“Starting and Marketing a Henna Body Art Business” 
by Erika Harrison c 2004

So you have decided to take your henna hobby to the next level and to try to make some money at it.  I have written the following sections with the assumption that you already know a little about how to make and apply henna.  This is designed to give you a basic understanding of what it takes to make the leap from artist to businessperson.  You have to have clearly defined goals, knowledge of city, state, and federal requirements, basic skill at applying henna, the ability to identify and communicate with a network of people, and an idea of what your product is and how you are going to sell it.

Setting Goals
The first step in starting any business is determining what you want to achieve with your business.  If you don’t know where you’re going…you won’t get there!  Do you just want to do an occasional party or private appointment? Do you want a steady job in a salon, club, or shop?  Do you want to work at festivals?  Or do you want to do a combination of these? 

Once you have thought about what you want from your business, assess the risks and determine whether or not your goals are reasonable. Do these plans fit with your family’s lifestyle?  What sacrifices will you need to make to achieve your goals?  Do you have the money for start-up costs? Are you disciplined enough to keep business records? Are you at the skill and comfort level needed to begin working on paying customers? Do you have a large enough customer base?  Once you have determined that your goals are reasonable, go for it!  Write a business plan.

Evaluating Needs 
There are certain things that you cannot avoid buying, such as henna-making supplies.  But that does not mean you need to order ten design books, two kilograms of henna and a quart of essential oils just to get started.  I started my business with a $15 henna kit and designs that I had printed from the Internet.  I made $40 at a party and used that money to buy more henna supplies.  For working at festivals, you are going to want to have a tent, tables, chairs, décor etc… You do not need to have it all purchased before your first festival.  There are many festivals where you will not need a tent and many will provide tables and chairs for you.  You will get more support from your family and have less stress if your business feeds itself rather than maxes out your credit cards.

Licenses – Insurance - Record Keeping
Licensing is an issue that varies from state to state and from business to business. If you just work at festivals, you will be working under the temporary license that the festival organizer had to obtain from the city.  If you work at a salon or shop, you are working under their occupational license.  If you work from home, you will need an occupational license from the city, which may be expensive or even impossible to obtain.  Most henna artists who work from home do not bother getting an occupational license for their home business.  Typically, if you were creating a nuisance and someone reported you for running a business from your home, you would simply be asked to stop.  However, depending on the location, there may be fines as well.  Each businessperson should contact their city-licensing department, usually located in a tax collector’s office, to determine whether or not licensing is needed or desirable.

Insurance is another gray area in the henna business.  Some events will not allow you to set up a booth unless you have an insurance policy.  Although it is unlikely that a henna artist using strictly natural henna powder would be sued for damages, in a highly litigious society such as ours, insurance policies are becoming necessary for every business.  Several companies will insure henna artists for $100-$200 annually.  Check with companies that insure Renaissance fair businesses, clowns and entertainers, face-painters, or even the company that insures your home.
Generally, henna body art is not a taxable service, but again that may depend on your city and state.  If you are selling henna kits or any other merchandise, then you may be required to collect sales tax and to remit a quarterly statement along with the sales tax that you collected.  To find out your local sales tax requirements, contact the State or City Revenue Department for your location.

Every dollar you make needs to be reported to the IRS on a Schedule C along with your regular federal income tax forms.  Even if you are only doing henna body art as a hobby, any money earned is taxable.  To reduce your tax liability, you must keep track of all of your business related expenses.  You can buy accounting software, a bookkeeping ledger, or simply throw all of your receipts in a box and figure it out at the end of the year.  Anything that you purchase to run your business or to improve your skill as a henna artist is a legitimate tax write-off.  These expenses may include festival fees, tables, chairs, henna making supplies, shipping costs, advertising costs, décor, design books, magazines, website design and hosting, costuming or clothing purchased to wear for business, conference fees, mileage to henna jobs or conferences, art classes, etc…

Skill and Artistry
 You do not have to be a great artist to have a henna body art business.  In my festival business, I offer 14 small simple designs, 8 bracelet designs, and 8 hand designs.  Most people are content to choose from among those designs.  If they want something more complicated and tattoo-like, then I use a tattoo transfer that gives me the outline over which to apply henna.  If you have a design book that has designs you are not comfortable doing, leave those designs at home.  Choose the designs that you want to do and can do and offer only those designs.  Practice those designs until you can create them in a reasonable amount of time.  In a festival setting, time is money.  The faster you work, the more people you can henna.  Prices for individual henna designs in most places range from $5-$25.  If it takes you 15 minutes to complete a $5 design, you need to gain more speed before working in a festival.  Offer your friends free henna to let you practice on them.  Practice on a piece of paper.

