If you’re a career hairstylist in a major market like The San Francisco Bay Area, $100K is shooting way too low.

Our goal with this article was to make sure we weren’t regurgitating the same “Rah rah rah… you can make gobs of money by doing this”.

You’re gonna want to buckle up – this is a pretty long and heady article.  We’ll do some math.   We’ll walk through some business concepts, look at a few different examples, and then, we will make some specific recommendations on getting there.  If you’d prefer the ‘rah rah rah’, you’re welcome to skip down to the bottom to catch a few bullet points.  You do you.

Andrew Carruthers at JD Academy Cosmetology School in Danville, CA

Breaking 6-figures as a hairstylist is about advancing your career methodically

Becoming a hairstylist will never be a get rich quick scheme, but getting over the $100K mark is actually easier than you probably think.  You’re gonna have to work at it just like everybody else, no matter what profession they chose, but it’s absolutely not some unrealistic dream we’re trying to sell potential students.  In fact, that’s shooting too low.

If you’re already in the industry and feel like you’re not even close to 6-figures, you’re going to have to do some soul-searching about how you approach your work.  Are you a career stylist, actively working on building your business?  Or, are you coming into your “job” every day, going through the motions?  Maybe it’s somewhere in between.

For those of you just starting down this path, or early in your career, you’re going to have to pay your proverbial dues.  You’re going to have to approach your career like the professional you are.

If that hasn’t shattered your dreams, the good news is that breaking $100k doesn’t mean working 60+ hours a week. That’s a recipe for sucking the passion out of something you, hopefully, love doing. Instead, it’s about incrementally building on the areas of your business that get you there most efficiently.

This is an entrepreneurial profession.  You need to run your business.

You don’t need to own the salon, but you do need to treat your profession as the business it is.  That means knowing your numbers.

You need to treat your profession as the business it is.  That means knowing your numbers.

To keep it simple, your annual income as a stylist comes down to four basic numbers:
  • Average Service Ticket per Visit:
    What does your average client spend each time they sit in your chair?
  • Your Percentage of that Service
    If you take a commission, what’s your percentage?  If you rent a chair, what percentage of your revenue are you left with once you pay for rent, product and the other expenses of renting?
  • Client Visit Frequency:
    How often does your average client come to see you?
  • Number of Clients:
    Self-explanatory.  Current clients + new clients – churn (lost clients)

What Does $100K Even Look Like?

There are, literally, countless ways to get there.  That said, there are definitely a few sweet spot numbers that make getting there easier.  Let’s take one path to $100K that falls in that sweet spot and then break it down into smaller pieces

The sweetspot numbers:

  • $120 Average Service Ticket
  • 45+% commission (net revenue for you booth renters)
  • 20% tips
  • ~25 client services/week

These are not unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky numbers.  Nor are they the hard, specific numbers that you need to hit.  Each plays off the other, meaning you can make up shortfalls in one area by raising one of the others.  Let’s dig a little deeper.

$120 average service ticket. That’s a $40 haircut and an $80 base color.  At a mid-to-upper-tier salon, your average ticket will probably be significantly higher.

45% commission/margin. If you’re working on commission, every salon is different, but they typically fall in the 40-50% range – often tiered based on the amount of revenue you bring into the salon.  If you’re renting a chair/booth, it’s making sure ALL of the costs associated with that rental work out to 55% or less of the revenue you bring in.

20% tips.  20% is admittedly on the high side of the the industry standard 15-20%, but with a legitimate focus on your service, this is absolutely maintainable.

25 client services/week.  That’s 5/day if you’re working 5 days/week.  It’s roughly 6/day if you’re working a fairly typical 4 days/week.

So what do those numbers get you?

25 services/week at a $120 average service ticket is $600 in salon revenue/day.  That’s $3000 in revenue generated per week or $150K in revenue generated per year.  That’s assuming you take 2 weeks vacation.

If you take home 45% of the revenue you generate, that means your cut of that $150K pie is $67,500/year ($150,000 *.45).

Here comes the tips…  20% of $150K? That’s a very real $30,000/year.

With those numbers, you’re at $97,500/year.  We could round up to $100K or you could do the bare minimum to educate your clients on the products you’re using and use your product sales commission (typically in the 20% range) to get you over the 6-figure mark.

