A police officer turned beauty studio boss on £25k

Welcome to The Money Diaries with Sage, where we dive into the finances of business owners and discover how they deal with money matters on a daily basis.

We’re asking entrepreneurs how they’re managing their finances over a seven-day period, to give you a picture of what incomes and outgoings really look like from their perspective. 

Today is the turn of a former police officer who now runs a beauty studio.

And make sure you check out Reader’s Response at the end of this article, where accountant and best-selling author Carl Reader reveals his thoughts and shares some top tips for our entrepreneur.

Here’s what we cover in this article:

Meet our entrepreneur and check out their Money Diary

  • Industry: Beauty.
  • How long you have been an entrepreneur? 7 years.
  • Day job: Initially, I worked alongside my employed position in the emergency services prior to being medically retired.
  • Location: Sunderland.
  • Salary: £25,000 (£9k ill health retirement pension + £16k part-time self-employment).
  • Household: As things stand, I reside with one husband, two male teenagers (the struggle is real), two Cocker Spaniels, one Bengal cat, and a bearded dragon.

Day 1 – Monday

Opening balance at the start of the week: £2,008.75

I don’t work Mondays. Truth be told, I’m actually only working three days per week at the time of writing.

Before you think I’m either work-shy, living the dream, or both, it would probably be helpful to start with some background information.

I was a police officer for 13 years. But unfortunately, towards the end of that service, I was diagnosed with a lifelong mental health illness.

The demands of a 24/7 response cop are relentless.

Stressful situations, shift work, extended working hours, cancelled rest days, unpredictability—essentially everything I was told to avoid with my condition.

So, in 2017 I made the difficult decision to accept ill health retirement. Cue a total life overhaul and the most random career change ever, and here I am.

Self-employment is absolutely not for the faint hearted, but it affords me the flexibility required to make sure I’m in the best position to keep myself well, hence the part-time hours.

I’ve honestly never looked back.

Initially, I rented a chair. Just short of two years later I moved into my first premises, and a larger premises another two years later. I worked hard to establish my business, my rent was still reasonable and I had a weekly renter contributing towards it.

Then the absolute unthinkable happened: the pandemic.

I had to close for a total of seven or so months, which is a catastrophic blow for a small business. The road to recovery has been long and arduous, and it’s still ongoing.

In December 2021, I made the decision to go all in, double or quits as they say.

I moved into new premises in a much more prominent position in Sunderland city centre. The plan was to turn increased visibility into new clients and grow profits.

My rent doubled and then some, which, as expected, comes with added pressure and strain. Not ideal for someone with zero tolerance for stress, but nothing ventured nothing gained and all that.

Seven months in and I ask myself “did I make the right decision?”

The jury is still out on that one.

Money earned: £0

Money spent: £0

Money Diaries day 2

Day 2 – Tuesday

Despite working part time, there is always something to do. School runs, cleaning, life admin. The days just go.

I genuinely think managing social media accounts is a job in itself. I try to set aside time on my days out of the studio to prepare content to post regularly. I also keep on top of DMs, emails, text messages and WhatsApp daily.

Which reminds me, I really must get stricter when it comes to replying to people.

I tend to reply no matter the day or time. I’ve previously received messages on the likes of Boxing Day and both ridiculously early and ridiculously late.

I really must stop responding straight away as I’m implying it’s acceptable, and it isn’t.

I received a phone call from the music licence company. Despite my existing licence being covered up to September, my change of premises means I’m required to pay an additional sum to bring the licence up to date and cover me until the end of November.

It was unforeseen, but only £31.53 so not an issue.

I pay £30 a month by direct debit for an online booking system, which is worth every penny. It (mostly) negates the need for clients to contact me to make, rearrange or cancel appointments. My insurance is also paid by monthly direct debit at a cost of £22.66.

I haven’t included my personal spending as I do keep my business and personal accounts entirely separate. I can give you an insight into it though: let’s just say I have a penchant for H&M Home, and I keep Sainsbury’s in business.

Money earned: £0

Money spent: £84.19

Money Diaries day 3

Day 3 – Wednesday

I recently made the difficult decision to increase my prices.

I thought long and hard about it as it’s important to me that I remain accessible to everyone. However, as a small business I just couldn’t continue to absorb the rising costs entirely.

This is week two since the increased price structure was implemented. Truth be told, I’m still stressing about it.

