The Lifecycle of a Hairstylist

Francine Thompson is the Founder of HungryHairdressers.com and brings over two decades of experience to her roles as a salon owner, educator, and coach. Her unique style of coaching blends the power of simple systems with personalized strategies to achieve lasting change. Francine is passionate about helping new and struggling stylists actualize their dreams and achieve their goals. She is committed to sharing her wisdom and experience to further the growth of her community of beauty professionals.


It’s funny, isn’t it? To observe a hairstylist at the arc of their career. How they ascend and peak; how some can sustain that momentum, and how some are crushed by it. As a salon owner, I’ve seen different iterations of this same journey countless times. It’s always the same general course and outcome, seasoned by personal choice. It’s something I affectionately call The Lifecycle of a Stylist. Give me 5 minutes with a hairdresser, and I can tell you what phase they are in and what challenges they are most likely facing. For me, as an owner, it is critical to my relationship with my employees to understand this pathway and to be able to provide the right kind of guidance and environment for them at each phase of growth. Below, I break down the 4-Phases: Employment, Growth, Mastery, and Discontent.

 

Phase one: Employment

Many new stylists lack direction after they graduate cosmetology school. Let’s face it; it’s really hard to know how you want to pursue your career when you have never worked in the industry and have no experience in any role. There are many options for new stylists, and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed or just leave a position for something else the minute it becomes uncomfortable. The reality is that EVERY job is uncomfortable in the beginning. The goal is to stay as consistent as possible during this phase. Regardless, a few viable choices for a new stylist are:

  1. Work as an assistant

  2. Commissioned/hourly employee

  3. Rent a booth or suite

  4. Salon Owner

Your main focus should be finding a salon with good continuing education, a supportive boss, a well-known reputation, and a client surplus. Take your time interviewing as many salons as possible to ensure you have the most supportive foundation possible. This will expedite this phase considerably.

Photo Credit: CanvaPro

Some of this work may be very low-paying, and financial supplementation may be needed. It is very common to find a bridge job to ease the financial burden of building a clientele. I like to describe a bridge job as employment that takes minimal mental energy and time, while providing the means to pay your bills. Think waiting tables, babysitting, cleaning houses, driving uber, etc.. I know this doesn’t sound glamorous, and it’s probably not what you had in mind when you set out to be a world-famous stylist, but it is a means to an end. It is helpful to sign on to a bridge job for a specific time frame to know there is an end in sight. This will also allow you to make time-specific career goals based on when your bridge job will end. Example: I will wait tables 3 nights a week for 1 year or until I have 50 clients.


During the Employment Phase, the stylist likely has no reputation and few clients. There is no real momentum for growth; it can feel depressing and even desperate. It is very important to stay consistent and not jump around to different jobs during this phase. Building your career is comparable to building a house. In the beginning, the foundation is the salon you choose to join. When you leave one salon for another, you are essentially wiping out your foundation and starting to build all over again. This is why your main focus should be finding a salon with good continuing education, a supportive boss, a well-known reputation, and a client surplus. Take your time interviewing as many salons as possible to ensure you have the most supportive foundation possible. This will expedite this phase considerably.

 

Phase two: Growth

Consistency is key to client growth. By consistency, I mean:

  • Showing up on time

  • Dressing like a professional

  • Having a thorough consultation

  • Having a good attitude

  • Performing an excellent service

  • Giving product recommendations

  • Rebooking

  • Documenting and sharing your work

The clients are, in most cases, more loyal to the salon than they are to the stylist during this stage.

Photo Credit: CanvaPro

Do this with EVERY client EVERY time.

When you make it your mission to exceed every client's expectations in your chair, you will start to build a solid reputation. It usually takes about 2 years to reach this stage fully. Momentum will start to pick up, and like blowing on an ember, the flames of your career will start to flicker brighter. Toward the end of this phase, a stylist will start to be able to live off of