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  • amandamcgerald

So, You Want To Be A Hairstylist...

Updated: Mar 31

Being a stylist is one of the most rewarding careers in the world. Beyond the scissors, combs, and vibrant array of colors lies a profession that intertwines creativity, artistry, and the ability to enhance one's confidence and self-expression. A stylist is not just a hair expert but an artist, crafting not only stunning looks but also uplifting the spirits of those who sit in their chairs. The journey of a stylist is a continual exploration of innovation and self-discovery, where every cut, color, and style becomes a brushstroke on the canvas of individuality. In this article I will walk you through the process of what it takes to become a hair stylist.



Start with "Why"

Why do you want to be a hair stylist?  Yes it is fun and can be quite rewarding, but if you are looking for easy then everyone would pursue it. 


Consider the fundamental question, "Why hair?"


  • Ask yourself "why hair?"... then ask yourself "why" again!

  • Take the inquiry a step further and ask "why" repeatedly, pushing yourself to explore the core of your passion.

  • For instance, if your initial response is, "Because I appreciate the versatility of hair," challenge yourself further with the question, "Why do you value the versatility of hair?"

Continue this process, aiming for a depth of at least 5 levels, to uncover the intricate layers of your motivation and establish a profound connection with your chosen profession.  Now that you have uncovered your true passion into wanting to get involved in this industry, let's get started.



Going to Hair School





What Is Cosmetology School?

In order to earn your hair license, you must complete Cosmetology school, which is an educational institution that teaches the art and science behind Hair, Basic Skincare, Makeup, and Nail Care.  Knowing the science behind the art is key for productivity and safety. 



How Long Is Cosmetology School?

Depending on which program you enlist yourself, as well as what state you are in, the duration of school can range anywhere between 9 to 18 months, more or less.  It is based upon hours.  For example, here in Florida students must complete 1,200 school hours in a cosmetology program, then apply for licensure by examination.


What Will I Learn in Cosmetology School?

This is where the rabbit hole begins.  In school you will touch on a wide variety of subjects to ensure that you are well versed and prepared for your career


The basics covered in school:

  • Hair cutting

  • Coloring

  • Styling techniques

  • Makeup application

  • Nail care

  • Skincare treatments

  • Safety and sanitation practices

  • Client communication

  • Business management skills


If you're seeking to expand your career options, consider specializing in areas such as Nails or Skin. Obtaining additional licenses in these specialties can greatly enhance your skill set and offer a broader range of opportunities in the industry.


Don't Be a "Beauty School Drop Out" 

Statistics show that an average of only 60% - 66% of student complete their cosmetology program obtaining their license.


The Industry Is Thriving

The demand for Hairstylists and Cosmetologists is surging at a rapid annual growth rate of 13%, reflecting the thriving nature of the industry. This expansion is not only a testament to the sector's vitality but also underscores a fundamental truth – the irreplaceable, hands-on artistry and personalized touch provided by Hairstylists and Cosmetologists make it a career immune to outsourcing to AI.  Take that, robots!



Passing The Test!

The goal of finishing cosmetology school is to not just gain skills and knowledge, but to also obtain your actual license.  Even if you are not in a state that requires said license, it is still wise to get it to ensure available options at your fingertips.  Passing the exam is what allows you to earn this license.  And it is in the school's best interest for you to pass as well, and will prepare you for exam day.  Some schools may even provide practice tests.  The top-notch cosmetology schools offer comprehensive education and hands-on experience, ensuring you are well-equipped to successfully pass your licensing exam.



Paying for School 

If you often wonder, “how much is cosmetology school,” there's good news: Cosmetology school is significantly more affordable than traditional college.  A four-year degree can cost anywhere around $60k and higher, where a trade school costs a fraction of that.  In the US, the average cost for cosmetology school is between $15,000 and $20,000.  It is important to consider that in addition to tuition are also the cost of tools and fees for licensing.


Now finding the means to pay for school is also a vital component.  Remember that you are investing in yourself.  Look for available scholarships and grants.  Apply for everything you can.  Schools also usually have a financial aid department.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.  In a world where "student debt" is such a hot topic today, feel confident that at least in this industry you should not be digging yourself into a hole.  As long as you are responsible and have a plan, you should come through the other side of this journey with all the flying colors.


You not only keep the valuable information and lessons taught in school, but also your tools, so choose wisely.  Purchase tools that are of quality, not for obsolescence.  Being cheap costs more in the long-run.



Time Management

The biggest injustice you can do to yourself is to not finish school and get your license. 

In 2021 statistics showed that around 24% of cosmetology students that borrowed federal money did not graduate on time.  The quicker you settle your debt, the lower your out-of-pocket expenses.  


Put together a plan that is right for you.  Take all the classes that your time will allow without overwhelming yourself.  This is where some serious focus comes into play if you want to get through it fast.  Tap into that "Why" Passion and have as much fun learning and creating as possible! 





Getting Your License

Once you graduate.... you apply for your license.  Providing safe and quality services is the name of the game.  This can usually all be done online.  For example, in the state of Florida you must have at least a high school diploma, graduate certificate from cosmetology school, completing 1,200 school hours, and a completed HIV/AIDS course.  Then you can apply for your licensing exam.  It doesn't stop there though.  You will need to renew your license every 2 years. 


Once you’re licensed, the opportunities are endless. Salons, Spas, Fashion Industry, Entertainment... where do you want to go?  What about management?  Where do you want to take this?  Now is the time to focus on experience. 



Doing Hair is Fun, They Said...

