Levi Shephard is the President and founder of the National Association of Lash Artists, a professional body for lash artists. Here she talks to HoC about how focusing on the problems in her industry, rather than her passion for it, opened up a clear direction for her business.
What inspired the creation of the National Association of Lash Artists?
The inspiration for NALA came from pure frustration, really. As a professional lash artist I felt very lost and confused, because my training didn’t cover any of the important aspects of my responsibilities as a lash artist. I wasn’t taught about hygiene, sanitation, or safe practice.
Back in 2011 it was fairly typical for eyelash extension students to simply be shown how to apply the extensions and nothing else. Training didn’t cover anything about running a business with integrity.
I searched government websites but because lash extension services are not regulated, I didn’t have much luck finding answers about lash services specifically. So, I began researching regulations and guidelines for similar trades, such as aesthetics and cosmetology.
I utilized all of their disinfection guidelines and safe practices, and modified them so they made sense for lash treatments. Then I incorporated those ideals into my business. Years later, I created NALA so others wouldn’t have to struggle the way I (and so many other lash professionals) struggled, just to find vital information about running a successful and sustainable lash business.
The mission was to create place where lash artists and educators around the world could turn for up-to-date industry information as well as much-needed support.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in setting up your business?
One day, my business coach said to me, “Passion, passion, passion! I am so tired of everyone talking about their passion! What I want to know is what really pisses you off?”
Well, when she asked me that I just started listing off so many different things that were a big frustration for me in my industry: No regulations for professionals; an over-saturated market; too many people offering education; all these new artists entering the field without the proper training….I just went on and on and on.
And then she said to me, “Go fix that! If it pisses you off, it probably pisses off other people as well.”
I knew that she was right. I had been waiting years for someone else to create an association to support us. Her suggestion for me to create the solution was very exciting. It was also absolutely terrifying! I came back with all kinds of excuses: “Who am I to fix these problems? I’m certain there are people out there who are much more qualified than I. There are people with more knowledge and more experience than I have….they should be the ones to create an association for us. Shouldn’t they?”
Then she simply pointed out that no one else was doing it! It took me almost an entire year to actually build up the courage to do it. I’m not sure how I found this courage, but one day I just decided to put on my big girl panties and do what needed to be done. As an educator I had already been conducting two years of global research, looking for solutions and regulatory guidelines for my industry. With this new concept of an association in mind, I begin to assemble a board of advisors. We continued to do our research for another year. And then it was time to stop letting my fear hold me back and just take that leap! I sold my successful business so I’d be able to dedicate myself to the association, full-time.
I am so grateful to my business coach for encouraging me to be brave. So many times, I have told my friends and family that ‘anything worth doing is scary’ and it was high time for me to take my own advice and to stop letting my fears hold me back. The association is now three years old and has been very well received by the lash community. We are serving in over twenty countries and offer our services in three languages. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some haters along the way. There have been many obstacles, but my mission and my passion are so strong, they carry me through the challenges.
Why should lash artists join the National Association of Lash artists?
NALA Membership is evidence of your professional integrity. You must meet the association’s standards in order to qualify and all members are bound to the NALA Professional Guidelines, Code of Ethics and Disinfection Guide. Once approved, members are listed on the NALA Global Directory and promoted to the public.
Lash extensions have become the MOST requested treatment in the spa and beauty industry for the past few years and they continue to grow in popularity. However, clients are sometimes apprehensive about getting the treatment, because they don’t know how to find a quality lash artist they can trust.
NALA offers a global directory where clients can find a professional who has successfully completed a thorough review by the association. Membership is a great credibility booster that shows clients you are the sure thing. Not to mention access to the members-only website which is filled with workshops, expert interviews, business building videos, resources, discount codes and more!
Members are also encouraged to join our NALA Members forum where we offer support, encouragement and advice to each other. This is particularly valuable in our industry as most lash artists are solo-preneurs and that can get very lonely. NALA Members truly help each other. We are collaborators, not competitors and I love the community we have created through NALA.
Why lashes? Where did your passion come from? And do you agree that brows should look like sisters and not twins?
When I got my first set of lash extensions I was blown away at how subtle, yet impactful they were. I was instantly hooked. I couldn’t possibly live without them now. This amazing new discovery came into my life just as I had sold my first business and was looking for a new adventure.
