By Stacey Soble with Tom Kuhn

Please read related article, Yin Yang Leadership: Establishing Unity between Business and Creativity

To be successful, you need unity and strength in both your business and creative sides. If salon leaders ignore one, it can spell disaster.

Recommended Reading
For additional information on the power of balancing strategic and creative thinking, Qnity's Tom Kuhn recommends the following:
8 ways to join creativity, business
The Power of Less, by Leo Babauta
A book with wise and powerful tips on how to simplify by focusing on the essentials and eliminating the non-essentials.

The 6 Myths Of Creativity, by Bill Breen, a feature article in Fast Company, December 19, 2007
A study based on 12,000 journal entries that will help you get the best out of your creative professionals.

8 ways to join creativity, businessWhole New Mind - Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, by Daniel Pink.
A great book on the importance of and increased need to use your whole brain in business and in life.
Putting Your Whole Brain to Work, by Dorothy Leonard and Susaan Strauss, an article in the Harvard Business Review, July 1, 1997
Ideas in practice to help create whole-brain teams and create better collaboration between right- and left-brain workers.
Helpful tools, more information and the people profiled in the salon business/ creativity study, as well as further information on things covered in this article.

Magic happens when creative and business align. "Over the last 15 years, I've had the privilege of working with some of the top salons in the country, and I have run a large, eight-location operation myself. I've concluded that the majority of salon issues can be tied back to a lack of unity," says Kuhn. "Activities like balancing business and creativity-using the whole brain of your business-produces the highest return on investment for the business and for each individual.

"It's like two engines on a plane. I have never heard it put better than this. If one engine isn't performing, you will still fly, but only for a while," says Kuhn. "Thanks to Charlie Price (Click Salon, Denver, Colorado) for that analogy."

Kuhn outlines these eight ways to unify your salon's business and creative pursuits, and as a result, see your profits rise:

1. UNITE: Make unity a competitive edge.
By simply being conscious of the need to balance business and creative, you'll make a leap. You'll begin to look at your business differently. You'll find yourself making better decisions. You'll invite talent in areas where you need it, and you'll better utilize the talent you have.

Qnity recently surveyed 25 owners and managers in the beauty industry on the subject. For these top performers, unity is their DNA. They ranked it as 9.8 out of 10 for importance. They've gotten past their own limitations and allowed their company to soar by bringing in offsetting partners, advisors and staff members. They constantly make decisions to calibrate both sides of business.

"I am really good at the business end, so I have surrounded myself with super creative people who take over that end."
-Keri Davis, owner of Gila Rut Salon in San Diego, California

In the Qnity survey, we also asked them to name who in the industry they thought best excelled at balancing the business and creative sides of their business. The name most frequently mentioned was Van Council, owner of Van Michael Salons. He is very conscious and committed to being strong and unified in both areas. He runs his business with two teams-a management team and a creative team. "I serve as the go-between to blend the two," says Council.

Does it matter? Let's put it this way. In looking at the profit and loss statements of hundreds of salons, I have never seen a more profitable operation than Council's. Why? Because he has found that sweet spot of business and creative better than anyone.

2. FOCUS: Have laser focus and make sure everyone knows it.
It baffles me how rare it is for leaders to define their current three to five top priorities for their companies. It's even more rare for everyone in the company to be clear on what those priorities are. Strategic confusion is absolutely pervasive in business. We work on way too many things and get frustrated because the important things aren't getting done.

"Owners focused on business get locked away in their offices and those focused on creativity do most anything possible to avoid the office. Both need to wander more, connect more and go to lunch with the opposite strength. I manage by wandering around, exploring and hanging out with my staff and students, so I can connect to that creative energy."
-Jill Kohler, owner of Kohler Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona

A recent study by Stephen Covey, best know for his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, determined that only 20 percent of employees know what is most important in their companies. Would everyone on your team answer the question about your salon's priorities with the same three responses?
It's like giving each member of your team three arrows and 10 targets. Where do you want them to shoot? Everyone will either miss all the targets because they are unsure of where to aim, or everyone will hit different targets so there is no real impact.
I recommend you aggressively and ruthlessly get closure on projects or initiatives. Eliminate excessive priorities to make the room for focus. Bring together business and creative leaders to see the big picture and bring the focus from the meeting room to the salon floor. Get your priorities in a highly visual, one-page format so both creative and strategic thinkers understand them.   

3. PLAN: Drive and synchronize execution with calendars.
Calendars are the key to execution. As author Verne Harnish says in The Rockefeller Habits, "Nothing ever gets done in any organization until it shows up on somebody's weekly calendar." Your calendar drives your plan.

Steven Brooks, owner of Diva Studio in Las Vegas, Nevada, and his team sit down every fall to build next year's calendar. They use it as a tool to unify action as a team.

Build your salon calendar with rigor. Use it as the link between your top priorities and action. Use it to ensure there is balance. "It is vital to have education in both technical and business," says Leon Alexander, owner of Eurisko. Your calendar will reveal any imbalances.

Seventy percent of the time, failure occurs not because of bad strategy, it's due to poor execution. Want to drive results in both creative and business? Pull out your calendars, and get it scheduled.

4. MEASURE: Simplify your metrics, and make sure everyone knows the score.
When it comes to salons using key performance indicators to drive revenue, they either use none or they use too many. You need two or three primary metrics, that's it. Fine-tune them with secondary metrics that roll up to the primary ones. For example, if average ticket is a primary metric, which it should be, follow that and let retail per client be secondary.

