[INTERVIEW] Independent Nail Tech | Starting A Nail Business Out Of Fun And Curiosity

Are you afraid to get started with a career in nails?

Are you in an unfulfilling work situation and dreaming about making something happen for yourself in the world of nails?

Well, what if I told you that to get started, you do not need to make any big commitments right now?

No quitting your day job, taking out any big loans for nail school, no nail tech license, and heck, not even a nail license!

My guest today is an example of all of this!

Her name is Rachel. Rachel started her NOW career in nails out of pure interest.

She’s allowed me to be part of her journey via the Kokoist Certification and Leafgel Certification Courses.

She’s gone from hobby stage to press-ons business owner, to nail school, and now to being a licensed independent nail stylist in her suite.

And not only this, but Rachel has also been invited to host and teach a lesson in my press-ons course, The Press-Ons Lab, to share her expertise around building a Shopify website.

I recently sat down to chat about it in an interview. Let’s now let Rachel take it away.


Paola: Rachel! Welcome to the channel! I am so happy to have you on!! Please take us through your story. How did your nail journey begin? When did it start?

Rachel: Hi. First off, thank you so much for having me. 

So my journey began when I first saw a nail polish drawer full of nail polish, and it was at my cousin’s apartment. I was mesmerized; I was the kid that wanted the 60 crayon box because I’ve always been obsessed with colors., so I thought that was pretty neat. 

In high school, every Sunday, I would make it a point to do my nails. It was like a ritual and a way to relax and prepare for the busy week. Then when I started working at the movie theaters, I stepped it up and tried different nail art designs based on the big movies coming out. The designs were nothing intricate because I didn’t have any nail art brushes; I just had this pen that I could use that was regular nail polish but was somehow in a pen form. But it worked, kind of. 

Then once the pandemic happened, a lockdown occurred, and I got a furlough from my job. So I was stuck at home, and I started watching YouTube videos.

I think I was watching music videos, but then nail art videos started showing up. I watched one after the other and came across your channel. You spoke about Japanese gel brands, so I thought this was pretty cool. Then more specifically, I got into the nail industry with Press on Nails. 

I saw both of your videos on how to start a press-on-nail business. And then, in 2021, I didn’t want anything to start in 2020 because it was a depressing year. I launched my Press on business, started my Instagram page to keep track of what I was doing, and then went back to work. 

So having that Press on business was kind of like a side hustle. By then, I also knew I wanted to be a nail tech. So I started saving up money at my job because I didn’t know when it would happen. 

I knew I did want to become a nail tech because I was so fascinated with all the things you could do with nail art products. So, yeah, I went to school, and fortunately, I own my own mini studio.

Paola: Very cool, Rachel! You can say that you found me on YouTube just out of curiosity, doing your nails and playing with nails and whatnot. So you didn’t do anything in 2020. You say you thought about going into nails, but not really, right? Then you did a press ons business, keeping you warm in the industry, right? But like you said, by then, you knew you wanted to do, you wanted to do nails. So it was a nice first stepping stone so that you can definitely get into this industry. 

Let me ask you this. You did something before you became licensed. And I want to say somewhere between the period that you were doing press-ons and also going to nail school, okay? 

#1 You took it step by step. You didn’t quit your day job, right? As you said, you were working at a movie theater, right? Did you pick up that gig because you have been doing that for a long time? Did you pick it up because you were like, I need this gig to finance my education?

Rachel: I was already there. I have been employed since 2018, and then I got promoted to management. So with that extra income, I was like, let’s save this up for nail supplies, more nail polishes, and eventually school because I knew that schooling was a significant expense.

I looked into different schools around the area; it was a big chunk of money, and I did not want to pull out a loan. Luckily, the school I went to didn’t require that. You pull out money through FAFSA, and you can make monthly payments. So keeping that job was beneficial in terms of being financially stable and saving money for growing this business.

Paola: Very nice. Was that a full-time job or just a part-time job?

Rachel: It was full-time when I returned from the lockdown because it was a management position; it was like 40 to 50 plus hours per week.

Paola: Wow. Okay, cool. Like I said, at the same time, you’re keeping this Press On business because you want to stay warm in the industry and really get better. But we’re going to talk about how you also started incorporating complimentary services to friends and family so that you could continue to stay warm. Right? 

