socializing a lot between clients, you’ll find yourself wandering out into the hall often. Some suites will provide a chair, mirror, and station, but after that, everything else is on you. That means all the storage, decorations, displays, retail, and anything else you want for that room has to come out of your pocket. But hey, you get a sink!

Other than salons and suites, you can think outside the box to secure the right location for you. As long as the room passes State Board inspection, it’s fair game! Some people have leased rooms in office buildings and had sinks installed. Some people will work out of a room in their house, or a van — though, there are many restrictions in going this route. I think my favorite creative little salon belongs to a gal I went to Esthetics school with, who built a she-shed in her yard and converted it into her own little studio.

Sharing a space with another entrepreneur can also be a wise way to begin. Splitting a room is less of a financial risk, and leaves more for you to spend on things like advertising, marketing materials, and higher quality supplies. Remember, you can always move up to bigger and better things, but sometimes taking it slow is the safest and smartest bet.

If you want to learn more about renting a salon suite, find one near you and check their website. Salon Lofts has incredible leaders who can help guide you through the process and answer all the leasing questions you may have. If you’re in South or North Carolina, you can reach out to Julie Parker, the Charlotte Market Leader for Salon Lofts. The support I receive from her and the team at Salon Lofts is invaluable, and I can’t see myself ever leaving. I’ve got it made in the shade over here!

Make It Legit

You’ve found the space. Now what? Moving in isn’t all there is to do. Let’s start with the necessities here.

If you’re renting a suite, private room, or converting your backyard shed, in North Carolina, you’re going to need a Salon License. There’s no way around it, unless you’re working out of an actual salon that is already licensed. Don’t think about delaying this! There is a $100 penalty for working in an unlicensed room, even if you plan to license it tomorrow. Get this out of the way first thing by applying for your Salon License at the North Carolina Board Of Cosmetic Art Examiners‘ website. You can easily apply online, and read up on how to prepare for your initial inspection. You’ll need to make sure your space complies with their sanitation guidelines before they come in to inspect, and it might be worth it to brush up on their board laws and policies while you’re at it. We all know they can be intimidating, but if you’re keeping a clean and sanitary workspace, you’ll never have a thing to worry about.

One of the most important things to put in place as soon as possible is insurance. Working for yourself, you are required to have at least liability insurance. Some places, like Salon Lofts, will provide this for you free of charge. If you have to get it yourself, it’ll cost you around $200 per year through most places. For Estheticians, my suggestion is Associated Skin Care Professionals. If your license covers a service, ASCP will make sure you are protected. They also provide free consent forms for download, which is crucial to protect yourself and your business.

The next order of business is, well, your business. You’ll need to come up with a name, and decide what structure of business you want to register as. Here are the main three.

Sole Proprietor: Your business and your self are not separate. Any profit your business makes counts as personal income in the eyes of the government. If your business gets sued, well, guess who’s actually getting sued. It’s you! This is the first business type I chose, because I didn’t really understand any of it(and haven’t made too much progress). But I know the important stuff, and that’s what matters! Please, don’t do this one. One nasty client deciding to sue you over an honest mistake could send you into bankruptcy.

LLC: A Limited Liability Company acts as a shield to protect you from legal trouble if someone were to sue your business. As an LLC, you can choose to file as a Sole Prop or a Corporation. To save the complications of going full corp, an LLC filing as Sole Prop might be the safest and easiest way to begin. Always remember, when filing as a Sole Proprietor, you’ll need to put money away throughout the year to save for the taxes you’ll need to pay when you file. Otherwise, you’ll make the mistake I did in my first year, and end up owing several thousand dollars in taxes that you didn’t save or plan for. Oops. (I never said I was perfect!)

Corporation: An S-Corp gets a little more confusing, but it’s what I ended up going with once I left the dangerous world of Sole Proprietorship. With this setup, you write paychecks to yourself, as opposed to just dipping into your business account whenever you need money. You pay taxes with each paycheck, instead of saving all year and paying after filing. You might even get a tax return with this route!

