We have to face the fact that the landscape of education in our industry has changed dramatically in the last five years. When I joined the industry in 2007, education was few and far between and really at a premium. There were three ways to get it:
Work at a salon that brought out brand educators two to three times a year (if you’re lucky)
Fly across the country to a brand’s education hub
Go to a hair show
If you wanted to be an educator, the game was to get hired by one of these brands, serve a local market, assist at major events, and hope they’d see your potential so they would bring you on as a platform artist and you’d climb up to super stardom under that brand’s umbrella.
It’s a little bit more challenging to break into the market as an independent educator now than it was in 2014. We’re going to talk about exactly how to do that, but first I want to show you how the climate of becoming an independent educator has changed.
The 2014 Education Boom
Even as recently as seven or eight years ago, hair care and color brands and the big distributors more or less controlled the education market. That was it. But in 2014, that all changed.
In 2014, Periscope came out. It was an app that allowed you to stream yourself live in real-time publicly. Many independent educators - including myself - got our start on that app because it was a really cool way to get our education out to the industry without having to be under a brand’s umbrella. Periscope allowed us to come into your living room or be in the salon with you, teaching a topic without me actually physically having to be there. Suddenly I didn’t need a brand to network me or put my name out there.
It became easy to become an independent educator. You just had to prop up your smartphone and record yourself to get your message out into the world. We could truly make it on our own.
Fast forward five years and only the strong survived. We got so excited at the accessibility of education that we flew across the country to see people who were fun, funny and had a cool technique or two to share...and we’d realize they had no idea how to teach.
Over time we’ve become a lot more discerning as stylists and salon owners. When we’re choosing our education, we don’t go to their class because they have 200,000 followers. We go because they actually know what they’re talking about.
If I were going to start today, I would start in a brand only because I think your opportunity to make a solid name for yourself is a whole heck of a lot easier than trying to prove yourself as an independent.
Let’s say you choose to be independent. The cool thing is you can do whatever the heck you want. You don’t have to follow the brand’s rules. You get to build and market yourself however you want to.
The trick is you don’t have any rules to follow, and you have to build your own brand. It’s a double-edged sword, but a lot of really great things come from it.
If you’re already an independent or you’re up for the challenge, there are four things you need to have as an educator:
1. Get experience
2. Find your superpower
3. Build your network
4. Earn trust before you earn a buck
I’ll share examples of what worked for me and what it looks like right now in social media marketing in our industry, so you know the best techniques to work for you today.
Tip #1: Get Experience
When the 2014 education explosion happened, educators could be a little more green. We could catch experience in real-time. But today’s salon owners and stylists are particular. They want to see somebody who is not just smart but understands how to break a big picture down effectively in a way that’s fun, exciting, and inspiring.
If you’re a stylist and have new stylists working for you, facilitate a class for them every month to get experience. Teaching in the salon to your newer staff is a really great way to cut your teeth, get your verbiage and tempo down, and learn how to do a class format.
If you don’t want to teach in the salon or if you can’t (maybe you’re in a studio suite or you don’t have a team that would allow it) reach out to a local beauty distributor and offer to teach a class there. A lot of them have a classroom space they would love to fill every Sunday and Monday. Even if you have one student who listens to you talk for two hours, you’ll learn a lot from that experience.
If you want to start online right away, be louder, see what your audience likes (and doesn’t like), and give away a ton of free information. Like a ton of your free information. You need to drown the market in information, in videos, in posts, in blogs, in resources, in downloads. Because now instead of going into a local, non-crowded market - there’s probably not a ton of educators in your area - you’re in the online market, which is saturated as it gets.
Take your time getting experience, so when you do show up and start to advertise yourself, you’re really confident about what you’re teaching, and people are confident investing with you because you are experienced.
Tip #2: Find Your Superpower as an Independent Educator
As an educator, you have to find what it is about you that’s worth sharing and talking about.
With independent education, it goes deeper. You have to find the gap, what nobody else is yet doing and do that. That’s your superpower.
Really look at the industry and what we have on what is missing. Find that gap in your sweet spot and not just what somebody else does but with a twist. Do the thing that nobody is doing yet. Become super-humanly smart in those areas and serve it up on a silver platter.
If you start off as an educator teaching what others are teaching, you’re the underdog instead of the only educator in one specific niche. Instead of starting off as, “Whoa, so-and-so is doing that! I’ve waited 10 years for that,” you’re “Oh, so-and-so’s doing this now too versus that other educator.” Do you see the difference?
Build a brand and a market that speaks to stylists. Show them why they need this gap that you fill as an independent educator. Then show up in the biggest, best way possible, confidently teaching that subject. That’s the secret sauce.
Tip #3: Build Your Network
It’s easier to build your network as a brand educator because they create it around you. If you are an independent, think about what you need to do to build your network: a website, Instagram, Facebook, possibly YouTube or podcast.
Brand yourself as that gap, that superpower, on your network. Go to all the hair shows, get on panels, teach for free every chance you get. Take the chance to speak for free for a room of 30 people because if just one of those people becomes your student, you’re winning.
If you’re going to start attracting hairstylists to your brand, shift the conversation on your social media. If your audience followed you for inspiration from a fellow stylist, your engagement will likely tank for a little bit when you stop posting gorgeous hair and shift to teaching because your current audience will wonder what the heck is happening. But if you strategically work to attract your new target market, you’ll get that engagement right back up.
Tip #4: Earn the Trust Before You Earn a Buck
As you build that network, hold off on charging. Don’t be in a rush to make money because trust comes first. Money comes later. If you read any business book, it will tell you sales are not made until the trust is there.
Rushing to make the big bucks is the slow path to success. When people follow you but you’re not building trust by adding value, just you’re selling to them, they’re actually turned off. Now you can’t even earn the trust because it’s too late. You’re going to have to start over with a new audience and try to build trust with them.
The money will come after the trust is there. It will take some time, so resist the temptation of rushing to make an offer and instead spend a few years providing value and teaching classes for free.
If you want to become a brand educator, get the experience, take the time to learn what it is you do that fills a gap. Double down on that gap, drown your audience in information about it, and they’ll be clamoring for an offer. If you follow this pattern as an independent educator or a brand educator who wants to take it to the next level, you will find success.