So the whole point I’m trying to highlight with your story is that you took it step by step. You were like, all right, this is the end goal. I want to be a licensed nail tech. I need to go to school, but I don’t want to take out a loan. I want to take it step by step, so I should not quit my day job, but I also don’t want to just go to nail school, kind of be cold about what I want to do, and don’t know what I want to do. And you start doing Press-ons, and then you become even more specific and interested. I’m kind of contagious with the Japanese gel thing. I make sure that you like it as much as I like it.

So that’s why I teach a lot about it. For those who don’t know, Japanese gels are soft potted gel formulas; they’re formulas primarily in pots. This is the more traditional way in Japan to apply nails, and you can do anything with it. Of course, you can do gel manicures, gel structures, extensions, and nail art. If anything is more popular in Japan, it’s nail art over gel structures and whatnot, but you can do it with that too. 

So you didn’t quit your job. You know that you want to meet a financial goal because you’re going to nail school; you keep the press-ons business. And then that one thing I was talking about that you did in between the press sounds and going to nail school, and you’re still doing it, which is so beautiful and brave.

You started doing something unconventional that I’ve never seen anyone do that’s been interested in sales. You went to a farmer’s market, like a vendor’s market, and set up a booth there. 

Tell me about what you’re feeling, and then you show up and just tell us what happens and how that’s still working for you to this day, even though you have your suite; super interested.

Rachel: Yeah. So I have a game plan for everything I try or want to accomplish. So when I started to press on business, there were certain things to know. You covered in your videos what legal things you need to do regarding getting your tax documents lined up and the materials you need. Then I wanted a different way to advertise my business, and that was going directly to the people. I was a little nervous because you’re talking to them face to face, and you got to sell your product. You got to make them aware of what press-on nails are. Because at the time, and I still feel like at this time, it’s not completely popular because people still go to the salon or they don’t go to the salon at all. 

So I had been to the farmers market several times and realized that it was like hand-drawn goods. Handmade goods, and of course, there’s produce. And I was like, okay, nails can, I think, apply to this farmer’s market? Because I read the guidelines and I hand-paint everything. I was like, okay, let’s try it for one day, and if it doesn’t work, well, it doesn’t work. We’ll just see where we go from here if it does work. 

So if I hadn’t backed away from it or tried it out, I wouldn’t be where I am because you can’t let your fear get in the way. So that day, I felt very intimidated because I was with hundreds of other vendors. They sell produce, like, hey, look, this guy like really good stuff, and then there are nails, and then, like, food and nails. How is that going to go? But luckily, it’s a craft. So people were very supportive and encouraging, and they were complete strangers. They’re like, oh, tell me more about this. Until that day, I surpassed my sales or, like, what I paid for that spot, I beat that, and I sold nine things.

If you would like to learn about my own personal journey with soft potted gel systems, and my story from newbie nail tech grad to pro, check out my free masterclass here.

Paola: If I could just stop you there. So one thing that you told me before we got on our interview was that one of the ways that you got rid of this fear and intimidation, you were like, how much is the booth rent that day? Okay, if I can make that back, I’ll be happy. Right? You don’t have to tell us the number of the amounts, but maybe you can tell us the number of items you sold. The point is there were sales on your first day at the market, right?

Rachel: Before that, I also wanted to incorporate cuticle oil because that promotes healthy nail growth. So it was a combination of press-on nails and cuticle oils, and it was a total of nine sales that day.

So I was thrilled, and I guess this kind of is working. So I buy it, and after that, I just keep buying more slots, and we continue to grow. It’s nice to see familiar faces and meet new faces. Then I also get the opportunity to meet local business owners as well.

Paola: You can say that you have a few regulars from the market, which is that true?

Rachel: Yes, from the market. Even people who follow me on Instagram and purchase online go to the market to see the nails in person. Because it’s different from having an online store to being at a market.

Paola: That is so cool. Maybe at the end of this interview, we can talk about some strategies on how you can even grow that business if you still want to supplement your income. But I think it’s great. And you didn’t tell me you were doing this, so I’m following you. I love to follow my students on Instagram and my favorite accounts to follow our student account just to see their journey. And so I click your story, and I’m like, she’s got a market. That is so bold. And your booth was so quaint and beautiful, and it was great because here you are. 

