Hairstylist Secrets to Success

With more years in business than we care to admit sometimes, we’ve seen stylists become very successful and have wonderful careers. We’ve also seen stylists fizzle out and leave the industry. While continuing education, social media savvy and initial cosmetology school training make a difference in a stylist’s early success, the biggest difference in those who thrive and those who fizzle out is how they approach their daily work and what they choose to focus on.

This is the story of Wilma and Betty, two stylists with five years experience behind the chair. Wilma and Betty work very differently, and a result have achieved very different levels of success. Any salon owner and most seasoned vets have worked with lots of Wilma’s and lots of Bettys over the years.


Wilma’s day at the salon begins early.  She arrives at least thirty minutes before her first appointment and sits down with a cup of coffee to scan her schedule for the next few weeks.  When she spots an issue with timing or anything else, 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.  She looks for opportunities, making a note on each ticket about a potential change to discuss or a new product that might be a good one for the customer.  When the first customer arrives for her appointment Wilma’s up front and ready to go with a game plan for the customer, and for every customer after her.

The first customer is a repeat customer, so during the consultation, Wilma’s focused on what’s working for the customer and what’s not.  She wants to know if there’s anything she’d like to change and if the products the customer took home last time are working well for her.  If they’re not, she makes a mental note to spend an extra few minutes of the service either 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 examples of 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 with the customer’s hair, what shampoos, treatments and conditioners she’s using and what products she’s using 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’s not going to get the same look at home and she’s not going to love her hair when she styles it herself.  Wilma’s not “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 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 the customer really wants the focus on her.  It’s what she’s paying for. During the customer’s process time, Wilma checks on her and visits with her when she’s not working another customer.

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 she’s definitely coming back.

Wilma is consistent in the way she works.  She goes through the same routine for every customer.  It’s hard 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 a once every two-month experience for the customer and it’s memorable.  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 are center of attention in her chair and their visits to the salon are about their needs.  They appreciate that their stylist is really 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 and are willing to  pay her higher prices.  Wilma’s prices aren’t cheap, but the VALUE she brings to her customers make her prices worth it.

For Wilma, doing hair is a creative outlet, but in the end, it’s about serving the customer and making them feel better about themselves.  Wilma’s fully booked 2 weeks out and her customers love her.  Wilma makes $120,000 a year before taxes.


Betty is an Artist and she’ll tell you that.  She’s a free spirit and loves to wing it.  Betty arrives to work at the salon about five minutes before her first appointment, drops her purse and checks the schedule on her way to her chair so she knows the customer’s name, because she’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 usually know they’re in the salon before she is.

Betty’s not sure what she did last time on the customer 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 much.  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 with customers.   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, how she’s broke and how slow she is at work, because there just aren’t enough customers.  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 customers comments so se can use them 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 serve the customer and build a relationship. During the customer’s process time, Betty usually 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 about $45,000 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.