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Want to Learn How to Become a Nail Tech? Check Out Our Guide!

10-minute read

Woman wearing mask and face shield, giving a person a pedicure.
Allison Grinberg-Funes

Allison Grinberg-Funes

15 September 2021

Some people believe that if your nails are in good shape, you don't have to worry about the rest of your appearance. Maybe you love this idea, or maybe you simply find you have the talent for creating nail designs for yourself or friends.

If you're interested in how to become a nail tech, then you've come to the right place. We talked with Dani Nailz, a professional and licensed nail technician in Boston, Mass. Dani talked to us about the journey of becoming not only a certified nail technician, but also a business owner.

We'll review the different steps you can take to become a nail tech, what you can expect to learn, and what traits may help you become successful.

Sit down — put your feet up (and maybe your hands, too!). Let's get started!

How to Become a Nail Tech: Our Step-by-Step Guide

You don't paint all 10 fingernails at once, and becoming a nail tech doesn't happen instantly either. Just as you do one nail at a time, you'll also take the process of becoming a nail tech step by step. Keep in mind that some cosmetology programs also include lessons on nails, but in this article, we'll be talking only about schools specifically for nail techs and not cosmetology programs.

1. Meet these basic requirements.

The first step in learning how to become a nail tech is to understand the educational prerequisites.

In many states, you will need to be 16 years old or have a high school diploma (or an equivalent, like a GED). Once you've gotten that requirement covered, you can move forward.

2. Choose a program for certification.

Now it's time to look for a school with a program that's right for you. This may be at a community college, a trade school, or a local cosmetology school with a specific nail tech program.

While program length may vary, you'll likely spend anywhere from 300 to 600 hours studying in this program, so it's important to do a good amount of research before committing that much of your time.

It's best to choose a program that's accredited, so that at the end of your program when you take your board exams, the state government recognizes that where you studied has a legitimate program.

To check and see if the programs you're considering are accredited with the state board, look here.

In general, here's what you can expect to learn:

Safety & Sanitation

A large part of nail school programs will be spent learning how to protect yourself and your customers from bacteria and infection.

Here's a short list of what can be contracted in environments where nail techs work:

  • Staph infections
  • Strep
  • Microbacterial infections
  • And more

Because of the risks involved, nail tech students will learn how to sanitize their stations and instruments in order to keep themselves and their customers safe.

Nail Styles & Techniques

There are a variety of techniques that nail tech students are expected to learn. Eventually, you may begin developing a specialty with one, but during school, you'll learn about the following styles:

Gel

This is a style that's brushed on the top of the entire nail or the tip, and is dried under a UV light. The nails can be filled in during follow-up appointments or removed with nail polish remover.

A customer may choose to get gel nails if they're looking for a style that will last longer. But that comes with a price — gel nails are a bit more expensive!

Silk

If a customer asks for silk, then you'll apply a wrap and glue to their nail. If your customer has a nail that's cracked or growing back, silk can help the nail grow out.

Unlike other styles, your customer will need to see you or another nail technician to have the silk removed.

Acrylic

Acrylic nails are a mix of powder and liquid and grow along with the nail. Customers can return to their nail tech to have the acrylics filled or removed.

Dip

Dip powder is a newer style of nail. After applying a base coat, you dip your customer's nail into a powder and apply a sealant.

Customers may be able to take this type of nail off on their own, but it could be easier if done by a professional nail tech.

Paraffin Wax

This method is used on the skin of the hands or feet and is often considered part of the pampering process that comes with the services that nail techs provide.

Your customer’s hands or feet are covered in the paraffin wax, which hydrates and soothes the skin. Not all salons or spas offer this service, but you will most likely get to experience it during nail tech school.

Business skills

While they may not be part of the written curriculum, you'll learn in nail tech school that technique isn't the only thing that makes you a great manicurist.

Dani Nailz put it best when she said, "You are customer service — you've got to be personable." Understanding how to interact with your customers so you can provide a relaxing experience for them is key.