I knew that you wanted to go to nail school, I believe. I knew you had already taken a few courses, so you’re just going with what you have right now. You’re like, I’m not in old school, but I have this press-ons business, and I’m not completely hung up. We can say whether it thrives or dies, but it is my warm-up point. And if I’m going to take in-person clients, this is a great way to not be intimidated with my first new client at the studio and whatnot.

So you’re warming up all the aspects of customer service, providing a service rate, and playing with your product because you’re doing it through your presence and whatnot. So that is great. 

I know you told me earlier that you’re, like, a very shy person. So the fact that you’re taking everything step by step and just little by little and working with what you have is exceptional and commendable indeed, Rachel. 

So I’m happy with your progress, and I say this because you are still there. So you’re still making this work. And it’s not that it’s not working; you’re just taking it step by step. So you get licensed, go to school, and get your license. And that was pretty quick, by the way. How long was that?

Rachel: Four months.

Paola: Four months. I guess that’s true. By this time, have you quit your job at the cinema?

Rachel: Yes. It was a little challenging. I tried to stick it out at the beginning. Still, it was tough because school was from morning to mid-afternoon. Then I had to go from as soon as I got out of school to work, and then close to closing time, there wasn’t that much time to focus on my press-on nails business and get enough rest. I think I stayed for a couple of weeks, and then I put in my two-week notice and decided to stick that out to save more money and then just took it on from there. I tried with the press-on nail business to continue being at the farmers market because that was also a financial stability option.

Paola: Right. Even when you have one client or a few, and you’re in your own space, I always stayed in a rented space within a full-service salon. I didn’t go the suite route. I did nails for five years in the salon; I think eventually, I would have ended up in my suite, but I was just comfortable where I was. My coworkers were, like, so cool. So I like that. 

But having something else, even if it’s not like a big money maker like for you, press-ons weren’t making you, like, six figures. However, it was still providing enough income to just be like, and you know what, I get to take this money and pay my suite until I start building my clientele, right? So I always like having a buffer, even now in my business of, like, okay. At the same time, I work on this big project that I will not get paid for; what else is running in the background making me money? And so I have my buffers to do that, even until now.

Again, I want to highlight that some people just think they have to quit everything and go for broken go into this industry. Not at all. 

I was a server when I was in nail school, and that’s how we paid for my supplies and all of that, and you don’t need a lot of supplies. 

You just have to niche down. You knew you wanted to work with soft potted gels and even just soft gels because Japanese and Korean brands are soft gels. You’re like; this is my niche. I love it. It defines my style, and these are the projects that I want to work on. So that’s great. Also, you decided no commission salons because, as you said, you do the math, and it just doesn’t add up. Whether you’re commission and get paid X amount of money, or work on your press-on nails business to make some money to help supplement your studio. So that’s correct.

Now, tell us about how you chose not to work for someone straight out of nail school vs. going independent.

Rachel: So there’s a pros and cons list I made, and I kind of make that with any big decision I have to make. Like, is it going to be worth it in the long run? It might work in the short run, but will it be worth it in the long run? So again, with commission and specialized nail art, the higher the service amount, the more money you give to the salon. So the less money you take. You would take a good amount, but it’s not all yours as opposed to having your mini salon. So you keep all your finances when you’re here. 

Still, you just have to keep in mind the weekly rent and all that stuff, the insurance, and website maintenance costs. Then going back, if I wanted to work at the salon, I had to do their services. Here at the studio, I create my service menu and set my prices. One of your courses helped me with that. I didn’t want to offer 30 different services, and I narrowed it down to make it simple for people.

I feel like it’s a little complex just because I have to provide more examples of tier one and tier two nail art. Then also, I do have a niche with the Japanese and Korean gel brands that I use. And I don’t do pedicures. I just specialize in manicures.

Paola: Totally. Okay. And that’s good that you know that now, unlike me, I was doing pedicures because we’re supposed to, right? People have hands and feet, so how will you discriminate against feet? That was my thought, so I did them, and I did them well. So when I left doing nails in the salon, I was like, I should have charged way more for feet. Just anyone out there who specializes and wants to do Pedicure services, they are more work. It does require that you stock up on more products. So I recommend a price increase, but that’s outside of this conversation.

