How to Start Your Own Tattoo Business – The Definitive Guide

Tattoos and body art are fashion statements that have endured for hundreds of years. Today, one in three young adults have at least one tattoo. And the increasing trend for getting inked shows no sign of slowing down.

Do you have a creative passion for body art and want to start a job that you’ll enjoy every day? If so, starting your tattoo shop could be perfect for you. But if you’ve never set up your own business, it can be tricky to know how to begin. Our go-to guide tells you everything you need to know about starting your own tattoo business. From finding premises and getting the right licences to insurance and adverting, get the low-down you need to take those first steps towards running your own successful business.

1) What qualifications do I need to open a tattoo shop?

Strictly speaking, you don’t need any specific qualifications to open your tattoo shop. But you will need a good understanding of how business works if you want to be profitable.

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While there are no formal qualifications required, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the Health and Safety Executive recommendations:

“An employer is … required to provide adequate employee training to ensure that they can carry out their work safely. However, there is no recommended period of study for cosmetic piercing training, and LA [local authority] enforcement officers may have to rely on discussion with newly trained people to establish their competence during work activities.”

“At this time there are no nationally approved training courses available for UK body piercers, although many commercially run courses are available. It is recommended that basic first aid training and infection control guidance be provided as part of any cosmetic piercing training course.”

2) How do you get a tattoo apprenticeship to gain valuable experience of the business?

You want to express your creative flair and cash in on the trend for inking? Firstly, you’ll need some hands-on experience, and the best way to do this is to take up a tattoo apprenticeship in a tattoo parlour. Apprenticeships are in hot demand and can require a significant investment in time and money. You can look online for potential apprenticeship vacancies or go into your local tattoo shop and ask if they are looking for an apprenticeship.

Do it today:

  • Prepare your portfolio of designs. Ideally, you’ll need at least 50 drawings you have completed and coloured to show off your talents.
  • Carefully research the tattoo shop you want to approach before you go in and ask for an apprenticeship. Make sure it is somewhere you would want to work and where your style will fit in. If possible go in and chat with the people who work there.
  • Find a tattoo apprenticeship today on jobs sites like www.indeed.co.uk.

3) How do you get a licence to tattoo so you can start earning money?

It’s a legal essential to get the right licences sorted if you want to be a tattoo artist. Without the correct documentation, you can be prosecuted under health and safety law and face fines or even a jail sentence.

To get a licence to carry out tattooing and other body art procedures, in most cases you’ll need to contact your local council.

The procedures covered by this licence are:

  • Tattooing
  • Semi-permanent skin colouring
  • Cosmetic piecing
  • Acupuncture
  • Electrolysis

If you’re in Greater London (not including the City of London), you’ll need to apply for a Special Treatments Licence. This also covers some additional treatments to those listed above:

  • Massages
  • Manicures
  • Chiropody
  • Saunas

You need to register both yourself and your business premises. And you’ll only be able to work where you are registered. When you apply, you’ll be asked to give details about yourself and your premises. You’ll also need to pay a one-off registration fee, which will vary depending on where you are. It’s likely that your local Environmental Health Officer will inspect your premises. They will check that your premises meet health and safety requirements before granting your licence.

Your tattoo licence will need to be renewed regularly. The date of renewal will vary depending on where you are and can be every 18 months. You’ll also need to pay a fee when you renew.

Do it today:

  • Remember you will need to register both yourself and your business premises.
  • Find contact details for your local council online
  • Make a note of your date of registration and the required renewal date.

 

Are home tattoos legal?

It’s illegal to tattoo someone on unlicensed premises, even if you have a personal licence to tattoo.

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  • As long as you reach strict health and safety guidelines, there is no reason why you can’t get a licence to tattoo in your home.
  • Remember if your home becomes your business premises it can have implications for insurance, so make sure you inform your insurance provider.

4) What laws apply to tattoos or body art in the UK?

There are several laws that you’ll need to be aware of and comply with. These include:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • The Local Government Act 2003
  • The Tattooing of Minors Act 1969 makes it illegal to tattoo someone who is aged under 18 years old. Always ask for ID. As the tattoo artist, it’s you (not the person you tattoo) who will be responsible for the offence and be punished.
  • The Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985
  • Anaesthetics – the Medicines Act 1968

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Know the Department of Health requirements for tattoo shops:

  • Equipment such as needles must be either disposable or sterilised after each use
  • Premises must be clean, and body fluids must be cleaned up. Couches and other furniture disinfected after each client
  • No eating or drinking should be allowed
  • All pigments should be sterile and inert
  • All jewellery should be sterile

5) Finding the right premises to make your business a success

Next, you’ll need to decide on the location of your tattoo shop. Consider things like if it is in an area with a high footfall to increase your number of walk-ins

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If you think you’ve found the perfect spot to open your new tattoo shop, score it against this list of essentials:

  • Do lots of people walk past your new shop every day?
  • Is it beside a road, so even more passers-by will see your store?
  • Is there easy customer parking available nearby?
  • Are there any other tattoo shops in the area? Blackpool is home to the largest number of tattoo shops per capita in the UK. In this seaside town, you’ll find one tattoo parlour for every 2,867 people!
  • How much will it cost you? Is it within your planned budget?

