How to Start as a Freelance Hairstylist

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Establishing yourself as a freelance hairstylist affords you the flexibility to work where and when you choose. You might rent space in an established salon, travel to clients' homes and places of business or operate a fully-equipped mobile salon.

Services Offered by a Freelance Hairdresser

Stylists provide any combination of services to clients, including washing, conditioning, coloring, cutting, drying and styling hair. They use chemicals to curl or straighten hair. A stylist can assess a client’s hair and scalp and make recommendations for treatment of conditions such as dandruff or breakage. You may decide to offer all of these services, or you may elect to offer just a few, such as a cut and blow dry.

Consider Offering Specialty Services

Alexandria, Virginia-based Rubie Williams started her business as a freelance hairstylist to meet the needs of African American women. Other stylists specialize in individual and group services for special events, such as weddings, bat mitzvahs and quinceaneras. The population demographics of your area can help you find a niche for the styling services you want to provide.

Required Education and Licensure

Hairstylists must be licensed in the state in which they work. The first step toward licensure is completion of a cosmetology program at an accredited school. Depending on the school, the cost to complete a program (typically taking less than a year of full-time study) ranges from $5,000 to $20,000 or more.

Renew your cosmetology license yearly, every other year or as required by your state. In some states, you’ll need proof of continuing education hours to be eligible for renewal.

Costs for Setting Up a Business

As a freelance hairdresser, you'll invest in equipment as well as consumable supplies. You'll also have recurring expenses such as licensing, continuing education and insurance. You will incur additional expenses if you rent space in a salon or operate a mobile salon truck. Some of the expenses you can expect include:

  • Professional equipment and supplies: After deciding what services you will offer, make a list of the items you’ll need to get started. Professional-grade scissors are $300 to $400 or more. Consider what else you need, such as combs, brushes, blow dryers, curling irons, flat irons and other styling tools. You'll need a range of styling products and a larger inventory of these products if you plan to sell products to customers.

  • Insurance: Insurance protects you from the unexpected, such as a client's allergic reaction to a product. If you're renting space in a salon, find out from the owner what is required of freelance hairstylists. Check with your insurance agent about your needs if you travel to clients' homes or run a mobile salon.

  • Mobile salon truck: The cost of the vehicle will be your biggest expense. Consider whether you can provide mobile services by going into clients’ homes and businesses rather than providing a salon on wheels. If you do decide to purchase a mobile salon truck, it may require a significant financial investment.

Create a Price Schedule

Set prices that take your costs into consideration. Check prices for the same services in your area. As a freelance hairstylist, you may find that you can charge less than the competition if your operating costs are lower. Depending on your clientele and your reputation as a stylist, you may be able to charge higher prices for going directly to the client and providing high-end services.

Boston’s Mobile Cuts, which provides men’s grooming services, charges $40 for a style cut and offers elite and executive style services for $55 and $80, respectively. At Styles for Hair Mobile Salon in Fort Worth, you’ll pay $25 for a kid’s cut, $38 for a man’s cut and $48 for a woman’s cut.

Build Your Business

When someone comes to work or arrives at a social event looking great, everyone wants to know the name of the stylist responsible. However, don’t rely on word-of-mouth alone. Have business cards printed and post them wherever others do the same — for example, community bulletin boards, coffee shops and other small businesses. Learn to start conversations with strangers and hand them out to everyone you meet.

Use Social Media

Use one or more social media sites to advertise your services. Encourage new clients to book an appointment by offering special rates. Use printed media such as newspaper classifieds or paper placemats in local restaurants to offer coupons to customers.

A web-based coupon service like Groupon can help you build your business while your customers save money.

Make Community Connections

Join local organizations. There are organizations for small business owners that provide support to start and build your business. Consider joining any organization that is of interest to you, even if it does not relate directly to the beauty business. You’ll meet new people and extend your network.

About Hairdresser Benefits

As a freelance hairstylist, you won't enjoy employer-sponsored benefits such as paid vacations and health insurance. However, there are hairdresser benefits associated with the profession and with being an independent owner. These benefits can include:

  • Wholesale or discount prices on equipment, tools and supplies
  • Tax advantages
  • Invitations to trade shows and training opportunities
  • Flexible schedule