Interview with Mandi Chisholm
Tattoo & MakeUp Pro Mandi Chisholm is a Cosmetic Tattooer in Ohio. Her extensive experience in tattoo artistry makes her a great asset to the PocketSuite Pro community. Mandi talks to CEO, Chinwe Onyeagoro, about starting out early in the trade and opening her first shop.
Where did you start and how did you get to where you are today?
I’m a cosmetic tattooer, and once I found the app, I gave PocketSuite a try for one day a week, just to see how it worked, and if I liked it. So, I definitely gave you guys a trial run for a while. I was going in between multiple locations, so having that app in my hand was huge. So was being able to leave a deposit. Because I was traveling to different locations, the deposit feature was really, really important to me. So, you guys came out ahead in a lot of searches. Then throughout the years, it’s gone from just one day a week trying you guys out to full-time. Then the ease of being able to itemize the fees and the taxes and that kind of stuff for your monthly books or your quarterlies, is really, really, really awesome for me.
Still doing everything myself, as they say, a solopreneur. But fast forward to last year, I started to gain a team and I had to figure out what that looked like and also adapt the online booking. So, we have really played into that in the last two years. That’s been great because you can easily just pay your providers and it’s for the most part, effortless. You guys have really great customer service where you get right back to us because we’re in the moment and we need those answers somewhat fast because there are people relying on us. So, yeah, really good stuff. I’ve looked at other apps between now and then and I haven’t been able to let you guys go. So, you guys are doing something right.
I love to hear that! How does someone become a cosmetic tattooer? How did you get into this?
Oh, my gosh. Well, it sort of just fell into my lap. I used to co-own a tattoo studio and I was doing photography at the time. So, I had my photography studio and I was also doing what they call front desk or a counter tattoo host where you would have anybody that comes in and you would talk to them. Well, we kept getting asked more and more and more about cosmetic tattooing, and I said, “I like tattoos and makeup.” So, I basically found an institute that would train me. At the time, Facebook wasn’t even available to the general public, it was still for college students only.
So let me just tell you how long I’ve been doing this. All I could find through searches, maybe it was Yahoo at the time, barely Google. I don’t know. It was a place in Philadelphia and a place in Texas that I could train. So, I went and did that and spent quite a few thousand dollars, lots of hours, and learned my new trade and little did I know, I’m still doing it. This year is year 12. So it’s been a journey.
Your business is growing. You have a team!
Yeah. It is getting there. Yes. We’re hoping to add another person in the next month.
Yeah, you have to be passionate about it. I think a lot of people don’t tell you that you have to wear so many hats…There’s so many things and eventually the hard work will pay off and you can find people to do those jobs and you can begin to delegate, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Can I just say that’s an unusual story, particularly now, given that everybody’s still sort of hanging in the balance of COVID. What are you doing differently that’s leading to growth?
I just didn’t stop. It was just like, you just do it. I have actually moved this company to a new state. So I went from Pennsylvania where I started “Pretty in Ink” and moved to Ohio when the shop and I expired. When I got here, I had to do all of those really odd jobs, like waitressing and serving. I was traveling for a little while back and forth from Pennsylvania to Ohio to maintain. But I was one of the only people really on social media and kind of promoting cosmetic tattooing. So that really helped. It’s very, very specialized. I would say the fact that I have those years under my belt has helped. So stick with it kids.
Years under your belt, it’s about passion. So I used to only do work with a machine, which is a tattoo machine and then microblading hit the scene. A lot of people know that word, it’s the hot button word of the internet since 2015 and 2016. That’s actually when I found PocketSuite. I realized that I didn’t need to go to all these other places, I can rent a space. So I started to rent a room, like a hundred square foot and brought PocketSuite in the picture and microblading took off.
So I already had everything there, ready and established and I hit my first six figures. So yeah. Thanks. It was really interesting, super surreal. I was very green. I still feel green in so many ways, honestly. A lot of entrepreneurship is figuring it out as you go and just don’t stop. There’s always going to be these hiccups and these unknowns. But what I’ve been learning recently is to surround yourself with people that have already done it. Hopefully, you can find community more than you do competition. That is helpful for anybody in any industry, honestly.