Once you’ve made your decision, you’ll need to register your business. A local accountant can help you with that, and sometimes your bank can also. When I first started out, I went to my bank to set up a new business account, and they took care of all the new business paperwork for me. Though, that was for Sole Prop, and I’m not sure if they’d do it for LLC. Check with your bank, and if they can’t help with what you need, a friendly neighborhood accountant can assist you. Additionally, if you intend to sell retail products or any taxable service in North Carolina, you must register for a Sales and Use tax certificate.

A side note to keep in mind while registering for all your legal and financial things: I highly recommend setting your business address as your home address, and not the physical location where you will be working. You probably will want all of your business related mail to come to your home, an address which is less likely to change. Your “Home Office”, if you will. You can still put your physical salon address on your website, business cards, etc — but for anything where you’ll be receiving mail or packages, save yourself the headache and have it sent to your house. I’ll never forget moving out of my first salon and having to go back a few weeks later to pick up a bank statement and a package. Yikes.

Handling Money

It’s a no brainer how to handle cash. But what about credit cards? What do we do with receipts? What must we keep, and what can we trash? And most scary of all… what in the world do we do during tax season?

To start off on your money chapter, you’ll need to get a few things in order. First, open a business checking account, at least. A business savings account is also a nice touch, but having at least the checking is crucial. You don’t want your business money and your personal money floating around in the same tank. The goal is to make things as simple and painless as possible during tax time, and starting off with neatly organized finances will save you a lot of time down the line.

Choosing a credit card processor is next up. You don’t want to be one of those shops with a handwritten “cash only” sign propped up on the counter, do you? (No, you don’t.) Taking only cash may seem like a great way to go, what with being able to dodge fees and, if you’re shady enough, even dodge the IRS. But not only is this incredibly inconvenient for your clients, it can potentially get you into serious legal trouble with the government. Consider the fees for a processing agent as a customer service expense, like bottled water for your clients, or the cute Keurig you’ve been eyeing for the reception area.

Clover is the processing system I use, and I love it. It enables me to take payments, create gift cards, and even manage employees. For reasons I may elaborate more on in the future, I would avoid Square like the plague. Clover has all the same features, but with actual customer service, and no history of closing people’s merchant accounts suddenly and without explanation at 2pm in the middle of a busy workday. Ask me how I know.

Once you’ve registered with your processing service, set it up to deposit payments into your new business bank account, and viola! A shiny new business account with money coming in. It’s starting to feel a bit more real at this point.

Be sure to link all of your business related purchases to your new bank account. Monthly drafts like your rent, payment for business services like your booking system, and anything else business related should come out of this account. All supplies, tools, furniture, literally anything that’s business related should come out of here. Keep this account strictly for business; don’t use it for personal purchases, don’t deposit personal checks into it, just give it space.

Paying yourself is pretty easy for LLCs filing as Sole Proprietors. Just transfer money from your business to your personal account. Simple! I used to do this as needed. Sometimes multiple times per week, sometimes every couple of weeks. Now that I’ve converted to an S-Corp, I am enrolled with a payroll company, and have biweekly salaried paychecks direct-deposited into my personal checking account. Taxes are taken out of my paychecks with this method, but they won’t be with yours if you’re doing bank transfers instead. Put away enough to be ready for tax season, and maybe a little extra, just to be safe.

Ready Your Supplies

You know what you need. Let’s get your list together and make sure it’s not missing anything. Think about the space first. What’s already there? You’re going to need a mirror, a chair or table/bed, a work station, storage, shelves, cabinets, trash can, laundry bin, lights, etc. It’s always a good idea to measure out the exact dimensions of your space so you can be sure what you’re ordering will fit appropriately. When I started, I drew a floor plan of each space I moved to, sketching different arrangements and furniture setups until I found something that felt functional.

