n 1986 when I graduated from beauty school I accepted the first job offer to come along. A high school friend of mine’s Dad owned a local salon and reached out as soon as he heard I was licensed. I was so excited that a salon actually offered me a chair fresh out of school with no need to spend the next two years as an assistant.
It started out great as friends and family started making appointments. I was fairly busy for just getting started but there was something critically important that was missing, education and mentorship. My boss was an amazing man and I loved working there. He was all of the things that at 20 years old are your priority in choosing a job:
Flexible, easy going, not big on rules, and pretty much left me alone to “do my thing”. The issue was I really needed someone to guide me. I needed MORE More education More structure More accountability More marketing and branding More time watching and assisting someone who was as successful as I aspired to be!
So you see by thinking I was slick and had avoided the inevitable assistant stage of my career I actually set myself back quite a bit in the end. One year into the job I realized I did not know as much as I had thought that I did. When my clients who were mostly friends and family I had been seeing in my “kitchen beautician” stage during school asked for color I would immediately talk them out of it because I was terrified of how to even begin to formulate.
We have all heard the term fake it until you make it. Well I call bullshit on that term, especially when it comes to hair color. If you pretend to know what you are doing rather than seek out the knowledge you are missing you will destroy quite a few people’s hair in the process along with your overall confidence.
So now I had two choices, stick it out and figure shit out by the school of hard knocks and failing forward, or get a stronger mentor and some much needed education. I chose the education even though it meant taking a step back and becoming that dreaded assistant again after having a chair of my own. It was worth every minute to finally feel confident and truly understand all that goes into real life behind the chair.
I was reminded of all of this today when a student from one of my recent classes at Premiere Philadelphia reached out to me for help she is considering “giving up altogether” on the hair business. We spoke over the phone where she shared that this is her second job since graduating and she doesn’t feel like she is appreciated or growing in her skills. I gave her some pretty tough love. I will share with you what I told her.
“Every salon job that you have right now will feel frustrating. No matter how much the owner of the salon has good intentions when they hire you and tell you that there will be education classes and that you will learn the truth is you are being hired because the salon is very busy and they need help. Help with laundry, towels, sweeping hair, and most of all SHAMPOO services! I know this because I owned my salon for 30 years and after training new stylists for all of those years and offering mentorship and education you get tired of giving everything with passion to these new stylists to have them come to you after the first month saying I am ready for a chair. I am tired of assisting and don’t make enough money and need a raise.”
We all want to progress and move forward but I want you to think of the assisting phase as the bootcamp part of joining the Army. Not everyone makes it through. So there is a major void right now in the industry. Things are getting really twisted. Freshly licensed stylists are trying to skip the assistant/bootcamp phase and go right into their own suite. It must be with Mommy and Daddy’s money because suites are not cheap. The truth is if you take this route you will spend more time and money trying to play catch up and attend as many education events as possible to get yourself to the level that you SHOULD have been prior to opening. Now you have NO EDUCATION, NO MENTOR and nobody to dig you out if you screw up on a color! But hey you have your own business and can put those kick ass Instagram pics up of how beautiful that expensive one chair salon of yours is.
So if any of this has resonated with you please do some soul searching before you make your next move. There are very few salons that have a structured training program you need to observe your environment. You are learning far more than you think while assisting.
How the stylist handled that client that freaked out because she didn’t like her color, how to handle a habitually late client, a toddler running around the salon while Mom is attempting to have her hair done. So rather than jump from salon to salon looking for what you envisioned the first year to be I recommend staying put and squeezing as much learning from that first year regardless of where you work to becoming your future fabulous self.
Don’t rely on the promises you were given and make it happen. Keep a journal of questions that come up during the day and ask the stylist you are assisting to commit to meeting with you for a few minutes at least once a week to go over some of your questions. They are not avoiding helping you they are just trying to get through their busy day and they all went through EXACTLY what you are experiencing as the new kid. We all have.
Please hang in there because once you have all of the tools it is the absolute best industry in the world. I would not change a thing except thinking that I knew more than I did when I first got started.
A licensed cosmetologist since 1986, Elaine has personally trained all of her own stylists and taken them from beauty school graduate to color expert in less than one year earning over $60,000 annually.