You said that when you moved to Ohio, you did odd jobs just to make it work and to bridge the gap. Don’t stop. One of the things that we are hearing time and time again is that so many people have dreams of working for themselves, but when they get down the road things just get really hard and they do stop. Is there a secret ingredient to don’t stop or do you just have to be passionate enough about it to keep going?
Yeah, you have to be passionate about it. I think a lot of people don’t tell you that you have to wear so many hats. Okay, you want to own your business and you want to do eyebrows and make people feel good about themselves and build their confidence. But what they don’t tell you is you have all the books and paperwork and taxes and your own booking and making sure you pay all the bills and oh, don’t forget your marketing and social media. Oh, don’t forget this. There’s so many things and eventually the hard work will pay off and you can find people to do those jobs and you can begin to delegate, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Is there anything that you miss about the sort of tattooing you used to do or has it all been sort of greenfield for you in terms of moving into this cosmetic tattoo space?
Oh, so it’s all been cosmetic for me from the beginning. So I actually never did any body art. Nope, I started out doing photography, but I co-owned a tattoo shop. So I was involved with it and I learned so much when I came back from cosmetic tattoo training by sort of interviewing those tattooers about needle sizing, pigments and all that kind of stuff. So for me, it’s always been cosmetic from the beginning.
What do you see happening in the industry now? Now that microblading is a household word, what comes next?
Well, now we’re shifting from micro blading to machine again. Because microblading was brought onto the scene, I would say sold as a semi-permanent option made to fade, sort of noncommittal and now they’re like, oh my gosh it fades so fast. That’s sort of why people loved it to begin with. So now they’re looking for a little bit more or a little more saturation. So fortunately and unfortunately, it became so big and there was everyone sort of grabbing for just that hand tool and not knowing a lot that I think now our industry is shifting into also learning lots of corrections and learning how to kind of undo anything that might’ve happened with inexperience. That’s my opinion and it’s what I’m seeing.
It’s interesting because when I was coming up, I was in fifth grade, my teacher would basically shave off her eyebrows completely and just draw them in. I always thought she’s got perfect eyebrows. Was that the solution that led to this solution? People just saying I don’t want to pluck, or tweeze, or wax. I just want it to be perfect.
Yeah, absolutely. You get into an aspect of where the hair follicle isn’t growing quite symmetrically. One side will be higher than the other and that sometimes comes down to the muscular structure or the muscles makes you stronger on one side than the other side. So you have one brow that’s higher or lower. When they draw them on with the pencil and they follow the hair, it would be off. So it was just easier for them to shave it off. You know what, it’s a generational thing too. So for the Baby Boomer generation or older, there was a time in makeup and beauty, the Flapper girls and stuff. When they were in the thirties and forties, they would shave it all off and draw those pencil ones. So there’s a little bit of an interesting trend that has happened. This is just easier to do this way because they’re so asymmetrical.
So there are a lot of folks who just want to get into the cosmetic tattoo space and they have kind of an Instagram notion of what your life is like. Can you tell us about a day in the life of Mandi?
Oh gosh. I wake up and it’s either social media or email, definitely a cup of coffee, checking anything that might’ve come in overnight. I’m honestly kind of a workaholic. I have gotten very spoiled with my schedule. I’ve kind of learned when I was working a lot in 2016 and 17. I really learned where I’m my best. So whenever you’re working for yourself, you really need to pay attention to how you work, when your best self is forward. When you’re tattooing somebody’s face, it’s really important to know that. I’ve heard of technicians taking six to eight clients in a day and that’s fine for them. But in my head, I don’t know that I could personally give that person at the end of the day my full energy.
So if I end up taking a client in the morning, I have about a two hour break until my next one. That’s very important to me because what I do is tedious and it’s very focused and it is a lot of energy that you’re sort of absorbing from your client. They’re very nervous. You’re taking them through this and then you have to be very meticulous. It’s just really nice to get good decompression time and then get back into it. So if I take only one client a day, I’ll have sort of that morning stuff I’ll work on, anything administrative that I need to do. Then I’ll go in, in the afternoon. One session with a new client is about three hours long. After that, I’ll have maybe a touch up or two.
