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How to Become a Hairstylist in 9 Easy Steps

12-minute read

A hairstylist wearing a face mask works to style a client's hair, who is sitting in a chair and also wearing a face mask.
Simply Business

Simply Business

16 February 2021

You've gotten your hair cut and styled before, but now you want to be the one holding the shears.

Being a hairstylist is a great way to pursue your creative and entrepreneurial dreams, but like most professions, it isn't as easy as snapping your fingers — it takes hard work and a lot of dedication to learn how to become a hairstylist.

What does that hard work look like? Everyone's path to become a hairstylist looks a little different, but we're here to review the steps to begin your journey.

By the end of this article, you'll learn how to evaluate which educational program is best for you, what you need to do to protect your budding business, and more.

Ready? Let's jump in.

How to Become a Hairstylist

1. Evaluate a cosmetology or hairstylist school.

To learn how to be a hairstylist, you'll need to have training and practice under your belt. You may have researched and found different names for these schools, such as cosmetology school, hairstylist school, hair design school, and beauty school.

What's the difference between them?

A cosmetology or beauty school may teach hair styling as part of its curriculum, while also including more versatility to their students; they also may have classes on skincare, makeup, etc.

Hairstyling or hair design schools, however, have programs that focus on the art of cutting, coloring, and styling hair. There are a few different aspects you should consider when choosing the program that's right for you.

Accreditation

Each school's program is different and can prepare you for a career in hairstyling by offering different skills and experiences. One thing to look out for is whether or not the courses available to you are accredited to teach how to be a hairstylist.

Generally, being accredited means the school has been evaluated by an accrediting organization that has determined the school maintains a certain level of educational standards. The programs at accredited schools will most likely do a better job of preparing you for your state licensing exams (which we'll get to later on) and how to become a hairstylist.

Check to see if the program you're considering is accredited by one of these organizations:

  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)

Cost

You may be wondering how much hairstylist school costs, and that's a good question, because it should be something you factor into your overall decision.

The costs of programs vary, but on average, programs range from $10,000-$20,000.

Keep in mind that this cost doesn't include other costs of living, such as room, board, etc.

Don't be scared away by sticker shock. Remember that there are sacrifices you can consider making and financial help available via loans, grants, and more.

Program length

How long does it take to complete a program and become a hairstylist? Remember, the longer it takes, the longer you'll have to wait to start earning money.

But sometimes longer programs offer training that shorter programs don't. On average, programs take 12-24 months to complete. But keep in mind that will differ by the state you're in. In some states, programs will take 1,000 hours for example, where in others, they'll take 1,500 hours.

Take the length of the program into consideration when weighing your options.

Depending on the program you choose, you may find that a program that takes longer to complete is justified, given what you'll learn.

School brand name and connections

Ever heard the phrase "It's who you know"? Well, in this case, it may be true. Pay attention to the name of the school you're considering. Is the program one that's well-known?

Some schools have the ability to introduce you to mentors and alumni in their network, and these connections can come in handy at different times in your career. Consider how well your program's name is represented in the industry when choosing a hairstyling school.

2. Do training hours/apprenticeship.

School is only one part of the equation when it comes to becoming a hairstylist. While you will be learning in class, you'll also learn how to be a hairstylist by doing. Each school has different requirements for training hours needed to complete its program.

During training, aspiring hairstylists will learn to cut, color, and style hair, but they'll also learn a lot more about the day-to-day activities of working with clients in a salon.

Many programs have training that also involves learning safety procedures, booking appointments, cleaning the salon, and more.

Sometimes the training hours required are specified by the program, and other times they're specified by the state board. Each state is different.

If you attend school in one state but plan to work in another state after graduation, be sure to check how many training hours are required so that you can be prepared for the other state's licensing exam and requirements.

Most programs require anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 hours of training hours, or more. While many programs work to incorporate training hours into the regular program curriculum, some may allow students to complete their training hours while working at a salon licensed in the state and approved for training.

Always check with your specific program to understand which requirements you need to meet for practice hours.

3. Take your state board or licensure exam.

At the end of your hairstylist training, you'll most likely be required to take a licensing exam, also referred to as your state board exam. These exams are specific to the state you're in, meaning that if your school is in one state and you plan to work in another state, the exams are different.

There are different parts that make up the licensure exam: a written exam and a practical exam. Some states, like New York, require both the written and the practical exams; other states, like Florida, require only the written exam.

The cost of your board exam differs depending on which state you're in. You can check here to learn about your state's requirements.

Note: Your state may not require licensure, but you still may want to invest in one. We'll discuss that later in this article.*

4. Decide on working style.

When you're in the process of taking your courses and completing your practice hours, you'll notice that there are different working styles available for you once you graduate and get your license.

