Beauty On-the-Go: Mobile Hairstylists
Featuring expert advice from Destinee Cushing
Not all hairstylists are bound to the confines of salons. A bold and ambitious few decide instead to bring the salon to their clients. The life of a mobile hairstylist is not for everyone, but those who have made it work enjoy careers defined by professional freedom, independence, and excitement.
What Is a Mobile Hairstylist?
Mobile hairstylists provide salon services like cutting, styling, blow-drying, shaping, coloring, and highlighting, but they bring their tools and talents to wherever their clients may be. Although this category includes truly mobile stylists—those who perform spa services in vehicles like converted campers or vans—the majority of mobile stylists perform their services in a fixed location.
Destinee Cushing is a professional vintage hairstylist and makeup artist and the founder of Vinspire. Based in New York City, she does hair and makeup on a freelance basis for photoshoots, video shoots, fashion shows, weddings, special events, and at people's homes. As her career proves, this kind of work can take you just about anywhere.
"On any given day I might work in a salon, a private residence, a corporate office, a hotel, a wedding venue, or a professional photo or video shoot set," she said. "I even did hair in an aquarium once for a photoshoot. The possibilities are endless, which is part of the fun."
She also works at pop-up (temporary) salons, which are sometimes found at festivals and other public events—and they've taken her all over the world.
"Doing a pop-up salon at an event is a fun experience because you get to help attendees look and feel their best while surrounded by people whose opinions they really care about," Cushing said. "I generally break even at these events or make about how much money I would have made if I had stayed home and taken clients like I usually do, even if the pop-up is wildly successful. So the point of these salons has historically been more of a publicity move for me..."
The lifestyle can land mobile hairstylists in exciting circles that they might never otherwise experience.
"I've done hair for swing dancing events where my clients were competing, doing literal flips in the air, and needed to know that their styles wouldn't fall apart and throw the whole performance off," Cushing said. "It's interesting to see what new challenges present themselves at various events. But it's so rewarding to fulfill my clients' needs and see what a positive impact it can have on their experience at the event when they're happy with their look."
How to Become a Mobile Hairstylist
There are several paths that can lead to a career as a mobile hairstylist.
"You could start by working in a salon, building your clientele that way, then moving out on your own once you have enough loyal clients," Cushing said
"I've worked for several mobile beauty service companies, and they can make a wonderful addition to your regular clients by adding in appointments during times when your book was open anyway," Cushing said. "They can also open doors to wonderful new opportunities, like working with celebrities or for New York Fashion Week."
Cushing also points out a more risky way of starting, but one that led her down the path to success. "You could do it the way I did and just start your own company, connect with different photographers and other stylists who do hair for photoshoots and events like fashion shows and weddings," Cushing said. "Then travel to events, do pop-up salons, and take just about any hairstyling jobs that come your way."
She points out, however, that this is an unstable path that—at least in the beginning—almost always requires a supplementary income stream to support you financially as you grow your business. "I was working from home for an Internet marketing company while building my business," Cushing said. "It takes a while to get profitable in the beginning as you build your client book and portfolio."
Whichever path you choose, it is important to do these things:
- Start with a plan.
- Check your state's insurance and licensing laws.
- Consider how you will build your business once you get going.
Start With a Plan
Entering the field takes some planning, and those plans must consider the realities of your situation, schedule, location, abilities, experience, and budget.
To help you come up with a plan, ask yourself the following questions:
Often one of the biggest barriers to starting a business is money. One possible solution is to partner up with a beauty professional who can complement the services you offer. A partner can share the financial and logistical burdens and also expand your client base. For example, you might consider joining forces with a mobile makeup artist or mobile esthetician.
Check Your State's Insurance and Licensing Regulations
Like so many other branches of cosmetology, the laws and regulations for mobile hairstylists are inconsistent and vary quite a bit from state to state. Before you start planning, make sure mobile hairstylists are allowed to work where you live—some states, like Tennessee, ban the practice outright. Others, like Oregon, allow them to work off-site on a concierge basis or at events, but not out of vehicles. Others, like Wyoming, allow stylists to work in mobile units, off-site, and at events, but with very strict regulations on when, where, and how. In almost all cases where it is allowed, you're required to earn a special license or certification.
It's important to note that some states use the terms "off-site" or "concierge" to differentiate between stylists who travel to fixed locations and truly mobile stylists who perform spa services in vehicles like converted campers or vans. Keep an eye out for differences in terminology in your state's regulations to make sure you know which regulations apply to you.
You'll also want to look into special insurance, like the cosmetologist insurance offered by Beauty Insurance Plus, which covers things like lost and damaged equipment or injured or otherwise aggrieved clients.
Build Your Business
Cutting and styling hair is only part of the job. To flourish as an independent mobile stylist, you'll have to dedicate time, effort, and energy to the business aspects as well.
"If I'm not continuously answering emails, posting to social media, and updating my website, I'll fall behind and business will drop off," Cushing said. "I need to make sure that I'm keeping my book open and answering any inquiries that come in for work as soon as possible."
Cushing has a professional presence—separate from her personal social media pages—on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. She also has profiles in publications like Backstage and maintains her own website, which virtually anyone can do these days using a platform like Wix. You might consider creating a blog and a YouTube channel to write posts and create videos that are informative and educational to position yourself as an authority in the field.
Should I Become a Mobile Hairstylist?
The life of a mobile hairstylist can be exciting and rewarding, but it's certainly not for everyone. Before you dive into this career and lifestyle, take time to honestly assess the benefits and drawbacks and whether or not you're a good fit. Sometimes, the pros overlap with the cons. Cushing summed up the concept neatly with this statement: "The biggest benefit of this kind of work is that you are your own boss. Coincidentally, the biggest drawback is that you are your own boss."
The Pros of Being a Mobile Hairstylist
The main benefit of being a mobile stylist is the control, independence, and flexibility that come with it.
"It is so freeing to be able to choose your own hours of operation and have full control of your schedule," Cushing said. "You can start and stop working whenever you want. You also don't have to take any jobs that you aren't interested in. I get to decide exactly how the world sees me and my business. Every aspect of my career is in my control."
The life of a mobile hairstylist can also be varied and exciting. You won't be in the same salon day after day, you will have the chance to meet new and interesting people, and you can incorporate travel into your business.
The Cons of Being a Mobile Hairstylist
As previously discussed, the laws and regulations governing this kind of work can be inconsistent and burdensome. Because you need to travel, every tool and piece of equipment you need has to travel with you. It's up to you to market your business, do your own branding, and constantly pursue new clients. Finally, the unpredictability that makes this kind of work so exciting can also work against you.
"Many times, I don't know exactly what kind of situation I'm walking into when I knock on my client's door," Cushing said. "I don't always know what kind of hair they have, what they want, or what my workspace will be. I need to find that information out and set up in about five minutes, then get to work. It's exhilarating, but can also be stressful. So I would say that to be a mobile hairstylist, you need to be able to work well under pressure."
Meet the Expert
Destinee Cushing is a professional vintage hairstylist and makeup artist and the founder of Vinspire. She does freelance work full time in New York City, doing hair and makeup for photoshoots, video shoots, fashion shows, weddings, special events, and in-home beauty services. Destinee is a licensed cosmetologist in New York and has several makeup certifications in addition to her cosmetology school training. She found her passion for vintage beauty services when she started swing dancing in college, and it led her to pivot her career from Internet Marketing to doing hair and makeup. She loves her work and feels as if she's gaming the system by getting paid to do it!