Depending on the services you provide, you’ll need to get your supplies ready. Whether that’s wax, nail polish, or hair color tubes. You’ll need to stock yourself for at least your first three month’s worth of work. These days I try to stock up for a year in advance. Less frequent purchases means less in shipping, or less travel to and from the supply store. Don’t forget your mixing bowls, wax sticks, oil bottles, cotton rounds, and all the other things you’ll use during a service. Even down to the hand sanitizer, and paper towels, you’ll need to provide every last thing.

My go-to supply stores are SalonCentric and Cosmo Prof. They both have physical locations, but I prefer to order online because I tend to order more than what their stores keep in stock. I buy in bulk because I don’t like running low on things. It makes me uncomfortable.

If you plan to sell retail, you will need to open professional accounts with the product lines you intend to sell. Most have a section on their website listed as “professionals” or “wholesale” — Check the footer of your vendor’s site, that’s usually where I find it. Remember, you can survive on services, but you will retire on retail. You only have so much time in the day to provide a service to your client, but with no extra time investment you can easily double your profit by adding retail to their purchase. Don’t neglect this.

Perhaps the most important thing here: Save EVERY receipt. Every last one.

Branding, Menu, & Pricing

I’m assuming if you’ve made it this far, you’ve at least come up with a name for your business. I’ve found that many booth renters tend to use their name, like my friend at Kat Covington Salon. I wanted something a little more detached from myself, something that felt like its own entity and not just the place where I was working my magic, so I went with Brow Haus: Lash & Brow Studio. Whatever you decide to go with, keep in mind the feeling you want it to invoke in people when they hear it. Will your salon be cute and playful? Chic and sophisticated? Does your name reflect that? I knew I wanted something cool and unique, because your clients will subconsciously gravitate toward a salon name they vibe with. I wanted to attract the coolest clients on the block. And I did. (Love you guys!)

You’re going to need, at the very least, business cards. A logo is a bonus. And let’s not forget your website, which we’ll talk more about below. Pamphlets to pass out with your services and pricing are great to have on hand as well, so plan what paper products you want to order and start thinking about how you want them to look. Most first-timers use Vistaprint to ready their first batch of marketing materials, but there are plenty of other options for you to choose from. Fiverr is an excellent resource to find graphic designers ready to create the perfect logo and marketing materials unique to your brand.

When it comes to your service menu, don’t overwhelm your client base. Pick out the basics, or your specialties, and don’t try to be a jack of all trades. Just because you are licensed to do something, doesn’t mean it should be on your menu. My menu consists of about 5 core services, and that’s it. These are the things I excel at, the things clients come to me for, and I know that adding more services to my menu would only dilute my expertise and spread my skillset thin. Consider choosing a specialty, and focusing on it. No one was ever the best at everything.

Your pricing should vary depend on the location you are serving. Consider your competition, the people neighboring you who are providing the same services. How are they pricing themselves? How much more experience do they have than you? Should you price yourself cheaper, to attract more new clients? Or should you adopt luxury pricing, to bring in only select, high quality clientele? I’ve found that a good balance is perfect for me. I started with the average price for my area, then steadily rose my prices when I felt I’d earned it.

Appointment Booking

You may prefer taking appointments by pencil and paper, but in today’s day and age, not having a way for clients to book online is like throwing away money. But hey, you do you! If you want to take every appointment by phone, go for it. But don’t forget, once you start running the show, not only are you the service provider, you’re the receptionist too. If you want a booming business with people booking left and right, while you’re working away at the chair all day, do you really want to be interrupting your clients’ service every fifteen minutes by constantly taking phone calls? And it’s not just making appointments, it’s moving them, too.