Some hairstylists choose to work in a salon, while others decide to be self-employed, working as a mobile hairdresser. There are benefits and drawbacks with each working style, but it's all about what's best for you.

Working at a salon has its advantages, especially as a new stylist. The salon helps you with booking appointments and with marketing so you can focus on providing the best experience for your clients. Typically, stylists employed by a salon will earn a commission.

And being in a salon environment gives you a good taste for the business side of the industry, which is important for hairstylists to understand. It's not just about the styling, after all!

Different salons will have different options for working in their space. Some will allow you to rent a chair or booth and give you a commission of sales off any products you sell.

Keep in mind that if you decide to rent a chair or booth, you will be responsible for a lot of expenses — like specific hair care tools, hair coloring products, etc. You'll also most likely be responsible for filing your taxes as a self-employed stylist.

Outside of the salon, some stylists choose to become mobile hairdressers. They either work independently as freelancers full time or do mobile hairdressing on the side, outside of the salon.

Here are a few types of work a mobile hairdresser may do:

  • At-home hair appointments (cut, color, and style)
  • Wedding styling
  • Senior citizen nursing home visits
  • Styling for hotel guests
  • And more

Deciding to become a mobile hairdresser may open up doors to expand your clientele in ways a salon may not, but keep in mind that if you go this route, you should consider insurance. We'll tell you why in the next section.

5. Get hair stylist business insurance coverage.

You may associate insurance coverage with the protection of your car, your house, and your health, but your hair styling business may not come to mind.

Business insurance is coverage that can help protect your business from claims of bodily injury to another person, third-party property damage or accidents, or your negligence.

You may not think there's a chance of something happening to you at work that requires protection, but consider this: Even if you don't make a mistake, a client can choose to sue you for any number of reasons. When you're thinking about how to become a hairstylist, remember this: 43% of small businesses are threatened with or involved with civil lawsuits at some point.

There is risk when you decide to become a hairstylist. As you read above, the process of becoming a hairdresser takes a lot of time, money, and effort. Would you want one mistake to jeopardize your financial future?

Getting business insurance can't necessarily keep you outside that statistic above, but coverage could help protect you against the consequences of a lawsuit.

Let's look at a few examples:

A woman comes to the salon for a cut and color consultation. She has dark hair and wants her hair colored a hot pink. You can do it, but you explain that first, you'd recommend bleaching her hair so that the pink color “takes” better. Otherwise, the hot pink may not be noticeable because of her dark hair.

The woman doesn't want to pay the extra cost of bleaching her hair, also arguing that she doesn't have the time to go through that process. But she insists on coloring her hair at that appointment.

You color the woman's hair and true to your prediction, the woman's hair doesn't look much different — and it certainly isn't the hot pink color she was aiming for. She decides to sue you for the original cost and demands you fix it for free.

Having hairstylist business insurance could help to cover the cost of the initial appointment and the time you spent "fixing" her hair color. It also may cover some of the legal costs associated with the case if there are lawyers involved.

Without a hairstylist policy, though, you may need to pay your client directly out of your own pocket. That could jeopardize the money you planned to spend on your chair rental the next month, supplies you need for other clients, and more. That could be tough to afford.

David Johnson, former Director of Paul Mitchell The School (Ft. Lauderdale) and a professional hairstylist and co-owner of Prosperite Salon in Upstate New York, explains "If they're gonna be freelancers, like doing weddings or something on weekends, they absolutely have to have their own insurance."

And that's smart, because salons may have insurance that covers liability while you're working there, but there's a good chance it won't cover any damages that occur outside the salon as a mobile hairdresser.

For example, if you worked as a mobile hairdresser and accepted a job to style for a wedding party, a policy could come in handy. The bride schedules a hair trial to try different styles that she has in mind for the big day.

While styling, you accidentally burn her forehead with the curling iron, and it's noticeable. She isn't happy and decides to get facial treatments to help reduce the scarring before her big day.

She sues you, asking you to pay for the cost of her treatment and the cost of the trial session, which didn't go as planned. Hairstylist insurance could help cover the cost of reimbursement for the scar treatment, as well as for the cost of the initial appointment.

Johnson also explains that if you do work in a salon and rent a booth as an independent contractor, you will need your own insurance policy. Some salons will insure hairstylists if they're full time employees but it's a good idea to have your own liability insurance.

If you have to hire a lawyer, your hairstylist coverage also can help to cover any legal fees. Without a policy to protect you, though, you may be forced to pay out of pocket.

In this case, if you worked on this client outside the salon but also worked at a salon, you would most likely need self-employed insurance to protect your business, like Johnson pointed out.

Finding the right hairstylist insurance for your business isn't a difficult process. In fact, you can use our free quote tool to compare options for coverage.

