My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer


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How To Become Huge on Instagram and Finally Be Happy!

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Instagram is like a drug. You get some action on an image and you keep checking back every 30 seconds to hopefully watch your engagement grow and to read comments on how great your image is. It’s a huge rush when an image gets a little traction and you think,

“Finally, this is the one that is going to grow my following.”

And then it starts to dwindle because every second there are 10,000 new images being posted that are just as good or better than yours, (come on, be objective, it’s the only way to improve) and in 24 hours your image is almost meaningless. And you need that hit again. This is the cycle; a quick rush, and then you always end up feeling disappointed and you want more. It’s exactly like smoking rocks. Or so I’ve heard…

And then you see certain accounts taking off and you wonder WTF? Why them?My wife just started an IG account a few weeks ago and gets as many or more likes per picture on average with 250 followers than I get with 7K. I have several employees with less than 1500 who get way more likes than I do, and all my followers are legit. But full disclosure, I bought 1000 followers about 4 years ago but  I lost them in the Great IG Purge of 2014.

If you’re old like me, you might be wondering, “Is it worth it? Will it really help my bottom line?”

YES IT WILL. In fact, if you don’t use it, it will hurt your bottom line. Here’s why:
People under 25 use Instagram as their search engine. Google to them is almost like the Yellow Pages to us. They use it when they need to but they search for images of what they want via IG hashtags. As your clientele ages, you need to keep getting younger clients. If you don’t have a strong IG presence, not in following but in the quality of your page and your images, you are losing clients to the competition.

Last month we spent a day in the studio with Monika Quatrano shooting a How To video for the Vancouver Hairdressing Academy, our school. We knew she was an amazing colourist and finisher, but to watch her in action and to see how much attention and time she spends making sure her work and then her imagery is perfect and representative of her brand was a revelation. She spent 45 minutes finishing her model and then another 45 minutes shooting it, restyling as she went along to keep it perfect.

What Monika taught us is that every image you put out has to best exemplify you, your work, the work you are an expert in, and most importantly, your brand. There are no shortcuts, it’s hard work. And if you want to stand out in a crowd, you have to put everything you can into each image.

Another thing Monika taught is about engagement. Monika grew her account not just with incredible work and a signature look, but by WORKING her social media. By being an active and involved member of a community. She started growing her page by becoming a 1000orBust member and then eventually becoming a mentor with them. By being actively involved in supporting and helping others, you will build a community around your own page.

I’ve learned a few things along the way to mediocrity in my own Instagram account as well:

