July 5, 2023
If you’re wondering how to become a hairdresser, then the first thing to know is that while the best stylists make it look easy, it can be much more complex than you might think.
Bringing somebody’s hair to life takes skilful use of equipment. You’ll need an eye for style and creativity, a passion for the profession, and a commitment to good old-fashioned hard work. If a career in hairdressing is something that’s always interested you, this might sound like a long and arduous process… but the financial and creative rewards being a professional hairdresser can often make it all worthwhile.
In this guide, we’ll cover all the basics you need to know when considering how to become a hairdresser professionally. We’ll look at the ideal first steps, potential qualifications and training options to pursue, how to continually develop your skills in the future, and the different business models open to you.
Whether you’re still at school and looking at how to break into the industry when you leave, or you’re looking at hairdressing as a career change, the information below will help you start your professional hairdressing journey on the front foot.
The first step is to do as much research as possible into the kind of styles that are popular and how they can be created: YouTube videos are a good starting point for this kind of information.
On a more practical level, you should consider applying to work in a salon in an entry-level position, or even just as an intern or work experience placement. You’ll get the chance to see first-hand how salons operate day-to-day, and get to know the basic duties like helping out on reception, shampooing hair and keeping a tidy working environment. If you can make a good impression on the people you work with, then you’ll be in pole position to take on greater duties and move onto the next stage as and when an opportunity arises.
If you’re still at school and looking towards a career in hairdressing in the long term, then aiming for a grade C or above in core subjects like English and Maths is important. While it won’t completely make-or-break your prospects if you don’t achieve those grades, getting them can be a big advantage when employers are looking at taking on new staff.
Unlike many other professions, there are no qualifications that are legally mandated to become a hairdresser by trade. However, it’s strongly recommended to get at least some qualifications, as they can demonstrate that you possess some of the skills needed and give you a better chance of landing a job.
There are several different options for you to explore, such as a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in Hairdressing and Barbering – more on this in the training section – and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs). There are also a range of different courses and certifications you can pursue in more formal educational settings, from short-form courses to full-length university degrees.
The NVQ in Hairdressing and Barbering is one of the best ways to pursue a career in the sector because it gives you the opportunity to learn on the job, and to progress your skills over a period of time. You can start the course even if you have no experience in the industry whatsoever, and follow it all the way through to the skills and credentials needed to be a senior stylist.
The NVQ is made up of three levels:
Level 1 covers the basics of day-to-day work, both in terms of styling and being in a customer-facing business environment. You’ll learn how to shampoo, condition and blow-dry hair, how to prepare and maintain a working area, and how to develop working relationships.
Level 2 allows you to learn more advance techniques and skills, such as consulting with clients, treating hair and the scalp, and other optional units such as perming, plaiting, twisting, and running a salon reception.
Level 3 brings in more advanced techniques, such as detailed consultation services, applying creativity to treatments through a variety of techniques, and being able to colour hair. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn more about how salon businesses operate from a financial standpoint and gain an understanding of how to market and promote a salon operation.
There is no fixed timeframe on how long it takes to become a hairdresser. Some people come into the industry earlier than others, and while some stylists may have a natural talent and flair for the jobs, it’s also perfectly acceptable to build up your expertise more gradually and academically.
In the case of the NVQ mentioned above, it can take as many as 1500 hours of on-the-job to complete all three levels and receive the full diploma; this may take you a number of years to complete.
But in any event, the world never stops and there isn’t a hairdresser in the world who knows absolutely everything there is to know about the profession. Those who are the most successful never stop picking up new information about styles, techniques, products and equipment, so you should adopt an attitude of continuous learning and upskilling throughout your career.
Connected to the previous point, there are many avenues to explore if you want to expand your skills and knowledge outside of formal qualification frameworks. That can start by simply asking local salons for some of their time and expertise, so that you can understand how to develop both your styling skills and your business acumen.
If you want to stand out from the crowd and build a reputation for yourself, then it may be worth channelling your energies into specialist areas, and becoming known as a great stylist for a particular type of treatment. These can include (and not necessarily be limited to): colouring, hair extensions, weaves, perms, straightening, hair extensions, braiding, scalp treatment, glossing and many more. If you can develop a high level of proficiency in a few of these areas, then that can make you more desirable to salons who are looking for specific skills to complement their existing roster of stylists.
