Sophie Donaldson, working Mum, talks about her path to becoming a part of London Fashion Week and the exhilarating yet challenging life as a nail technician. She shares her insights into session work, the industry’s pros and cons, and gives guidance on how you can achieve your goals in this field.
Name: SOPHIE DONALDSON From: KENT Job: AWARD WINNING NAIL ARTIST AND SESSION TECHNICIAN
What are the best parts of your job?
The best part of my job? Without a doubt, it’s the people. From the industry professionals I work alongside to the clients that I have the pleasure of spending time with, nothing brings me more joy than interacting with others and making them feel happier. Whether they come in feeling down on themselves or just overwhelmed by life, it’s incredibly rewarding to see them leave with a smile on their face. As a nail technician, I may have started out thinking I was just providing a service, but I’ve since learned that there’s something truly special about holding someone’s hand through their struggles.
Working with clients is more than just a one-time exchange. The relationship between a nail technician and their client is built on trust and often leads to deep connections. I love that clients feel comfortable opening up to me about their lives, from sharing intimate details about their upcoming weddings to telling me they’re expecting a baby before anyone else. As a nail technician, I get to know people on a level that is rarely possible in other professions, and that bond is something truly special.
In addition to working with clients, I also love the creativity that comes from my session work. Collaborating with other industry professionals, from makeup artists to photographers, and having the opportunity to unleash my creativity is absolutely thrilling. Working alongside these passionate individuals is truly infectious and inspires me to take what I learn back to the treatment room and create unique, personalised experiences for my clients.
In short, the best parts of my job are the people I work with and the relationships I’ve built, both personally and creatively. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing someone leave my salon feeling happier and more confident than when they arrived, and I feel incredibly lucky to be in a profession that allows me to do just that every day.
What are the best bits of the nail industry?
One of the greatest aspects of the nail industry is the willingness to help one another. I’ve found that if I ever have a question or need assistance with something, all I have to do is reach out to someone in the industry and they’re eager to lend a hand. It’s truly amazing how supportive and encouraging everyone is.
I think it’s important to remember that there’s no shame in asking for help. We’re all on a journey, and seeking advice and guidance is how we grow and improve. I’ve always been struck by how generous and open the nail community is, and it’s really created a positive, collaborative environment where we can all thrive and succeed. So if you’re ever feeling unsure or stuck, don’t hesitate to reach out to your fellow nail technicians – we’re all in this together!
What are the challenges / tough bits of your job?
Every job comes with its own set of challenges. One of the toughest aspects of the job is the working hours, especially if you work in a salon. It’s common for shifts to include evenings and weekends, which can sometimes be a challenge if you have a busy social life outside of work. However, working as part of a team is a lot of fun, and you often end up doing each other’s nails, which is a great perk of the job.
On the other hand, if you’re a mobile technician or working from home, the challenge is to manage everything by yourself. There’s no one else to lean on, which means that if you’re sick or unable to work, you may need to make up for lost time later on. Being self-employed requires excellent organisational and time management skills, as well as the ability to make good business decisions around pricing and hours.
It’s important to be mindful of your work-life balance when you’re self-employed, as it can be easy for work to spill over into your personal life. Ultimately, being a successful nail technician requires a willingness to adapt, be flexible, and learn how to manage different work scenarios independently. While there are challenges to navigate, the rewards of seeing your clients’ happy faces when they leave your salon or completing a successful home appointment more than makes up for it.
What’s the best advice you have been given?
To always be kind. Even when things may not go as planned, being caring and kind towards your clients can go a long way, if they can see you are trying your best. It’s essential to communicate with them honestly about your limitations and manage their expectations. It’s also essential to understand that sometimes, what you envision and what your clients envision may be different, and they may still love your work even if it doesn’t turn out as planned.
To swatch designs was also a great piece of advice as not only can you practice designs, it is also an excellent way to show clients examples of your work, your style and level and to help them choose a design while ensuring you can deliver what they expect. Posting your work on social media platforms like Instagram can also help clients get to know your style and the standard of your work. Sharing pictures of your salon or work area can also help clients feel more comfortable, especially if they’re visiting your home-based studio.
What motivates you daily?
I have to admit, a good cup of coffee does the trick! But ultimately, my motivation stems from the desire to constantly improve my skills and techniques. When I successfully complete a design that once seemed impossible, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and fuels me to keep pushing myself. Witnessing my own progress is what truly inspires me.
What are your career highlights?
There are a few that come to mind! One of the best moments was when I decided to take the leap and become self-employed. Seeing my client base grow and realising that I had the ability to bring clients through the door was incredibly fulfilling. Another highlight was getting my teaching qualification after becoming a new mom. It was a tough time with night feeds and sleep deprivation, but achieving my goals gave me a sense of pride and helped me reclaim my sense of identity.
Lastly, participating in London Fashion Week was an amazing experience. Being part of a team and feeling the excitement and energy was incredible. Meeting other professionals in the industry and getting the chance to work with them was also a highlight for me.
How did you get into session work?
It all began with London Fashion Week. I saw a post about an opportunity to work there and decided to reply. The organiser set a challenge for everyone to create sweetie or chocolate-inspired press-on nails, and I submitted my design. To my surprise, I was selected to be on her team for the event.
After working at London Fashion Week, I met some models who began to come to me for nail services at home. I also reached out to professionals in the industry whose work I admired, such as stylists, makeup artists, and fashion designers. I offered to collaborate with them by doing a stunning set of nails for their next photoshoot, explaining how the nails could add to the overall look of the images. Through persistence and positive outreach, I started to develop a reputation as someone with a talent for creating beautiful nails for photo shoots.
While there can be some unpaid work at the beginning, it’s rewarding to do what you love and build a portfolio of images. You can also join an agency that specialises in session work. My advice for anyone looking to get into session work is to not be afraid of rejection and be willing to put yourself out there. Persistence and passion can go a long way in this industry.
What key skills are needed for your role?:
As a nail technician, having strong people skills is essential. A love for working with people is necessary, as you will be interacting with clients regularly. While people skills may not be as crucial for session work and tips, these job opportunities are not always reliable or well-paid. Therefore, it’s recommended to start building a clientele as a nail tech, which involves managing people’s expectations, making them feel at ease, and being a good listener.
Aside from people skills, attention to detail, creativity, and good hand-eye coordination are necessary skills for this role. In-depth knowledge about nail health and hygiene, as well as strict adherence to sanitation protocols, is a must.
Effective communication skills enable you to comprehend your client’s needs and communicate expectations effectively. Strong time management and organisational skills will help you keep appointments on schedule and manage supplies and inventory efficiently.
What Qualifications do you have?
I love learning and education! I have done so many courses and it’s so important to keep on top of your knowledge and skills especially when you are self employed and haven’t got a boss to send you on training. Some of my courses and workshops include (there are more!):
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