Minimizing Risks
 Every pursuit has its own risk.  Small businesses have a notoriously high rate of failure.  What level of risk are you willing to accept?  If you quit your job to start a henna business, would the failure of your business devastate your family’s finances?  If you are the sole breadwinner for your family, risking everything to start up a new business may not be a wise move.  I have yet to encounter a henna artist who is supporting their family solely on income from their henna business.  The henna business provides a nice supplementary income, but most henna artists either have a “regular job” doing something else or they have a partner who is employed and has benefits.  Health insurance for small business owners is very expensive and your retirement account consists entirely of what you can save up on your own.  Although it seems grim to have to think about failure before you even begin your business, if you are prepared for the worst there should not be any surprises.  Most successful business owners had many failures before they found a formula that worked.  Don’t be afraid to try.  Learn from your mistakes.
 To minimize risk, the most important concept is adaptability.  If something is not working, change it.  Try something else.  Do not wait until you hit rock bottom to reevaluate your business plan.  If you are not making enough money at your location, decide if you just need a little more time for people to find you or if you should start looking for a new location.  If you are spending a lot of money building and maintaining a website that has not brought you any business, maybe you should look for a simple free website to host pictures.  If you are paying for advertisement and the cost of the ad is more than the income you have made from leads generated by the ad, look for a new place to advertise.  Seek out opportunities for free advertisement.

 Some events will only require that you give a percentage of your income to the event organizers.  Other events will require that you pay a booth fee ahead of time.  These booth fees are rarely refundable, even if a storm blows the festival away or of the event was so poorly advertised that only three people showed up.  When you choose to work at a certain event, you are giving up the opportunity to work at another event…and even the opportunity to just stay home with your family and rest.  You must determine which event is going to give you the most profit for your time.  Profit is not only monetary.  There is also the potential for making important business contacts and establishing rapport with event organizers.

Finding work
 If you think that placing an ad in the paper or on the Internet will get your business started, think again.  If you want a job, you have to go get it.  The jobs that just fall in your lap are few and far between.  If you stop promoting yourself, be prepared for your business to start disappearing.  Accept that you will never ever reach a point in your business lifecycle where you can relax and stop promoting yourself.  Look up local events and start calling or emailing the event organizers to see what it would take to set up there.  Visit the local coffee shops, nail salons, tattoo shops, health food stores, and new age stores to see where you might be able to set up.  Look for fundraising events and offer a percentage of what you take in if they will let you set up at their event.  Start networking with people who work with they type of people that you hope to work for.  Talk with people who are working at local festivals and ask them to let you know when something comes up.

Networking and Competition
 I started working in my area about two years ago.  I have established rapport with the local event organizers, the city event organizers for several cities in my county, and with several large corporations.  When they need someone to do henna, they call me.  When another henna artist wants to set up at a festival where I know the event organizers, they make it clear that they already have a henna artist.  Establishing rapport is more than just paying your booth fee, setting up, breaking down, and going home.  You need to get to know these people by name and to be a responsible business owner.  Pay your event fees on time. Handle any problems with a positive and friendly attitude.  Praise the event organizers for a job well done.  Let them know that you appreciate their hard work.  If you cannot make it to one of their events, let them know well ahead of time and assure them that you will be back for the next event.

Four months ago, I started teaching henna classes.   Many of the students in the class are hoping to start their own henna business.  Now I have to choose either to feel threatened by this new competition and stop teaching classes or take advantage of the opportunity that this creates.  With more henna artists in the area, I have a customer base for the henna supplies and magazines that I sell.  I have determined that while I might make a nice living doing henna at festivals and in clubs, I can never get rich by working all alone.  By creating an entertainment company and employing these new henna artists, I can continue working my most lucrative gigs and make a percentage of what my henna students earn when I set them up at gigs.