Another important area which often gets overlooked is to ensure that your appearance and people skills are the best they possibly can be. Many people pay good money to not only get the style or cut they want, but to get a friendly, enjoyable and stress-free experience when they visit a salon. A big part of that is to ensure that you look clean, healthy, stylish and professional whenever you’re working, and have an outgoing and welcoming attitude at any time that you deal with customers.
First of all, while the majority of hairdressers start out working in a salon, it’s important to remember that it’s only one part of the hairdressing industry. If you’re creative or have some specific career goals, then you could explore offering hair styling services for a number of other industries, such as fashion, TV, film, advertising and marketing. It’s in these highly specialised areas where the biggest money is often made.
Whilst wedding work tends to be seasonal, having a stylist is usually a must for any bride. This will often involve several hours work styling various members of the wedding party including the mother of the bride, bridesmaids and of course, the bride. You may even be needed to provide a practice session with the bride before the big day. Bookings like these can be a full days work for just one group, read our blog on how to attract wedding clients.
It’s also worth remembering that you also have a range of options in terms of the business model you want to pursue. Many stylists like the consistent earnings and the security that working full-time for a salon can give them, especially if they have a family to support or other financial commitments to fulfil.
However, if you prefer to do your own thing and have more of an entrepreneurial spirit, then you could alternatively pursue self-employment, once you’ve gained enough experience and developed a strong CV. You could operate as a mobile hairdressing service in customers’ homes, provide freelance salon services in a number of different applications (including the industries mentioned above), or simply rent a chair in a salon and operate from their facility.
Theoretically, this means that the sky’s the limit in terms of your earning power: how much you can make is directly linked to how talented you are, how hard you work, and how good your business decision-making is. However, on the other side of the coin, you won’t necessarily have a guaranteed income, and you’ll also have to pay out for overheads like equipment, transport, chair rental and insurance. You’ll also need to develop a sound understanding of the hairdressing market in your local area, so that you can price your services right and ensure you gain enough clients to keep you busy, without underselling your abilities.
Away from the excitement of applying your creativity and forging a successful career, there are a number of other considerations to take into account if looking at hairdressing.
The first is to say that if you’re looking for a steady nine-to-five job, it’s going to be very difficult to find one in this industry. Many clients will be looking for styling appointments that fit around their working lives, which means evenings and weekends. You should be prepared to work a range of different times of day and week on a regular basis, especially in the early stage of your career when trying to earn yourself opportunities.
Another area to take into account is salary: the starting salary in this line of work can be very low for a beginner. According to the National Careers Service, salon-based hair stylist salaries can range from £14,000 a year for those starting out to as much as £30,000 a year once you’ve gained more experience. If you’re taking a position as an apprentice, most salons tend to offer an annual wage of £10,000 a year. Please note that these figures can also vary substantially, depending where you live in the UK: salaries will be higher in London and the south-east of England to match the higher cost of living there.
Make sure you take your personal finances into account when starting out, and make sure you can balance your own books in the early stages before your earnings start to rise later on.
If you’re operating as a self-employed hairdresser – either on a freelance basis, mobile or even if you’re renting a chair – then taking out comprehensive insurance cover is an absolute must.
Accidents and mistakes can occur, even to the most proficient and experienced of stylists. If somebody doesn’t get the style they want, is accidentally hurt during one of your sessions, or something else happens beyond your control, then they could launch a claim for compensation against you. You could be personally liable for settling the claim if the decision goes against you, which could cost you thousands of pounds and cause significant and long-lasting financial hardship.
Those worries go away if you’re properly insured, and at Protectivity, we’ve been insuring hairdressers just like you for many years. Our cover includes public liability, cover against professional negligence and other protections that give you peace of mind to be creative and grow your business with confidence.
Our cover is available from as little as £3.76 a month and can be paid for through flexible payment plans, helping you stay covered without breaking the bank. Take a couple of minutes today to examine our affordable hairdressing insurance options in more detail.