By setting up an online booking system, you can easily guide clients to setting their own appointments with convenience. Just choose your system of choice, sign up, and share the online booking link where you know your clients are looking. On your website, on your business card, in your voicemail greeting. Text it to them when they message you for an appointment. They can see all of your openings in front of them, without you having to rattle off times until they hear one that works. They can even use this system to move or cancel an appointment, without having to bother you during your work day.

If it weren’t for this, I would never get anything done. The booking system I use is from Ovatu, and I have been using their services since the day I went out on my own almost ten years ago. Despite moving to different locations, switching between different credit card processing merchants, picking up new brands and products over time, and generally refreshing how I do things around my little salon, the only thing that has remained constant has been my relationship with Ovatu’s booking system. I couldn’t recommend them more highly, and their customer service is truly some of the best I’ve ever experienced.

When setting up your booking page, don’t forget to include policies. Some clients will take advantage of you, but there are ways to protect yourself. A no-show may not have seemed so bad before you were working for yourself, but in the booth renting world, a couple of no-shows or late arrivals can put a huge dent in your income. It might take some trial and error to come up with the policies that work best for you and your clients, but start with at least something, and make it a requirement that clients agree to them before booking. Even if it’s something as simple as “no-shows must pay a $25 no-show fee before being allowed to booking again,” your client will see that you mean business, and will know before even booking that you don’t appreciate people playing around with your valuable time. Clients will respect and trust your business better when they see that you take it seriously, which will tell them you take them seriously too. If a potential client leaves your page after seeing your policies, trust me, you didn’t want them as a client in the first place.

Web Presence

So how are people going to find you? Word of mouth is a tried and true way to bring new people into the chair, but one of the most powerful tools we have access to in this day and age is the internet. These days, you’re one google search away from any answer you’re looking for, including where the best brow salon in Charlotte NC is. That’s how most of my new clients find me. I have an optimized web presence, and I know how to target the attention of my ideal new client. Being findable on the web is crucial, but there’s more to it than just creating a new Instagram account.

Let’s start with social media. Go ahead and get your big 3 signed up for: Instagram, Facebook Page, and Twitter. Make sure the handle you use for these three is the same, so clients only have to remember one handle to find you in multiple places. You’ll use these for announcements, photos, promotions, and general communications with your existing clientele and new people who may want to try your services. Encourage as many clients and friends as possible to follow you, and post often to keep your audience engaged.

I’ll admit, social media is not my forte. I’m forgetful, and won’t post for weeks or months at a time. I’m working on it! My web strengths really lie in the core website, which is next on the list. Time to register your domain! You can use GoDaddy or another domain service to purchase your perfect dot com. They’re cheap as dirt, so grab yours up before somebody else does!

Once you have your domain, you’ll need to design your website. Unless you know how to write code, you’ll need to pick a site building service. Of all the ones to choose from, Wix is hands-down the easiest. It’s what I’ve used from day one, and I have really enjoyed it. Fleshing out my website was second nature to me. It was the most exciting part of it all! I think I enjoyed it more than decorating my room. You can look to other salon websites for some inspiration, but at least include the basics: your location, contact information, booking information and online booking link, your service menu, policies, links to your social media, and some content about you and your business. But don’t stop there! Add more as you think of it. FAQ and information pages about your services, landing pages for search engines, and even a blog can be wonderful additions to your site.

But your website isn’t just an info hub for your business. It can also be one of the greatest opportunities to build your clientele. About 90% of my new clients come from finding my website on Google, and it’s not just because I have a website — It’s because my website is optimized for search. First and foremost, having a website in the first place is bound to put you ahead of most booth renters out there who only have Instagram. But having a well built, thoughtfully formatted website that not only looks amazing, but tells Google “hey, I’m here!” has the potential to drive so much traffic into your chair.

I recently decided to start sharing my love for web-building as a service to budding new business owners, so if the whole website thing seems way over your head, let me take at least that off your plate. Take a look at this page for more information on how I can help you get started with all the techy web stuff.