But now that you mentioned that, yes, you don’t have to do Pedicures. Take it from me; I’m telling myself that you don’t have to do Pedicures. If you do, you’ll want to offer a premium service because you do Efile Pedi or provide a specific product line for your Pedicures. So it can be a money maker.

In the beginning, especially when you’re shy, it will be a bit hard to do Pedicures on someone you’ve never met and just ease yourself into that aspect of the business. If you want to do Pedicures, it doesn’t have to be now. 

So I wanted to highlight your story, Rachel, because you’re a great example of taking it one step at a time. As I mentioned, you’re like, you know what, I’m shut, or I don’t want to do Pedicures. You know that, and you just go with that decision. And then, as your business grows, whatever it may be, whether it’s at the market, your presence online, or your studio, you just kind of go with the next step; you’re a planner. 

You say you put your pros and cons and analyze things, which is also very good. You get to decide on your services. You have a selective list of services that you offer. Your niche down. Your niche is in premium soft gels. That’s what you do. Specifically those made in Japan and Korea. That’s because they infuse the whole culture into their products, and I like them for that.

Let’s talk about your suite. Your suite is not a chain, a Sola solo suite, or a Phoenix suite. It’s just a building with beauticians and wellness practitioners, and you rent a suite there, correct?

Rachel: Yes

Paola: You have your own key; you have your own access. You come, and you go as you want to. Right?

Rachel: Yes. Another perk about being in your own mini salon is that you get to make your own hours. So I made mine in the later morning to pass working hours because people are at their jobs most of the day, like, in the morning. And then I get to set my schedule. I also have a booking app to know when people will come in.

Paola: Lovely. That’s very important because it’s counterintuitive when you’re going from now school. You’re like, well, I have to go work for someone and build my clientele, and here’s something potential tech needs to know.

When you’re trying to build your clientele, the way to do it is not necessarily by going to someone else’s salon and building your clientele there. Why? Because if the salon is hiring you and they’re attracting the customers, you’re kind of feeding off what they’re paying money to supply and keep their business open. 

The correct way is if you’re in a commission-based salon, you want to invite people, but you still want to do your marketing outside the salon. You’re talking to people in restaurants where you go shop, wherever it may be, on social media. You tell them now that they found you, you take them to the salon you’re legally working on, and you do their nails there.

Paola: That’s how you do it. Now, if the salon does the marketing and gets the clients for you, taking them into your suite is not ethical. So I just want to clarify that because people think that, to build my clientele, I just have to go work for someone else. They’ll provide the clients, and then I’ll take them to my suite or my space, right? And it’s like, no. 

Now, I did skip a card earlier. One of the other things you did, and I always recommend this, is you worked on Friends and Family. 

We want to be clear about who we work with when working with friends and family at home to stay warm in the industry. 

Because like you said earlier, working on press-ons and real people are entirely different. Absolutely, 100%. Press-ons don’t have eponychium or cuticle skin. Every press-on nail has nice nail beds, but clients don’t always have the best nail beds. 

Also, now that we were talking about legalities, I want to clarify that when you run a business, most of the time in the states, you cannot work from home without some legal specifications in place.

Like in particular states, you can if you have an actual wall, not just some makeshift wall, but a wall that separates the home and the business and a separate entrance. That’s usually the case. 

Also, your county may not allow foot traffic or free to run a business from home. So, I want to clarify to anyone considering starting from home that will not play well to your strategy. 

First of all, in today’s age, after 2020, they don’t want to come to your home; they are intimidated by getting sick and whatnot. Second, they don’t know what working at your home looks like; does that mean your dog, cat, or children are running around there? Does that mean that we’re working at your kitchen table? It’s just not going to provide a professional environment. 

I know there’s going to be a lot of hearts broken. Right? So what is the correct way? The proper way is to do complimentary services with your friends and family.

You can’t get in trouble for working with your friends and family. You’re not running a business; you have a hobby, and that’s it. Your friends and family, by the way, can be three people. We’re not going to increase the foot traffic in your city by inviting the community but working on three to five of your closest friends and family. Just asking them: Hey! can I practice on you? Most of them will say yes. I know I practiced on my sister all the time. 

That’s how you work from home; practice on yourself, a friend, and a family member. That’s it, three people. That’s what you also did, right? You carved out a corner in your room. Rachel, take us through your setup there.

