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Leading in Uncertain Times

Leading a Spa or Salon Business in Times of Uncertainty

By Lisa Starr

Thank goodness we have a new year—a fresh start we’re going to welcome more than most! Many spa and salon managers and owners typically spend December juggling management of holiday business and promotions with planning for the following year. What new initiatives will be in place for the business? What new services, products, or equipment are in the pipeline? How will we grow revenues as well as customer and employee engagement?

Except that this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, most managers and leaders are feeling challenged to plan anything at all.  

It's hard to plan—but leaders have to

In a recent blog post, author and entrepreneur Scott Young shares, "If anything, planning is what's being procrastinated on—you avoid figuring out what the real thing you need to do is—because it's safer to daydream about it instead." This is likely never truer than this year, as most managers (and people generally) feel paralyzed by pandemic-inspired uncertainty.

But, he continues, “Planning isn’t optional.” You know the saying “You can’t lead your business if you don’t know where you’re going.” Problem is, where are we going? We really have no idea, which doesn’t help to avoid procrastination.

We are ALWAYS managing in a time of uncertainty

The fact is, you never really know what is going to happen tomorrow; we’ve just had a long run of good fortune, with great growth and positive momentum for the wellness industry for the last 12 years. The COVID crisis is a powerful reminder that we are never in full control of our futures, and we have to plan accordingly. That is: plan for uncertainty.

We live in a VUCA world, a term brought to us courtesy of the US Army War College to describe the situation at the end of the Cold War in the early ’90s:

  • Volatility: Speed and magnitude of change is not predictable
  • Uncertainty: Especially in the current situation, we cannot use prior examples to make future decisions
  • Complexity: Multiple causes and factors add to the challenge of making decisions
  • Ambiguity: The difficulty in comprehending what changes will mean in the future

Each decade, the pace of change continues to accelerate, with unceasing technological evolution and constant changes in consumer behavior. VUCA has never been more relevant; it’s just that our recent history of economic good fortune has lulled us into a false sense of security, thinking we know what tomorrow will bring. Now, with the current uncertain times, we have received a wake-up call to consider adjusting our approach.

Leaders should plan for a variety of outcomes

For now, when it comes to 2021, planning should probably consist of multiple options. Maybe a Goldilocks strategy; good, better, best. Or, should we say, good, worse, and worst?! Stressful situations can make it difficult to think clearly; now is the time to draw up several scenarios. What would the economic impact of another shutdown be? Or, more likely, what does Q1 of 2021 look like from a revenue perspective with business continuing in a potentially limited way, between government regulations, consumer fear, and in many markets, typical wintertime business demand. 

Thinking ahead on these different options should make leaders feel more prepared. What is your break-even point? How many clients per day do you need to see in order to keep the doors open? While these are not scenarios you may care to repeat, knowing the answers will certainly help your mindset. And, if you are calmer and more centered, that trickles down to your team.

Taking care of the team when planning is key

Arcona Studio and global skincare brand owner Chanel Jenae shares, “As uncertainty seems to be the order of the day, it's important to retain one’s vision of the future and to convey this to one’s colleagues and clients. In this way, we can hope to inspire them to go forward with their lives rather than stagnate.” Communication and compassion across your organization are important.

In addition to continuing with long-term goals for the business, Jenae reminds her team of the importance of self-care. “Exercise, healthy, clean food, meditation, yoga, connection with family and friends (even if that consists of Zoom and phone calls), reflection, uplifting and inspiring books, and things that elevate one's thoughts which naturally helps to elevate others” are among her recommendations to the staff.

“It's difficult to balance what is the right and wrong thing to do in some situations, especially when it comes to the employees, clients and everybody's emotions,” confesses Joni Alley, Owner of Revelation Massage in Lewiston, Maine. “The uncertainty of the outcomes of my decisions makes me question my leadership skills, especially as a new small business owner. In addition, everybody is incredibly sensitive during this time, so I want to be aware of people's emotions, but I also have a business to keep open as well. And I sometimes think individuals don't fully understand the implications of that.”

There's hope for 2021

In a positive sign for our future, some spas are reporting sales that are equal to or even exceeding pre-pandemic levels, so don’t give up on your growth goals. We’ve learned this year of the importance of multiple revenue streams and the necessity of having a digital platform and strategy to remain connected to our clients as well to potentially create revenue. Curbside pickup or delivery of retail productstouchless therapiesvirtual consults and home care kits have to be added to your business toolkit.

Former Chief Marketing Office of Unilever Keith Weed shared this on changing business models: “You can say, 'It’s a very tough world,' or you can say, 'It’s a world that’s changing fast, and we can help consumers navigate through it.' Point is, because planning and managing [are] difficult, that’s not an excuse to stop trying."

Sage advice; it’s definitely time to make a plan for 2021. Two or three, while you’re at it.

About the author:

Lisa Starr Headshot

Lisa Starr


Wynne Business Consulting

Lisa is a frequent collaborator with Mindbody and the Principal of Wynne Business Consulting & Education, which specializes in spa, wellness, and salon businesses and brands. She has over 35 years of experience in the beauty and wellness industry, spending the last 22 years as a consultant and educator helping wellness businesses optimize their operations while providing exceptional experiences for their guests. Lisa is the Task Force Chair for the Global Wellness Institute’s Consulting Initiative, a Contributing Editor at Spa Business Magazine, a regular contributor to global trade publications, and a highly rated speaker at industry conferences. She also offers live spa management courses both online and around the globe. 

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