My Big Career Change: From Bakery Manager to Home Salon Owner


Interview with Successful EN Graduate Leanne Heard

How did you get started in the nail industry? What sparked your interest?

In 2012, several major life events occurred that led me to start my business as a nail technician. First, I split with my husband and had to step down from my job as a shop manager for Greggs. My 4-year-old daughter was struggling with me working up to 12 hours a day and her father moving out. I asked my area manager for a 20-24 hour contract, but she said she couldn't accommodate that. To afford the mortgage on my own, I needed a minimum 20 hour contract, but I was only offered 16 hours. As a manager, I often worked over 42 hours a week.

That same year, my 80-year-old grandmother gave up driving and could no longer take herself and her sisters to the chiropodist every 6 weeks. She asked if I would start cutting their nails instead. I agreed to help her like she had always helped me. However, she and her sisters insisted on paying me. This gave me the idea to take a nail technician course that I could do in my flexible hours. I wanted to properly learn the skills and use the extra income to cover my mortgage alone. With my unpredictable work schedule, it took until 2015 to complete the course.

Having worked at Greggs since age 16, I never had long or polished nails due to food safety rules. If not for my grandmother's request, I may have never gotten into this industry. I'm so grateful she gave me my start. In September 2016, I began my business renting space at a salon. By February 2017, I was working from a spare room in my house. By 2019, I had outgrown that small space and built a conservatory onto my home to serve as my salon.

What training/certificates do you have?

Since 2015, I have completed extensive training and certifications in nails and beauty services. My education includes:

  • Essential Nails: Spa manicure, Spa pedicure, UV gel polish, Nail art, Gelaze pro expert nail art, Gel nails, Maintaining nail extensions
  • Brillbird: Efile manicure, Christmas nail art, UV gel skills and Sculpting, Acrygel/polygel conversion, Acrylic enhancements, Acrylic sculpting
  • Sun-Kissed Training Academy: Cosmetic spray tanning, Day and evening makeup, Swedish body massage, Full body waxing, Brow tinting, Shaping and tweezing, Facials, Semi-permanent eyelash extensions, Lash lifting and tinting, Hot stone massage, Indian head massage
  • Studex: Nose and ear piercing certifications

This advanced training has equipped me with a diverse skillset in nails, beauty, massage, and aesthetics. I am committed to continuously improving my knowledge and techniques to provide exceptional services to my clients.

Walk me through what a typical day looks like for you.

In March 2018, I left my job at Greggs completely and became solely self-employed operating my home salon business. The transition was challenging at first, and COVID brought more difficulties, but I am now getting quite busy. For the past 5 years, I have worked any day of the week, often as late as 10pm, in order to build up my customer base and not turn clients away.

This year, I am trying to limit myself to working 5 days per week, with only 2 late nights. I typically start at 9/9:30 after dropping my daughter off at school. Working from home has positives like lower overheads and flexibility for my daughter, but the downside is getting calls and texts at all hours since customers assume I'm available anytime. For the past few years, I finish around 6pm 3 days per week and work until 8 or 10pm on 2 late nights. This year, I am aiming to structure my days better to get some days off and prevent burnout.

What services do you provide for clients?

I offer a full range of beauty treatments, but nail services are the most popular, especially Gel polish and Gel full cover extensions. Many clients also want their eyebrow done as an add on treatment.

What are your specialties or what techniques do you most enjoy doing?

My favorite treatment is Gel full cover tips with all kinds of nail art. They are the perfect canvas to make hands look so pretty. I also love doing a straightforward gel polish.

What advice would you give someone just starting out as a nail technician?

I would advise someone who's just starting out to practice as much as you can. Use friends and family to practice on and to model your work. I don't pay to advertise, word of mouth from happy customers is the best advert and business builder you can have. Persevere, we all start off somewhere, and practice makes perfect. Always be prepared to learn. We never stop learning. New tools, tricks, and so much diversity mean you can keep up with changing trends, etc.

Where do you see yourself going in your nail tech career? What are your future goals?

My goals moving forward are to continue learning and improving my skills, build my clientele, and achieve better work-life balance. Had I started this career path earlier in life, I may have aspired to open a shop and manage staff. However, having changed careers at 37 and seeing how the world has changed, I am content working from home while also supporting my daughter in building her own beauty business.

What's been your most memorable or touching interaction with a client?

One of my most memorable moments was from a few months ago. A regular client who I normally just gel polish her toes came in wanting her eyebrows done too. I noticed a concerning sore patch starting in one brow. I did a patch test behind her ear as a precaution, but recommended she get it checked by her doctor before we did any eyebrow treatments. She followed my advice, and her GP diagnosed cancerous cells and referred her for treatment. She later returned to thank me - she was so grateful that I had caught it early and insisted she see her doctor. My training taught me to spot problems and refer clients to medical professionals when needed. I'm just glad I followed protocol, and that the treatment worked for her. It was extremely rewarding that my vigilance helped detect a serious issue early. Moments like these make this career so meaningful.

What's the craziest nail art or design a client has ever asked you to do?

It's only recently a lot of my customers have started getting more creative with what they have on their nails. I did 5 color tie-dye nails recently, that was probably the craziest set I've done so far.

If you could choose any celebrity to be your client, who would you love to do nails for?

I feel honored to do anybody's nails, as there are so many places they could go to get them done and they've chosen me, so I would love to do any celebrity's nails.

If you could only use 3 nail products for the rest of your career, what would they be?

I would have to choose Full cover tips, Gel polish, and Builder gel for strength.

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