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How to become a hairdresser or barber: a guide to going self-employed

10-minute read

How to become a hairdresser or barber: a guide to going self-employed
Sam Bromley

Sam Bromley

27 July 2021

It’s true – if you become a hairdresser, you'll be entering into one of the country's happiest professions.

Over the years, hairdressing has placed highly in surveys and indexes of the country’s happiest careers. What’s more, people will always need a haircut, which means hairdressers can withstand the ups and downs of the economy.

  • How to start a business

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It might be that you’re currently working in a salon for somebody else, or you could be wondering about becoming a self-employed hairdresser from scratch. Either way, this comprehensive guide will help you on your way to becoming a self-employed hairdresser.

Read more about hairdressing insurance.

How to become a hairdresser – mobile vs opening a salon

If you’re approaching hairdressing from scratch, you might be wondering about the difference between becoming a mobile hairdresser as opposed to opening a salon. And if you currently work for somebody else but dream of going self-employed, you might be wondering which route to go down, too.

The first thing to understand is that they both offer different types of services, and appeal to different kinds of clients. This means that there isn’t necessarily direct competition between the two.

People who go to salons often enjoy getting away from it all and being pampered, whereas those who use the services of a freelance hairdresser do so for the convenience.

It's a choice only you can make, but we outline some of the pros and cons of each below.

Mobile hairdresser pros and cons

  • flexibility: you don't need to open and close up shop, meaning if you need to stop work early, you can
  • a personal relationship with clients: you can build a loyal client base, meeting them in their home and building a rapport with them
  • travel: you can have a broad client base as you'll travel to meet them
  • low overheads: you won't have any rent payments and will likely not employ any staff
  • stress of driving: you'll spend a lot of time behind the wheel
  • lack of staff: this means you'll be doing everything yourself, including cleaning your equipment
  • variable workload: you will have both busy and quiet periods

Opening a salon pros and cons

  • walk-in appointments: there's always the opportunity for business as people walk past your salon
  • existing client base: if you're taking over a salon, you'll have an in-built base of loyal customers
  • opportunities to expand: with employees, a visible brand, and strong local presence, you may have the chance to expand your business
  • high start-up costs: there'll be a significant cost to get your salon up and running, and you'll have continuing payments such as rent to contend with
  • limited by your area: clients enjoy convenience, so may not travel far and wide to visit your salon
  • lack of flexibility: your salon needs to have set operating hours

If you'd like to learn more, check out our article on how to start your own salon.

How to become a barber

While this guide primarily focuses on hairdressing, many of the steps can also apply if you're wondering how to become a self-employed barber.

When it comes to barbering, though, there are some key differences:

  • you'll specialise in cutting and styling men's and boy's hair (whereas salons are unisex)
  • tasks include trimming and shaping beards, and moustaches too
  • you'll advise customers on hairstyles and grooming to suit their style and face shape
  • you'll probably use clippers and razors to style shorter hair more often than scissors
  • barber shops can feel more casual than a hair salon
  • many barber's don't take appointments and just have walk-in customers
  • barber shop prices are often a lot cheaper than hair salons

Read more about barber insurance.

Barber checking symmetry on client's hair

How to rent a chair in a salon or barber shop

If you’re not ready to take the leap and start your own salon, but you don’t want to go mobile, you could consider renting a chair in an existing hair salon or barber shop.

What are the advantages of renting a chair in a salon?

By renting a chair in a salon or barbers, you get a permanent place to work from. You may also benefit from the salon’s own passing trade – it can be a great way for self-employed hairdressers to become more established.

In addition, you’ll be able to set your own hours and work flexibly if you wish. This is particularly attractive for self-employed hairdressers who have other commitments, like childcare.

Compared to setting up your own salon, the start-up costs are dramatically lower. In addition, you won’t have to deal with many of the logistical issues involved in finding premises and signing leases – although you should make sure you understand the contract you have with the salon, as we’ll explain below.

So how much does it cost to rent a chair in a salon? There’s a few different ways this might work.

1. You pay a percentage

Under this arrangement, you pay a proportion of your earnings to the salon. This is normally around 40 per cent, but some salons may charge more, especially if they're very established or in a desirable location with lots of passing trade.

2. You pay a fixed rent

This is the simplest arrangement – you pay a fixed amount each month to rent the chair. You know exactly how much you need to make every month to break even. However, remember you'll still need to pay the same amount even if you go through a quiet patch.

3. You pay a mixture

Alternatively, you might make an arrangement somewhere between the two options above: you pay a small fixed fee, and the salon also takes a percentage of your sales. This way, you can be sure of how much work you need to pay your rent every month, but it can be more expensive during busy periods.

Understand the contract

It’s important you have a contract with the salon you’re renting the chair from. This should set out both parties’ rights and responsibilities, as well as the amount that you’re paying.

You should remember, however, that this isn’t an employment contract. You won't get any of the benefits enjoyed by employees, but at the same time you'll also be able to control your own work patterns. Crucially, you'll be able to keep what you earn, less any percentage fee for rent agreed with the salon.

In addition, remember you’ll still have to abide by all of the same tax and legal obligations as any other self-employed hairdresser.

What qualifications does a self-employed hairdresser or barber need?

Hairdressing and barbering can be a competitive marketplace, so you'll need all the qualifications necessary to stand out from the crowd. If you don’t have them already this might be a catch-22, as training in a salon or barbers is often a great route to achieving your qualifications.

This could be a stepping stone on your way to becoming a self-employed hairdresser or barbers. Salons might offer an apprenticeship scheme, or offer training that isn’t part of an apprenticeship.

You can also gain qualifications by attending colleges. If you’re working currently, you might be able to do this in the evenings or at weekends. You can choose to take National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in hairdressing and barbering.

