How to Become a Hairdresser

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The path to becoming a hairdresser can lead to a rewarding career where you feel good about yourself by helping others feel great.

A hairdresser touches the lives of customers in ways that go beyond appearance. As a hairdresser, you actually have the power to influence your client’s social life by giving new confidence and promoting self-esteem. A new hairstyle can make clients feel great about themselves. That’s a key part of living your best life.

There’s also the opportunity to express your creativity in ways that delight your clients.

Many professions may be financially rewarding, but not all provide the opportunity to make people happy. In fact, hairdressers themselves tend to be happier people than almost any other occupational group.

Hairdresser applying hair dye to client's hair

In his book Happiness by Design, economist and behavioral scientist Professor Paul Dolan notes that hairdressers rank in the top three of the happiest professions, right behind gardeners and florists. Hairdressers say they thrive on the creativity and interacting with customers as part of their daily work. Some even say they think of hairdressing not so much as a job but a privilege.

Besides the creativity that comes with the job, hairdressers also enjoy flexibility in choosing where and when they want to work plus ongoing professional development because new styles and techniques – from cutting hair to coloration – are constantly evolving.

With experience and passion, you can also make good money as a hairdresser.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make
  • Training and Certification
  • Professional Groups to Join
  • Employment
  • Finding Clients
  • Helpful tips for hairdressers

How much money can you make?

The median hourly wage for hairdressers is $12.54 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This works out to an annual salary of about $24,076 based on a 40-hour work week. For hairstylists who run their own salon or develop a following of devoted clients, there’s really no limit to how much can be earned in this profession.

Hairdresser blow drying and combing client's hair

Training and Certification

There are literally hundreds of training programs for hairdressers across the United States. To narrow down your options so your choices are more manageable, the first thing to do is check the licensing requirements in the state where you live. Start with the state cosmetology board, which is the typical governing body that regulates the hairdresser profession.

The next step is to find a training program in your area that’s accredited by the state board. This way, after completing a training program you know you will have obtained the fundamental knowledge required to be licensed. One thing to think about: do you want to focus exclusively on hairdressing or do you want to offer that service as part of a broader menu of beauty services?  Getting a certification as a hairdresser qualifies an individual to cut and style hair. Getting a certification as a cosmetologist, while it may take longer, qualifies an individual to do much more in a beauty salon setting, including manicures and pedicures, makeup and skin care, and more.

Attending an accredited cosmetology school can run from $5,000 to $15,000, according to the Imagine America Foundation. Top programs can cost up to $20,000. A certificate in hairdressing will generally cost just a fraction of a full cosmetology training program.

Hairdresser trimming client's hair

Professional Groups to Join

Many hairdresser associations are available to join. These organizations can provide valuable insight into breaking into the competitive world of hairdressing. By joining associations, hairdressers can be part of a community where they feel supported. Networking opportunities with associations can also help you find a job, make new friends, learn new techniques and get advice from experts with years of experience.

Here are some of the best-known and largest associations for professional hairdressers.

Bright, colorful hair design done by hairdresser


If you’re looking for work in a spa or beauty salon, going directly to the business with a resume in hand is a great way to introduce yourself. A quick online search should reveal every hair salon in your area with an online presence. Employment sites such as ZipRecruiter and Indeed are also good places to look. Just bear in mind that everyone looking for a hairdressing job has access to these sites, so employers are likely to be flooded with applications to online job sites.

Career OneStop, a service of the U.S. Department of Labor, maintains a website with job openings for hairdressers, as well as tips for job hunting. They project 94,600 job openings annually for hairdressers.

Client receiving a haircut by a hairdresser

Finding Clients

Even if you work for a salon, chances are you’ll be responsible for building your own customer base. So build a simple website that describes your experience, certifications and includes photos of your work, as well as your contact information. If you’re not comfortable building a basic website using templates provided by popular sites such as WordPress, hire someone to build one for you. A basic website covering two pages should not cost more than $200.

In addition to your business website, create an Instagram account to showcase your services. The strategy is to post plenty of “before” and “after” photos with hashtags so that people looking for hairdressing services can find you. Instagram is the #1 online venue in the world for beauty professionals to display their work. Be sure to get written permission from your clients before you post images of their faces. You can download and print free photo release forms here.

Other strategies for attracting new business:

  • Give discounts to new customers (if you work for a salon, you’ll need permission to do this; if you are self-employed you can offer any discount you like).
  • Create a referral program with discounts for returning customers who bring new clients to you.
  • Ask clients to review your services online. According to a recent survey, 90% of new customers say their buying decisions are influenced by positive online reviews.
  • Ask all new clients to complete a simple form about their interest in your services. Get their contact information on the form. This lets you follow up with clients and increase repeat business.
Hairdresser shaving the back of client's neck

Good to know:

Experienced hairdressers often share things they wish they’d known when starting out. At the top of the list is an apprenticeship. Hairdressers understandably feel a sense of accomplishment after graduating from a training program and getting their license, but the butterflies in the belly might take flight the first time a new hairdresser stands behind a paying client, scissors in hand, and gets ready to make that first cut. So get as much hands-on experience as you can, working with real models. The more hairstyles you create, the more at ease you will feel with your work.

Also, you’ll want to work on your selling skills. Whether you work for a salon or run your own, chances are, selling retail beauty products to customers will represent a good portion of your income. Salon managers want hairdressers who can not only cut hair expertly, but who can sell products as well. Your compensation may even be tied to the volume of beauty products you’re able to sell to your customers. Why is this so important? In a word, profits. There is an average 5% profit margin on hairdressing services and up to a 40% profit margin on the sale of retail beauty products. It’s really just simple math. A $50 hairstyling might net $2.50 in actual profit for the salon (after paying the hairdresser and covering business expenses such as rent on the salon space, the electric bill, carrying insurance and all the other costs that come with running a company). Meanwhile, a shopping bag with $50 worth of beauty products could net the salon $20 in profit. Since you’ve undoubtedly been a customer at beauty salons, think back on all those times your hairdresser offered products related to the care and maintenance of your new hairdo. Now you know why.

Part of your interaction with clients will also include upselling, so you’ll want to be comfortable with that, as well. While performing a haircut, you might ask the client if she’d like highlights, for instance. Maybe she’d enjoy a manicure since she’s already in the salon. These add-on services benefit your clients and put extra money in your pocket, both from the additional services and the resulting bigger tips.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some other content that can help you grow your career as a hairdresser. Here’s a great place to start. You’ll also love our guide on how to generate leads for service businesses.PocketSuite has thousands of business owners who all started where you are right now. Our community is always happy to help you ramp up, grow your client base, and achieve your income goals, both within the PocketSuite app and as part of our exclusive Facebook Community Group. PocketSuite’s vision is for any professional to be able to work for themselves and make a great living. It starts here. It starts with you. It starts today. Let’s get started, download PocketSuite now! Feel free to reach out with any questions (we’d love to hear from you)! Text us @ (415) 841-2300.