Many people do hair well. But can they teach somebody else how to do it well? One of the most unfair of sayings is “Those who can’t do teach.” If you’ve never heard that one before, forget you read it here, because good teachers have skills most of us can only wish for.
If you believe you’ve got what it takes, the first decision you’ll face is the most critical one: Do you want to become an independent educator or a brand ambassador for a product company? Are you willing to commit to corporate culture and its perks and its limitations, or are you intrepid enough to take on all the responsibility of a solo act?
The Branded Path
Every company is different, but requirements for brand educators will most likely include several days of training yearly or more (often without pay) – in technical skills, presentation skills, trends, salesmanship, and working knowledge of various product lines and segments – often involving travel to a corporate office. They may be required to devote several days a month to teaching.
Whatever your ambition, it’s important to connect with a brand that reflects who you are and the work that you love to do. Understand their mission, believe in it, and live it. Be able to tailor your personal content to support the brand content.
It’s important to connect with a brand that reflects who you are and the work that you love to do. Understand their mission, believe in it, and live it.
A brand will likely secure the venue, market the event, and collect payment for you. All you have to do is show up and do your magic, though your role may also require closing as many sales as possible, which may be challenging for those without confident public speaking skills and a natural flair for sales. This path may also require extensive travel, which can be a huge bonus for some and a major hassle for others.
Expect opportunities to make valuable connections and possibly work alongside industry bigwigs you’d only admire from afar otherwise. But, if you think you can become the next Robert Cromeans or Beth Minardi, you’d better be extremely talented, exceptionally charismatic, notoriously iconoclastic, or a serious workaholic. Those roles are rare, and competition for them is fierce.
The Independent Road
Are you ambitious enough to build your own success? Going out into the world as an independent educator means that nobody tells you what to say, what to wear, what to do, and what not to say, wear, or do – or which products to use and recommend; independent educators are free to tweet, post, or like anything on social media without fear of committing brand “treason.”
To position yourself in this arena, maintain an active, credible blog (or vlog) and a strong social media presence. Participate in beauty forums, Facebook groups and engage with others’ content. Make connections with salon owners, beauty schools, and stores to let them know you’re available. Build an engaging website that presents who you are and what people can learn from you.
And if you’re just starting out? Just educate! The point is to gain experience by teaching.
And if you’re just starting out? Just educate! The point is to gain experience by teaching. Post videos. Start your YouTube channel. Start blogging. Engage in online comments and give feedback. Raise your profile and increase your visibility in the industry.
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Weighing in on the subject are two women in the industry, one hairdresser who is also an educator, and one whose job it is to make that combination possible.
Advice from an Agent
Aryn Detres is the founder of The Left Brain Group, an agency for educators, who describes herself as the “Jerry McGuire of hairdressers.” She began her career in beauty at Bumble and bumble and moved to New Orleans with the hunch that the independent hair movement was ready to explode. She saw that salon owners had become increasingly disenchanted with manufacturers and distributors, and that artists needed support in effectively developing, communicating and executing their points of view. She is creating memorable education experiences like Bayou St. Blonde, nurturing the green beauty movement by representing brands like Reverie, and curating The Conscious Collective artists.
Talk to us about the new education landscape from traditional platform artistry to the rise of the independent educators teaching on their own terms.
For someone starting out in their career, the prospect of becoming a brand ambassador for a product company is very enticing if you’re really into products, which ultimately is what it’s about. It’s a great way to get notoriety early on. But what has added fuel to this independent movement is hairdressers realizing that 1) they can probably make more money on their own, and 2) they feel more like salespeople than technical experts.
Many salons are no longer paying for staff education. Not only is there a rise in independent education, including online education, but there has also been a rise in independent stylists. So you have more people paying out-of-pocket for classes, who are choosy about where they spend their money. People aren’t really interested in an expensive, ego-driven dog-and-pony show.
Being a platform artist is a great avenue. But I’d say the rise in independent education – it feels like a surge – is driven by people who have a point of view and their own aesthetic that they want to share. That’s what I help people do – nurture their point of view to develop their own brand that might not be tied to a specific product.
What is your advice to aspiring educators? What are the qualities that make a great one?
One of the most important things is a unique point of view because anyone can be an educator now, whether you have 20 years behind the chair or you’re fresh out of beauty school. It depends on how you market yourself. For long term success, I find that educators who fulfill a specific need and narrow their focus – instead of being a jack-of-all-trades – often offer stronger classes that people are more receptive to. And their social media presence shows their point of view and what they focus on.
