Student startups: nailing the manicure business

Keely Lockhart chats to economics student Anna Buchmann, whose internship led to a beautiful business idea

For some, a summer internship is a great way of building contacts and getting some much needed experience. For Anna Buchmann, a third year economics student studying at the University of Edinburgh, an internship laid the foundations for her startup business - a mobile manicure service for students.

Anna registered her business in October, after discovering it would be a perfect way to make some extra cash while studying and to give her fellow students a little bit of luxury.

In-between her lectures, Anna offers high-quality hand treatments and manicures, with the added twist of being mobile, allowing students to get a manicure in the comfort of their own home.

Why manicures?

This summer I did an internship with a consultancy business in the US. It was unpaid and, as a reward, every now and then my boss would take me out for a manicure and pedicure. I was surprised how cheap it was to do - it would cost only $10 (£6.20) compared to £40 in the UK. One time my boss suggested I should try doing something similar back at uni, and by the time we had finished having our nails done, I'd decided to set up my manicure business.

Were there any startup costs?

The manicure business had a really low startup cost. I've been able to fund it almost entirely by myself, with a small investment from my parents. The only upfront costs were a manicure course and stock, which wasn't too expensive as I discovered that Amazon offers good, high-quality nail polishes you can buy in bulk at wholesale prices.

How did you decide what to charge?

Before I started out, I asked all my friends and their friends to complete a survey. I used it to find out how many manicures they get, why they get a manicure, and how much they pay on average. Then I asked whether my service would be something they would be interested in and gave them a range of prices they'd be willing to pay for my service. In the end, I worked out that if I charged £10 for customers to come to me and £12 for a mobile service, and had three to four customers per week, I would break even after about four months.

What did you have to do to set up your business?

In the UK, if you set up your own business you have to register as a sole trader for tax purposes. The government has quite good resources to help you do so but I did find a lot of it was trial and error. When it came to specific questions about my business, I often had to do a lot of research to find answers.

For example, I found out that in order to register my business I had to get insurance to cover any risk of injury, which meant I needed to go on a manicure course. It was also important for me to do so because it was a great way to show my customers that I'm trustworthy and have a certain level of skill.

How do you intend to build your customer base?

So far, I've promoted my business by painting my friend's nails in a really exciting way and getting them to hand out flyers and put up posters. I've also offered a 20 per cent discount to the people who filled out my market research survey and I'm going to start a loyalty scheme where customers get their tenth manicure free of charge.

For me, it's more important to spend money building customer loyalty than having a fancy website, because manicures are a very personal thing and I want people to feel they're getting to know me, as a fellow student. The only kind of online presence I have is a Facebook page "Anna's Mobile Manicure", where I put up some photos of the nails I've painted.

What's it like running a business and studying?

So far, running the manicure business alongside my studies has worked out well. It helps that my customers are students because they tend to be free in the afternoons and evenings, which are the same times that I'm free.

Being organised helps a lot, too. I keep a diary and I write down everything I have to do during the day, so I stay on top of any work I need to do outside lecture time. When I have exams, I plan to limit the number of appointments I take on. Obviously, there are still times when I've had a full day of lectures and the last thing I want to do is paint someone's nails. But when that happens, I find a cup of coffee gets me back on track!

What do you enjoy about your work?

I'm quite a sociable person, and my manicure business helps me get to know loads of other students and talk to them about what's going on in their lives. It's also a great way to earn money, learn its value, and not to have to rely on my parents for money all the time. Plus, it's really flexible because I can work around my uni schedule and even if I stop for a while I know it's always something I can go back to.