Freelancing in the hair and beauty industry: top career tips
Freelancing has been commonplace in the hair and beauty industry for a while now. We spoke to hair and makeup artist, Mena Pyne, about her experiences as a freelancer to help you decide if it’s the right direction to take your hair and beauty career in.
Research by the National Hairdressers’ Federation suggests that 48% of UK hairdressers and barbers are self-employed and as many as 57% of beauty professionals work for themselves. Freelancers, from mobile beauty therapists to hair stylists who rent a chair in a salon, are the norm in certain professions for a variety of reasons.
‘All of the makeup artists that I know personally are freelance.’ Mena says, ‘But there are definitely makeup artistry jobs that offer full-time employment (e.g. for online fashion retailers that are regularly photographing products on models), although this setup isn’t all that common.’
Mena studied makeup artistry at London’s Delamar Academy after completing a German degree and spending a few years working in PR. ‘I’ve always loved makeup and I’ve always known that I wanted to be freelance, I just didn’t know how. The hair & beauty industry has really given me the opportunity to work way that I want to.’
Whether self-employment is right for you will depend on a range of factors. Let’s take a look at just some of the key decisions that could influence your decision.
Why go freelance in the beauty industry?
Reasons for going freelance in the hair and beauty industry vary widely.
Like Mena, some professionals enjoy the flexibility of working for themselves. In many cases, freelancers can choose their own hours, talking directly to their clients and creating a schedule that works for everyone.
‘You get to decide your own jobs and pick and choose which ones are suited towards you, your skills and interests.’ says Mena. ‘You can choose the times that you work and although you can be your own boss, there are also many opportunities to work with and learn from others’.
Others who go freelance just fancy the change or feel uninspired by the job opportunities available in their area. Finally, plenty of freelancers in hair and beauty go out on their own simply because that’s the expected thing in their sector - there may simply be few other options. This would be the case if, for example, you wanted to become a makeup artist in film, theatre or television, where freelancing is by the far the most common way to work.
The pros and cons of going freelance
There are a lot of pros to going freelance, which explains the huge number of beauty professionals who decide to follow this course.
If you value flexible working hours, self-reliance and the freedom to do things your own way, then the freelance route will be very appealing.
‘Just like in many careers as an employee, there’s also a career ladder to climb as a freelancer.’ says Mena. ‘But I feel that freelancing can give you more control over the rungs that you climb and what that ladder looks like.
‘For example, in fashion and editorial makeup artistry and hairdressing, there are often opportunities to assist big names in the industry. Whilst they’re your boss during these jobs, it could lead to you being asked to assist them again, sometimes in an international location.’
The cons of freelancing in the beauty industry are similar to those of being self-employed in any industry. You’ll have none of the key benefits that come with a job - no holiday pay, for example, and no guaranteed monthly salary. You’ll also have to rely on statutory sick pay if you’re too ill to work (although this is the same for some employment contracts).
‘Regularity of work can also be an issue.’ warns Mena. ’Some months are really quiet and you have to manage that yourself. It can be a steep learning curve when you start out, but once you master it, planning for quiet periods becomes second nature, and is a great motivator.’
As a freelancer, your time will also be taken up with administrative work that you’d probably have been able to minimise as a salaried hairdresser or beauty therapist. Appointment bookings, cancellations, marketing, tax and insurance will all become issues for you do deal with directly. ‘You may be surprised by how much time it takes up.’ says Mena. ‘It also means that you can’t keep regular hours, as you’ll often spend time in the evening finding and managing work.’
Is going freelance a good fit for me?
‘If you want to go freelance, you really have want to do the job – it’s crucial that you have the passion and the drive for it as it isn’t always easy and doesn’t come with the regularity that working in a salon does.’ says Mena. So if the only thing you’re really willing to do is style hair, apply makeup or make nails look fabulous, you could find freelancing frustrating at times.
If you’re a freelancer who rents a salon chair, you need to be clear on the terms at the start or you could find that the freedom of freelancing isn’t all it appears. Salons may insist that you commit to certain hours in exchange for renting a chair, while customers will have preferred slots for their appointments. It can be hard to turn down work when that means losing money.
What are some of the most common freelance roles in the industry?
In hairdressing and barbering, freelancing is extremely common - perhaps more so than working as an employee. The usual arrangement is to rent a chair in a salon, paying either a flat regular fee or a proportion of your earnings to the owner. Find out more about renting a chair in a salon here.
Another popular route to go down is bridal hair and beauty, with many freelance makeup artists keen to work as specialists in this field. To find out more about getting started in this area, take a look at our article here.
Mobile beauty therapists and nail artists are also often freelance workers. They visit clients in their homes, either for regular appointments or for special occasions such as weddings. Mobile beauty therapists can specialise in a range of beauty treatments, which sometimes blur into complementary health therapies.
Where should I look to find freelance beauty jobs?
Many freelance positions in salons are filled by word of mouth. Hair and beauty is a relatively informal industry, where personal connections mean a lot. So you’ll need to develop your networking ability and build up a good base of contacts if you want to find the best opportunities. It’s also worth trying your local newspaper and job sites to find llistings. Failing that, simply prepare a CV and visit local salons to promote yourself.
Becoming a freelance beauty therapist means finding your own clients, which you can do in a variety of ways, from giving out leaflets to building an effective social media presence.
Word of mouth can be very effective but is often slow, so speed it up with find-a-friend promotions. These involve giving discounts to clients who bring you new customers. You could also look out for franchise opportunities, but these will involve paying upfront and ongoing fees in most cases.
Colleges can also be a great resource to find work. As a Delamar Academy graduate, Mena receives a regular jobs newsletter from them.
Finally, registering with a local agency could help you to bring in more business. This is a tactic that Mena uses. ‘It doesn’t prevent or stop me looking for my own work and whilst my agency doesn’t profit from any work I find myself, agency fees and their structures will vary across the industry so it’s important to understand what this means before you sign with one.’ says Mena. ‘For me personally, my agency is a great fit and it’s nice to know that I have someone backing me, supporting me to make your portfolio better and helping me find jobs.’
Whether you’re planning to work in media makeup like Mena, take to the road with your own mobile beauty business or rent a chair in a salon, you’ll need the right hair and beauty insurance in place to cover you in case of a costly mishap.
Thinking of starting up as a freelancer in the hair and beauty industry? We’ve put together an interactive tool to give you the information you need to take the next step in your hair and beauty career. Click here to learn more and start styling your own pathway to success.