Ruth Mills Interview – The Nail Web Artist
Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
I was born on the Wirral, where I spent the first two decades of my life, and then moved down to Wiltshire for 10 years or so, before moving up to Shropshire 7 years ago to get married. I’ve been working in IT since I graduated back in 1996, and have been working from home on salon web design since November 2009.
Where are you located?
I’m currently based in Shrewsbury in Shropshire.
You are very technically minded, is this something you studied or fell into?
I’ve always been interested in computers and technology ever since I was little. I was very much into science at secondary school and studied Chemistry at Oxford; it was a 4 year degree course with the final year spent on a research project – and I managed to bridge the gap between chemistry and computing by doing my research project on computer simulations of surfactant chemistry (which could funnily enough have potential applications in the hair and beauty industry, as surfactants are used in many products such as shampoos). Being me, I also designed a website for it – which is now the earliest surviving website I’ve done.
After I graduated, I looked for jobs in both chemistry and computing – after being turned down for a job as a lab technician for a company making shampoo, I was offered half as much again for a software development job, so took up the offer and have been working in IT ever since!
What attracted you to the nail and beauty industry?
A happy accident – I discovered the Salon Geek website back in February 2008. Before then, I had a general interest in the nail and beauty industry, even though I’d not actually worked in the nail and beauty industry before.
But I think the “eureka moment” was when I realised that I could apply my skills in computing and IT to help people in the nail and beauty industry.
I started off fairly slowly just by designing the odd website or two after work (as I was still working in a full time IT job back then), then came up with the idea for the Salon Alchemy Watermark site, a couple of months later (a free website where people can add copyright watermark messages to their photos), then Salon Guinea Pig a couple of months after that, and then things just grew from there.
What I like best about my work in the nail and beauty industry is that I’m helping real people directly, rather than being part of some corporate machine and mired down in paperwork and office politics! I often get “thank you” cards from my clients after I design a website for them, and it’s a lovely feeling when you find that you’ve made someone really happy with your work.
You are very well known on a lot of social sites and forums – what do you enjoy most about being online?
The best thing by far has to be the friends I’ve made; I’ve met some lovely people on Salon Geek, Facebook and other sites. It’s even better when I get to meet friends I’ve met online in real life, e.g. at beauty shows etc.
On Salon Geek in particular, it’s nice when I can bring a different angle to things, e.g. applying my IT skills, chemistry knowledge, and experiences of running a business.
Tell us a little about the services you offer.
Most people will know me for web design, as I’ve now designed around 150 websites for salons and therapists, many in conjunction with Verve Designs, all of which can be easily updated – as I’ve designed an easy to use content management system that makes it easy to do things like add & edit treatment menus and prices, add images to galleries (which are automatically resized and optionally can have a copyright watermark message automatically added), add special offers, run a news/ blog page, swap links with other sites, let clients leave testimonials, etc.
At the same time, I’ve been working on an online salon software system that will provide features like an appointment calendar, online appointment booking, client appointment histories and record cards, email and text appointment reminders and email marketing – although this has been delayed somewhat owing to the volume of web design work I’ve had over the past few months & is still a work in progress. My vision is “one system to do it all” – so the salon software will tie in seamlessly with any of my websites. I also have plans to develop an online salon finder, and online salon recruitment and training websites. Then there’s Salon Tunes where I’ve uploaded a couple of pieces of music that I’ve composed and recorded. People are free to download and play this music in their salons. I’m also happy to drive out to visit clients at their salons to help them with web design, photography, etc, and this is a part of the job that I particularly enjoy.
One thing I definitely want to continue is my ethos of offering quality services at reasonable cost though – as I’ve found that many web design and salon software companies can be very expensive, putting them beyond the reach of smaller salons and mobile/ home-based therapists.
How did you come up with the idea of Salon Guinea Pig?
Back in the spring of 2008, “PinkPotions” posted a thread on Salon Geek asking for people to help their fellow therapists out by volunteering to be “guinea pigs” for training purposes. It was a very popular thread and was soon several pages long, so a bit difficult for people to easily find what they were after.
I thought it would be a fab idea to design a website where people could sign up to be “guinea pigs” and then therapists and trainees could search for people in their area.
I spent a few evenings and weekends after work back in July and August 2008 creating it, and it’s been running ever since although I am currently redesigning it to cope with the increasing number of members – and I also want to add new features like e-mail notifications that will send people an email when a new guinea pig signs up in their area for treatments that they need models for.
What are your top 5 tips to a rocking website for salon owners?