So having a unique point of difference, a specialty focus, a social media presence, and a genuinely selfless desire to help people become better at what they do is a good recipe for success.
Having a unique point of difference, a specialty focus, a social media presence, and a genuinely selfless desire to help people become better at what they do is a good recipe for success.
What kind of personality tends to be most successful?
Educators who don’t keep their secrets close to the vest, who are open and giving with information are more likely to succeed. Be able to answer questions – particularly in a demo situation where you’re likely to have an audience of a variety of levels – without letting the class be hijacked with questions.
Be able to clearly communicate what people are going to get out of the class. Humor is also nice. Make it lighthearted. Be vulnerable; people want to see themselves in others. Be humble and relatable when you tell your story and people will learn from you.
Are credentials important anymore?
From an agent’s point of view, I have a lot more trust and belief in someone who comes from a very strong educational background. But if you have a successful Instagram following of people who like your aesthetic, it doesn’t necessarily matter.
What differentiates a hairdresser who is really good at what they do, and one who is really good at teaching what they do?
There are a lot of great hairdressers that are not great educators. You have to ask yourself why you want to teach. Some hairdressers – who are more experienced, looking to stay relevant and broaden their capabilities, and maybe take a break from being behind the chair – find that education can be a very viable source of revenue. But can they translate their reasons to a setting where people want to book classes with them?
I get a lot of aspiring independent educators interested in joining the Left Brain Group who have worked for other companies before and they’re ready for the next step. My number one question is, “What is your point of view? What is your brand?" When you have to stand on your own two feet outside of product companies, you really have to know who you are, what you have to say, and why people can learn from you. Until you’re able to clearly identify that, create a curriculum and have a plan, it’s hard to help someone be successful in that role.
What do you see as the future? Is it already here?
I think online education is only going to continue to get stronger, where people can access classes at the touch of a button as opposed to getting in a car or on a plane. I’ve done some polling on Instagram asking people how they learn best – demo, look-and-learn, hands-on – and overwhelmingly, people learn best by practice in a hands-on setting. Even though it’s not in everyone’s budget, people best retain information by putting in the practice, getting models, and having that hands-on experience in an observed setting. I like to think it’ll still be there in some form or another, but I think online education is definitely going to continue to grow, along with experiential, multi-hairdresser events.
It’s exciting to see how many people feel like they can share knowledge. I remember back when I started at Bumble when education was such a foreign word, and it’s really interesting to see how far it has come and how important it is for people to focus on their craft and to get better at what they do.
Jayne Matthews is one of the artists that I work with. So many non-hairdressers follow her, and I get emails all the time from potential clients asking for a hairdresser in their town who has been trained by her. You can now build a clientele by adopting certain techniques from different people.
Advice from a Stylist
Hairdresser Jikaiah Stevens is building the educational side of her career and is facing a tipping point where demand is increasing. Recently relocating to New York from San Francisco where she was a part of the Edo Salon team and trained in Reiki energy work, she practices independently at Hairstory Studio. With a robust online following, she has the ability to make any haircut on any day an educational event through Instagram Stories.
What do you say to hairdressers looking for opportunities as an educator?
I think the number one thing for anyone thinking about becoming an educator is finding what makes you most in love with it. Focusing on a product brand or a color line usually gives you a platform and a system that can help propel you – if that’s the direction you want to go. But do what feels most organic and right to you. You’ll go much farther when you really care about it and love it.
With social media, we have so many opportunities to expose ourselves. You can already start teaching by going live or doing videos online to show your skills and see if you get feedback from people who are interested and want to know more.
You can already start teaching by going live or doing videos online to show your skills and see if you get feedback from people who are interested and want to know more.
Keep those videos, and see if you can fine-tune your own skills and how you communicate them, and you can present them to companies that you’d really like to work with. Obviously, Hairstory is the one that I ended up working with because I liked the product so much as a part of what I do. It’s the same with color lines; I know so many people who have gone and worked for Redken Exchange or Organic Color Systems because they were so passionate about those brands.
Education is an incredible opportunity, especially when you want to diversify and you love hair but don’t want to be behind the chair all the time, or you have aches, pains, or want to go to the extreme of traveling and really mix things up. If you want to teach but don’t want to travel, there are great opportunities to do it from your home base.
What do you think is the best thing about the rise of independent educators?
I think the independent platform is really cool because it is about hairstylists supporting hairstylists. I also love it because I’m seeing a lot more women get credit and exposure; prior to this time, most of the top platform artists at these big shows were men. I think it’s great that women have built a way to share with each other.