The one thing that holds back many aspiring entrepreneurs from chasing their dreams is the fear of failure. But what if we told you it's often the mishaps along the way that contribute to your success and provide crucial business lessons? In fact, most successful female business leaders made mistakes along the way that actually benefited their careers. Los Angeles–based esthetician to the stars Kate Somerville believes "a mistake is really a blessing because you learn from it"—and when Kate offers career advice, we listen.
After suffering "horrible eczema" as a child, Kate embarked on a personal search for remedies to heal her own skin. She turned her passion into a hugely successful business with an adoring celebrity fan base that includes actors Ruby Rose, Lily James, Vanessa Hudgens, Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick and Bella Thorne. From her popular Skin Health Experts clinic on Melrose Place to self-titled global skincare line and best-selling book, Complexion Perfection, we can't help but wonder what her secret is. Well, our inquisitive nature finally got the better of us, and we asked her. From her morning routine to the mistakes she's made along the way, scroll down to discover Kate Somerville's key business advice and tips for success.
MYDOMAINE: When did you first discover beauty could be a business and a career?
KATE SOMERVILLE: Skincare is more to me than just my job; it’s my calling. Growing up, I had horrible eczema, and I looked for different remedies to solve my own skin issues. That’s how I got into skincare, because I knew what it was like to feel uncomfortable in your own skin, and I wanted to help people. Changing skin really does positively impact lives. When I began my education in the field of esthetics over 20 years ago, I knew I wanted to focus on skin health, so I decided to work side by side with doctors to complement their services. I then made my dream of having my own clinic a reality.
MD: How has the beauty industry changed since you first launched?
KS: When I opened my Skin Health Experts clinic, we didn’t have any budget for advertising (I still have never advertised), so all of our awareness came from PR and our large celebrity fanbase. The retailers came to me because my celebrity clients were talking in the press: I was really fortunate. The bigger brands had huge marketing and advertising dollars, and it would have been really hard to compete. Now niche brands have the ability to promote their products and build awareness for free through digital and social media. It has completely changed the playing space.
MD: Do you think it's harder or easier for beauty entrepreneurs to start out today?
KS: In some ways harder, in other ways easier: It’s harder because there is so much competition today. If you’re going to play in the big arena, you have to have money behind you. When I opened my clinic 11 years ago, celebrities would talk about my brand in the press because they genuinely believed in it. Now everyone is being endorsed, and in many cases, you have to pay just to get a mention. Organic mentions are much harder to get. It’s easier because digital media has allowed small brands a free advertising platform.
MD: Do you think women need a mentor in order to break through the glass ceiling?
KS: I do think it’s great to have a mentor to help guide you through the process, but you must have your own compass no matter what. I was told “It can’t be done” many times, but I was determined to do it, and I did it. If you have a vision, you need to stick with it. Get opinions, but follow your heart and intuition first.
MD: Who has been your greatest mentor?
KS: The greatest mentor in my life was a woman named Barbara Wells. She was my boyfriend’s mother, and she took me in young. She had unconditional love, but tough love. I had a tumultuous upbringing, and my mom was an alcoholic. When I was 20, she told me, “You have a choice of what you want your life to be. You can either dwell on your childhood and the past or you can make your life what you want it to be.” You don’t know that there are choices when you’re a kid and your life feels out of control. Barbara let me know I had a choice and changed my life personally and professionally from that moment on.
MD: What's your morning ritual? How does it set you up for a successful day?
KS: I like to take time in the morning to reflect and meditate or spend time soaking in the tub. Disconnecting from technology and being focused on my family in the morning is another way I stay centered and happy.
MD: How do you adjust to scale as your business grows?
KS: Learn to delegate! You have to know when you’re not servicing the business to your capacity. I’m not a great numbers person, so I knew when I needed to get a CFO. Know your strengths and weaknesses and bring in the right management to help you.
MD: How important has your book, Complexion Perfection, been to your professional profile and building the Kate Somerville brand?
KS: The greatest honor with my book was when schools started using it as a textbook for estheticians. I wanted to write this book for consumers but also for my fellow estheticians. I helped pioneer paramedical esthetics and I wanted to share what I learned. My book definitely helped reinforce the Kate Somerville brand as an authority in paramedical esthetics.
MD: What does "having it all" mean to you?
KS: When I was in my 20s, “having it all” meant building a brand and being married with kids. I was really driven to do something big. Now that I’ve achieved that, “having it all” to me is having time. A lot of my time has been spent building the dream of my 20s. Now I want to spend my time being a wife and a mother and in nature (where I think most creatively). My idea of success now is less about the “things” and more about the time.
MD: If there was one lady boss you could power brunch with who would it be?
KS: Oprah. She’s one of the most powerful women in the world, and she overcame so many obstacles to get there. Who wouldn’t want a brunch with her?
MD: Do you have a group of women around you that inspire and drive you?
KS: What inspires me most is hearing the personal skincare stories of my clients, friends, and the Kate Somerville team. It’s such an emotional thing, to feel comfortable in your own skin. Everyone has their own personal skincare journey, but seeing someone overcome their skin challenges is what this is all about for me. It feeds my soul and is what I love most about what I do.
Girlfriends are so important to my happiness. They’re your sounding board, the people you can celebrate with and lean on when you need a pick-me-up. My girlfriends (whether or not they have kids and/or husbands, work or stay at home) all understand. What we find out with girlfriends is that we are not alone.
MD: What advice do you have for women looking to achieve your success in business?
KS: Take time for yourself. I love being a wife and a mother and a businesswoman, but with so much going on, it’s important to take time for yourself in order to be your best. Small luxuries (like relaxing in a beautiful bath with candles lit) allow me to recharge so I can continue to give to my family and my business. Also, delegation is key. Know what your strengths and weaknesses are, and hire the people you need to. I am an esthetician first and businesswoman second, so it’s important to have the right team in place.
MD: What attributes do you look for in your staff at Kate Somerville?
KS: I look for people who are passionate and will fit in well with my team. It’s really important that everyone works well together. I have so many team members who have been with me from the very beginning. What’s most important to me is that they are authentic and a giver. At Kate Somerville, we heal people (whether you’re on the marketing team or an esthetician), so you have to be a giver.
MD: What are some of the key questions you always ask in an interview?
KS: Interviews are tricky, because someone can interview great but not be the right fit for the job. It takes three months to get to know someone. Make sure in the interview that their experience really matches the position, but also follow your intuition.
MD: How important is a good résumé or cover letter?
KS: If someone has a good résumé, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good fit. Aside from confirming that they have strong and relevant experience, I focus most on the in-person interview. What’s most important to me is that they’re passionate and will fit in well with our team.
MD: What mistakes have you learned from and even benefited from in your career?
KS: So many, but I believe a mistake is really a blessing because you learn from it. Here are a few I’ve made along the way:
• If you hire someone and it’s not a fit, don’t let it linger too long.
• Success can be a negative thing. You have to manage your cash flow. Too much of a good thing can hurt you.
• Don’t ever put all your eggs in one basket. Focusing on just one retailer/client is too risky. Make sure to diversify your retailers or clients.
Discover the Kate's skincare secrets in her best-selling book below.
To learn more about Kate's incredible business, visit katesomerville.com.
What mistakes have you made in your career? How did they benefit your business?