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What They Don't Tell You In Cosmetology School

Literally no one tells you this before, during or after Cosmetology School one ever tells you that YOU are responsible to get ALL of your own clients.

The biggest AHA moment you will have as a Hairstylist (the moment where your real learning will begin) is when it finally occurs to you that no one is going to hand over a book of clients to you when you graduate from Cosmetology School.

I know this because I spent my first year after Cosmetology School sitting in the back room of a salon.

I got my Cosmetology license and then I went and got a job in a salon. (Wasn’t that what I was supposed to do?) Then I sat waiting for a client. I thought clients would walk into the salon, and my job was to do their hair once they came in.

I didn't know I was supposed to go out and get my own clients. No one ever told me that.

Wasn’t the salon supposed to give me clients? Occasionally (very occasionally) there would be a call in or a walk in, and I would get a new client, but I wasn’t very good, and I didn’t have experience, so most of those clients came to me one time, and never came back.

Luckily for me I had my AHA moment by the end of my first year in a salon. I realized I was going to have to get my own clients and not count on a salon to feed me clients. And...I needed A LOT more skills and practice.

I realized if I was going to be a successful Hairstylist, it was going to be on me, it was going to be my responsibility, not the salons, not the owner, not my co-workers, and not the clients responsibility.

Most (almost all) Hairstylists don’t want to acknowledge this. I get it, but the BIG elephant in the room is, if you do not have clients and you do not have salon experience, you’re not in the business of being a Hairstylist.

“Without a customer, you don’t have a business; all you have is a hobby.” Don Peppers

Your Cosmetology School might tell you to get a job in a “good” salon, and you know, that’s good advice. What they won’t tell you will be YOUR responsibility to get your own clients and your own salon experience. Most Hairstylists drop out when they realize this. That’s right, they quit.

I wish before a student entered Cosmetology School, the person in admissions would explain that a career as a Hairstylist is not just about getting really good at “doing” hair, it’s about getting really good at running a small business.

After 20 years of teaching and training brand new Hairstylists (Assistants, Associates, New Talent) I can confidently say, this is the gap, the chasm, the disconnect in our industry. There is PLENTY of education for established Hairstylists, but there is almost NO education for a Hairstylist with zero clients and zero salon experience. That sucks!

When I tell a brand new Hairstylist they (not the salon) will need to grow their clientele to 200 or 300 clients in order to have full days in the salon 3 or 4 days a week, their eyes gloss over. I get it. I do agree and think it is overwhelming. But more than that, I think it is exciting!

There is nothing better than being a new Hairstylist. As a new Hairstylist you are awestruck, passionate, eager to grow your business, and learn new creative techniques. The thrill is incredible when you talk to someone and they come into the salon and request you! And then it is mind blowing when that person refers their coworker or friend to you. There is nothing better than learning a new technique, and having it look amazing on a client. It’s a high that motivates and energizes you. It’s a high that will keep you learning and practicing.

So, what happened to me after that first year of sitting in the back room of a salon? I figured it out. Not quickly, and not without a lot of trial and error. But, I can say, I didn’t let my ego or insecurities get in the way of admitting I didn’t have enough education or experience to do hair, and that no one was “giving me” clients. I knew I wanted a CAREER as a Hairstylist.

Here’s what I did as a new hairstylist:

  • I moved to a small neighborhood salon in a town closer to where I lived and knew people. This allowed me to network (invite friends and family into the salon).

  • I found a book on how to be a successful Hairstylist and implemented the advice. And most importantly, I kept answering the question, “if I were a client, how would I find me?”

  • I answered that question by going to the private high schools and middle schools in my area and offering to teach a (gym) class on personal hygiene and grooming.

  • I did a haircut for the students, and talked about their bodies changing, their hair getting greasy and smelly and the need for personal grooming. I had a big stack of my business cards, and each one of those students got my card.

  • I went to my friends' college dorms and did anyone’s hair for discounted prices, I asked all my family members to come in, and to tell their friends.

  • I placed an ad and did a TON of free haircuts and color (free to them, it actually cost me) in exchange for before and after pictures to build my portfolio.

Did all of these ideas work? No, but some of them did, and it was enough to get me some requests and a small client base.

I wasn’t some scholarly person, I wasn’t a valedictorian graduate, I was just a new Hairstylist (20 years old) that really wanted to be a Hairstylist, and I wanted to be a successful one.

35 years later, I have talked to many successful Hairstylists, and each one of us has a different story as to how we built our clientele. But we all had the AH HA and figured out we had to build our own clientele book and had to get our own salon experience and training. It is absolutely the part of our industry that will make or break you, and yet most Hairstylists and Educators don’t talk about it.

There are so many ways to build your client book and get experience. Let me know if you would like me to write more about that! Just because your school didn’t talk about it, doesn’t mean something is wrong with you! As Hairstylists we ALL go through having to build a clientele. I hope this stirs up the desire for more, a conversation. Please message me, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Elevating The Industry,

Karen Spinelli


Cosmetology Students and New Hairstylists My intention with every post is to give New Hairstylists all over the world the tips, short cuts, and tools they need to quickly achieve success. 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 Hairstylists! She loves to be a part of “AHA” moments, and to watch New Hairstylists grow in their confidence and skills.

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