Four Different Ways to Get to $100K as a Stylist

  • $130 Avg. Service Ticket
  • 40% Commission
  • 15% Tips
  • 28 Services/Week
    (~165 total clients with a 6-week visit frequency)
$100,386/year before product sales
  • $160 Avg. Service Ticket
  • 48% Commission
  • 16% Tips
  • 22 Services/Week
    (~150 total clients with a 7-week visit frequency)
$114,103/year before product sales
  • $100 Avg. Service Ticket
  • 60% Margin (likely a chair rental)
  • 18% Tips
  • 27 Services/Week
    (~155 total clients with a 6-week visit frequency)
$104,780/year before product sales
  • $180 Avg. Service Ticket
  • 60% Margin (likely a chair rental)
  • 12% Tips
  • 22 Services/Week
    (~125 total clients with a 6-week visit frequency)
$140,400/year before product sales

Hairstylist Income Calculator

We’re going to walk through a few different scenarios that allow a stylist to easily reach the $100K mark. Feel free to play with those numbers or your own using the stylist income calculator below.

Getting there efficiently

The importance of the salon you work at:

The salon you work at plays such a huge factor in the “4 numbers that make up your income”.   Bottom line, the easiest path to $100K is to beg, borrow and steal your way into the right salon.  You’re looking for a path into a salon that’s established their pricing at a level that allows you to start with a high floor.

A high floor?  Basically, hitting $100K on a $150 average service ticket (a reasonably high floor) is exponentially easier than hitting 6-figures on a $50, or even $80 average ticket (low floor).

The trick is getting your foot in the door at the best salon that you can get to hire you.   If you’re early in your career, don’t shy away from taking a stylist’s assistant role.  You’ll make less money short-term in the assistant role (as opposed to working as a stylist at a lower-tier salon), but as long as the salon has a clear path to getting you on the floor as a stylist (~2 years or less), your path to $100K will be much shorter.  Pay your dues. The reward will be worth it.

If you’re later in your career and working at a salon with a low floor, you need to shoot higher.  That’s easy for us to say, but trust us, you’re worth it and the longer you wait to make that move, the harder it will be when the time comes.

We’ll give some specific tips a little further down this article, but you need to break out of “being comfortable”.  Starting at a new salon is scary, especially when you’ve built a sizeable client base at the salon you’re at. But the fact is, you can rebuild your client base at a high-floor salon much more easily than you can raise your average service ticket to a similar level at a low-floor salon.

The importance of how you’re paid:

It probably goes without saying, you’re never going to make $100K as an hourly employee of a volume-based salon chain.  Even at a high-end salon, if you were bringing in enough revenue for the salon owner to justify a $100K+ salary, you’d likely be leaving an awful lot of money on the table by not taking a cut of that revenue.

That brings us to deciding between a commission-based role or the chair/booth rental model.  That decision is a bit of a tightrope to walk.

One one side,  especially early in your career, working on commission at an established salon lets you leverage their resources.  It’s typically easier to grow your client base using their marketing, their walk-in traffic, and the salon’s name recognition.  It also gives you opportunities to learn from more experienced stylists and removes many of the complexities of the business itself – everything from product ordering to taxes.  When you’re just starting out, it’s nearly impossible to be profitable in a chair/booth rental.  You simply don’t have the client base to support it yet.

On the other side, when done correctly, there will almost always come a point in your career at which it becomes more profitable to rent a chair/booth.  There are a lot of costs that come with renting beyond your rent itself.  It’s product costs (color, foil, brushes, etc), marketing costs, insurance, accounting, taxes and more.  And that’s okay.  Once you have the client base to support it and the industry experience to manage it correctly, your margin (revenue minus costs) will be significantly higher than the typical 40-50% commission rate we looked at earlier.  That makes some of the other numbers we’ve looked at much easier to hit.

The commission vs booth rental discussion is deep.  We will dig into that more in another article. For now, it’s about maximizing the revenue you take home from every person that sits in your chair.  On the commission side, that’s simply what percentage you take. On the chair rental side, that’s what are your margins (revenue minus cost).

The Deck is Stacked in Your Favor

Here are a few things you have working for you on your quest to $100K+:

Hairstylists have really strong customer loyalty

The vast majority of new clients you get should become clients for years to come. Think about your own hairstylist. Once you’ve found someone you like, you’re not jumping around from place to place trying to find someone else you like. You’re sticking with the person that you found, because let’s face it, finding a new hairdresser sucks.  Unless they move or die, they’re your client to lose.