1. Make your website look inviting to visitors and easy to read and navigate.
If possible, go for a bespoke design as opposed to an off-the-shelf template, as that way your site will look unique to you, and not the same as all the other sites who use the same template. Make sure that everything is laid out clearly and is easy to read – it’s always a good bet to have good contrast between the text colour and the background – and definitely avoid putting text against “busy” backgrounds that make it hard to read. In my view, it’s always better to err on the large side when it comes to text sizes too – and it’s better to avoid overusing “fancy” fonts for the text on your website in favour of a good clear font that’s easy to read (you’re better keeping “fancy” fonts for your logo and possibly for headings at the top of each page). As for navigation – I always think it’s better to have the navigation in the same place on every page – and it’s better if you can navigate to every page on the website from every other page. If you’ve got a large website with lots of pages, drop-down menus can help with organising your site’s navigation. And remember to make it easy for your clients to contact you. I always recommend putting contact details (address, phone, email) on every single page of the site, and having a contact form where people can easily leave you a message. Make sure that your website displays well and works properly on smartphones and tablets such as the iPhone and iPad. Remember that many smartphones and tablets (including the iPhone and iPad) don’t work with Flash – so if you use Flash on your website, you will need to provide alternative non-Flash content for phones and tablets that don’t use Flash. If you don’t, then you may find that your website looks terrible or doesn’t work at all when viewed on a phone or tablet.
2. Remember that a picture speaks a thousand words.
It’s always best to use your own photographs on your website, as they are unique to you and will help your site look individual. However, if you do need “stock” photos, don’t be tempted to use images off a Google Image Search on your website, as you may risk being sued for hundreds of pounds for breach of copyright. You can legally buy stock photos from just over a pound or two per image from websites like Fotolia, dreamstime and iStockphoto. Also please remember that it’s good courtesy to ask permission to use any product logos and marketing images for brands that you use.
3. Keep your website up to date!
If you’re running special offers, make sure that you remove them from the website when the special offer ends. Having content that’s regularly updated can help your site do better on the search engines – so having a regularly updated news page or blog can help with that, as well as keeping repeat visitors interested. And always make sure that your treatment prices are kept up to date!
4. Think carefully about how to get your website to do well on search engines.
You can achieve a lot simply by the way that you word the text on your website – so, on the home page, it’s good to mention where you are based (and which towns are close by too, so people searching for those towns also find your salon in the search results), and a summary of the treatments you offer and brands that you use. On your treatment pages, be descriptive about the treatments you offer, especially any brand names of products you use – and make sure that your text contains as many relevant key words as possible – e.g. a “manicure” page should also mention words like “nails”, “polish”, “hands”, “cuticles”, etc, in the text, as well as the names of brands of products that you use. Mentioning all the steps involved in a treatment such as a manicure makes that treatment sound more desirable and enticing to your clients, as well as helping with search engine results.
“Meta tags” are a technical term for special text within a web page which isn’t visible to people viewing the site, but can be used to provide extra information to search engines to help them rank your site. The most important “meta tags” for search engines are “description” (where you should give a short one or two sentence description of each page on your site – don’t forget to mention where you are based in this) and “keywords” (where you should give a comma-separated list of key words relevant to the text on the page that you think that people would be most likely to search for – e.g. “pedicure”, “feet”, “nails”, and brand names of products used for a pedicure page). It’s also very important to give each page on your website a descriptive title (which appears in the bar at the top of your web browser, but also carries a lot of weight in how the search engines will rank your page) – e.g. I’ve seen some websites that just have “Home” as the title for their home page – which would mean very little to Google – whereas they would do a lot better to have a title such as “Ruth’s Nail Salon in Shrewsbury, Shropshire” where they give the name of their business, a very brief description of what they do, and where they are based. Getting as many relevant links as possible in to your website from other sites will help a lot too – there are many “free index” websites out there where you can list your website for free (although do be wary about being cold-called by a salesperson to be asked to take out a “paid” listing). Then you can add a link to your website in your “signature” on any forums you might be on as well as linking to your website from Facebook , Twitter and other social network sites.
But if there’s one bit of advice that’s more important than any other, I’d say it’s not to get ripped off by companies who cold call you with high pressure sales techniques and promise to get you to the top of Google, as many are con artists and will charge you extortionate sums of money for tweaks to your website that you can easily do yourself.
