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

9-minute read

Sam Bromley

31 March 2022

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Become a hairdresser and you’ll be part of a rewarding profession that gives you the opportunity to make clients look (and feel) great.

What’s more, being a self-employed hairdresser means you get to work flexibly, develop a personal brand, and build a business you’re proud of.

  • How to start a business

Whether you’re currently working in a salon for somebody else or wondering about going self-employed from scratch, here’s how to become a hairdresser.

Read more about hairdressers insurance.

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Self-employed mobile hairdresser vs opening a hair salon

If you’re becoming a hairdresser from scratch, you might be thinking about the difference between becoming a mobile hairdresser as opposed to starting out by opening a small hair salon. And if you currently work for somebody else but dream of going self-employed, you might want to know about the route to take.

They actually both offer different types of services and appeal to different kinds of clients. This means that there isn’t always direct competition between the two.

People who go to hair salons often enjoy it as escapism and pampering, whereas those who use a mobile, freelance hairstylist 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.

Self-employed mobile hairdresser pros and cons

Pros include:

  • flexibility – you don't need to open and close up shop, meaning if you need to stop work early, you can
  • personal relationships – you can develop a loyal client base, meeting people in their homes and building rapport
  • travel – this client base can be broad, as you need to travel to meet them
  • low overheads – you won't have any rent payments and will likely not employ any staff

Cons include:

  • 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’ll have both busy and quiet periods

Opening a hair salon pros and cons

Pros include:

  • 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

Cons include:

  • high start-up costs – there'll be a significant cost to get your hair salon up and running, and you'll have continuing payments like 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 will have set operating hours

If you'd like to learn more, check out our article on how to open a beauty salon.

How to become a barber

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

But when it comes to barbering, 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 taches 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 barbers don't take appointments and just have walk-in customers
  • barber shop prices are often a lot cheaper than hair salons

How long does it take to become a barber?

It depends on the training route you take. According to the London School of Barbering, private courses take two to three months (but are expensive). Apprenticeships take two to three years, and college takes one to two years.

Read more about barber insurance.

Renting a chair in a hair salon or barber shop

If you don’t want to start your own salon but don’t want to go mobile, you could rent a chair in an existing hair salon or barber shop.

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

By renting a chair in a salon or barbers you get a permanent place to work. 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.

You’ll also be able to set your own hours and work flexibly. 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 a lot lower. Plus you won’t have to deal with many of the logistical issues involved in finding premises and signing leases. That being said, you should have a watertight contract with the salon.

So how much does it cost to rent a chair in a salon?

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

barber-image.jpg
Photograph 2: NDABCREATIVITY/stock.adobe.com

Understand the contract

It’s important to 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.

But you should remember that this isn’t an employment contract. You won't get any of the benefits enjoyed by employees, although the positive is that you can 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 competitive, so qualifications make you stand out from the crowd. If you don’t have them already you might need to find employment first, as training in a salon or barbers is often a great route to gaining them.

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.

The London School of Barbering offers courses that last from three to 14 weeks at different NVQ levels.

If you’re wondering how to become a hairdresser quickly, there are fast-track NVQ courses available, but these can be expensive. Ideally, you should also have some experience so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

You can also have a look at the qualifications listed by City and Guilds.

Whatever route you choose, make sure you research and plan your options carefully.

Opening a hair salon: think about your premises

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

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

Do I have the right hairdresser equipment?

A self-employed hairdresser needs the right tools and your equipment should be professional salon quality. Whether you want to be a mobile hairdresser or open a salon, you’ll likely need among other things:

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

Barbers need clippers, razors, combs, trimmers, and edgers.

Investing in the right tools from the start should help you feel comfortable with them quickly. You’ll be relying on them 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 can a self-employed hairdresser earn?

It’s variable and depends on experience, how well established you are, and where you are in the country. But you shouldn’t set too low a price, even if your clients initially include only family and friends. Know how much you're worth and take your experience into account.

As fees for haircuts vary, it’s best to do your research and find out what other self-employed hairdressers are charging in your area. To start winning clients, you could charge the same or slightly less.

As an indication, according to Save the Student prices for a barber can range from £5 to £15, but at a hair salon it can be between £20 to £100. In London, the prices people expect to pay will be higher.

As you gain experience and get loyal clients, you can trial increasing prices.

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

As a self-employed hairdresser, you're running a business…

This means you need a thorough business plan. You should also consider the legal structure of your business.

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

Check you have all the right licences and registrations in place with your local council. 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 (so be sure that you’re complying with everything that’s relevant).

Finally, be sure to keep up with self-employed tax changes each tax year.

Self-employed hairdresser bookkeeping

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

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

Bookkeeping is the day-to-day administration tasks that keep track of the money your business receives and the money it spends. Accurate bookkeeping is necessary for understanding your business’s profits and for filing your tax return. Here are our bookkeeping tips for the self-employed.

What hairdressers insurance do I need?

If you want to become a self-employed hairdresser or barber, it’s important to consider business insurance. Insurance isn’t a legal requirement (apart from employers’ liability for when you have employees), but it helps give you peace of mind should something go wrong. Covers to look at include:

  • hairdressing public liability insurance – as hairdressers work closely with clients, this cover is often central to a hairdresser insurance policy. It can cover the legal fees and compensation costs should you injure or cause a loss to a client
  • business equipment cover – barbering and hairdressing equipment is essential to 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

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.

The first place to look for clients is family and friends. You can then ask them to recommend your services. But how else can you market your business?

  • start your own website – 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. Get 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 read up and make it work for your business
  • start a blog – blogs can help with SEO, so use one to give professional hair tips and tricks. Use the right keywords, links, and post regularly to help people find your website in Google
  • 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 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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Photograph 1: DragonImages/stock.adobe.com

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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