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Insights from the PMU Industry with Lili Ma

In this episode, we’ll explore Lili Ma’s early career journey and gain insights into the PMU industry, along with tips on growing your PMU business in 2023.



Welcome to Inked Up where we dive into the fascinating world of permanent makeup.

This podcast is brought to you by Highstoke, your trusted PMU growth partner, helping permanent makeup artists succeed through marketing, branding and scaling strategies.

Join us in each episode as we unravel the secrets of this ever-evolving industry and provide valuable insights to help you thrive as a PM E artist.

Danny Tran: 

All right.

So we are live and like I said, we have a very, very exciting guest for you all today.

We have the one and only Lily Ma.

Hello, let’s go.

Like I was just telling everybody we have the one and only Lily Ma here.

A quick intro, I’ve known Lily for a couple of years now and she is a beast.

She’s, she’s amazing.

And Lily Ma for those of you who don’t know, she is a master artist trainer, educator, international speaker.

She does so many things.

And today, Lily, I’m just really excited to go over a little bit about, you know, your journey, highlighting you as an artist.

How you guys started this business and guys, let’s make this super engaging to you’re here right now.

Show us some love in the comments.

Say hi, give us a heart, say hi to Lily.

And, yeah, let’s, let’s kind of take it back from the beginning.

Lili Ma:

I didn’t know anything about permanent makeup.

All I knew was I loved being in the beauty industry and that was it.

That’s all I knew I knew since I was 12 years old that I loved makeup and there was nothing else that was going to make me do anything else.

And so I knew I love makeup.

I knew I loved making people feel beautiful and I just kind of stumbled into this business.

I, when I first started, I did make first as a like a freelance makeup artist did people’s makeup.

And so I had a lot of experience with eyebrow shaping and what we call now eyebrow mapping.

So I had really good feedback from my clients at that time that they love my eyebrow work because of just makeup.

So then I had my brows micro bladed and it came out great and I love what my brow look like.

I love waking up feeling beautiful and how confident I felt after microblading.

And so I started looking into a program here in Calgary.

And what essentially happened was I enrolled in the program and I just kind of started one by one doing a client here and there.

And I really just fell in love with the art I fell in love with the art first, which is the nano brows technique and the microblading technique and the hair stroke technique.

And then eventually I fell in love with the business aspect of it as well.

And now flash forward, it’s been eight years being in this industry and it’s just so incredible because I started out with microblading and then I went into nano brows and now it shaded strokes.

So what the industry is telling you is that strokes will never go out of style strokes will always be in and within these eight years, it’s just different variations of it and I just love it.

No, no, no.

That’s, that’s amazing.

So yeah, you know, in such a short span.

and again, I’ve been acknowledging and, and observing everything that you’ve been doing for the past couple of years, but walk us through like the business aspect side of things because I know a little bit about your story obviously, but to share with everybody here like the grind and the hustle and the work that you had in the beginning, I love the feeling of making people feel beautiful in their own skin.

And so I just love that aspect.

And with that knowing what I loved, it just snowballed into so many different avenues of business for me.

So when I found out, I think it was maybe client number five that I had done.

And so I got clients from kind of like my friends and family, of course, first.

So some people that trusted me, but, you know, I did some makeup so I had a little bit more trust built from doing actual makeup and so friends, family and I tattooed them first and then I think it was client number five and I was like, wow, I just spent four hours literally doing what I love.

And in a blink of an eye, it’s been four hours like it didn’t feel the same as when I was working at a restaurant as a server, four hours would feel like an eternity for me at a restaurant as a server.

And so that’s when I knew right from the beginning that I was going to love what I was gonna do.

And from there, I figured out ways to do it more.

So how did I do it more?

I started to post more on Instagram and I started to find more models charging really, really cheap, even free at some points for sure.

And so I would do promotions.

What I would do is I would tattoo my client, which was at that time, like $100 maybe even $50 at that point.

And I’d be like, hey, so if you love your brows refer a friend and I’ll give you a free touch up and then just thinking about ways where I can like, give them, give my client that I currently have in my chair, some sort of reward for recommending me more of their friends to come to me.

So I was just thinking of ways to do that.

And one of them is like the referral program.

So having them refer their friends to me, I was going to give them a free touch up.