Rachel: It started with a little desk, and then the desk wasn’t big enough for the materials I was getting for the press-ons or even working on my family and friends. Then I got a desk and this manicure table that I have now. After saving enough money to get one, I was super happy. Then I started practicing on them and encouraged them to be honest with me. Not brutally honest, because sometimes family members can be brutally honest.

Paola: I know, sometimes they can be a little too honest lol.

Rachel: Yeah, like we’re done. But no, I just wanted to ensure that I wasn’t hurting them because, as we’ve mentioned before, working on press-ons vs. people is not the same. 

You’re working with live tissue and skin, and you got to shape the nails using your efile. I just never advertised that I was offering services on my Instagram account. I was, oh, come over so I can practice on you. Because it’s one thing to have, like, strangers come into, well, for me, it was in my bedroom.

Paola: I know what you mean. Things can look a little strange and turn into awkward situations. Rachel, I’m going to go from there. I remember that before this interview, we were talking about how this happened, like your friends and family. Your sister, I think, gets her nails on by you, and you practice it on yourself. 

This was really cool for anyone watching who is currently in school or planning to go to school. One thing that you did to kind of build attention, momentum, and demand for yourself and your brand was to start with your sister and friends. These people go about their lives and get compliments on their nails, so they hand them your information and say: “She’s currently in nail school. If you want to get your nails done, you can go to the nail school and get your nails done by her, right?

Rachel: Or purchase press-on nails.

Paola: And all they had was your Instagram and nail school information. That’s very slick and professional. That is the correct way to do it. 

Once you’re in nail school and working on friends and family, you send them out. It’s not a bad idea to get a business card started. Definitely, a nail profile. If you don’t have the budget to print cards yet or don’t know what your name will be and the colors, don’t worry about that. 

Get your Instagram profile only for nails; that is the business card. All someone has to do, is write your Instagram handle right and check them out. Then you post the updates on how nail school is going and when you will start a business. 

That was beautiful and unique from you, Rachel. It just shows that you are definitely cut out for that. You have that business mentality about things like, okay, with what I have, how can I continue to grow?

Rachel, we’re going to end up there.

I want you to tell me if anybody is watching right now. The people contemplating a career in nails, currently in or wanting to go to nail school, or considering any of my programs, or they finished nail school and didn’t know what to do next. Anything you would say to encourage the young Rachel in 2020 to keep pursuing their dream as a nail tech? 

Rachel: So I would say to be patient yet persistent. Things come within time, as long as you put the work into it. Knowing my niche at the beginning and transitioning, like, okay; I want to be a nail tech; what steps do I need to take to do this legally and professionally? Then also invest in yourself, because the courses I’ve taken with Paula have been beneficial in knowing what to do or what to say and what information to provide. 

You want to invest in yourself because you’ll see how your nail art or entrepreneurship will grow. So, like, Paola said, have an Instagram page, and you’ll see how far you’ve come in one or two years. So not only are you investing in yourself, you’re investing in your future business.

Paola: Absolutely. Rachel, where can my audience find you so they can learn more about your journey? Maybe there are locals in your area. Where are you located, your state, your city? Let us know your Instagram handle so they can follow your journey and work.

Rachel: The business name is Vistosa Nails, and my tag for all social media platforms is @vistosanails. When I’m at the market, it’s at the Upper Valley Market on the west side of El Paso, Texas. That’s where I’m located. My salon studio area is by the downtown area. So there is parking, a parking lot, yes. That was a big perk of coming here.

Paola: It is. Otherwise, clients will be late, and they can’t find you. Parking is great. Well, it was lovely having this interview with you, Rachel. Thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your story. There are so many people in different stages that we talked about today that you and your business experienced at some point. So I think this is definitely going to help you. Thank you for carving out time on your busy schedule, right? I’m thrilled that you have a couple of different businesses. I will continue to follow your journey online.

Rachel: Thank you for having me. It was an honor. Thank you.

Thank you for joining us today! We were very excited to share Rachel’s journey to inspire you, give you a few tips, and show you that everyone has their journey. There’s no one right way to achieve your nail dreams; just like Rachel, you will get there one step at a time, making informed decisions and being consistent. That’s what we do here, real people with real lives and big nail dreams.

Check out my free masterclass here, and check out Vistosa Nails on IG @vistosanails.

Thank you for spending your time with me and Rachel, and bye for now!


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