Once you receive a quote, you have 30 days to decide whether or not to sign up for a hairstylist business insurance policy.

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6. Get a hairstylist business license.

Similar to business insurance, taking the time to apply and get a business license can be beneficial for your business. This is different from your hairstylist license certification.

Having a hairstylist license can help you:

  • Earn the trust of potential clients
  • Fulfill requirements by landlords or vendors
  • Secure loans or financial assistance
  • And more

The process for applying for a hairstylist business license is different in each state. Some states or local governments may require you to apply for a separate license after taking your board exams.

State requirements aside, though, many customers and vendors know that they're working with someone who has taken all of the measures to make their business official. Many will look for professionals with both business insurance and a business license.

7. Promote your hairstylist services.

After doing the work to set yourself up with a strong foundation for success, you'll want to promote your services. A big part of knowing how to be a hairstylist is understanding how to share the work you've done.

Even if you plan to work at a salon and to reap the benefits of the salon advertising on your behalf, you'd be wise to promote your business yourself, too. After all, it could really help you attract potential clients.

Having a booth rental at a salon is only one way to help promote your services. When clients come to the salon to see other stylists, they'll have the opportunity to see you and spread news about your availability through word of mouth.

Beyond talking to people in person and within the salon, we recommend you begin working on your digital presence. Relying on the salon for all of your advertising could result in less business than you need to reach your financial goals.

You may choose to have a website, but one crucial tool for hairstylists is social media.

"Without social media, it's hard to stand against competition," Johnson explains. "Having a social media presence helps you to attract new clients and show off your brand. People will eventually see photos and know that the styling was done at your salon."

Clients may be attracted to your services by visuals, so platforms like Facebook and Instagram are great channels to promote your work. If you suspect that your clientele will be younger, you also may consider TikTok or SnapChat.

These social media channels are great places to show off your abilities as a stylist. Showcase the cuts, color work, and styling that you do to attract potential clients.

You also can choose to display proof of insurance on your website and social media channels, along with your business license. Having proof that you went through the process of protecting your business and the work you do for your clients is one way to begin building their trust.

8. Build a relationship with a mentor.

Speaking of building trust, it's always a good idea to build relationships with stylists who are more seasoned and have been in the industry longer.

Having a mentor when you become a hairstylist can be helpful and encouraging.

Johnson tells us how he wouldn't be where he is without his mentor, as she encouraged him and helped him along the way. It meant a great deal that someone recognized his talent and told him he shouldn't give up.

Having a mentor in the industry to help you learn how to become a hairstylist will give you someone to lend new perspectives to your challenges and who you can learn from. We recommend looking to connect with a mentor if possible.

There are also business coaches that you can hire to help point your business in the right direction. The Small Business Association (SBA) has regional offices with resources to help you find a mentor or coach.

It may not feel natural to ask for help, especially if you don't have a question or challenge in mind. But remember that although each styling booth sits on its own, a successful hairstylist career isn't built in a vacuum. Mentors and coaches are great resources to have in your corner.

9. Start building clientele.

Building relationships with your clients is one of the joys of being a hairstylist. But it takes time and effort to build relationships with people and to gain their trust.

One way to gain trust, which we've already mentioned, is to get business insurance and a license. But there are other ways to get clients and build those relationships, too.

For example, if a potential client engages with you on social media, take the time to respond and understand what they're hoping a stylist can help with.

Or maybe one client wants a specific color, but you don't carry the brand that makes it. Ordering the color specifically on their behalf is one way of going the extra mile that can help build rapport over time.

The most important thing to remember when learning how to become a hairstylist is that building clientele is to be patient with yourself. These relationships aren't built and strengthened overnight — they take time.

Do what you can to provide the best experience possible, and you're bound to build some solid relationships.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Hairstylist?

We mentioned that the average hair stylist or cosmetology program takes 12-24 months, but how long does it take to become a hairstylist? Because as you've seen above, there are many things that go into the process beyond schooling.

Unfortunately, we can't put a hard timeline on how long it takes to become a hairstylist. Different factors play into how long it may take you, such as:

  • The program you choose
  • Your financial situation
  • How you practice during training
  • Your local licensure requirements
  • The job market
  • And more

While we can't tell you the exact length of time it will take to finish your hairstylist training and kick off your career, we can tell you this: Becoming a hairstylist is a serious commitment, so take time to consider all the above information carefully.

Run Your Hairstylist Business in Style

If you've read this article, then you now know the nine steps to becoming a hairstylist. But doing your research is the crucial tenth step.

A career as a hairstylist is challenging to kick off but it is one that can be extremely rewarding. If you're looking for other tips on how to grow and protect your business, check out our advice on Simply U, a blog for business owners like you.

Simply Business

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Simply Business

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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