Your entire team-not just the business-minded pros-need to see growth opportunities to act on them. Simplifying or reducing the number of metrics, and making sure everyone knows and understands them, will make them actionable. Everyone needs to know the score.

Often salon leaders say they don't share numbers with the team, because their staff members hate numbers, don't care or don't understand them. I don't buy it. Instead, look at how you're presenting the numbers. Understand and then share the story those numbers are telling. Make it relevant. Make it visual. Keep it brief. Don't overwhelm.

5. COMMUNICATE: Go from "blah, blah, blah" to "Got it!"
That's what happens when leaders do a lot less telling and a lot more showing. Visual learners make up more than 80 percent of the population. Since creative-learning thinkers tend to be more visual, what do you think the percent of visual learners in your salon is-90 percent?

"Assign each staff member
to his or her best area. Some
aren't as equipped to handle the
creative, they are more streamlined.
Those who are more focused on strategic are better at handling the consistent requests of business than those who are free in creative thought."
-Melissa Chambers Yamaguchi,
Yamaguchi Salon and Coastal Day Spa, with locations throughout Southern California

Use highly visual methods of communicating. Presentations with visuals are 76-percent more likely to be persuasive and five times more likely to be remembered. Use the four languages of business-images, words, numbers and demonstration-in all your communication so you can reach everybody on your team.

Want to eliminate 80 percent of your communication issues? Clearly and succinctly provide answers to the following five questions:

  • What is most important? (your top priorities)
  • Where are we? (your numbers compared to the plan)
  • Why do we do what we do? (vision, mission, values)
  • When do important things happen? (education, events, deadlines)
  • Who do I go to for what? (roles of key people)

How often should you answer these questions? All the time. If you're really serious about this, create and frequently update a one-page communication tool, or consider putting it on a card your team can carry in their wallet with answers to these five questions.
6. CELEBRATE: Recognize business performance and creative excellence.
What type of recognition programs do you have? How do you acknowledge excellence? Here's the kicker-are you celebrating and recognizing both business and creative excellence?

Make sure anyone you bring into your company, including advisors, has a sensitivity to and an appreciation for the business and creative efforts in your team. As Jill Kohler, owner of Kohler Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, advises, "Encourage them to hang out with each other."

"Keep your team involved in the financial aspects of the business and share information and goals. Sometimes try giving the responsibilities to the team to create awareness of what's happening to the money."
-Mark Pardo, Mark Pardo Hair Skin and Body, Albuquerque, New Mexico

In the Qnity survey, almost everyone mentioned that employee turnover is one of the biggest risks to being too heavily focused on the business or creative side. Paying attention to and celebrating all types of talent in your buisness helps reduce turnover caused by neglect. This is a no brainer.

7. ENGAGE: Embrace the New Rules
What is engagement? It's capturing the hearts and minds of your staff. It's keeping them emotionally and mentally connected to your company. Studies show that companies with engaged employees grow 2.6 times faster, are 43 percent more productive, and have 51 to 87 percent  better staff retention.

Want to engage your creative and business staff? Connect frequently, and keep things short.
In our consultations, we find clients are stuck on old methods. They use methods that ignore how their teams are wired, how people best learn and don't address the pace of change. This applies to many areas, including:

  • Giving feedback: Twice a year isn't enough.
  • Events: Invest in several gatherings in a year instead of one big annual event.
  • Planning: Have frequent mini-planning processes in a year.
  • Meetings: have frequent short huddles

As author Verne Harnish states, "Quit thinking in monthly increments, and drive all measurements, deadlines and deliverables down to weekly increments. It may be painful in the doing, but it needs to be done."

"We keep the balance with play. At Avant, we shoot fashion-forward photos, which are used in our marketing to increase our business and expand our brand. Because we have done this for 25 years, we have the best models, photographers and stylists who want to work with us."
-Roy Fredericks, Avant Garde Studio Salon Spa,
in Austin, Texas

"Hairdressers generally need and want creative opportunity and financial security. If you can help staff be rock solid with clientele and give them creative opportunity, things will take care of themselves."
-Rodney Cutler, Cutler Salon, New York, New York

Finally, get your goals, priorities, really all your communications, to one page. If you can't get it to one page, you're not being clear enough. If you're not clear, your staff won't be clear either.

8. PROSPER: Mind the Gaps
The amount of opportunities that are missed in salon is staggering. When we create profit improvement plans for our clients, we look for and quantify all the small opportunities that take them from losses or break-even to profit. We then create the best ways to engage or unify the staff so they take action to realize these opportunities.

"Keep balance with regular classes that both push stylists in directions they otherwise would not go and at the same time educate them on how this will grow their business."
-Jeff Dahlberg, 526 Salon Spa Gallery in St. Paul, Minnesota

To the surprise of our clients, we find that their staff is completely unaware of many missed opportunities. Or, sometimes they don't care because they can't see how they are impacted personally.

Do the math for your staff. Show them where the gaps are. Then tie it to their  dreams. Help them get what every one of them wants-make more money, do what they love and have a life.
In return, you'll have this too.

About Tom Kuhn and Qnity
Tom Kuhn is founder and principal of Qnity, a management consulting company that helps multi-location salons to achieve greater profitability and create a culture that inspires and rewards teams and leaders alike. The Qnity approach makes strategic and financial practices simple and actionable, and addresses head-on the two primary challenges for salon leaders: money and staff.

Kuhn's background as both a former CPA and former CEO of a multi-location salon makes him uniquely qualified to help clients increase profits and culture by unifying their creative and business efforts. He can be reached at or at

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