For example the London School of Barbering offers 12 and nine-week barbering courses for beginners.

City and Guilds diplomas are another route, which cover a wide range of skills.

Give your business premises proper thought

If you're opening a salon, you need to do your research to make sure you're setting up shop in the right location. When scouting for premises, consider things like footfall and visibility.

Your salon needs to be big enough for salon stations, chairs and, possibly, a reception desk.

Do I have the right equipment?

A self-employed hairdresser needs the right tools to do an effective job. Your equipment needs to be professional salon quality. Whether you want to be a mobile hairdresser or want to open a salon, you will likely need, among other things:

  • a range of scissors and combs
  • salon-quality hairdryers
  • professional straighteners
  • hair clippers
  • curling irons
  • bleach-resistant salon towels
  • a stock of hair products (shampoos, conditioners, styling products, colours, etc.)

As a barber, you'll also need clippers, a razor, comb, trimmers, and edgers.

Investing in the right tools from the start should help you feel comfortable with them quickly. You’ll be putting a lot of trust in your tools to get the job done.

And if you want to offer services like bleaching, dying, and permanent waves, you’ll have to find a trusted supplier of these chemicals. Keep track of brands you’ve used before and work out which ones you're comfortable with.

Some clients might have unusual requests for their hair, so you’ll want a stock of products that you can mix with fast.

If you want to open your own salon or barbers, you also need to think about these for your premises:

  • salon stations, chairs and mirrors
  • shampoo bowls
  • reception desk - including phones and computers

How much should a self-employed hairdresser charge?

This is variable and depends on experience, how well established you are and where you are in the country. What is true, though, is that you shouldn’t set too low of a price, even if initially your clients include just family and friends. Be aware of how much you're worth and take all of your experience into account.

It’s best to do your research and find out what other self-employed hairdressers are charging in the area, whether you're opening a salon or becoming a mobile hairdresser. To win clients, you could charge the same or slightly less.

Outside of London, you could charge around £20 to £25 for a basic cut and style. While for men's haircuts in a barber shop, you could charge £13 to £20. As you gain experience working on your own and you build a loyal client base, you could increase your prices. If you’re working in London, the prices people expect to pay will be higher.

You may want to offer discounts if a client is using multiple services, such as a haircut and colour. Being clear on your prices is an absolute must, so include these on your website or promotional leaflets.

Remember that you're running a business

Before starting any business, you need to have a thorough business plan. You should also consider the legal structure of your business.

Not only will you be cutting hair, but you’ll also be dealing with extra administration. You’ll need to keep accurate records of your income and expenditure, and note down any mileage you do if you're mobile.

You should register as self-employed with HMRC and have your detailed records to hand when you complete your Self Assessment tax return.

Keeping detailed records of your earnings and expenditure can also inform the sort of prices you should be charging. Knowing what your income needs to cover will help you set realistic rates that make you money.

You should also check with your local council that you have all the right licenses and registrations in place. For instance, your local council may need you to register your hairdressing or barbering business to make sure you're following health and safety regulations.

And on health and safety regulations, you should be vigilant and make sure that you're complying with everything you need to.

Hairdresser insurance

If you are looking to become a self-employed hairdresser or barber, you should also consider the business insurance you might need. Insurance gives you the peace of mind that you're covered, should something go wrong. Some of the covers to consider include:

  • public liability insurance. As you’ll be working closely with your clients, this insurance will likely be central to your hairdresser insurance policy. This can cover the legal fees and compensation costs should you injure or cause a loss to a client.
  • business equipment cover. As we said above, your barbering and hairdressing equipment is essential to you providing a great service. You can take out insurance that protects against loss, damage, or theft.
  • employers’ liability insurance. If your business grows and you employ anyone, including contractors, temporary staff, or apprentices, in most cases you're legally required to have employers’ liability insurance.
  • business legal protection. This can cover legal expenses or prosecution fees for situations like employment tribunals or civil actions brought under the Data Protection Act.
  • personal accident insurance. This could pay compensation for accidental injury or even death.

How to market yourself as a self-employed hairdresser

Winning and building a loyal client base is key to becoming a successful self-employed hairdresser or barber. You’ll need to be very good at communicating, networking, and building a personal brand. Have an answer to this question – why should people choose you over anyone else?

The first place to look for clients is your family and friends. You can then ask them to give personal recommendations to their family and friends, too. But many will find that this isn’t enough to keep their business afloat, so what else can you do?

  • start your own website. You can set up your own website to list news and information about your business. Include a price list, testimonials, and a gallery of your work. You can also include which areas you cover. We have some tips on how to set up a website for your business.
  • produce promotional leaflets and business cards. You can print leaflets that list your services and prices. A set of business cards is a good idea for when you’re networking or going to hair and beauty events.
  • think about SEO (search engine optimisation). This helps people find your website online. There's a wealth of information out there about SEO so swot up and make it work for your business.
  • start a blog. One aspect that will help your SEO effort is starting a blog. You could give professional hair tips and tricks. Using the right keywords, links, and posting regularly, will give your website authority, helping it stand above others in Google’s search rankings.
  • social media marketing. Social media is a vital tool for a self-employed hairdresser. Set up Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for your business. Post photos of your work regularly and get your clients to follow, like and share your posts. It’s also a great way to promote discounts and special offers.
  • targeted advertising. You can pay for targeted advertising through the likes of Google and Facebook to help win clients from your area. You can refine your targeting further, for example to people who are interested in bridal topics.
  • online reviews. Encourage customers to leave you a review on Google to help you attract more customers and improve your search engine rankings. Our guide to online reviews has tips for increasing your ratings.

Are you looking to become a self-employed hairdresser or barber? Let us know how you get on in the comments.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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