  • Learn from other successful IG accounts or from stylists who put out imagery and content that you love or that resonates with your brand. Copy them until you develop your own voice. It’s totally OK to copy people, just credit them as an inspiration. And there are a lot of genres and ideas out there. Look at Dominick Serna’s page as an example of someone who has created a unique niche that stylists and consumers are loving.
  • Make your page public and viewable! Yes, it’s super cool to be exclusive and mysterious. But guess what? Nobody gives a shit about your account unless you are famous or they can see your content. And even if they can see your content, most people still don’t give a shit, so at least make it easy for the few people interested in you. If Guy Tang is public, you should be as well.
    I personally refuse to follow anyone who is private, and there are a lot of you.
  • Keep consistently putting out great imagery, and delete anything bad or with no action. Remember what I wrote above about being objective? Clean up your page, nobody is going back 6 months on your page, so get rid of the duds and repost the cool stuff.
  • Never shoot in Instagram. That means always use your phone’s camera rather than shooting in the IG app itself. When you shoot in Instagram, you are limiting your image to a square determined by the width of the device the viewer has. That means for longer hair, you will need to be further away from your subject, leaving empty space on the sides of the subject and forcing you to frame your subject from further away.
    If you shoot on your camera app and then add it to IG, there is a handy arrow on the lower left that allows you to toggle between square and roughly 5 x 6.5, allowing you a traditional style image, which means you can fill the frame with about 20% more. It is like night and day in it’s impact.
  • To receive, you need to give. Tag the pages that share people’s images and engage with them. Comment on other people’s work. Become a positive and contributing member to the Instagram community. These people/ accounts will engage back with you and the return can be good. You have to have other people sharing your stuff and engaging with you. It’s hugely important.
  • Repost other people’s work. This is also about engaging with others but it helps you to constantly be adding new content to your page even if you haven’t got anything of your own to post.
    But make it very clear that you are inspired by the other artist. It’s a total douche move to imply to your following that it’s your work. Most people quickly scan their feeds so you need to make it super obvious it’s not yours.
  • Get a ringlight, and finish your clients flawlessly in the salon. A ringlight can look generic in the result but it creates even and contrasty lighting and generally doesn’t effect the white balance on your phone because they are usually flourescent, which cools down your blondes. Also, vivid work looks incredible when lit with a ringlight. If you don’t want a ring light, see below..
  • If you are shooting with available light, always have your back to the window or light source. Never shoot across or into the light, the light must be behind you, facing what you are shooting. It’s the first rule of shooting with natural light. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule but master the rule first. Monika Q always shoots with available light and her stuff is amazing. Light is everything to showcasing your work.
  • Get a new phone, or better yet, a real camera. If your phone takes bad pictures even after trying to improve your shots with light and positioning, it;s time for an upgrade. I personally like my LG G5. But the newest iPhone takes amazing shots, nearly SLR quality. It’s the first phone to be able to achieve a true bokeh effect, which gives your images a much more dimensional look. I personally am a photographer and a bit of a purist, so I prefer an actual camera. I shoot Sony myself, and you can get their entry level mirrorless camera with a great lens for under $800.
  • Use filters. Most of them look crap, but you can touch the filter a second time and dial it down. I like Clarendon and then I’ll dial it back to between 10-20%. It will give your image a bit more pop. And if your image is looking a bit yellow, lower the warmth or desaturate it a little. Play around with things, but less is more.
  • Follow the formula for success in the genre you like to work in. Do what everyone else does on IG but with your own slant. There is a huge amount of noise out there but the formula is clear: vivids, waves, sexy hair. And cute girls and boys.
  • Include a few selfies. There are a lot of people who want to look at your face, not just your work. People want to see a bit of personality. Me? I honestly hate anything with oversized eyes and some ears on your head, I truly think there is nothing that shows a lack of creativity more than your Snapchat pics, but I’m probably not your audience so ignore my opinion. But even an ugly old chunk of coal like me gets a decent amount of love on the selfies I post.
  • Tag what locals will be looking for in finding a new stylist. Remember what the entire point of it is: to position yourself as an expert in your niche, which is hopefully in high demand, fill your chair, your book, create a situation where demand exceeds supply, and then raise your prices. You can do this with a relatively small following provided you are putting out the type of work people want to wear.

It’s a non-stop grind. In the last month I’ve had some very big accounts sharing my work and trying to push me. And I still only gained about 500 followers. I’m on some big stages and I’m also a little bit well known in hairdressing and it’s still a struggle for me. But I’ll leave you with this:

My wife and I were out to dinner with this crowd a few weeks ago. Throughout the dinner, phones were out constantly as a lot of what we were doing and saying was becoming a part of their Instagram stories. In fact, I was asking @hairbykaseyoh something Instagram related while Jenny Strebe was quietly recording me and turning it into her story. It was fun, very social, and it taught us that becoming truly big on Instagram is a full-time job in itself and that these guys never stop creating new content for their pages and their stories.
It’s tireless and endless. For many of us, we just aren’t dedicated to it enough to see the results that these people enjoy. And that’s OK, there is nothing wrong with that. Having 10K, 20K or 50K followers is not going to make you a whole lot happier than you are now unless that number is your goal. And if a number is your goal, then just buy your following, because pursuit of a number for the sake of a number is empty and soulless.
So, keep at it, Instagram under-achievers! One day you might get feel exactly the way you do now but with way more followers.


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She’s Too Late! I Can’t Do it!

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Where is she? It’s now 10 minutes into her appointment time and she’s still not here. If she’s not here in the next 5 minutes I’m not going to do it. I can’t! She has super thick hair and I have a huge colour correction right after her. 3 more minutes and I’m leaving the salon for lunch.

That’s it, I’m super pissed now. She’s just cost me money. Doesn’t she know how many people I could have put in to her appointment time? Ugh, Some people have nerve.

“Can you call her and leave a message telling her that I can’t do her hair and that if she would like to rebook, there is a $25 no show fee from today? And If she comes in tell her the same. Bye!”

We’ve likely all done it at some point. Especially if the salon environment is one where they stylists are more important than the clients. And there are definitely salons like that out there. But once a hairdressers gets a full book with a waiting list, this reaction eventually comes up.

I’m here to remind you, that what you do is not about you. It is about your client and all the clients of the salon. You are there for one reason, and one reason only; to make people look and feel more beautiful than when they walked in.

You don’t know what they went through that day. You don’t know what they may have gone through to get to you.

