hair stylists marketing sales and brandingRecently I was asked by a kindly cosmetology student (hairstylist in training) if I would serve as her guinea pig. I had no idea who she was or if I would come out looking like George Clooney or Lyle Lovett.

My first instinct was to run away.

Thankfully my good breeding held up and I politely accepted her offer. After all, a free hair cut is still free and in many ways I’m still my father’s son. Plus I had my trusty hat in case things went horribly wrong.

According to her name tag, her name was Kelsey and she was a student of The Salon Professional Academy in Tacoma on 38th Street. The Salon Academy is just another private school along the lines of Corinthian Colleges (of Everest fame, the school that trains people to be medical professionals that most doctors won’t hire); it’s post-high school education that’s intended to train people in new skills. The cost is quite extravagant (more than $15,000) and the program takes a whole year to complete.

As I sat down in her chair, I asked Kelsey how long she had been in the program. “Two months,” she replied cheerily. As her scissors approached my head, I was not encouraged by this.

We talked as she cut my hair. I was nervous about dividing her attention (I really didn’t want her to be distracted around my ears) but she seemed to know what she was doing, and I began to relax if only slightly.

Eventually the subject of her post-school employment came up and I found out something startling. The Salon Academy doesn’t actually find them jobs at the end of the program, instead opting to give a class our two about resumes and job hunting. For the kind of money they charge you’d think they would have a more robust job placement program, especially since that is the desired outcome for the program; learn a trade so you can get a decent job.

Kelsey sounded very excited about the education she was receiving so I tried to be supportive. It became blazingly clear however that she was not prepared for life after school, and needed some extra advice. Luckily she had the right man in her chair for such matters. We merrily discussed websites, blogs, videos, and general sales techniques. At the end she seemed slightly overwhelmed but very happy.

After I left, it occurred to me that she’s probably not alone. Other hair stylists also should know how to build their personal brands and cultivate quality relationships with customers.

This is for all of you stylists that actually want to be successful. I highly doubt you would ever get this list from the Salon Academy or any similar institution, but here are some quick tips to start your stylist career on the right foot:

1. Build a personal website

Blogs are free to set up and there is tons of information out there to help you. Get one and start creating your online brand.

This will help you two ways:

  1. It will help you get a job since the salon can see your work (you can put videos on your blog) and read about your insights (you should tell stories about clients and your work)
  2. It will help you build your personal brand. You will most likely work for a salon but you still have to build your own clientele. Your own website will do that.

2. Pay attention to the relationships, not the transactions

One haircut is worth $15-50 dollars. However, the lifetime value of all the customer’s business is in the thousands. Find a way to connect and make them a friend, so that they become a client instead of just a customer. Find what matters to them and strive to give them that every time, and that doesn’t have to do with hair.

And always deliver your absolute best product every time, no matter what.

3. Exceed client expectations in everything you do

Find out what their previous hairstyling experiences were. What did they love, what did they hate? How can you do better? Do people expect hair stylists to have a website or blog offering free tips?

So surprise them, and give them your card with the address to your blog or videos you created that teach them great ways to maintain their hair.

4. Make it easy, and special for the customer

One technique that I have yet to see is to sell a subscription for haircuts. Essentially the customer would pay a set amount and get a certain number of haircuts, but they would pay in advance or you could set up a monthly reoccurring payment.

Then what if you went the extra mile and made little cards for each of these VIP customers? Just think of all the ways you could make things easier for your client or make them feel special.

5. Up-sell the easy way

Most salons require stylists to up-sell product and for many this proves to be a real challenge. Actually, it’s an opportunity in disguise. You can use bundling to work the cost of the product into the service. Instead of charging$20 for just a haircut, you offer them a “special” of haircut plus product for slightly more money.

Even better is to create two special offers and give them to your client as a choice. As long as the products you’re bundling are the right fit for the client, this technique is guaranteed to grow your sales.

6. Tell Stories

Good sales is good connecting and conversation. If you tell your customer stories about life, about similar customers, about funny situations that you have imagined, you will succeed in connecting with them and they will buy more. Simple as that.


Honestly, I wish schools like the Salon Academy would teach more cutting edge (pun slightly intended) marketing techniques. You can’t find a more recession-proof business than cutting hair but that’s only if you can build a clientele, and that takes a solid marketing and relationship strategy.

While many stylists I’ve met don’t have a desire to “market” themselves, it will soon be absolutely crucial for their careers.

Oh, and by the way, the hair cut, though just a trim, went quite well and my hat stayed off my head for the rest of the day. All in all, I’d say everyone came out ahead that day.