Ugh. I hate that question! Why? Because I’m a Hairstylist and I can tell you, it’s the wrong question!
The right question is: How much money can a hairstylist make?
Professional Hairstylists make great money. Professional Hairstylists make as much as most highly paid professionals in traditional careers. Really.
Now, according to google, Hairstylists make $21k to $67k a year. According to me, Hairstylists can easily make Six Figures. I did.
Not immediately and certainly not in my first year out of cosmetology school ... but over time my career and income advanced to six figures. I wasn’t a celebrity hairstylist. I wasn’t a Hairstylist Influencer.
In fact, for the majority of my career, I was a single mom raising two kids, renting a booth in a salon.
If you are considering a career as a Hairstylist, please don’t base your decision on a cursory google search. It's so important to get the ENTIRE picture, and not the “sound bite” version of How Much Money Do Hairstylists Make?.
What I can tell you, with thirty five years in my pocket behind the chair, is that a six figure income as a Hairstylist is completely doable. My income was equivalent to my ”traditional career peers” who went to four years of college, and worked in an office.
Let me explain by walking you through my career as a Hairstylist...
Entry Level Income
At eighteen I graduated high school alongside all of my friends. I went off to one year of cosmetology school to pursue a career in the Beauty Industry while most of my friends went off to four years of college to pursue traditional careers.
I knew that when my friends graduated from four years of college, they would be starting their careers with an entry level paying job. So I “gave myself” the same four years that my friends were in college, to learn my career as a Hairstylist and make an entry level income. I figured if after four years of learning and practicing my career as a Hairstylist, I could make the same amount of money doing hair that my friends were making in their entry level jobs, I would be right on track financially and professionally. So, I went to one year of cosmetology school and then gave myself three years to take additional classes, practice, build a clientele, and get into a good salon.
What I thought at the time was, if the majority consensus of our“society” believes it takes at least four years of college to be prepared for a career, then it must take about four years of preparation for a career in a creative field as well.
When I went to the Community College Cosmetology School, I lived at home with mom and dad and worked part time in a retail store. I didn’t stress myself or my parents out with a hefty college bill. Some of my high school friends were fortunate and their parents forked over big bucks for their college and housing. Some of my friends had to do it on their own, and worked their asses off while attending school, or racked up major debt.
I graduated Cosmetology School and took the State Board Examination.
I received my Cosmetology License, but I was not “ready” to be a Hairstylist. Cosmetology school is really an “Introduction to the Beauty Industry”.
It introduces you to basic hair, skin, and nail services, with an emphasis on health and safety training in order to pass the State Board Examination.
The next three years I spent working, or really “trying on” 3 different salons to find the right fit, I took any class my industry offered, I practiced my technical and interpersonal skills, I worked super hard on building a clientele, and I developed skills as an entrepreneur.
By the time my friends got out of college, I was exceeding their entry level pay grade. Not only that, but I had no debt.
As a hairstylist, it took me 4 years to make an entry level income. The same amount of time it took my friends that chose traditional careers to make an entry level income. Frankly, getting to a”standard” entry level income is the hardest part of the hairstylist journey.
To make money as a hairstylist we need: 1) a clientele 2) a portfolio (social media postings of our work) 3) experience.
And to make money after college you need to get hired.
Six Figure Income
After achieving an entry level income, it’s truly up to the individual hairstylist how far their career and income advance.
I was motivated, I loved my career and I was just as serious about my career as all my four year college friends were about their careers. I stayed on par financially with my friends who went into (and stayed in their) traditional careers. I stayed on par with them by doing the same things they were doing in their careers. I took my work seriously, I continued to grow, and I took advanced classes in my industry, and classes in business and customer service. I was worth a good income, and I deserved it. I chose to be compensated the same amount that my traditional career peers were being compensated for their careers. As their income increased, so did mine, and over time I was making six figures.
How Much Was I Making at the End of My Career?
Are you curious as to what my income as a hairstylist was after 35 years of doing hair? How did my income compare to my friends’ who went into traditional careers? To be honest, by the time I stopped working behind the chair last year, I WAS making less than some of my traditional career friends, BECAUSE I had chosen to work less. I was working 2 days a week, still making 6 figures, while my peers were working 40 or more hours a week. My boss (me) wasn't requiring a 40 hour work week anymore. After decades of work, we had developed different skills from each other. My friends that went into traditional careers had learned how to perform for their boss and for their company...
I had learned how to be my boss and my company.
You know, back when I was starting out, I thought my friends and I were all picking careers based on our passions, I mean, isn’t that what you do? If you are going to work 40 hours a week, for decades of your life, don’t you want to pick a career that excites you, that motivates you to get up in the morning? Thirty five years later, what I know is that a lot of my friends that picked traditional careers are over worked, under appreciated and exhausted. As a hairstylist I spent my career being creative every day. I got to start and complete a “project” (hair service) every 1 to 2 hours, and have hugs and compliments for a job well done. I didn't take work home, and I didn’t stress over deadlines. I don’t know if my friends that went into traditional careers fared as well. I watched as many of them had corporations and systems suck their soul right out of them. Yes, my career wasn’t perfect or easy, but my career was creative, flexible, fun, caring and lucrative.
So, How Much Money Do Hairstylists Make?
Now to get back to the original question. How much do Hairstylists make? It depends. Do some hairstylists barely make a living? Absolutely. Lots of hairstylists make the google hairstylist income of $21K to $67K a year. And, for that matter, a lot of people who are not hairstylists make that same google amount. How much money you make as a hairstylist depends on if you treat being a hairstylist as a “job”, or as a career. If it’s a job, you’ll more than likely make “the national average”, you will clock in, clock out, and do what you are told to do. If it is a career and not a job, then you will continuously learn and practice
the skills necessary to excel. This is an industry where YOU choose if you want a job or a career. YOU choose how much money you make, how good you are ,how many hours you work, how much advanced education you will pursue. You choose if you are going to be an hourly employee or an entrepreneur. You choose how you emotionally and physically show up to work. You choose what kind of a salon or work environment you spend your day in, and what kind of clients you’ll put up with.
I’m not kidding, hairstylists can easily make six figures. Not your first year out of cosmetology school, not immediately, but it’s rare to find any career that you make six figures after 1 year of schooling. Methodically, with determination and direction you can and will make six figures as a Professional Hairstylist. I did it, and so can you.
Cosmetology Students and New Hairstylists, I would love to hear from you! You can reach out here, on my site, Instagram, or Facebook. Sign up for my newsletter to receive my weekly blog sent to your inbox.
Cosmetology Schools and Teachers, I would love to talk to your students! To book Karen as a speaker at your Cosmetology School, click here.
Karen Spinelli is from Pasadena, California. She was behind the chair for thirty five years, as well as Salon Director of Education for New Hairstylists for the last twenty years. Karen loves to spend time with and watch Hairstylists succeed!