I’m Michelle. I’m currently a Master Stylist and Advanced Trainer at Beauty Brands, and I’ve been a cosmetologist for 8 years. I discovered my passion for cosmetology when I was probably about 7 or 8 years old and I knew I wanted to cut, color all my Barbies myself, and I probably started coloring my own hair myself when I was about 12 with Manic Panic Hair Dye. Then eventually over time I realized that there wasn’t a job creative enough for me until I found cosmetology.
What were you looking for in a cosmetology school?
A great question when you’re a cosmetologist. I actually got my training at what was Superior School of Hairstyling in Olathe, Kansas and it is no longer, it was bought out by Xenon, which I hear is also a great school. I will tell you that I traveled to Topeka and looked at their schools and I even looked in California as well. My deciding factor for where I went was diversity. I wanted a cosmetology school that offered not just a specific clientele that you get, but a little bit of everything.
What kinds of questions did you ask potential beauty schools?
I asked of course the basic questions “What are the hours that need to be completed? How do you handle training and preparation for your state board tests, your licensing? A big one I think is important as well is how they’re going to help place you in your job market when you’ve completed your graduation and your time. I asked all of those questions as well as their full-time and part-time hours, how they work that. You know, just the basic things of life so you can create a life around school if you have to. Also, what types of services they got as walk-ins when you’re out on that floor. Did they do just highlights, just haircuts, a lot of relaxers, just perm sets,“ so I could get my hands into everything and get the best education I thought I could.
What does it take to become a Master Stylist and get to that point in your career?
To become a master stylist at the company I work with, it’s kind of a tiered level. The requirements are pretty much the same across the board. It all focuses on your clientele, the biggest part, meaning how many people you see on a regular basis that come directly to you as a request. That’s a huge portion of it. The other portion with the company I work for is your dollar-per-hour, so what you’re doing per hour while you’re there. And I do work for a commission-based company. If you’re not doing a service, you’re not ringing anything to make money on. It’s not an hourly wage. The others are education. You have to have advanced education requirements, meaning business building, advanced cutting and color techniques to build up to that requirement and have a certain percentage of requests for yourself in order to maintain Master Stylist. I’ve also been a Master Stylist for 3 years now, so I’ve worked throughout Beauty Brands to be able to earn that title.
What are some of the non-technical skills cosmetologists need to be successful?
Just being able to do a great haircut is an amazing talent in itself, but really to grow in that it obviously takes education because this industry is always changing. It’s an industry that doesn’t stay with the same trends and fashions year to year or season to season. That’s the goal with our education team is to bring those things and educate people in those so that they can create a better career throughout that time period and then advance themselves in that way.
Things outside of just the technical piece that people think, I have to be really good at doing haircuts or specialize in color. Those are great things, which I’m very passionate about is education, continuing that and your passion for that, keeping up with trends. I think a big portion of it is I’m a huge stickler for consultation because to me that’s where this business starts is in the communication. It’s an agreement, and you both have to agree on what’s going to happen. Consultation, working on that and whatever skills you can and tools you can! Obviously continuing education in business building, meaning attending classes or the Redken Symposium, and taking those business building classes teaches you to maximize your time, work smarter not harder. But also it gives you some values in how to treat your clients, and how to get returns from them, and how to give back to them as much as they give to you.
What does it feel like to graduate from beauty school?
I have to tell you when you graduate cosmetology school you are so excited and ready, but at the same time it’s terrifying. The school that I went to set us up amazingly well, and every few months before you leave the classroom, you do what’s called a mock demonstration and mock test. So you actually mock what you’re going to be doing with that information and you get that anxiety out of the way. I can tell you with the written examination “ be prepared, be prepared for everything, not just the hair portion or wrapping a perm, but chemicals, sanitation is huge in the state of Kansas, be prepared for your nail exam, that’s a big part of the cosmetology license is nails, and skin, and waxing. Just know everything. Don’t be too nervous because it is a multiple choice test. Study before you go in there if you’re not a test taker, like myself. Just be ready to do it and have every tool you possibly can in your tool belt and ready to take that test. I’ll tell you the written was not as terrifying as the practical was.
How do you prepare for the practical cosmetology board exam?
Ok, the practical exam. Preparation for that if I could give you key points with the practical examination would be to over-prepare. Truly over-prepare. If they say to grab 3 of something, grab 5 of them. I will tell you at least in the state of Kansas with your practical exam, sanitation is the biggest focus and the biggest portion that they’re looking at. The other thing I’d tell you that I think is a misconception when you do your practical is that you have to finish everything. You don’t necessarily have to finish everything. They would rather see it done right than have it be finished. I would tell you that there’s no getting rid of the anxiety. It’s the most terrifying experience of your life it seems like. And you go in and after two hours you’re sweating, and you still don’t know directly afterwards [whether you passed]. But I will tell you that if you took all your notes, and you were meant to do this career and you’re passionate about it, then you will come over-prepared with your bag, you will label everything, you will follow all sanitation. Just listen to the directions, keep yourself calm and you’ll get through it. And in a week, hopefully you’ll get that license that says you passed.