The next time this happens, you have an opportunity to be an awesome professional and save the day by taking care of your client. Or you can be the person who upset your client and made their day or week much worse.

Oh, and that message you left? About missing her hair appointment and the late fee she would have to pay? Well, maybe someone close to her was in a terrible car accident. Maybe her father had a heart attack. Maybe something much bigger unexpectedly happened and calling the salon wasn’t her first priority.

So when you do make that call and leave your late client a message, tell her you were worried about her and was checking to see if she was OK.


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My Tipsy Scissor Review

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I started making this video in the late morning, and due to various technical glitches I had to remake it 3 times. The version you see here had me a glass of wine or 2 into it so please forgive any rambling.

Here is my honest review Kasho, Sensei, Saki, Hattori Hanzo and Mizutani. I have no affiliation to any brand and my opinions are just that, mine.


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Will I See You At #IBSNY? 

Last year I turned down a speaking engagement at IBS New York because I regrettably chose to work with the immoral team at America’s Beauty Show, ChicagoABS. If you’re inclined,  you can read about the shadiness here. And if you’re interested, no, Paul Dykstra never did make good on his offers of repayment,  with the final tally at $1100 CDN in fees and several frustrating hours dealing with the cancellations. If you are an independent artist and are tempted to work with ABS, I’d think twice. They seem to be fine with sponsored educators though. I’ve had incredible treatment by IBS and by ISSE and I feel they are definitely better options.

But enough negative.

I’m super excited to be back in New York in just a few weeks. I’m fine tuning my program as they have only given me 75 minutes and I always go long at 2 hours. I just can’t stop talking. A friend sat in on my seminar recently and he thought I should try to streamline it as I’m really doing 3 or 4 different seminars in this one session. I agree with him but it’s hard to remove content when I have so much new content regarding the challenges I face in my own current situation.

I’ve always been a full-disclosure kind of speaker  so you will get everything,  warts and all, from my sessions, just like you do here in my blogs. I believe that by sharing the realities of challenges salon owners face, people realize they are not alone. Too many speakers sugar-coat our business and that doesn’t help anyone.

I’ll be doing the same session each of the two days so I hope to make some new friends this year. Both my New York sessions were standing room only in 2015 and the sessions I did just a few months ago in Alberta were so ridiculously packed that people were sitting on the floor and standing in the hallway as well for 2 hours.
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I’m just like you. I have my challenges, and sometimes I feel like these sessions are as much therapy for me as they are inspiring (hopefully) to you. I may not solve your problems and I may not give you exactly what you are looking for. But I guarantee you will leave my seminar with a few solid ideas that you can immediately implement in to your salon.


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Why Does My Employer Keep Hiring More Stylists? 

In this video,  I discuss a common question, almost always  asked by slower stylists, and usually while in the staff room. 

The odds of a stylist actually becoming a profit-generator for a salon are surprisingly slim,  and a smart owner will always keep their door open to people they view as having potential. 

In the beginning of this video,  I say you won’t have to listen to me prattle on. I lied. 


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Something to Think About Before You Open Your Dream Salon

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Every hairdresser has been there; thinking seriously about opening their own salon.

If you’ve watched or read my other videos or you have really paid attention to the salon business and what ownership really looks like, you will have learned that for the most part it’s not worth it. The headaches, staffing, competition, profit margins and life cycle of a trend and fashion driven business, and the fact that generally you can’t sell a hair salon, make it a pretty poor choice for an investment and most owners will tell you that they wish they hadn’t done it. My advice has always been to buy real estate instead and work for someone else and enjoy your time off.
You can’t put a price tag on leaving work at work.

But for those of you who insist, I’ll let you in on one of the main things I’ve observed: Most salon owners spend too much money on their build-out, have an optimistic outlook, and do not factor in real operating costs. This is the fastest way to go broke and become an industry statistic. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.

For so many, the life cycle looks like this:
1. Find a space that is too big for your actual needs.

2. Spend way too much money building it out but then you cheap out on things like water tank size and number of wash basins because you spent your budget on custom cabinets, a chandelier, and beautiful tile floors.

3. One of the people that had committed to working with you and bringing her big clientele is no longer returning your calls.

4. You go in to your first day feeling good about your future but having a little stress about the finances. You didn’t realize what an intro retail and colour order would cost you, and your contractor ended up charging you a lot more than you intended. You just got a surprise bill for another $20K

5. You are the only one doing any hair at any given time. You don’t have the time to mentor the younger staff, who are costing you a lot of money just by being there, and you are stressing because the phone isn’t ringing for anyone but you.

