In 2009, Sharmadean Reid set up a single salon in London. Today, WAH Nails is a globally renowned brand and Sharmadean a recognised business expert, writing an advice column for The Guardian and receiving an MBE for services to beauty in 2015. Today we chat to her about how she’s using tech to help more women make it big in the beauty business.
Why is tech so fundamental to a successful business?
It’s fundamental today because everyone’s on their phone or laptop all the time, and if you want your business to go well, you need to go where your customers are. I truly believe all businesses will become digitalised in the future, and the key thing now is for leaders to understand how to use tech in the most useful way, rather than as a gimmick.
So for instance, I was an early adopter of Instagram as I had a natural desire to utilise and capitalise on the latest tech, and that is what got WAH Nails famous.
How does your new business, Beautystack, empower beauty professionals?
It’s a network and marketplace where clients can book services through pictures on beauty professionals’ profiles. At the moment, beauty pros rely on their social media profiles, but while this is an effective way of gaining an audience, it’s very hard to close a transaction on these platforms.
So for instance, WAH Nails had half a million followers on Instagram but that didn’t mean we had half a million bookings per year – followers could see the manicures we offered, but they couldn’t book one for themselves then and there.
At the moment I’m specifically looking to empower the woman who is incredible at a niche service; like a certain kind of braid. If, for instance, Solange has that particular braid in her next video, and people want to know where they can get one, they can now find the woman who does it and book it via Beautystack.
You’ve said you ‘care deeply about helping women gain financial independence’ – why is this important to you?
Because financial independence gives you more options. I grew up the eldest of four children with a single mum and we never had any money. Ever. I wanted normal teenage things like clothes and shoes, but I also wanted to go on day trips to London to visit museums and read The Sunday Times, and all these things are expensive. So my mindset growing up was always – if I could earn money, I can have more control over what I consume.
I also think our culture tells women they can rise, but only to a certain level. I want to see films, books – all the media little girls consume so much of – to start showing that women can run a big business, as long as they have the right training.
I noticed you held a training seminar for beauty pros in February – what kind of advice did you share?
What I’m trying to tell people is to take a strategic approach to their online presence, rather than just constantly posting without really knowing what they’re doing. I advise professionals to look at their followers, see what they like and post, and from there consider whether their own social posts are really talking to their clients.
It’s basically ‘lead generation’ training, but beauty professionals don’t get this kind of information at beauty school.
What advice would you give to the older woman who hasn’t grown up in a digital world and is worried about getting left behind?
It can be overwhelming seeing Millennial girls everywhere and thinking ‘How am I going to compete?’ But be authentic. Don’t try to talk to an audience that you think is out there – there’s a whole world of women looking for someone exactly like you. Talk to them.
You’ve gone from creating a fanzine to a salon to a new beauty platform – where does your drive stem from?
I really like solving problems. When I was a student I worked at bars at festivals, and as I was pulling pints I could see where the process was inefficient, where customers weren’t being served quickly enough, and figure out how to fix it. Then some manager would spot me and say, ‘Ok, you can run this bit’. It sounds boring but essentially I think I thrive off efficiency.
April is Stress Awareness Month – have you had moments that have been a strain on your mental wellbeing, and how did you come back?
All the time. I’m quite militant in my resilience but I’m also human and it’s natural to have vulnerable moments. If anything, I’d say it’s important to have them, as there’s usually a kind of ‘release’ and sense of perspective that comes afterwards.
When I’m having difficulty, I have no qualms about saying, ‘I’m in a really foul mood and can’t snap out of it – I’m going to go home, or to the park or to a gallery.’
And, while it’s not quite the same as stress, I do have an effective trick for when my inner critic rears its head, which I call a ‘snap back’. Basically, I imagine my thoughts as an elastic band, stretching out to other areas it shouldn’t really be in – thinking back on poor relationships, having insecurity over looks – I see it getting stretched further and further away from what I should be focusing on and I just visually ‘twang’ it back into place.