5. Find out where people are visiting your website from so you can plan your marketing better.
Google Analytics is a free service from Google that will record the number of “hits” you are getting to your website and which links people are clicking on to get to your site. If you have a contact form on your website, why not add extra fields for marketing purposes, e.g. “How did you find us?” You might find that most of your clients are coming from a Google search, but nobody is coming to you from that advert on a directory site that’s costing you hundreds of pounds a year – in which case you’d be better off ditching the expensive advert on the directory site and saving the money.
What effect do you think the Internet will have on salons?
I believe that the Internet offers a wealth of opportunity for salons to market themselves, attract new clients and keep existing clients loyal. Many people use Google and other search engines as their first port of call when researching online, so it’s vital for a salon to come high up in search engine results. Adding services such as online appointment booking makes it easier for clients to book and manage appointments, particularly out of business hours, and sending appointment reminders by email or text message should help cut down on missed appointments. Salons can also help retain clients and maximise appointments by making use of email and text message marketing, e.g. to keep clients up to date with any offers the salon may be running, and to alert clients if an appointment slot suddenly becomes available due to a cancellation. Salons could even text or e-mail clients with last-minute special offers, if there are only a few appointments booked in the calendar for the following day..
Social networking sites such as Facebook are also an excellent way of keeping in touch with clients and promoting new products and services – particularly with younger people.
Don’t forget the power of mobile marketing too – you could use a 2-dimensional bar code (QR code) on your posters and flyers, so that people can scan this in on their smartphones and go straight to your website, for example. If using online booking, make sure that it works properly on smartphones, or has a smartphone “app” available for it.
How do you use the Internet in conjunction with your business?
The Internet is absolutely central to my business, as I focus on web design and online web-based services for salons. I work from home via broadband and am online for most of the day, and a lot of my business is done via email, Facebook and private messaging on Salon Geek. I also rely on my broadband connection to be able to upload content for my websites.
Recently I’ve also started driving out to visit clients at their salons, where I’ve felt that visiting face to face would be of benefit (particularly for people who are new to the Internet or who prefer to talk to someone face to face rather than via email). However even then, I wouldn’t be without my laptop and mobile broadband dongle; it’s often good to be able to make changes to a website while I’m with the client – so they can instantly see how a particular change would look, or for example to demonstrate how to use the Salon Alchemy system to update their website.
What’s your favourite beauty treatment and how regularly do you treat yourself to it?
Probably a mixture of a full makeover and eye treatments (especially lash/brow tinting and eyelash extensions); I’ve been lucky with the eyelash extensions as a friend recently trained in eyelash extensions and I have modelled for her a couple of times since then. I also love having my nails done. But the treatment I have done most regularly is waxing. I’m definitely a pamper junkie!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I’m pretty eclectic when it comes to inspiration; a lot of my strength comes from being able to take inspiration from a variety of different sources, and then think along the lines of “but what if I combined this with that”, putting things together in new ways.
What else are you passionate about?
I’m a music addict; I enjoy listening to a wide range of music – recently I’ve had a particular penchant for contemporary piano music by composers such as Ludovico Einaudi and Dustin O’Halloran. When I get the time, I enjoy playing the flute, piano and keyboards, and composing and recording my own music. I really want to record an album of relaxation music; I’ve got lots of ideas running through my head, but could really do with the time to sit down and create something with them.
I also have a passion for body painting, although sadly haven’t had a chance to do much in the way of body painting for a while owing to having put so much time into getting the business off the ground. Once things are a bit more settled, I’m thinking of starting a mobile body painting business covering the West Midlands, where I’d body paint people for photo shoots, fancy dress parties, etc. I love modelling for body painting too, so am always happy to help out if someone needs a body painting model (or a human statue/painted character for a party etc).
Then, myself and my wife Sonia are both animal lovers; we live with our “zoo” of dogs and cats and also have a chipmunk and a hamster! I’m also passionate about environmental issues; I count myself lucky to live on the edge of town in a beautiful part of the country; if we could afford it, we’d have solar power and I’d be driving around in a little pink electric car!
If you were a superhero, which one would you be?
Not sure if this counts as a superhero, but I’d love to be a Time Lady and travel through space and time in a pink Tardis. As you can guess, I’m a huge Doctor Who fan – and I’m also someone who never seems to have enough time! But if I couldn’t be a Time Lady, then I’d probably settle for Supergirl.
Thanks to Ruth for answering our questions, sharing a little more about herself and giving her advice to all our readers. Be sure to check out any of her many websites to see what she’s up to next!
Stay tuned for more interesting interviews with other fun & fearless members of the nail industry.