Salon professionals build accumulative income growth

The result of having low churn (when a client goes somewhere else) is that every new client you bring in means accumulative income growth. Just brought in a new client?  Awesome.  You just gave yourself a raise.

Much of the time spent with your salon clients is idle time

Most of your regular clients will be coming in for color and color takes time, but it’s typically a lot of idle time spent waiting. It’s waiting for hair to dry.  It’s waiting for developer to work.  As your experience level grows, this puts you in a position to easily work with more than one client at a time. At later stages in your career, especially with the help of a stylist’s assistant, there’s no reason you can’t work with multiple clients at once.  You have to find the balance that still lets you maintain the personal relationships that keep your clients coming back, but higher-earning stylists are regularly working with multiple clients at the same time.

Specific Tips to Get to $100K as a Stylist

1. Know your numbers.  Track you numbers.

At a minimum, you need to know how many net clients you have, how much they spend each time they come in and how many time a year you anticipate seeing them.

We recommend developing a system to track this independently from the salon itself.  That means if you’re working on a commission-based comp plan, don’t rely solely on their POS system to tell you how you’re doing.

2. Set specific goals and spend the time to build out a 2-year plan to get there.  Then, break that 2-year plan up into shorter “sprints”.

We call these S.M.A.R.T. goals.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

  • Specific:
    “I need to make $100K or more”, is not specific.  “I need more clients” is not specific.  “I need 75 more clients over the next 2 years”, is getting closer.  “I need to average 3-4 new clients each month, and keep my client churn rate below 20%”, is pretty darn specific.
  • Measurable:
    Measurable means knowing what numbers you have to hit to reach your goals and making sure you have the processes in place to track your progress.  As we mentioned earlier, that measuring process should be more than relying on the Salon’s POS system alone.
  • Attainable:
    You work part-time in a small market?  Don’t set a goal of 250 clients with a $200 average service ticket.  Nothing saps your enthusiasm worse than setting unrealistic goals and then missing them over and over.  Start smaller if you need to.  If you’re currently making $30K/year, maybe your 2-year plan is based on getting to $60K.  We want you to shoot the moon, but not at the expense of your willpower.
  • Relevant:
    Making sure your goals are relevant can take 2 forms.  On the big-picture-side, if you’re balancing family and kids, social life and more, it may not be a relevant goal to say I want to run 400 clients and be Instagram famous.  On the more granular-side, setting a goal of raising your per visit product sale average from $5 to $10, while not a bad thing, may only raise your income by $1,400/year (+$5 * 200 clients * 7 visits/year * 20% commission).  If your goal is to increase your income by $50K, there are probably more relevant goals to get there. (There’s a salon owner reading this right now cursing me for discounting the value of product sales).
  • Timely:
    Timely means you’re setting specific milestones that you need to reach at specific times.  At a high-level, that’s saying I want to double my income in 2 years, but you should really be aiming for more granular timelines.  Using the “75 new clients in 2 years” example we used earlier, breaking that down into smaller increments showed us we needed to add 3-4 clients every 30 days.  Create accountability for your goals.

3. Take advanced classes and take them seriously.

Never stop learning.  You should always be expanding your arsenal – keeping up with current trends and filling in the gaps as far as what you’re comfortable with.  Early-on in your career, that’s probably getting your color game top notch.  The faster you can get really good at the high-dollar color services, the easier hitting $100K becomes.

In an ideal world, the salon you work for will run their own workshops and/or be willing to send you out to dedicated classes from the big salon suppliers.  If not, suck it up and make it happen yourself.  Be on the lookout for salons running industry nights where they invite stylists to sit in on their own workshops.  Call around.  Invite yourself.

This article was by no means meant as a sales pitch, but we do run our own advanced classes on Sundays and Mondays here at JD Academy – bringing in some of the best stylists in The Bay Area to pass some of their hard-earned knowledge and techniques onto the next generation.  You can learn more here.

Finally, Modern Salon puts out a fairly comprehensive listing of upcoming events.  You can check that out here.


4. Have a method for storing client details and use it every time

When you get up into the 200 client range, there is absolutely ZERO chance you’re going to remember all of the details that make those relationships meaningful.

