Rich Stylist - Poor Stylist

With more years in business than we care to admit sometimes, we’ve seen a lot of stylists become successful and have wonderful careers. We’ve also seen stylists fizzle out and leave the industry because they’re perpetually broke and can’t figure out why.  There are many factors that contribute to a financially rewarding career as a stylist–things like social media savvy, commitment to quality continuing education, and approaching work as a career as opposed to a job. Other things factor in too, like how a stylist presents themselves to clients and their ability to relate to people, but the biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful stylists is how they approach their daily routine and what they choose to focus on.

As a way to illustrate that difference, let’s look at Wilma and Betty, two stylists with five years behind the chair. Wilma and Betty work very differently and as a result, have achieved very different levels of success. Any salon owner with a few years under their belt has worked with their share of Wilmas and Bettys.


Wilma’s day at the salon begins early. She arrives thirty minutes before her first appointment and sits down with coffee to scan her schedule for the next few weeks. When she spots issues she makes polite notes for the front desk staff so they can fix things before the day of the appointment. When that’s done Wilma reviews the day’s upcoming appointments. She looks at each appointment, reading her notes on what she did last time, what products the customer purchased and what they talked about. As Wilma goes through her tickets, she looks for opportunities to discuss changes in the client’s hair or mention a new product that might be a good one for the customer. She also writes down reminders to ask about anything important that was going on in the customer’s life during the last visit. When the first customer arrives, Wilma’s up front to meet them with a game plan.  She has a game plan for every customer after that too.

Today Wilma’s first appointment is a repeat customer so she focuses her consultation on what’s working for the customer and what’s not. She wants to know if there’s anything the customer would like to change and if the products she took home last time are working for her. If they’re not, she makes a mental note to spend a few minutes teaching the customer how to use the product or talking about one that might be a better fit.

Wilma uses photos on her phone during her consultations to make sure she and her customers are on the same page. She has a Pinterest board with different looks arranged by hair color and technique. If the customer doesn’t arrive with photos, Wilma uses her own photos to nail down the look the customer’s wanting. She has a mix of her own work and other’s work in her photos, but increasingly she has more of her own work.

For new customer consultations Wilma asks about the customer’s hair goals, lifestyle and willingness to maintain the look she wants. She discusses grow out period, frequency of visit and the costs of keeping up the desired look. She asks what the customer likes about her current look and what she doesn’t like and she asks about current product usage and how she feels those products are working. Another thing she asks is “How does your hair feel?” because she knows the answer can guide her to the right products and a treatment that will make the customer’s hair feel more like she wants it to feel.

During the service Wilma talks about what she’s doing–what shampoos, treatments and conditioners she’s using and what products she uses as she styles the hair. She touches on products during the consultation and the shampoo, during styling and as the customer prepares to walk up front because she knows that if the customer doesn’t use products she won’t to get the same look at home. Wilma’s not pushy though. She doesn’t look at what she’s doing as selling. She’s educating the customer on how to get the same look at home that she leaves the salon with.

Wilma asks a few open ended questions about the customer’s life as she works, being careful not to pry. What she’s trying to find out is what’s important to her customer and what kind of lifestyle she lives. As the customer tells her about her life, relationships, family and job, Wilma makes mental notes that she writes down in the customer’s history later.

What Wilma doesn’t talk about is herself unless the customer specifically asks. If the customer asks personal questions Wilma skillfully deflects with short, polite and sometimes funny answers, bringing the conversation back around to the customer’s hair and the service being performed. Wilma avoids getting into her own problems like the plague, because she knows that the customer wants the focus on her. It’s what she’s paying for. During the customer’s processing time, Wilma finds time to do a quick check-in, even when she’s double booked.

Near the end of the service Wilma talks about what they could do during future visits, possibly making some subtle changes to keep things fresh, or about changing things up for the upcoming change of seasons, trying to judge the customer’s desire for variety and how quickly she’s going to get bored with the same look. Some customers don’t want change, but Wilma also knows that when a customer is thinking about changing something, she’s anticipating the next visit and proabably coming back.

Wilma’s consistent in the way she works. She goes through the same routine for every customer. It’s boring sometimes, but she does it anyway because she realizes that while it’s the same thing day-in and day-out for her, a visit to the salon is memorable for her customer. She can’t afford to “phone it in” and she knows that the customer deserves better.

Wilma understands that all the little things she does to put the focus on the customer and her needs pay off. Wilma’s customers know they’re the center of attention in her chair and their visits to the salon are about their needs. They appreciate that their stylist is thinking about them and not just going through the motions.

Wilma attends two education classes a year at her own expense and goes to at least one beauty show to keep up with industry trends. Wilma doesn’t let her ego get in the way of her learning either. In spite of the fact she’s creative and very talented, she knows she can always improve and that she has to keep improving to take price increases and cultivate customers that value what she does. Wilma’s prices aren’t cheap, but the value she brings to her customers make them willing to pay what she charges and willing to move up in pricing with her through the years.

For Wilma, doing hair is a creative outlet, but it’s also about serving the customer and making them feel better about themselves. Wilma’s fully booked two weeks out and her customers love her. Wilma makes six figures annually and sees her income go up every year.


Betty is an Artist and she’ll tell you that. She’s a free spirit and loves to wing it. Betty arrives to work when her first appointment’s about to start, drops her purse and checks the schedule on her way to her chair so she knows the customer’s name. Betty’s not good with names.

Betty arrives at her chair stressed about some serious holes in her schedule and finds her customer waiting on her. In spite of the front desk staff’s best efforts to hide it, Betty’s customers know they’re in the salon before she is.

Betty’s not sure what she did last time and has no idea what products the customer purchased or even if she purchased a product, so she doesn’t talk about products or make recommendations very often. Betty usually starts her consultations by asking “What are we doing today?” or “Are we doing the same thing?”

Betty doesn’t use photos unless the customer brings them in and doesn’t have an online portfolio to share. Betty relies on the customer having the same vision of “strawberry blonde” or “just a little off” as she does.

During the service Betty talks more than she listens. She talks about her boyfriend, her crappy car that won’t start, her illnesses, the cool party she went to and how wasted she got, and how slow she is. When the customer tells Betty about something going on in her life Betty often relates a similar story, sometimes trying to top the customer’s. What Betty doesn’t do is make a mental note of the customer’s comments so she can use them to tailor the customer’s experience to things going on in her life. Betty doesn’t make many appointment notes because she doesn’t need them. For Betty every service is a transaction instead of an opportunity to build a relationship. During the customer’s process time, Betty sits in the break room and watches funny videos on her phone.

When you ask Betty to describe her customers she’ll tell you that she has all the customers with a ton of hair and that somehow, she winds up with all the crazies.  Somehow, Betty has a lot of dramatic customers.

Betty makes $40,000 a year and her income doesn’t increase much year over year, because no matter how hard she works she can never get a full book. Betty’s thinking about suite rental, or maybe moving to the salon down the street that pays 5% more commission.


The big secret to achieving success as a hair stylist is that there isn’t a big secret. Focus on the clients, keep up with your education and bring a positive attitude to your work and your life. It’s about giving of yourself and not being focused on yourself. Do that, and you’ll kill it.

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