And I would be like, but if you didn’t, I would have to charge like, like $50 for that touch up and then they’re like, ok, I’ll just, you know, and your price is so cheap that like it just makes sense for people to try it out.

And of course, the end tag line is always like, why don’t you try it?

Like what is holding you back there is nothing to lose from this.

And from there, I started to of course, post more, get more recommendations, offer more discounts, more feels and because I touch skin so much and I started to tattoo five days a week.

I was able to quit my side job, which was serving at that time and doing like makeup on the side.

I was, I was, I had three jobs at the time and I was able to slowly quit those jobs and do permanent makeup full time.

And I remember I was able to, to do that after two years of being certified with permanent makeup.

Danny Tran:


And then that, that’s amazing.

And so I, I love that how you always share that it was like the grind and the hustle and so inspiring, especially in the beginning and you were essentially working in, it was like a home studio for the longest time.

Lili Ma:


So out of the eight years that I was tattooing and I had a full blown business, I had 50,000 followers on Instagram at that time.

And for five years, I tattooed at my legal home business.

Legal, legal home business


So in certain parts of Canada, it is legal and you are able to have a business license within your house and do that legally.

So that’s what I did.

I did clients every single day in my basement and I put in the work, saved a lot of money.

I’ll tell you right now I saved a lot of money and I had way less headaches.

And I mean, if your city allows that, definitely jump into that opportunity.

If your city does not, then of course, look into other avenues where you can share a space with somebody so that the cost is a little bit lower to rent a space like as in like share a spot, like have three days for yourself, three days for someone else or, and vice versa, you know, and so figuring out things that will break down your cost so that you make more and, and, and then from there, you can invest in yourself more invest in marketing, investing, have more free time over time.

Danny Tran:

Love it, love it so much.

I, and, and I, I love how you bring that up because I feel like especially in this industry, what we find a lot is that people are spending a lot of unnecessary expenses when they need to be focusing that time, effort and energy on.

Actually the things that’s getting them money.

A K A new clients.

So I’m glad that you brought that up.

I don’t know if you guys have seen Lily social media, but I feel like you have no breaks.

All gas

No breaks.

It’s literally every week.

If you guys go to everyone, I want everyone after this to go, not only follow the, but look at her tour dates.

Lili Ma:

It’s like one weekend, but I mean, I have no excuses.

I have no Children.

I, I just love what I do, you know.

So, and even if you have Children, you can still love what you do, but I have no excuses.

I work on weekends.

Danny Tran:


So let’s dive more into the technique because obviously you’ll be A PM U world, you’ll be going over nano brows and I know you touched a little bit in the beginning.

But what can people look forward to specifically with your presentation?

So how to stretch the skin properly, how to correctly bring the hair flow of the hair strokes into the brows so that you can create a structured look like this.

Oh Where Amanda’s presentation

We’re gonna be creating the fluffy look as well where some people only want a little bit here and there and they don’t want the full blown structured brow like me.

So it’s a great thing about knowing the two techniques within our presentation is that we’re able to cover both types of clientele because we usually have two types of clienteles with that walk into the door when they want permanent makeup on their brows.

They either want it bold structured and almost like an ombre brow, but still hair strokes or they want it that no one knows, no one knows that they got permanent makeup done and they want it so soft that you don’t see anything.

They just want to fill in some gaps.

So what our presentation will really go over is really those two techniques so that you can have that really clean look, which is all the hair shows are in a nice row in a line and getting that really clean healed results versus the shaded look where you’re going to be able to just fill in gaps and give that never been tattooed kind of look.

So that’s what we are going to specialize in, in our presentation.

Danny Tran:

Love it.

And how do you feel about having Amanda up on stage with you?

Lili Ma:

Yeah, I know that we enjoy all of our other presentations that we have done together.

She’s been by my side and helping me giving me ideas during my speech and everything like that.

So honestly, with her being on stage, it’s not gonna be any different than what we’ve seen before.

It’s gonna be if anything way better, way better.

Danny Tran:

We have a question, I think it’s going back to your marketing and business advice when you start with cheap prices.

How did you know when to raise them?

Lili Ma:

And I know is when by one a month is fully booked?


So if you are at, let’s say 250 price point and the month of February, you’re trying to book out your 250 price point and you’ve done all your marketing.

You’re saying like friends, family, let’s book, let’s book and half of it’s filled.