As much as working in a salon is fun and rewarding, there may be a few challenges to overcome, both technical and interpersonal.


Technical Challenges:

  • Client Expectations: Meeting diverse client expectations can be challenging. Clients may have specific ideas about their desired style, and stylists must effectively communicate and manage those expectations.  

  • Time Management: Salons are often fast-paced environments, and managing time efficiently to accommodate appointments, walk-ins, and various services can be demanding.

  • Retail Sales: Some salons require stylists to sell products, especially if you are in a salon that has a level system.  For many "creatives", "selling" may not be a natural skill for them.  Balancing technical expertise with salesmanship can be a challenge.  Teach yourself how to Share what you know vs Sell what you know.

  • Scheduling and Flexibility: Managing a flexible schedule, especially during peak times or unexpected situations, can be a challenge for stylists.

  • Continuous Learning: Keeping up with the latest trends, techniques, and product knowledge requires ongoing education. Stylists need to invest time and effort in staying current in their field.

  • Physical Demands: The job involves standing for long periods, repetitive motions, and exposure to chemicals. This physical strain can lead to fatigue and potential health issues.  Staying on top of your health as well as performing self care is vital to the longevity of your career. 


Interpersonal Challenges:

  • Difficult Clients: You will not be able to please everyone.  Dealing with difficult or unhappy clients can be emotionally challenging. Stylists need strong interpersonal skills to handle diverse personalities and resolve issues professionally.  Remember that when dealing with a "Karen" to not take anything personal.

  • Competitive Industry: The beauty and hairstyling industry is highly competitive. Stylists may face pressure to stay ahead of trends, provide excellent customer service, and build a loyal clientele.

  • Handling Criticism: Stylists may receive feedback or criticism, both constructive and negative. Developing resilience and a positive attitude is essential to navigate such situations.

  • Difficult Colleagues: With this being such a competitive industry, you may run into some competitive co-workers.  Especially if you are the new kid on the block.  Stay on the high-road, don't take other's destructive feedback personally, and avoid retaliation.

  • Maintaining Work-Life Balance: The demands of the job, especially during busy seasons, can make it challenging for stylists to maintain a healthy work-life balance.


Addressing these challenges often requires a combination of technical skills, effective communication, ongoing education, personal development, and a strong commitment to customer satisfaction.  Finding a salon that provides support, trainings, and a positive work environment will greatly help you in the tools to navigate any challenges more effectively.


You may need to try a few salons to see what methods and environments work specifically for you.  Your goal is to connect with guests in a meaningful way.  You become their therapist, friend, secret vault, etc.  These are the guests that will stick with you.  And once you find that home spot, do everything you can to keep it a positive space.


The Risks of Starting Out Alone....

At times, we might feel pretty confident, thinking we've got it all figured out and can handle everything solo. While this mindset is pretty bold, it may come with some unwelcome risks.


  • Limited Experience: Lack of hands-on experience and exposure to various hair types and styles may impact the quality of services offered.

  • Lack of Clientele: It takes time to build a loyal clientele, and starting a salon without an existing customer base can be challenging.

  • Financial Strain: Establishing a salon involves significant upfront costs, including rent, utilities, equipment, and supplies. Managing finances and turning a profit can be difficult initially.

  • Marketing and Branding: Developing effective marketing strategies and building a brand identity are crucial. Without a solid plan, it may be challenging to attract clients in a competitive market.

  • Regulatory Compliance: Understanding and complying with local regulations, licensing requirements, and health standards is essential. Non-compliance can lead to fines or closure.

  • Management Skills: Running a salon requires managerial skills, including staff management, inventory control, and customer relations. Lack of experience in these areas can lead to operational challenges.

  • Industry Relationships: Building relationships with suppliers, stylists, and other industry professionals is important for success. Inexperience may hinder your ability to establish these connections.

  • Economic Downturn: Economic factors can impact discretionary spending on salon services. Opening during an economic downturn may pose additional challenges.

  • Competitive Market: The salon industry can be highly competitive. Identifying a unique selling proposition and differentiating your salon from others is crucial.

  • Burnout: The stress of managing a business, coupled with the demands of building a clientele, can lead to burnout, especially without prior industry experience.


Go For The Win!

Whatever your long-term goal is, you want to make sure that you set yourself up for success.  Find a mentor and see who has already done what you want to do.  When it comes to operating a creative business, it is important to really structure a support system unique to you.  Read or listen to books, create new looks, follow strong social profiles.  A few good books that really kept me motivated were Position To Win, a story about how a kid's dream came to reality through perseverance, The E-Myth, understanding the three battling personalities of the Entrepreneur, The Manager, and The Technician, and It's Not Really About the Hair: The Honest Truth About Life, Love, and the Business of Beauty by celebrity stylist, Tabatha Coffey.  Someone else who I closely follow and has been a huge positive influence on my business is Brit Seva.  She went from working the desk at a salon, to owning her own successful salons.  Great managerial insight.


Advise from a Pro...

As of now, I have been in this industry as a working hair stylist for more than 17 years.  3 big take aways from my career thus far all involve growth.


Grow your book... A full book of awesome guests will never get old.

Grow your mind... Never stop learning.  The moment you think you know it all, you've lost.

Grow your brand... Whether you are working for a salon or yourself, there is always something unique about you.  Nurture that.


Cultivating a team and a culture that is truly your own, and empowers others is one of my most rewarding accomplishments.  Our salon team at Fringe Hair Studio is truly one of a kind.  Where professionalism and creativity come to meet everyday.




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