6) Tattoo shop equipment list

You may have an artistic flair. But to run a successful tattoo business, you need specialist equipment. We’ll help you source the right equipment for your tattoo shop.

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Write your list of essential kit. This could include:

  • Tattoo gun
  • Needles
  • Ink
  • Payment equipment – e.g. ApplePay or credit card machine
  • Bed and stool
  • Mirrors
  • Paper towels
  • Health and safety equipment, such as sanitiser and disposable latex gloves
  • Disposable razors
  • Furniture, such as a sofa in your waiting area and window displays to entice customers in.

 

 

7) Writing your tattoo shop business plan for successful trading

Every successful business needs a business plan. This outlines exactly what you aim to achieve. IT can be vital if you’re approaching the bank to ask for a loan to fund your venture. And it’s a useful document to look back on regularly to ensure your business is on track. To get you started, here are some of the critical questions you’ll need to answer in your plan:

  • Who will your customers be?
  • What body art services will you offer?
  • What are your opening hours?
  • Where will your premises be?
  • Will you have more than one shop?
  • What is the current state of the tattoo market in the UK and locally to where you plan to set up?
  • Who is your competition?
  • How will you reach potential new customers?
  • How much money do you think you can make?
  • What are your outgoing costs? – consider things like rent and advertising as well as staff salaries
  • Do you need extra funding

Do it today:

  • Download a free online business planner tool
  • If you prefer to stick to the creative side of the business employ a professional accountant to help you write your business plan.
  • See if you could receive a Start-Up loan from the government here – with loans from £500 to £25,000, this can give you the cash you need to start your tattoo shop.

8) What insurance do I need for my tattoo business?

Insurance might not be the most exciting thing to think about, but it is one of the most important if you want your tattoo business to succeed. There are lots of risks that your new company will face. No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen. And in today’s no-win, no-fee society it’s easier than ever for a member of the public to launch a claim against you. Luckily, you can protect your livelihood when you take out insurance to cover the financial costs of these risks.

Most tattoo shops will need the following areas of insurance:

  • Premises insurance to cover the building from things like fire and flood.
  • Specialist equipment insurance. You’ll have specialist equipment that will need protecting from everything from fire to theft. Make sure your specialist equipment is included in your contents insurance, and take care not to underestimate the value of your kit. If you do, and the worst does happen, you could find yourself out of pocket.
  • Public liability insurance. This covers you for claims of injury or damage to property from members of the public. This can include things like claims for allergic reactions or if you are accused of causing an infection.
  • Employer’s liability insurance. This is a legal essential if you employ any members of staff. Similar to public liability insurance for tattoo shops, it instead covers you for claims of injury or damage to property brought against you by a member of staff.
  • Sexual allegations. The nature of your tattoo business means you’ll often be working in intimate areas and in very close contact with people. You may also often be working on your own. These factors can increase your risk of sexual allegations being made against you. So make sure your insurance will cover your legal fees to defend your case.

 

Do it today:

The easiest way to find the right tattoo shop insurance at the best price is to speak to as many specialist insurance companies as you can. Alternatively, talk to a specialist independent insurance broker, which will source the best price on your behalf. If you’re new to running your tattoo shop, using an experienced insurance broker can give you a real advantage. They’ll understand your business and can provide you with help and guidance to ensure you get the right cover for your needs.

9) Register your business with HMRC

You need to register your new tattoo business with HMRC as either a sole trader, limited company or partnership. The way you do this depends on the size and type of business. You need to register for tax if you have a VAT taxable turnover of more than £85,000.

Do it today:

  • Read guidance on the different types of businesses at gov.uk
  • Calculate your VAT taxable turnover
  • Keep careful records of everything you spend on your new tattoo business as well as the money you make.
  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) can be a good place to look to find a reputable accountant near you to help with tax and business planning.

10) Advertising your new tattoo studio

Choosing to site your new tattoo shop beside a busy pavement or next to a road is one way to make sure potential clients know about your business. But there are lots of other ways you can advertise yourself too. By making sure people know about your business and any special offers or expertise that you have, you can increase your number of customers and significantly increase your profit margin.

Do it today:

  • Use social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to showcase your work. If people like what they see, they will come to you.
  • Don’t forget your shop window is a potential large advert for your business. Make the most of it with a display that will catch attention and draw clients in. For inspiration look at these tattoo studios

In summary

It’s not easy to decide to start a new business. But be bold, and you could be rewarded with riches. Starting your tattoo shop can be a very financially lucrative move. If you have a passion for creativity and a smart head for business, you can make the most of the enduring fashion for body art. Just make sure you get the essential paperwork sorted to stay on the right side of the law and plan carefully with your head, not your heart. Do this, and your tattooing skills could be making you money in no time at all. And you’ll have a job you know you’ll look forward to going to every day.