You’re, you’re only filled from February 1st to February 15th.

That’s not time to raise your prices.

That’s not time you raise your prices when all of February is filled and you’re booking into March because price is it is by demand, right?

The more demand there is on a product, the higher the price point.

If there’s not enough demand, then you can’t raise the price because there’s not enough value for people to want to purchase that at that moment.

But demand can be created, right?

It’s been, it can be created through your work, how you advertise it, how you, how you say what it is in a package deal.

And Danny talks about this in his presentation is, you can package it in a way.

That sounds better.

That sounds better when they buy something like they buy their nano brows.

They get a free touch up, they get free mapping service, they get an aftercare kit.

It’s the way you package it.

And then from there you can, you know, start to sell a little bit more and then do more clients.

But again, it’s all by demand.

Like if, if you raise your prices a little bit too soon, it actually will kick you in the butt and then you’ll find yourself not fully booked out.

Danny Tran:

Yeah, one of my favorite things about interviewing Lily is that she’s just super blunt and I feel like there’s a lot of people out there that just kind of raise their prices on a whim or they’re like, oh, my trainer said I should be charging this much when in reality, there’s so many variables that affect them.

Lili Ma:

We have a lot of PMU artists are really good that are really good.

So we have to start a little bit lower because we have people like Shay Danielle who is really good.

We have people like Hoy tattoo who’s an expert.

Yes, it is a little bit harder to charge like $1000 right away.

Danny Tran:

I love it.

So there’s two questions I’m gonna ask the first one first.

And someone basically said they’ve worked for a year and they didn’t make more than 5000, so they want to give up.

I think this is a very important,, point to address.

So, for, let’s say, an artist who’s been either looking to get into the industry, they’re sort of new or let’s say they’ve been in the game for the past year or so and they’re just not getting any traction and they’re feeling like, you know what, it’s not working.

Lili Ma:

Yeah, I understand that.

My first year I wasn’t making like a lot of money if anything I was breaking even, right?

You were breaking even from what you invested in the course products and then what you actually did for your services, right?

You break even.

And so first year most businesses break even most businesses.

So it doesn’t matter if it’s PMU, Restaurant or any business, you’re most likely going to break even because of the investment that was taken to do the service.

I think it breaks down to.

You really have to understand and break it down.

Like do you love what you currently do?

Do you love this?

If you love permanent makeup, you love making people feel beautiful and you love the feeling that you get after you offer this service to somebody and you love connecting with people, then you should continue this because what is the alternative?

Making people feel beautiful, offering the service continuing and not giving up or do you go back back to your 9 to 5 desk job where you’re not going to be giving as much out there.

And maybe it’s not as fulfilling, what is the alternative?

That’s where you have to weigh.

Yes, money is important.

It is very important because it’s survival.


But at the end of the day, we have to love what we do in order for us to continue and be 60 be like, why didn’t I continue that business?

I should have, I should have done that at that point and that you should never have regrets.

So, really dig deep down.

If you’re at that point, at your lowest point, you have to understand and really write down.

What do you love about this service?

What do you love about permanent makeup?

What do you love about giving that feeling and what do you love about your other job and weigh the options?

Danny Tran:

That was, that was amazing.

Thank you so much for that.

There’s a lot of questions around like structure around the event we’ll go into that.

We’ll have a whole like section that I’m gonna ask questions about that.

So anything around like PB world structure and experience, we’ll talk about in the next couple of minutes here.

But Lily and anything else to, you know, let the audience know in terms of what to look forward to when it comes to your presentation specifically

Lili Ma:

If you are really struggling with your healed results and you’re not getting 100% retention or 80% retention with your hair strokes.

This presentation will help you because I really teach basically what I know is that what I know is my product and I know that the nano brow technique gives you best retention for all skin types.

And that’s what you’re gonna gain at this presentation is you’re gonna be able to offer hair show techniques to all skin types.

You don’t have to worry about oily skin.

You don’t have to worry about mature skin.

You don’t have to worry about sensitive skin and coffee and all those things that you shouldn’t have to worry about and turning clients away.

Never again.

So when you leave my presentation, you will be 100% so that you don’t ever want to microblade again and you want to pick up that machine and be able to tattoo all skin types.

So I microblade for one year before I transitioned to Nano brows.