I get done about fiveish, but that’s me being done at the studio. So when I come home, I probably have some notes or some client files I have to do or social media stuff. I do that until I’m tired. Unless I have other plans, going to dinner and having an actual social life, but that’s kind of the typical day. I just honestly love my weekends. If I can get one either Saturday or Sunday all to myself and I just work, I love it.
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Oh, wow. That’s not what I thought you were going to say about your weekends.
I don’t have to leave, I can just be in my PJ’s and I can kind of like tap into the more creative part of things where it’s not broken up where I have to go to the studio and leave. I just feel fulfilled. I don’t know, the artist and the visionary inside of me just feels fulfilled when I can have that span of time to work on the business and what it could look like as branding or how can I make it better for onboarding or somebody coming in. Still there’s a lot I need to learn. I just recently hired a coach. So that should be really interesting. Yeah, I didn’t even know that I would ever need one. So Ms. Fanci Mandi has hired a business coach, we’ll see where things go from here. I got six months with her.
It’s funny because we’re hearing more and more from our Pros that they are hiring business coaches because they feel like mindset is half the battle. What tipped it for you?
I’m almost 40. Time is a wasting. I’ve spent this many years really just figuring it out myself and it’s taxing on yourself, your social life, and everything. So there are some big goals that I want to achieve with Pretty in Ink. I’m just learning that I can’t do it by myself. I kind of hit the max of what I can do. So a little bit of strategy and some networking is going to be really good. I think that’s going to be important.
As you think about the people that have been instrumental in your development, in your journey, are there one or two folks who you would give a shout out to who really had an impact?
Gosh, I would say they have come in waves. My family has always been supportive. They’ve always been like, “Oh okay, you’re doing that. Let me know how that goes.” I’ve just never felt like I couldn’t do anything. Man. I would say I really appreciated the mile marker of even starting and who I learned from, and then the mentor that actually taught me microblading. So I would say those professionals, but there have been other personal sorts of interactions with certain people that have taught me lessons. That maybe you wouldn’t want to give a shout out to, but they taught you a good lesson so you appreciate that.
What is the best business decision you’ve ever made that has changed the game for you?
Best business decision I’ve ever made. Oh, I think I take everything for granted in a way, all of the things that I’ve done. I would say getting square footage was really awesome. That’s kind of a hard question for me. Always investing in my education. I do that a lot. So I’m definitely a student at heart. I just love to learn and sometimes I take on a little too much. I want to absorb everything. But I guess never stop learning is not a bad thing.
When you invest in your education, is it all over the map? Or do you just go for the latest and greatest based on trends and client feedback?
Sure. I think it’s a little bit of both. You want to feel something out or maybe you’ve gotten requests for something often. I really wanted to know microblading and I couldn’t find anyone who was really reputable. So I flew to Toronto for the time that I needed. Then I had additional education beyond that two day course where it was six months of 11 different levels of learning kind of remotely because the trainer actually lives overseas. The company that we trained under was in Serbia. So it was really, really interesting to learn that way.
Now a lot of stuff is online. I think that I have enough years under my belt that online is palatable for me. Otherwise, I would want somebody to be right there. Having a person there during training would be still cool. But yeah, I think it’s just the social media side, which has really brought things to forefront and you see other technicians doing stuff. Oh my gosh, how did they do that? So then you can really dig in. That sort of pushes me a lot too. Oh, how did that technique happen that way? Or how are you building that? So I think that probably drives me the most.
We see a ton of activity on social media, particularly in this category. So between estheticians, people who are cosmetic tattoo artists, there’s just a lot of activity and there’s also a lot of love and exchange between folks, people appreciate the work. Does that also translate offline? Do you have a network of beauty folks – like your go-to esthetician and your go-to makeup artists.
For sure! We are not only getting stuff for ourselves done, but we want to be able to tell our clients where are “the best” and who are “the go to” beauty pros or what our experience is with other places. That’s very important offline too.
When you look up and out into the horizon, given that we’re in COVID, the elections coming, all sorts of stuff, the new year, people are saying it’s no longer going to be like 2021. It’s Q5, 2020.
No kidding. I just really want everyone to get along. It’s okay that there are differences. Just do what makes you happy. Be nice to people. We should be free to do so without the regulations and I think the fear. There’s a ton of fear right now.