Published: 4 December 2023

Employed vs Freelance Hairdressing: What is best for you?

The age-old debate between employed and freelance roles affects hairdressers as much as any other profession. With passions high on both sides of the style station, is it possible to make an objective call on which provides the greater opportunity to excel in your craft?

Freelance or employed hairdresser

The Financials

According to a 2022 survey by the National Hairdressers Federation, the average annual salary for a full-time employed stylist in the UK is £17,000. Senior stylists can earn around £26,000. The highest paid 10% make £45,000 or above.

For freelancers, income levels cover a much wider range depending on reputation and clientele:

  • Entry-level freelancers building a clientele can expect to earn £20,000-25,000 per year.
  • Established freelancers with a steady clientele report average earnings of £35,000-45,000 annually. Top stylists at this level charge £60-220 per service.
  • Elite celebrity and session stylists charge premium rates of £200-300+ per cut/colour for exclusive private clients and photoshoots. Their annual income commonly exceeds £75,000.
  • The very top freelance stylists may earn over £150,000 per year through a combination of private clients, editorial work, brand partnerships and training academies.

While obtaining accurate figures is difficult due to privacy reasons, the earning potential as an exceptional freelance stylist eclipses that of employed roles. But this comes with the tradeoff of marketing, financial and administrative responsibilities being entirely self-managed.

Freelance or employed hairdresser

Reputation Building

A salon group provides an instant brand platform for employed stylists to showcase their work via social media and marketing materials. Freelancers must build visibility themselves through self-promotion online, local networking and word-of-mouth referrals. Consistently outstanding work that delights clients is the best marketing tool. Over time many top stylists aim to open their own studio or academy location.

Perspectives from Both Sides

“I’ve worked as an employed stylist for over 10 years now, and I love the security of having a guaranteed base salary. My salon takes care of all the business side of things too – booking clients in, stock ordering, marketing etc. Which leaves me free to focus on honing my craft and learning new skills through the great training I get access too. I’m not sure I’d want the uncertainty and admin that comes with freelancing.” – Claire, 30, London

Freelance or employed hairdresser

“Going freelance was the best move I ever made. I have complete control over my schedule and the clients I take on. I’ve been able to double my earning potential compared to employed roles, which gives me a lot more freedom and flexibility in my life. Things aren’t handed to you as a freelancer though – you need to be very proactive in marketing yourself and managing your finances.” – Lucy, 36, Manchester

Work/Life Balance

Employed hairdressers enjoy the stability and structure of a guaranteed base salary, standard hours and paid time off. Freelancers have the flexibility to control their own diary and take on as much or little work as they wish. This freedom and being your own boss is a major plus for many, albeit one that requires rigorous planning and self-motivation.

Freelancers can work any hours they choose and take on as much or little work as desired. The flexibility this allows for childcare, travel or other pursuits is highly valued. However establishing these boundaries requires discipline when self-employed. Saying no to clients may impact income streams.

Progress in Your Profession

To become an exceptional, in-demand stylist requires dedication to continual training and education. Employed stylists often receive access to paid development courses and training from their salon group.

Freelance hairdressing

Top brands such as Vidal Sassoon and Toni & Guy invest heavily in nurturing talent. Freelancers must be more proactive in managing their own learning and growth. This takes commitment but allows complete control over the direction of your specialisms.

In Summary

While salaried employment provides stability for many hairdressers, the most ambitious stylists may relish the freelance path. This route offers greater control, earning potential and the platform to build an reputation as an exclusive stylist to the stars. Regardless of which option you choose, continual improvement of skills is vital for career success and client satisfaction.

Freelance or employed? Only you can decide what type of stylist you want to be. Choose your direction and commit to being the very best in your field.

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