What are the board exams like?
The written takes about 45 minutes. I’m a slow test taker, I’m not a test taker at all. It took me about 45 minutes. But you do get your results back immediately. It’s done very seriously. They check in you in, you’re in a quiet room, you have headphones on, a gentleman checks you in and checks you out, and you get your results immediately. The practical, you show up early of course. It kind of depends on the day and how quickly they’re moving, but I would say at least 2 hours total. Then generally between a week to two weeks you’ll find out if you made it through the mail. They don’t contact you via e-mail or anything, they just mail you your letter stating you made it.
Obviously getting the written right away, it was like a sigh of relief. And I knew the hard one was coming. I have to say that when I was waiting, every day I was checking the mail, like you’re waiting for the biggest letter of your life. You get this little white sheet of paper, it’s a pink temporary license, then you get a blue license, your permanent license. When you read that letter, it says, Congratulations you’ve passed the Kansas State Board of Cosmetology test. You are now licensed as a cosmetologist. I think I called everybody I knew and told them, because I hold that license forever now. I renew every 2 or 3 years I believe. You do have to take your written every time you renew. You get a written test you mail back in, and you have about a month to do so. Just to keep you fresh, and laws do change, so be careful about copying and thinking last year’s was the same. But they do give you a booklet and a test, and you go through the booklet and re-read those sanitation laws and some of the laws they’re asking about.
What about cosmetology continuing education?
This is my most passionate subject, which is continuing education in this industry. Because this industry is forever changing, sometimes people in this industry get in “I don’t want to say a rut“ but a comfortable space with what they know how to do because they’re best at it, quick at it, it gives them the results they want. And sometimes I think that I thrive in the cosmetology business because it’s creative and it’s always changing, so day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year, there’s always something new and bigger and better and different, even. Challenging those habits is the hardest thing that we have, and that’s sometimes that’s what makes some of the best hairstylists is those who challenge themselves to become better or different or unique in that way. So to me continuing education is a key piece to everything that we do. Keeping yourself up-to-date, and networking and meeting people and different avenues. Because this industry isn’t just cutting hair, coloring hair, you can do platform artistry, you could do hair shows only, you could just do education in this field. There are so many different avenues that you could go down, that if you don’t have those tools in your tool belt, sometimes it can limit what you can do or where you’re going to go.
Describe the salon technical demo or audition.
When someone comes in at the salon I work for, we do what’s called a technical piece. So you do a basic interview, and you go through the paperwork, and you speak to somebody. And if they’re interested and the schedule works out, they ask you to come back and do the technical. That shows us not so much your ability, but your timing; do you understand Redken color because the salon I work for utilizes Redken color; can you formulate, mix and apply in a timely manner; how was the haircut, the blowdry and the service itself? So really we’re not looking for do you do amazing highlights right away, or did you do an amazing cut. Those are all great bonuses, but I think it’s about do you understand how to work with a client, fulfill their needs, communicate with them, and then obviously give the demonstration that you’ve learned what you do best to the best of your ability. Honestly, after you do your state board test, your actual demo, you won’t terrified to do a practical in a salon. Most of the time you work with a model you know, and if you don’t then it’s even better.
What are your tips for effective client consultation?
My top tips for a client consultation are:
Communication is huge. So you have to be somebody who is confident and comfortable speaking to other people. And a huge one for me is honesty. There’s a way to be honest without being rude to people or mean. But we’re the professionals and we don’t go to our doctors’ offices and question what they do. So I feel that people can ask me questions and they can give their opinions because it is their hair at the end of the day, but you came to me for a reason, so I have to be able to input my advice and expertise as well.
I definitely think that beyond the communication and honestly, it’s an agreement between the two of you. It’s like dating. You want to make sure that you have their permission, and that you explain honestly what’s going to happen in that process to your best ability without sounding too professional, and bringing it down to their world. I think a lot of times people fear being too honest or just do what people ask even though, we over-promise and under-deliver. And that’s what upsets people, and that’s why they learn not to trust you. So really building a relationship like a dating relationship it’s trust, it’s honesty, it’s communication. And if you have those huge key pieces, you’re on your way to an amazing consultation.
For those people who are not great at consultation or even starting in this industry, the tool I would highly recommend is Redken’s Art of Consultation. It’s a toolkit you get that actually has a sheet that walks you through questions that should be asked to provide the best experience possible for each and every client. That would be a huge tip I could give people just starting out, or even who have been in the business and feel like you’re lacking in consultation or you need some extra help with that. It walks them and you through what’s going to happen and what may best suit them for that experience.