There’s so much more to say on this topic, but I’ll leave it at this for now. Look out for a more comprehensive blog post in the future that goes into more detail about web presence, and the relationship between technology and your business. I could go on and on!

Tax Season

Taxes scared me more than anything. So much that when I came face to face with my first year of filing taxes as a Sole Proprietor, I actually filed an extension because I couldn’t muster up the nerve to get it done. After I gritted my teeth and powered through it, it felt like a weight was lifted, and I could breathe again. Every year after that was a breeze, and I’ve made changes along the way to help future-me have an easier time each year. Let’s dive deeper.

No matter what business structure you’ve decided to go with, one thing is universal: Record every purchase, record every sale. This is why you need a separate bank account, where none of your personal finances are mingling. Statements can be a clear way to see what comes in and what goes out, but I find an even easier way to keep track of things is to use a service like Quickbooks.

I didn’t start using Quickbooks until I was a few years in. For a while there, filing my taxes meant plopping a shoebox full of receipts onto my bed and sorting them into several piles in a circle around me. It was time consuming and barbaric. It would take me all day to finish sorting everything into their categories and adding it all up, especially with double and triple checking everything. It can be done this way! I can attest! But there’s just so much room for error. And imagine what you could be doing with that time, instead.

Quickbooks Online links directly with my bank accounts, credit, and debit cards, to record every transaction made across all my lines of business finance. Any money that comes in and out is recorded, labeled, categorized, and automatically organized into a neat little profit and loss sheet for me to refer to every spring. When I do my taxes, instead of scrobbling numbers onto post-it notes and sticking them on top of receipt piles, I just log into my Quickbooks account and go right for my profit and loss sheet. Of course, it is still in my nature to double and triple check it, but the process usually only takes a few hours out of my year, as opposed to entire days.

Your credit card processor will most likely mail you a 1099-K at the beginning of every year, which will include your total sales for the entire year prior. One more reason to have business mail sent to your house. This is one document you don’t want to lose! If you don’t get it right away, some services will have it available to download online, but I’ll usually just call their customer service directly to have them email it. This document, combined with your expenses, is what you will need to move forward with filing.

Before we move forward, let me just address this now: Yes, you MUST claim your tips. No, they do NOT qualify as gifts. I don’t know exactly how an IRS audit goes down, but I’ll tell you one thing: it’s something I don’t want to find out. Do not take unnecessary risks with your business.

The first few years in business, I used an online service to file my taxes. Most people gravitate toward Turbo Tax, but I found that FreeTaxUSA was less expensive and just as accurate. If you’re a Sole Proprietor, or LLC filing as one, you’ll need to file a Schedule C. FreeTaxUSA walks you through the entire process, and makes things fairly simple. Their customer service team is available to help at any time, but I think I’ve only had to use it once.

If you’re an S-Corp, do yourself a favor and hire an accountant.

After I finish my taxes each year, I print out every document I used to file, the tax return itself, and anything else I feel might be important. Together with all the paper receipts I collected during the year, I put them neatly into an envelope, and label it by the year. You need to keep all receipts and documents for 7 years after filing in the instance of an audit, so make sure you put them somewhere safe for when the IRS decides they want to check in on your math skills.

Whew! That was a lot!

If this article intimidated you… good! Nothing worth doing was ever easy, and success doesn’t come without effort. Hopefully this was helpful to some people. If it was, drop a comment below and let me know how it made you feel! Are you energized to put your to-do list together and get started? Do you still have more questions? I’d love to expand more on some of these topics in upcoming posts, and am more than happy to answer your questions in the mean time.

It’s important to remember what brought you to this article in the first place. You wanted more information on booth renting. You wanted more income and freedom for yourself. You deserve it! With courage, determination, and a little help from us, you’re going to do great. Don’t give up.

Now let’s get started! You’ve got a lot to do!

With love and optimism for your future,

xoxo – Katie

Your Friendly Badass Brow Babe

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