This week I’m writing about something you might think is boring, but, like a workout regimen, it’s a necessary evil: Setting up a stylist’s business.
I am a total geek and love working on the business side of my styling practice, but I know most stylists want to be creative and not even think about the biz operations. At the end of the day, being a successful stylist means being the CEO of your own company. Several of the best stylists I have met are incredibly business savvy.
New stylists or assistants working freelance must research the role of CEO. Hello 1099s. You are self-employed, so find out if registering as a company with an LLC can help with your taxes. CEOs of small businesses function differently than those of large corporations, but you must understand the responsibilities. So I did homework to understand the responsibilities of a CEO. Once a CEO/stylist designs a vision for the company, the stylist uses that vision to come up with strategies to achieve it. (For example, what magazines should you work with? Or how much can you raise your rate per year?) CEOs are responsible for designing a “vision” for their business and for choosing a competent and trustworthy team of experts to advise them in business-related matters. The team of experts a CEO/stylist hires is extremely important to the stylist’s success. As soon as you can, I recommend hiring a lawyer, CPA, bookkeeper and agent.
Lawyers are expensive but worth it. A lawyer can save a stylist thousands of dollars and keep he/she on track to make career choices that mesh with his/her company’s vision. A great lawyer becomes an important adviser to call upon when new clients and contracts appear. (Being realistic, I wasn’t able to afford my amazing lawyer until last year, and my career is six years in the making.) Before I hired my lawyer, I worked with companies, like legalzoom.com, to get documents drafted and to get advice on handling new client contracts. (Stylist agents can also help with legal advice, but be careful, he/she might have a hidden agenda.) A great lawyer can also help a stylist build a team of business experts. My lawyer has recommended me to brilliant professionals who work with me on my taxes, financials and savings.
Stylists will also need the help of experts in the worlds of accounting and finance. My CPA and bookkeeper show me where I am making financial mistakes (“I spent how much on that magazine shoot? OF MY OWN MONEY?!”), and where and how I can save money. Bookkeepers are genius because they teach me how to predict my future income so I can figure out how to save and invest for future projects. When I was hiring my CPA and bookkeeper, I got solid references from other companies. I needed to trust the CPA and bookkeeper completely; complete transparency is key when working with these roles.
And finally, in terms of experts, we come to the styling agent. A stylist’s agent just might be the most important person to have on a stylist’s side. I love my agent. One moment he’s a strategist, thinking about my long-term goals; the next he is playing hardball with our clients and confirming contracts. Sometimes he just babysits me via phone when I’m abroad and totally bored. But it took five years to find him! I had to meet with a lot of people. I had to pound the pavement for months with tear sheets from my first shoots in tow.
When I started looking for an agent and agency, I had five specific concerns:
1. That the agency and agent represented stylists and other artists I respected and liked. Being part of a roster at an agency is like being part of a big umbrella company, and it can make or break a stylist’s identity.
2. That my agent had worked with stylists who had careers similar to the one I wanted for myself. I knew if my agent had never booked another stylist $250k worth of work in one year, the agent was never going to be able to do it for me. I was careful to choose an agent who had the capacity and “track record” to think and act with me in a way that would meet my creative and monetary goals.
3. That my agent could talk about money! I initially worked with an agent who hated to talk about it. How could he negotiate a major contract with one of my clients if he couldn’t even remember (or write down somewhere?!) my wardrobe budget? A good agent has no problems dealing with money, speaking about it or negotiating for it!
4. That my agent understood my “vision” and aesthetic. I was and am styling for a certain type of man or woman, and I need to make sure my agent supports my vision.
5. That my agent was OCD in terms of organization! Stylists have so many jobs and working parts, and the agent has to keep it all together. If my agent isn’t organized, I’m a mess.
There is so much more to learn about running a business, and I highly recommend to everyone, especially stylists, to learn, learn, learn! Read business books and get as much expert help and advice as you can. I started my business six years ago, and I still feel like I haven’t even begun to have it all down. But it’s always a good time to get out there, get started and never stop learning!
Sally’s Styling Seminary: A Stylist’s Secret Weapon
Sally’s Styling Seminary: The Lineage of Styling
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