6. You learn that nobody cares as much about your salon as you do. Colour stains are appearing, and in places that don’t make any sense.

7. You realize that you don’t know how to make other people inspired or busy.

8. Groupon calls you. You take the call and unknowingly you start to hammer the nails into the coffin.

9. You close your business.

10. I, or someone like me walks in to your salon; your pride and joy, your dream, and I benefit from your work and investment.

My company is now on our third salon takeover in the city  we are currently expanding in to. The first one the location was not giving us the benefit of a walk-in clientele that should have been associated with the rent, so we moved to another location, smaller, way nicer and cheaper. Now we are ready to expand into something much much larger. All three of these businesses failed for the same reasons, and we have been able to open nice new salons for very little investment.

Most people build their dream and then immediately have to start lowering standards in order to bring people in to help support their salon. Slowly the dream becomes a nightmare because the groundwork and foundation needed to build a true company was never really put in place

How can you avoid this trap? Well, if you insist on opening a new salon, consider starting much smaller so you can avoid the immediate pressure of trying to pay off debt. The salon business is generally not profitable, and paying off debt or trying to recoup your life savings in a hair salon will take you YEARS, if it happens at all. An acquaintance of mine just celebrated her salon debt being paid off after 5 years. She is a rare case, and I promise you that she sacrificed far more than most can imagine.

My business started as a 2 chair salon, then became a 4 chair salon, then a 12 chair salon, then a second and then third location. The only way we were able to become who we are was by starting small and creating the systems so that when we were able to expand we already had a clear vision of expectations and were working towards creating culture. And because our bank accounts grew as we did, we never had a penny of debt outside of the initial $10K loan, which was paid off after 2 years.

Of course this is not always the case, plenty of people can attest to achieving success with a large and expensive build-out. But for most of us, starting small allows for a lot of trial and error without capital investment and stress. Not everyone should own a salon. In fact, 80% of current salon owners probably shouldn’t be in the business at all. A business is a lot more than just a nice room, and starting small can help you figure out who you really are and where you really want to go.

Please check out this video showing our latest salon location, built-out by someone else.


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I Call Bullshit on Millennial Bashing in Hairdressing

There is so much negative talk about millennials it’s become a cliche.
“Millennials are lazy, unreliable, irresponsible, expect the world, act like they’re owed an income….” insert your adjective here.

On salon forums, the word is simply used on its own as an explanation or excuse for staff behaviour, why a salon is having a hard time keeping staff, or why it’s failing.
“Millennials. ”
And I call bullshit.

If you read my blogs or watch to my videos, you will never have seen or heard me use the word, and that’s because it’s a non-factor in our business, and anyone who uses it as an excuse for their troubles in our industry likely hasn’t been out there working in salons or in salon ownership for very long.

I say this because our industry has always attracted a lot of shit people.

When I first picked up scissors in 1993, I was in a hairdressing school with 20 other people. Today, I believe I am one of 1 or 2 still doing hair, and I think I could have safely said that 15 years ago as well. Most people didn’t care about hairdressing or take it seriously. Part of that would have been the school’s inability to show us inspiring possibilities for our careers. I myself only enrolled because it seemed like a cool job and a great way to meet girls, but a couple of years into it I got lucky in that I found true passion for hairdressing. Most never do.

But going back several years, my hairdresser, the man who inspired me to become one, was once a salon owner who lost his salon due to a complete staff walk-in in the early 80s. Every year or so he and several of his friends would leave the salon they rented chairs in and move down the street to a newer salon, and usually bad mouth the last place. This cycle went on for the remainder of his career before he died a few years back. He was in his mid 70s.

The first salon I worked at, the owner would start her clients 15 minutes late each day because she sat drinking coffee an chatting in the staff room while her first client waited. She would regularly finish her day unapologetically 2 hours behind. And this was the owner setting the precedent for professional behaviour.

The next salon I worked at was much more serious in training and behaviour but it was a revolving door. At the entry level, most people would last less than 3 months. At the senior level, most would last just 3 years before leaving to rent a chair. This was in 1995. It was the culture of the room, and the owner never stopped hiring and thankfully had created stunning salons and had a reputation that brought a ton of walk-ins, allowing for the salons to always be busy and survive the numerous walk-outs as well as regular solo departures. This salon was legendary, with stories of drugs being sold from a station to certain favours being performed to a male stylist in the bathroom while working.