And the one of the reasons I discontinued doing that service was because I was telling clients that I can’t do them based on their skin type based on their age or something like that.

I just could not do it.

And at that time, I didn’t know how to do the shading technique.

It was not popular.

People didn’t want powder brows eight years ago.

So I had to turn clients away.

And through there, I was like there has to be a better way.

Like I can’t turn 50% of my clients away just because I, they are not a candidate for my service.

Then, who am I gonna tattoo?

So then I started researching and I found Alan Spadol on Instagram.

And he recently followed me, by the way, he’s got like 500,000 followers and he’s like a celebrity in Brazil.

Pretty much I saw his page and he was doing the nano brow technique and this was in 2015 that I saw.

He was doing the nano brow technique.

I was like, OK, OK.

And so I ended up buying a machine and slowly teaching myself that technique.

And since then, I never turned back, I never ever wish that I could microblade a set of brows because again, with this technique, you never have to turn people away hairstroke stay, 80% retention.

It’s just, it’s just you don’t, who doesn’t want to use a PM U machine versus a microblade.

There’s just so many less variables when you’re doing.

If you’re physically and emotionally not ready to tattoo someone because you didn’t have the right training or just was not all together, then at least at the bare minimum, try eyebrow mapping.

Do some eyebrow mapping every single day, shake someone’s brows every single day, rest stretch their skin, you know.

So is this is all part of touching someone’s face because once you get brow mapping, do like down as a technique and you’re not scared of brow mapping and touching their face and stretching their skin and getting up close.

Then the tattooing part is gonna feel less daunting.

So I, that’s my first suggestion, touch skin, stretch skin, do something with skin.

You just got to get in there.

I don’t know why, but a lot of people, I find my students included, don’t want to tell their friends and family that they are now tattooing faces for a living.

And I don’t, I don’t know why because this is, these are gonna be the people that you’re gonna be tattooing right off the bat and that you need their support.

And so what I would do is I would convert my personal Instagram into my business Instagram, delete all the random pictures you have going out on New Year’s Eve, delete them all and then change the name to your new business name.

And now this is now your business page and all your friends and family is all on there watching.

So that’s my second tip for you.

And the third tip is really, I would try to I would check out the competition in your city.

check out their work, compare their pictures and see what they’re doing.

So a lot of people, what I see is they, they feel a little bit intimidated by some of the girls in their city that are doing well.

But when someone’s doing well as in like another person.

They’re doing well in permanent makeup and they’re doing something good.


Follow their pattern.

Copy them, copy every single thing they’re doing.

I know that sounds weird but it’s a blueprint, especially on Instagram.

It’s a blueprint.

So when I first started I was obviously not good, not good.

You’ll see some of my not cute work really soon here I’ll post it

I’ll make it my most recent for you guys to see.

It was not good.

But then there were people that were really good in my city and one of them was for tattoo.

She’s really good.

She started before me and she was very good.

And so I started to look at her page and I started to mimic the way that she would take pictures because I knew her pictures were working.

And so I started to angle it in a way that I knew that she was kind of doing it.

And at some point, everyone started doing it the same, you know, so when you see someone that you look up to that, you know, that they’re doing well, you know, they do good work, copy their blueprint, beautiful.

Danny Tran:

I love that so much.

I love, I also love how you’re not in like the scarcity mindset, right?

And I, every time that we talk, there’s always this mentality of like let’s collaborate, let’s live together.

There’s enough piece of the pie for everybody.

Let’s advance the industry together.

And I just love how you always have that approach versus I, I think sometimes there’s like this, OK, like there’s always this competition versus that is so it shows a lot of empathy

Lili Ma:

it just shows a lot to be able to let other people also do better than you.


I’m good at this.

I’m good at nano brows.

I’m good at this, but Amanda is gonna be good at shaded strokes and that’s fine.

Like she can be the queen of shaded shows.

She can be queen of nano too.

You know, everyone’s gonna have their thing and, and that’s ok.

You know, if every single PMU artist in this world was really, really good, the PMU industry would blow up.

Danny Tran:

Lily, thank you so much for coming on today, hanging out with us.

You guys, you guys cannot Miss Lily.


Thank you for joining us on this PMU journey.

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Don’t miss out on our upcoming episodes and exciting PM E news until next time.

Keep creating beauty one stroke at a time.

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