This means learning how to interact with your customers in a way that builds trust for a long-lasting relationship, so they'll hopefully come back to you in the future. We'll dive a bit deeper into these skills later on, so stay tuned!

3. Learn what your nail tech school costs.

When looking into how to become a licensed nail tech, it's only natural to ask yourself, "How much does it cost to become a nail tech?" You may notice during your research that costs of nail tech programs vary. On average, nail tech school costs can range from $2,000 to $5,000.

Depending on the specific program, you'll also need to spend money on books and supplies.

A few different variables go into the overall cost of a program. You'll want to consider if the program:

  • Is part-time or full-time
  • Is at a branded institute (or the institute has brand partnerships)
  • Helps you reach the hours you'll need to get certified

Some schools also may help to arrange an apprenticeship program. In that case, you could work with an experienced nail tech professional to learn the ins-and-outs of the trade.

4. Take your state board exam.

Each state has different laws around what's required to become a certified nail technician.

Some states have written board exams, while others include a practical exam to evaluate the skills you learned in your program.

Once you take your exam and pass, you receive your certification. Congrats! You're one step closer to becoming a nail tech.

We'll discuss more on what can help make you successful later on, but first, let's talk about protecting your business.

5. Get your business license.

Getting your nail technician certification is a big accomplishment and takes a lot of work. So why would you need to take another step to get a business license? Aren't licenses and certifications the same?

In short: no. The certification you get when completing and passing your state board exam is called a nail tech license, but that's different from a business license.

A business license is a document that helps show your customers that you're an official business, and not just a licensed nail tech.

Having a business license also can help fulfill other requirements, such as if a landlord you rent salon space from requires their tenants to have a business license. It's also something that you can put on your resume or website to build trust with customers, or landlords if you're renting space.

Each state has different requirements for business licenses. In some states, depending on your profession, it's required to get a license. In other states, business licenses are required only in certain counties or towns.

For example, if you open a nail salon in Massachusetts, then you're required to have both a manicuring license and a business license.

Learn about your state's business license requirements here.

6. Get nail tech insurance.

At this point, you may be itching to start working and building a customer base. And we get it! After all of the studying and hard work that went into school, that's only natural.

But before you get started, consider getting a type of nail technician insurance that fits your business's needs.

Different types of nail technician insurance can help protect you financially in certain events. For example, if your business experiences an accident or damages — or lawsuits resulting from them — then you'd have some security, depending on your coverage. Having the right insurance policy means you could be covered for a portion of the costs, up to your policy's limit.

Even as a new business owner, it's possible to get sued. A lawsuit can be like a hangnail. Though it can seem small, it could cause a lot of pain for your business in the long run.

Remember, a customer doesn't need you to be at fault to sue you. You can't predict how your customers may act in the future, but you can take this crucial step. Getting your nail tech business insured can help prepare you with financial protection against lawsuits.

Let's talk about the different types of nail tech insurance policies that could protect your business from risks and potential lawsuits.

General liability insurance

General liability insurance, also referred to as commercial liability insurance, typically covers third-party:

  • Bodily injury
  • Accidents
  • Property damage
  • And more

If any of the events above were to happen, business owners without general liability insurance would face shelling out a good amount of money that they likely don't have. For example, say a customer comes in to get their nails done right before a special occasion. While walking to your station, they trip and fall on a wet area of the floor.

The customer breaks their leg and they sue you for the cost of their medical bills. Based on the average cost of claims for slip-and-fall events or a customer injury, this could cost you anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.

Without nail technician insurance like general liability coverage, you may have to pay those fees out-of-pocket. And if you're like most new business owners, it's likely you don't have that amount of money in the bank to cover the costs.

With a general liability policy, you could be covered for the cost of your customer's medical bills, as well as any legal fees, up to your policy's limit. This way, you wouldn't have to stress about finding a way to pay the fees, potentially bankrupting your business in the process.

Professional liability insurance

Professional liability insurance is coverage for claims resulting from the services you provide. It typically covers claims of:

  • Slander and/or libel
  • Negligence or alleged negligence
  • Copyright infringement
  • And more

Believe it or not, even if you make every effort to avoid a conflict, a customer could still sue you. Let's look at an example:

A regular customer who comes to get a weekly pedicure finds out that she has a staph infection. She sues you, claiming your negligence is the reason she got the infection and wants you to pay her medical bills.