 Even competitors are an essential part of the business ecosystem. If there is a gig that you cannot do for some reason, call up a competitor and offer it to them.  Start a network of henna artists in the area and establish a sense of goodwill and sharing.  This could lead to more jobs for you and the potential of sharing expenses with other artists in order to work at a festival with a hefty booth fee.  With other businesses this might not work, but there are too few henna artists in the world for the market to become saturated any time soon. 
You can also build a network with other people who work at festivals, such as face painters, hair wrappers, airbrush artists, etc…  I find out about many of the events that I work at because another festival person called me up to ask if I was planning on working the event. 

 Networking skills are an absolute necessity in the business world.  In the henna business you need to be able to effectively interact with suppliers, clients, other festival vendors, event organizers, shop owners, advertising agents, and competitors.


 The thing that sets your business apart from others is how you market your product.  You can be the best artist in the country and not have a successful business if you do not market your business effectively. 

Any marketing textbook will talk about the “Five P’s of Marketing.” 

Product: What are you selling?  Are you selling temporary tattoos, the ancient art of henna, or some exotic pampering experience?

Place: How does a customer get your product?  Do you set up in a tourist hot spot, a New Age store, a tattoo shop, or a nightclub?  How does your decision to set up in that particular location affect the client’s perception of the product?

Packaging: Does the packaging sell the product?  Do you dress yourself and your workspace to reflect the type of experience that you want to share with your clients?
Promotion: How do people find out about your product?  Do they hear it from other satisfied customers?  Do they hear about it from you?  Do they hear about it from the media?  Is the media showing your product in a positive or negative light?

Price: Are you making the most potential profit for the amount of time you spend working? Do you regularly check with what your competitors are charging and what the “going rate” is for your product?  Avoid pricing yourself above what the local economy supports, but also avoid pricing your product so low that it loses its perceived value.  Do you consider all of the time that you spend earning your money?  You might earn $200 at a 3-hour festival, but how much time was spent preparing for and cleaning up after the festival?  How much time was spent driving? Consider this example:  You currently serve 20 clients at a festival, charging $3 for a basic design.  You decide to raise your base price from $3 to $5, and lose 4 customers who are not willing to pay the higher price.  You were earning $60 for 20 clients.  Now you earn $80 and do not have to work as hard and you use less of your supplies.

The new Five P’s of Marketing show a greater need for product differentiation and appealing to the less logical, more emotional human side of marketing.

Paradox: Create a unique identity for your product.  What makes you different from your competitors?  What makes your product a necessity?

Perspective: Put your self in your client’s place.  What do you think they want from your product?  Do they just want an affordable no-frills experience?  Would they pay a little more if you spent the time to chat with them?  Does your workspace ambiance draw people in?

Paradigm: Understand and accept the patterns of human nature.  Your typical clients are tourists and they want fake-tattoo type designs.  Do you give them what they want or search for a new place to work?

Persuasion: Influence your audience.  Research the history and properties of your product so that you sound knowledgeable and convincing when you talk to people.

Passion: Believe in what you do.  Is this business just something to pay the bills?  Did you get into the henna business because you love everything about henna?

The goal of marketing your product is to create a need for your product.  In order to do that, you have to fully understand your product so that you can effectively discuss it.  You have to convince your prospective clients that your product is somehow different from and better than a competitor’s product.  You have to make your clients believe that buying your product will somehow improve their lives.

 If you enjoy working with henna and you enjoy working with people, the henna body art business can be a satisfying way to make money.  Like any business, the henna body art business is not without risk.  You must create a business plan that will help you start your business with the least amount of risk and sacrifice.  You need to be flexible and willing to change your plan if something is not working.  You need to develop a marketing plan that makes your product desirable or even necessary to your clients.

Further Reading
How to Start Your Own Henna Body Art Business by Erika Harrison 
Henna Page Publications (2003) www.HennaPage.com 

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