Take 2 minutes after every client to make a few notes about what you talked about.  That thing they’re going for with their hair, birthdays, kids names, that restaurant they tried…  whatever it is you talk about, have a method for remembering those details next time that client comes in.

Use technology.  Use a notebook. Use whatever you need to, but make sure you’ve got an actual process in place, and preferably, one that’s not 100% reliant on the salon’s POS/CRM platform.  If you don’t know where to start, Hubspot offers a free CRM platform that’s perfect for this.

5. Keep business cards on you.  Give them out regularly.

Networking and soliciting new customers outside of work doesn’t need to be sleazy used car sales.  Keep a few business cards on you at all times.  Next time you’re out and about, try saying this to a stranger:  “Wow.  You have amazing hair.”  Hand them a card and just let them know that you’d love to work on that canvas some time.  Worse case scenario, you brightened someone’s day with the compliment, but you’d be shocked how often simply putting yourself out there does in fact turn into new business.

6.  Learn how long it takes you to do everything you do so you can double book without sacrificing quality

How long do your haircuts take?  How long does shampoo and dry take?  How long does the developer take for Sue’s root touchup?

Doing great hair takes time, but as we mentioned earlier, so much of that time is idle.  The vast majority of stylists making over $100K/year are double booking.  They’re replacing that non-revenue-generating idle time with revenue-driving produtive time.  They’re cutting Jen’s hair while Sue’s color is developing.

Doing this well, without sacrificing the strength of your client relationships or the quality of your work, is knowing exactly how long it takes YOU to do everything you do.  Don’t guess.  Not sure where to start?  Check out Toggl.

7. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have

We know the saying is cliché, but that’s as true in the stylist profession as it is anywhere else.  You want to be a $100K hair stylists?  Come to work dressed and put together like you’re a $100K hairstylist.

That means taking your appearance seriously and projecting yourself as the professional you are.  Some of that will be the outfit you choose.  Some of that will be how you keep your own hair, your makeup, etc.  We’re not saying you need to come in wearing Louis Vitton and done up for prom, but that messy bun and the t-shirt aren’t projecting $100K stylist.

8. Raise your pricing without fear of losing clients

This is a line that every business owner needs to toe.  What’s the line between getting paid what you’re worth and not alienating the client base you’ve worked so hard to build.

At an absolute minimum, inflation is real.  Every year, that dollar you earned last year is worth 2-4% less than it was.  That means if you’re not raising your prices regularly, you’re going backwards.  More than that though, every year, you’ve gained hard-earned experience and experience breeds compensation.

We’re not recommending you gouge your clients, but know that they likely got a raise this year to keep up with cost of living and have gotten merit-based raises as their careers have progressed.  You’re not out of line for asking the same.

9.  Take Social Media Seriously

There are a few things going on here.

Your social media profiles are a reflection of you.  If you’re sharing your personal social media accounts with your professional life, you need to make sure you’re keeping it classy.  If your social posts aren’t all professionally classy, create separate ones for your professional life and limit the public visibility (sercurity settings) on your personal accounts.

Next, you need to actively be putting your work out there.  That means taking before and after pictures of just about every service you do.  Pick the hightlights and get them out there for the world to see.  Have good lighting, find a decent background and use the best camera you can.

While it’s possible you’ll pick up new clients directly this way, it’s more about providing an easy, digital portfolio of your best work – both for potential clients checking you out and for potential salons that may be a stepping stone to breaking $100K.

10.  Don’t let yourself get overly comfortable

You might be comfortable at your current salon, but if you’re not getting paid what you’re worth or you don’t have a clear path to $100K, it’s time for a heart-to-heart.

Does your comfort-level with your clients allow you to justify coming into work a little less put together because, “Eh… they know me”?

Are you slacking on social media because you’re comfortable with the $50K you made last year?

Bottom line, getting to the 6-figure mark means staying hungry.  When you get overly comfortable, your career will plateau.

Wrapping Up

You’re not going to come right out of school and pull down $100K a year, but if you approach your career as the professional you are, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t get there in a very reasonable amount of time.

The numbers we’ve thrown out there (200 clients, $120 average service ticket, 45%+ commission/margin and 20% tips) aren’t pie in the sky numbers.  If you approach your career with intention, those are insanely attainable.  Half the battle is showing up.  The other half is going after it.  Go after it.

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