Then when I opened my first salon in 1998, none of the people who had committed to joining us did. They just didn’t show up. Eventually we hired our first employee and she was the most millennial millennial you would ever meet. A total and complete hippie who would do things constantly that made me question her ability to breathe without instructions. And for the next 3 years we struggled to get 2 people to last more than a month in our company, but we stuck it out with our machine gun approach to hiring. Developing our talent in-house and never hiring anyone with a book, we slowly grew to a stable crew of 4 people, though one of them would constantly be in trouble, either showing up a wreck after an all-nighter, not showing up because of her being witness to a gangland execution, and generally being non-stop drama.

Once we grew to our 12 chair salon, we needed to hire even more aggressively and thankfully we had a bit of a reputation at this point so at least getting applicants wasn’t too difficult. This era was a constant revolving door and we lost the original drama-girl but gained so much more. I won’t bore you with the stories, because I’m sure if you’ve been around you have witnessed many of your own. Most of us could write a book. I’ve actually forgotten more crazy stories than I can remember.

Today my company has 3 salons, 2 academies and a product line. We have a total staff count of 38 right now but that number fluctuates depending on our situation.

As it’s New Year’s Eve, one of my simple but great pleasures tomorrow will be deleting past employees from my payroll software. Every year I delete about 30% of the names from my records. That number used to be equal several years ago. I estimate I have had over 250 employees in the history of my company. I have had so many people that there are some I simply don’t remember. I was in a restaurant once a few years back and the server told me she used to work for me. For one day.

My point is, our industry has always attracted people who didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives so they decided to try hairdressing. Unique, weird, creative, stupid, irresponsible, awesome, people. And for every 1 that I’ve seen achieve real success in our industry, there are two dozen who do the bare minimum in the industry or leave it entirely.

What does this mean to a salon owner? It’s a losing battle for staff unless you yourself have something to offer your employees. Firstly, you are fighting for the best of a bunch of losers, statistically speaking. That is not meant to be disparaging at all, it’s a fact. Most people entering our industry will not ever achieve any success unless they decide to, and that takes work, sacrifice and dedication, which in life, is easier said than done and is why so many of us are fat and/or broke.

Secondly and equally important, you have to find people who understand that their success comes from going above and beyond in work, service but who are not overly entrepreneurial. The type of hairdresser who makes you a lot of money will at some point start to look at if they can make the same money being independent.

Finally, never hire someone who has dreams of owning their own salon. Most will tell you of you ask. And those people will already have a foot out the door before they start.

 

So what can you do? Look at things from the perspective of an employee. What would you want out of an employer relationship? Education isn’t always it. I know many of my staff are not motivated by the education I offer. Do you offer a sense of community or team? Do you have structure? Stability? Do you develop talent? Do you have a culture? Is your salon a place where people want to hang out? Are you, the owner, any good? Be objective.

Hire people who want to be a part of a community. Who want to feel like they have support and a team to rely on. Who want to climb the ladder. But you have to make sure that you give them a ladder or a path.

I support all my stylists so that they have help to achieve higher totals and that they can run 2 or 3 chairs if needed. They recognize that from basic math without considering certain factors, rental would pay them more. But I communicate with them, reward successful behaviour, and they hopefully realize that the small amount of extra money they could potentially make going solo would likely not be worth it when they weigh the pros and cons of staying or going.

Social media, rental and suites have absolutely changed the way the industry is being run, but after nearly 20 years as an owner, I honestly don’t see it that differently. The people at the top who are focussed on doing salon clients generally work in cool busy salons, independently or as employees. Most don’t want to be alone. But the biggest reason salons fail is because they are opened by an owner who wanted to work independently so they open a small salon and enter the cycle of trying to lure established stylists from somewhere else. There are only so many people you would actually want in your business and then those people would have to want to leave their current salon. Quality established stylists are a very limited resource and usually an owner has to settle for less than ideal staff or renters.

I believe very strongly in hiring nice and developing talent. I believe you have to care about your staff and having your staff believe in you. I believe there is no fast or easy way to owning a successful salon anywhere. It’s always been a challenging business, one of the most challenging. I said it in a past blog:

Look around your city and count the salons that have been in business for 20 years or more. Even 10 years. There aren’t that many.

While you yourself need to adapt to technology and a changing world, clients are still getting in to a car to go get their hair done and that likely won’t ever change. You can be that salon that they choose to go to, but you have to ask yourself why they are not. Or why you can’t keep staff. It all begins and ends with you, the owner.

Nearly my entire team is made up of millennials. I’d like to introduce you to them if you have the time. They are wonderful people, normal people. And just like you, they are not who they are because of the year they were born.