Lessons Learned from Permanent Cosmetics, Ink.

(as told by sole proprietor Cherie Williams)

I was just pondering the mistakes I made in starting up my permanent cosmetics business, but also feeling good about the things I did right. Most people who go into this line of work are in the beauty business, such as laser hair removal technicians, manicurists, or cosmetologists. I got into this because my sister had a double mastectomy, and I became fascinated with the entire reconstructive process, especially the last step: tattooing. After her reconstruction, she could have competed with any Playboy model you’ve ever seen because yes, they looked THAT good. So I decided to combine my hands-on nursing skills with my artistic knack and open a permanent cosmetics studio. The medical tattooing could be added later.

I learned that in the state of Ohio (as of 2003), I could take a one week course in learning to tattoo permanent cosmetics for eyebrows, eyeliner, and lips. I took the course and rented a small store front in an old arcade-style building in the downtown area. It was very cool with an arched glass roof that ran the entire length of one city block. My husband helped me paint, wallpaper, and decorate. I bought a top-of-the-line machine designed specifically for permanent cosmetics, ordered ink and other sterile supplies, got business cards, and displayed some “before and after” posters I got from a supply company. I “spared no expense,” like John Hammond in the movie Jurassic Park.

I called the local radio station. The ad guy I spoke to knew what permanent cosmetics were and that my clientele would be middle-aged women with expendable cash. The ads played, and I started getting calls and scheduling consultations. Woohoo! Things were going great.

But I did make a couple of mistakes early on. I once donated gift certificates for free permanent cosmetic procedures to a charity raffle. The winners never called for appointments. I called all the ladies who had entered the raffle. None of them scheduled an appointment either. Dang.

And I didn’t network like I should have at that time. I could have asked for free advice and assistance from the chamber of commerce, but I didn’t. I could have asked to leave business cards in beauty shops, spas, and nail salons, but I didn’t. It wouldn’t have killed me to mention my business to people more often than I did. I guess I didn’t want to be like the proverbial life insurance salesman.

The absolute worst form of advertising I utilized was doing a live procedure in front of an audience at a fancy bridal show. It’s fascinating to watch tattooing of someone’s arm or back. But it’s a whole other ball game to watch someone’s eyelids being tattooed. It feels like someone is scrubbing your eyelids with a hairbrush. Your victim will wince, grimace, shed tears, and occasionally cry out in pain… even if you’ve paid her not to. The ink can get in her eyes, and sometimes there will be some blood as well. Her lids will likely swell and turn red. And NO ONE looks good immediately after this procedure. When I saw the faces of the observers, it was like they were watching a horrifying accident. I thought I would have to bring out the smelling salts and fan the audience to bring them back around!

Something else I would never do again is go through with tattooing someone’s face after hearing there are storm warnings. Remember the glass roof in the building where I rented my first shop? Well, there were hail stones bouncing off the glass, and some of the panes were breaking. It sounded like the crack of rifles being fired when the stones hit. Then the electricity went out. Thank heavens the power came back on after a couple of minutes and I was able to finish my client’s procedure so she didn’t have to walk out with one eyebrow.

What I did right? I was very safe from day one. I did a tiny skin patch test with the colors my clients chose a week before I did their procedures. I wrote to their doctors to be sure it was safe for them to go off aspirin or blood thinners a few days before their procedures. I bought good malpractice insurance.

Oh, yeah. And I refused to tattoo a lady’s eyes to make her look like a cat.