Lash extensions were a fairly new service at that time so I jumped on the chance to become a lash artist and start offering them as my new business adventure. There can often be a strong advantage to being among the first people in a new industry.
For me, it worked in my favour because the lash industry exploded shortly after I started and it was easy to grow my new business.
As for brows; you should be striving to make them symmetrical. However, an expert brow designer will sometimes keep them slightly different from one another to potentially correct an asymmetry in the clients face shape or eye shapes. It is possible to create an optical illusion of the overall features if the brow expert has a deep understanding of the cause and effect of different designs and shapes.
What do you think is the key trend in lashes and brows for 2019?
I think women, and men, should be looking for lash and brow enhancements that are best for their face shape, age, lifestyle, etc. To do what’s “trendy” isn’t always what is most attractive for you. I recommend visiting a professional studio that specializes in lashes and brows and request a consultation. The experts are trained to understand the impact of different designs and they can recommend what’s best for each individual client.
For our readers who might find applying lashes intimidating, what are your top application tips for at home falsies?
To apply your own falsies, or strip lashes, always read the labels and follow the directions. Make sure your skin is clean so the adhesive can stick properly.
Most importantly; never attempt to apply consumer strip lashes or cluster lashes with a professional adhesive. Always use the adhesive intended for use with consumer products. Also, you should know that if you use strip lashes regularly it will begin to have a negative effect on your natural lashes.
Most people will experience loss, or thinning, of natural lashes because the adhesive is applied directly on the skin and over time, the hair follicle is suffocated. Extensions are a great alternative because they don’t have any adverse effects on your natural lashes.
What do you think are some of the challenges of running a business in 2019?
I think most of us find marketing to be a challenge. Anyone doing business should be taking marketing courses. Also, the game is constantly changing, so we need to take marketing courses regularly to keep up.
When I chat with other business owners at networking events or conferences, marketing seems to be the element we all struggle with most because it’s such a general concept.
Marketing strategies vary drastically from company to company so there is no blueprint or template for us to follow. It’s a concept that is difficult to grasp for many business owners.
What piece of advice would you give to our readers who want to set up their own business?
Oh my goodness, there is so much to say. I don’t know how to choose a single piece of advice! Here’s a list of my top things:
1) Have a crystal clear vision of what you are creating and why. You need to know exactly what you’re trying to achieve so you can plan accordingly. The plan will change as you go, but there always needs to be a plan and the more clear you can make it the faster you’ll achieve your goals.
2) Mindset is key! No matter how hard you work or how educated you are, if you don’t have the right mindset you will not be able to achieve great success. If you don’t truly believe in yourself or if you have any negative thoughts holding you back, you will always struggle.
3) Be authentic. When I first entered into the beauty industry I felt like I had to try to “fit in” to be able to build my clientele. When I recognized that I wasn’t really enjoying my job as much as I had expected, I realized it was because I was going out of my way to create an image, and therefore attract a certain clientele, with whom I didn’t resonate. I decided to just be myself and if people don’t like me they can book elsewhere.
In a short period of time my clientele had shifted to a different group of people and I began to thoroughly enjoy going to work because they were MY kind of people; and because they were all “my” kind of people, I was their kind of people, so they loved me, they loved my business and they become long-term loyal clients. Always be authentic so you can attract the clientele that you WANT to spend your time with.
4) It’s going to be tough! If you are building a business based only on the assumption that your idea will be profitable, you are going to be miserable. Business is an indescribably difficult endeavour. You have to be passionate about your purpose so you will continue to get up everyday determined to serve your community. You need to have love for what you do in order to stay motivated during the struggles. And there WILL be struggles.
5) Ask for help! If you are determined to do everything yourself, you will burn out. It will likely be ALL you, ALL the time, in the beginning, but as soon as the workload begins to feel overwhelming you must let go of some of that control and start delegating. A stressed out, busy, business owner is not serving her audience to the best of her ability.
6) NEVER let fear be your reason for not doing something. The stuff that scares you is most likely the stuff that will take your business to the next level and help you to stand out in your market.
7) Make sure you have fun and always take care of yourself. Running a business can take over all aspects of your life. Remember your priorities (family, friends, your home, hobbies, etc.) and always put yourself at the top of that list. You can’t serve anyone if you’re sick. Your health MUST be the most important thing in your life. Not to mention a healthy body works better and has more stamina.