I have a tendency to overthink everything, which isn’t conducive to making rational decisions, nor is it any good for my mental health. I often find it difficult to put on my ‘business head’, which in the past has perhaps affected my decision making.

My mam once commented I wasn’t cut-throat enough for business.

I still don’t think owning a business necessarily means I need to be ruthless, but I am aware that the primary objective of a business is to generate profit, and that decisions need to be made on reason rather than emotion.

It’s definitely something I continually need to work on.

In comparison to other businesses, with the exception of rent, my overheads are relatively small.

I do not employ staff, although I have toyed with the idea of employing someone lately. But I have to be sensible, as I fear it could cause more stress than it’s worth.

Behind every decision I make, I must consider the potential impact on my mental health.

Furthermore, I also don’t have enough clients to justify it right now, so it would definitely be a case of speculate to accumulate and I’m just not sure. On the other hand, it would mean potential to actually make money when I’m not at work, especially when I need to take an extended period of time off.

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I’ve arranged to meet with a client/friend who runs her own business and employs staff to discuss the ins and outs and go from there. It’s kind of her to give up her time. We chew the fat over cuppas and cake (£11) and I come away with lots to ‘overthink’ about.

The option I’ve favoured previously is to rent space out to other self-employed people.

I’m absolutely aware I need to utilise the studio space on the days I do not work rather than letting it sit empty. It’s proved much more difficult than I anticipated.

I thought when I moved into a prominent city centre location, I would be inundated with people wanting to rent space.

Inundated may be a slight exaggeration but I certainly didn’t expect to find myself seven months in without another weekly renter. I advertise regularly and I suppose all I can really do is continue to do so in hope that I find someone suitable.

I’ve considered taking a more active approach and contacting people directly, but I can’t help but feel this is overstepping.

During and following the coronavirus saga, a lot of people in this industry struggled to stay afloat.

Many had to get part-time jobs alongside their self-employment and/or revert to working from home rather than renting space. This has undoubtedly contributed to the difficulties I’m facing.

As things stand, I have one weekly renter, a nail tech who rents one day per week, and an aesthetics nurse who holds a clinic three or four times a month.

I place an online order from a supplier to be delivered at a total cost of £48.52. I’m quite fortunate in that my product costs, despite rising costs, are still relatively low in comparison to other lines of business. I place an order as and when required, however always try to ensure I have surplus stock.

Money earned: £0

Money spent: £59.52

Money Diaries day 4

Day 4 – Thursday

My first day in the studio and it’s going to be a busy one. I tend to work late on a Thursday, so it can feel like a really long day.

I start at the very least 30 min before my first appointment is due, allowing time for my wax to heat up and to start the day with a cuppa. I drink a lot of tea and Diet Coke. Thankfully, I don’t drink coffee as there is a rather lovely coffee shop nearby.

I do, however, eat sweet treats and bagels, which would be more evident if we were to look at my personal spending. If I do have time to eat, I always end up buying something, which can really start to add up.

No time for food today though as I’ve got no gaps all day. I say every week I must allow myself 30 mins to take a break, I must start to bring in lunch to eat.

I say it, but I don’t actually do it. This needs to change.

Today included some high-value appointments, so I take a total of £417. This certainly isn’t a typical day’s takings, it’s more like a day on the run-up to Christmas. If only every day was like this!

Well, maybe with a break and some lunch for good measure.

Money earned: £417

Money spent: £0

Money Diaries day 5

Day 5 – Friday

Ordered a toaster online in a bid to change my ways. Last week I purchased a fridge. I’m definitely going to start bringing my lunch in and schedule time for a break going forward.

Before April this year I was working four days a week, fewer hours per day.

Since condensing my hours, my days are obviously longer and generally a lot busier. Before, I tended to have the occasional gap throughout the day. I think I mostly prefer it this way.

I of course have to balance this with ensuring I have sufficient availability and gently remind clients to book in advance where possible.

The last thing I want is for clients to go elsewhere because they can’t get an appointment and/or because my days are limited. It’s always a balancing act. Fortunately, there is always that flexibility to change and try new ways of working if need be.

Money earned: £270

Money spent: £25

Money Diaries day 6

Day 6 – Saturday

During the football season I only work until 2.30pm. Lifelong-suffering Sunderland fan here, though I’m full of renewed enthusiasm for the season.

Out of season, I work a little later.

