As told to Victoria Kirby
As the Great Resignation and quiet quitting give way to the reality that steady income is fundamental to, you know, living your life, the road to turning your passion into a paycheck seems a bit more daunting these days. Building a thriving business based on what you love to do requires more than just talent and tenacity — you have to draw people to your business with a unique angle, then continually engage them to keep coming back.
No one knows this better, or has done it better, than Joanna Czech. For over three decades, she’s been Hollywood’s and fashion’s most in-demand facialist, with a client list that boasts more star power than a Vanity Fair Oscars party. Jennifer Aniston, Anna Wintour, Michelle Williams, and Cate Blanchett are just a few of her longtime devotees, and when Kim Kardashian — who says she trusts Joanna “100 hundred billion percent” with her skin— decided to create her skin care brand, she tapped Joanna to lend her expertise to the line. Two years ago, the beloved facialist launched her own seven-piece skin care collection, and in February, she opened the doors to her sprawling 2,200-square-foot flagship spa in New York City’s Soho neighborhood.
Having arrived here from Poland in the late ‘80s with little money and no beauty connections, Joanna built her extraordinary success by creating a signature style of treatments and prioritizing exceptional client service over all else. Here, she shares her blueprint for how to turn your skill into a money-making profession, and perhaps attract a few famous fans along the way.
- Focus your skill on a niche specialty. Coming from Poland where beauty school prepares you on a medical level, I take a whole-body approach to skin. It’s not simply, “Do you want a relaxing facial or an invigorating facial?” I do a full health analysis before I even touch a client’s face, asking about their sleep patterns, their activity level, their daily water intake, and so on. To understand their skin, I need to know more about their lifestyle than their skin care routine, and that comes from being trained in anatomy, physiology, and pathology. I can understand someone’s health just by analyzing their nail plate. My point is you need to be highly specialized in what you’re offering if you want to turn it into a business. It’s not enough to say, “My grandmother taught me how to garden, so now I’m a professional herbalist.” People these days declare themselves an expert on something based on a lifelong passion for it, but studying the science of your skill is how you become an expert and find your distinct specialty that will set you apart from everyone else in your field. Within six weeks of working at my first major New York salon, Paul Labrecque, in the mid ‘90s, I was booked solid, and I believe this was due to my level of education in skin and biology. I was offering people a more advanced treatment based on science that transcended what other facialists at the time were doing.
- Find a great mentor. I advise anyone who wants to go into beauty service to find a mentor who you really believe in. When I train aestheticians, they stand next to me every day for three to six months observing me work. This is how they become the best. I’m known for my facial massage technique, so they learn how to properly touch the face and give treatments that make a real difference in the skin, because I don’t do fluffy facials. When you get to a point where you’re able to hire employees, you want them to know your business as well as you do.
- Have a strong work ethic. When I began doing facials at the Paul Labrecque salon, which was in a deluxe fitness facility, I would start seeing clients when the gym opened at 5 a.m. and finish at 11 p.m. Once I had celebrity clients, I would see them anytime they needed me — 2 a.m. on set, whenever. I was regularly putting in 18-hour days, and I often still do. Now, everyone wants to know how many days they can work from home. I don’t understand this mindset. People say, “I won’t be able to do right by my client unless I take care of myself.” But if you want to build a thriving business based on your skills, you have to work when you are needed, not when you feel like it. In 37 years, I’ve never had a scheduled lunch break. Of course I eat lunch, but I fit in that personal time around my client schedule, not the other way around.
- Educate your clientele. With every person I treat, I walk them through each step of the service and tell them why this product or device is good, how quickly it penetrates the skin, what effect it has on the top layer and the dermis layer, and how your skin connects to your overall health. This is part of developing a long-term relationship with your clients in which you’re helping them understand themselves better, as opposed to just a transactional sale, which is short term.
- Save towards your goal. I opened my first New York salon 10 years after arriving in the U.S., which was entirely self-funded with my then-husband. As an immigrant, I wasn’t sure I would be able to take out a loan, so I always saved a portion of my earnings from the day I arrived here. I wasn’t saving specifically to open my own salon, but I knew I would need funding to expand my business at some point. And when that time came, I was able to jump right in because I had saved for a decade.
- Be personable and treat everyone as equals. Everything I offer my clients is an extension of myself, so I don’t shift my approach based on who I’m seeing. Everyone is treated the same and receives my hands-on service — I don’t pass off non-celebrities to another aesthetician. Reputation is everything if you want to succeed in beauty service. I remember almost every conversation I have with my clients so when they come back, I can check in and ask, “Whatever happened with that thing you were doing a few weeks ago?” This is so important to building longevity with your business. People open up to their facialist or their hairstylist or their manicurist, so it’s about more than just how good your technique is. You have to really care about making every client feel special. Some of my best friends started as my clients because my work is my whole life.
- Understand the finances. Whether you’re just starting out with your business or are years into running an established service or brand, you need to educate yourself about the financial side of your work. I’m very good with numbers and every week I ask questions about how our sales are doing, because finance people will use fancy words that you don’t understand, but if you understand the numbers of your business, then nothing will get by you. In beauty service, you need to calculate how much money you invest in each treatment to come up with your price menu. For each treatment, this should include not just the cost of the products and devices you use in the service, but also what you pay your staff, the monthly rent on your space, and so on. Then divide your total monthly costs by how often each month you perform that treatment, and that’s how you determine the cost of the service. Transparency is key when it comes to your pricing. One of the biggest complaints I hear about other spas is that the full price of a service isn’t communicated up front. I don’t believe in add-ons because, in my opinion, it’s a little dishonest to sell a facial for, say, $150, then during the treatment, nudge the client into accepting add-ons and when they go to pay, the cost of that service is now $300. If you want repeat customers, be direct with your pricing.
- Don’t burn bridges. When my husband and I divorced 15 years ago, I lost my original New York salon. I had over 200 clients and no plan for what to do, so I called the Paul Labrecque salon where I had previously worked and asked them if I could do facials out of their salon a couple days a week. They welcomed me back, because I had gone to great lengths when I left to open my own salon as respectfully as possible. You have to maintain good relationships no matter how successful you become, because you never know when you’re going to be humbled and need the support of others to continue on.
- Stick to your morals and have patience. In 2012, I moved to Dallas and worked out of a salon in an upscale department store — it was the worst experience. By that point I’d been written about in Vogue and other national press extensively, but it didn’t matter. The salon management and clients treated me terribly. In New York City, people had allowed me to be myself and bring in my devices for facials. But the Dallas salon had zero interest in science or learning about skin — the clients would be on their phones the whole time, snapping at me not to touch their hair, and management just wanted me to offer the same trendy, outdated treatment to everyone. After 18 months of misery, I quit that salon and started working out of my home. What I discovered was that in Dallas, just like any other place, there are people interested in my whole-body approach to skin and who appreciate the kind of treatments I offer. I found my people, or rather, they found me, and eventually I had enough clients to open my own studio in Dallas. At some point in your career, you will face pressure to stray from who you are and what you uniquely bring to the table, but you must persevere. Your life lessons continue each day, so don’t give up because eventually you will find the clients who value what you do for them.
- Support your peers. In my spa studios, I carry many skin care lines besides my own. My products don’t have to be the best for everything. Of course I think my products are powerful, and I’m confident that my C+ Serum is a superior vitamin C product, but I believe in supporting other skin care lines. Social media perpetuates this idea that you have to be me, me, me all the time to succeed, but I find you do better when you invite everyone to the table.