Without a professional liability policy, you may have to pay for your customer's medical bills out of pocket. Medical bills can add up quickly. You could put yourself at risk for being in financial trouble before you have a chance to succeed!

If you had this type of nail tech business insurance, then you may be covered for the cost of the medical bills and legal fees, up to your policy's limit.

This is why it's important that the nail tech program you choose takes sanitation education seriously! Without the proper knowledge, you could put yourself at risk of paying hefty fees.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Nail Tech?

If you're thinking, "How much does it cost to become a nail tech?" then you've got a business savvy instinct. Starting a business can be expensive, so it's helpful to get an idea of the expected costs so you won’t be blindsided by bills and hefty price tags.

Like we mentioned earlier, the average nail tech school cost can range from $2,000 to $5,000. And that's not necessarily including the cost of study materials and other things you'll need to do your job, like specific nail polishes or tools.

That's the financial cost. You also may want to consider the cost of your time, since many states require anywhere from 300 to 600 hours of training on average, in order to take your state board exam and get certified.

That's a big investment on your end, which is why the insurance coverage we discussed earlier can come in handy. If you're spending that time and money on your career, then it makes sense to be prepared for risks that may come your way.

Fortunately with Simply Business, you can find affordable coverage options so that you don't have to worry about breaking the bank to protect your future. General liability plans start for as low as $25.95* a month, and policies are easy to compare too.

You can use our free quote comparison tool here. In less than 10 minutes, you'll see your nail technician insurance options.

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3 Skills That Can Help Nail Techs Succeed

Dani Nailz made a good point when telling us about the beginning of her journey into a career as a nail tech: "Knowing a trade and being a business person are two different things."

And she's right! You may feel that after nail tech school that your manicurist skills are top-notch. But what skills will help you in the business world? After all, you'll have to take your nail tech skills and combine them with other knowledge in order to build a career. Below are three skills that will serve you well as a licensed nail tech.

1. Problem-solving

As a nail tech, you may not only be working one-on-one with customers. Sometimes you're working at a salon or spa, and things aren't always perfect. It's important to feel confident with brainstorming and helping to solve problems.

For example, a customer may be upset that a certain stylist isn't there to color their hair one day. Maybe you step in and suggest a slightly discounted manicure for stress relief. "Understanding how to resolve problems is just as important as painting inside the lines," says Dani.

2. Interpersonal skills

Remember that even though you'll be focused on painted fingernails or toenails, your customers may want to make conversation.

Being able to empathize with customers and have friendly, engaging conversations can help to build trust, which can help as you work to form long-lasting relationships with clients who will come back time and again.

3. Creativity

Staying on top of popular trends is a great way to make sure you know the styles your customers may want to try. But what can you do to make those styles your own? Being bold and trying creative new nail techniques and styles can help set you apart from competitors in your area.

Want to expand your skills in other areas? Our Simply U blog can help get you started with growing your business skills. Check out these articles and resources:

Becoming a Nail Tech Takes a Little Polish

Every nail needs to be buffed before it can be polished, and becoming a nail tech is the same: It takes time and effort to turn your dream into the reality of your small business.

By now, you should know how to become a certified nail technician, but for even more information on growing and protecting your business, visit Simply U, our blog for business owners.

* *Monthly payment calculations (i) do not include initial premium down payment and (ii) may vary by state, insurance provider, and nature of your business. Averages based on January-December 2020 data of 10% of our total policies sold.

Allison Grinberg-Funes

Written by

Allison Grinberg-Funes

I’ve told stories since I learned to talk and written since I could hold a pen. As a small business owner myself - I'm a freelance writer and yoga teacher - I love contributing to the entrepreneurship community in different ways (including writing for Simply Business!). When I’m not drafting articles for SB, I can be found on my yoga mat, perusing an indie bookstore, and writing (with my cat nearby of course).

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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