Saturday used to be a guaranteed busy day, along with my late nights on Thursday. Not so much post-pandemic; it can be hit or miss.

I think as more people continue to work from home, they perhaps have become more flexible with their time. This means more clients can book in during the day as opposed to being limited to an evening or weekend.

After work, I’ve arranged to meet with the owners of the coffee shop to discuss marketing and growth of our businesses. The plan is to get our heads together and come up with some ideas that would benefit both of us. They are lovely people and it’s nice to support each other.

We agree to start with a simple and relatively inexpensive campaign. The plan is to design a combined flyer and distribute them throughout the city centre, targeting people who are already there for work. I leave with a renewed enthusiasm: I can make this work.

My enthusiasm doesn’t last long unfortunately.

My weekly renter has given notice to leave. Like many, she had to take on an employed position alongside her self-employed work and it’s becoming difficult to maintain both.

She needs the increased security employment affords and has made the difficult decision to leave this industry all together.

This a massive blow for me, both personally and professionally. She has worked alongside me since I opened my first premises. I literally cried.

Money earned: £210

Money spent: £0

Money Diaries day 7

Day 7 – Sunday

Sunday is usually my favourite day, a day of absolute rest. Self-care Sunday, as I like to call it.

But I need to do some work today.

I usually do my end of week accounts on a Saturday, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it yesterday. I’m already stressing over what I’m going to do moving forward. All thoughts of employing someone are out the window as I can’t take any unnecessary risks for the foreseeable.

I’m typically very organised when it comes to my accounts and do them weekly without fail.

I keep it simple and record every transaction daily, recording the totals at the end of the week.

At the end of each month, I record the month overall as a plus or minus figure (thankfully, with the exception of the Covid months, it’s always in the black). Doing things this way also makes it significantly easier when it comes to my tax return.

Income from my renters this week totals £140.70.

When I signed my tenancy, I used all of my savings to pay my rent in advance for the year. By doing this I was entitled to a 10% discount, which was a decent saving, so I felt it was worth doing.

If I am able to stay put, then I’ll aim to do the same thing the following year. For this reason, I set aside money for my rent every week as if I were paying the full amount weekly, no exceptions.

I also save for my tax bill weekly (variable depending on income that week), a lesson I learned early on in my self-employment journey.

When it comes to managing my business account, I’ve tried to build up the balance by always banking any income from my renters. I said from the very beginning that I didn’t want to rely on anyone else to cover my outgoings.

Until recently I’d therefore only ever paid myself from income I’d actually earned myself. This could fluctuate massively from week to week, and I mean massively.

For the past few months, I’ve taken a different approach and I now pay myself £300 per week regardless of how much or how little I earn that week.

In that sense losing my weekly renter won’t impact on my actual wage per se, but obviously it will impact on the amount of money I bank.

I’m trying not to panic. After six months I’m going to assess everything and establish if this amount needs to be reduced, or hopefully increased.

Once more, it’s a balancing act. I’m keeping a close eye on things and so far, it’s looking about right for now. If anything as things stood I could probably have justified a slight increase.

Money earned: £140.70

Money spent: £665 (Including £300 weekly wage. Remaining £395 technically not spent per se but allocated to rent and tax savings)

Totals for the week

Money earned: £1037.77

Money spent: £833.71 (including £300 wage and allocated savings)

Total banked: £204.06

Closing balance at the end of the week: £2,212.81

Final thoughts on the week

It’s fair to say this week has demonstrated the trials and tribulations of running a business. It can certainly be an emotional rollercoaster at times.

Overall, I’ve had a good week financially.

Ideally, I’d like to pay myself a bigger wage but considering the hours I work I think I do OK. I’m satisfied with the amount I have banked. Some weeks I bank more and some weeks I bank much less. Swings and roundabouts.

If I could offer advice to any founder, it would be try not to panic.

Part of me can’t believe I’m saying that with a straight face.

Seriously though, if there is one thing I have learned it’s that it is important to look at the bigger picture.

For example, look at the month overall rather than one good or bad week. This is particularly important when you run a business that can fluctuate from week to week and season to season.

Oh, and learn to find some balance.

Yes, being self-employed can be stressful, and doesn’t come with the security of a definite salary. But at least no one is trying to stab me with a screwdriver!

Reader’s Response

And to wrap up… what are Carl Reader’s thoughts on the financial habits of our beauty studio boss?

Check out the video below to find out…