How do you get return clients and referrals?
To get return clients and rebooking is huge. It’s what makes your clientele, and that’s what advances you and builds your business. So if your goal in this industry is even to become a booth rent, you need a large enough clientele to support that. My key tips there having an amazing consultation will always keep people coming back, because the lines of communication are open. When you create that relationship where people are comfortable being honest with you and give you their opinion, and they know you can follow through and succeed with that, they’re willing to come back to you because you’re always providing that experience for them.
A great tip I can give to anybody “booth rent, salons, whoever you are, encourage people to rebook. Give them a discount to do it, and don’t discount yourself. Say, I’m running a contest, if you rebook with me I’ll put your name in a drawing for 20% off your next service and I’ll let everyone know at the end of the month who won that. For lack of a better word, it’s training your clientele to understand“ every 8 weeks I need this haircut to maintain the look I want. Every 6 weeks I need to maintain my highlights, because this is what my doctor has prescribed to me. So my hairstylist has prescribed to me to keep and maintain this look, this is what I need to do. It teaches them to keep that schedule, and when they rebook they learn that is what they need and they’ll continue to do it. Always encourage people and let them know. For example, You’re asking for a full head of highlights and to maintain that look I need to see you back in 8 weeks.
Again, I think my biggest piece of advice with maintaining a clientele and rebooking is always let people know that you want to see them again and almost don’t ask them, but tell them. I need to see you back or I’d like to see you back in order to maintain what we’ve done, instead of “Would you like to come back?” Because people will always say they need to check their schedule or calendar, and that’s fair, but at the same time people start to get in that groove and like that schedule and understand that’s what works best for them. So I would say just educating them on when they need to be back, maybe running a contest to start that out and get people used to that rotation helps to build that rebooking business.
What inspires your creativity daily?
What inspires me daily? Everything. Everything from Launchpad, Modern Salon, Allure magazines. You look at everything in the world. The TV, the magazines, everything and it kind of inspires you. But I’ll tell you that being inspired by celebrity hairstyles only takes you so far before you want to create outside of that box and expand on it. My biggest inspirations are color “I’m very, very passionate about hair coloring,“ like being in a hardware store and seeing paint swatches. The other day I was looking at a color wheel for painting your home, but it mimics the hair color wheel. It inspired me to look at that and understand complementary colors that maybe do or don’t work together. I get inspired by pastels a lot, so Easter time I’m always inspired by something because I find that fascinating in hair color. Science is inspiring to me, because the science of hair color has come so far from when even I first started. I know people who have been in the industry 20 years who have seen this hair color world change. But even in the last 8 years, it’s been amazing. What else inspires me is other people like me, other hairstylists. People who are passionate about their careers and love what they do inspire me. A lot of the motivational speakers inspire me in the way of teaching people how to communicate with others. I think that’s where people lack. Their talent is amazing technically, it’s just that their missing a piece. I would definitely say that it’s an everyday world of inspiration for me. Other artists, if anyone’s ever attended Redken Symposium, you get to meet 10,000 other hairdressers from around the world who are absolutely as creative as inspired by the world as you are. I think that by far is one of the most amazing and inspiring experiences you could have.
What are your top three tips for new cosmetologists?
My top three tips for a person either entering this amazing world of cosmetology or considering entering the world of cosmetology. I would say my number one tip for you is to always be grateful and appreciative of what we do. I believe that cosmetology is a gift because we don’t get to touch people regularly unless we’re in an industry that allows us to. You’d be surprised what that does for somebody. Always be grateful to your clients, to your coworkers, to your educators but definitely your clients. Be grateful to those people for building a relationship with you. Always appreciate them because they create your livelihood, fuel your passion and share their lives with you on a day to day basis.
My second tip is patience. I say patience because I know that for me, I wasn’t great at everything in the cosmetology field. I struggled with some of those things, and it takes patience to get through school “ trust me, it takes patience to take all that you learned and take a written and practical test, and it takes patience to build a clientele in this industry. I meet a lot of people just starting out working at a salon who get so frustrated and give up, because they’re not making tons of money and have a huge clientele right away. But if you express your gratitude and passion and appreciation, and you give it a little patience, you’ll be amazed at how successful you can be.
My last tip is education. I am passionate about education and can’t stress enough how much continuing that, every little thing counts, even if it’s just hanging out with somebody at the salon who’s great at something you want to be great at. Don’t ever stop practicing, don’t ever stop learning, don’t ever stop looking through magazines and books, or even watching free videos on the web. Always do those things. Research things. Be curious. I think if you continue to do that, you’ll find that you become very successful or fortunate in your life. You’ve picked an industry that’s amazing. It’s a gift.