From the way you present yourself to how you conduct business and even do hair, no matter what point you are in your profession, a mentor’s impact can be so powerful. Having a trusted advisor can truly shape your career, especially when it is common for hairdressers who start off young to want to own a salon. However, even the most successful salon owners have people they look up to and advise them in business, motivation, continuing education, and more.
When it comes to mentors, it’s doubtful that you‘ll find just one person that is the sole influence in your career. You will come across people in your life, some who are in the industry, some not, where there’s an opportunity to learn much from each of them.
Having been a working stylist, small business owner, and beauty school instructor, I believe it is essential to realize each mentor’s potential and fully appreciate why you look up to them. For example, there are a few people I can think of who do absolutely amazing hair and have much to teach, but they don’t act or hold themselves in a way that I would. Or they could be absolutely on-point with everything — always making sure that every I was dotted and T crossed on their work, but they have little chemistry with other people. A remarkable trait in one way but not so much in another. I have also watched hairdressers that were not 100 percent with their technical skills, but because they had such wonderful connections with their clients, they had a steady clientele. The lesson here is that there’s something to be learned from everyone.
Passion is Essential
One commonality I have always found with my mentors, even if they were outside of our industry, is they have always had a lot of passion for what they do, no matter what that was. You always need to believe in what you were doing and who and what you are working for. That was always important to me. No matter what I do in life, my career, personal life, everything, I have to believe in it.
My first experience with a mentor, outside of my circle of friends and family, was before I entered beauty school. In my first week of college, I found myself enrolled against my own convictions, doing it more because it was what other people in my life wanted for me. College is what they told me was the right thing to do, and I felt miserable and conflicted about my situation.
In my despair, I began searching online and found myself on this celebrity hairdresser’s website. She lived and worked in California and spelled out her whole story and list of accomplishments online. Aside from her celebrity clients’ allure and working with all of these “pretty people,” I liked that her passion for her work was evident in everything that she did. Everything she posted online and her published pieces had heart and soul pouring out of every image. The work was excellent on many levels, and I found myself drawn to the hair and makeup, but it was the confidence of the models that absolutely captivated me.
Taking a Chance
I connected with my new online idol on so many levels, but it was her deep sense of passion that drove me to want to be a hairdresser. I too, wanted to help people in a different way, allowing them to have more confidence in themselves. It was a calling, and I desperately wanted to be a part of it!
Reaching out to her in a lengthy email, I spilled my guts out about my situation. I professed my love for the industry and my deep desire to be a hairdresser, with a laundry list of reasons as to why. I expressed many of the concerns that always buzzed in my head from the mutterings of others: “Do hairdressers make enough money? Are you really going to be successful in this industry when so many people fail? How does one get to where you are?”
After pressing send, I walked away, not really expecting a response but was thankful for the opportunity to vent. Much to my surprise, she responded to my email and did so right away. She told me that she had been in a similar situation and understood what I was going through. I was encouraged to follow my heart, and she said to me that hair, like any talent, is something that you just have to continue to work at, and as long as you're putting all of your efforts into everything, you will be successful.
Even after I graduated from beauty school, I reached out to my celebrity-centric mentor. I asked her advice about whether I should apprentice for a while or just go straight into taking clients. She responded rather succinctly, “A thousand percent - become an apprentice!” Everything she wrote to me that day was entirely on point with the reality of why you would become an apprentice first, and I am very thankful for her advice. I was fortunate to have somebody who helped me see that and was there for me when I needed them most.
What I’ve Learned
Mentors are vital to a salon professional’s career. I learned firsthand that having someone who teaches you without you having to learn certain things on your own will help set you up for success before you even get started in the field.
Not only do you hear it from them, but in a salon setting, you are watching it and seeing it play out too. While apprenticing, I witnessed the interaction between stylists and their clients and saw the success, power, and influence that a stylist would create with their client. All of those factors later helped me build a clientele. It is not just a situation where you see a client once, but a forever, lifetime clientele, and those clients referred to other clients, and it became a large part of the big picture at the end of the day.
Put in the Work
One of the things that a well-established stylist taught me is that the work station always has to be immaculate. When I assisted them, I had to align the brushes, combs, shears in a particular order, and if there was a hair on the towel, well, that was your life on the line. At first, I thought it was all so crazy. But when viewed from a client’s perspective, it made sense. There is such a big difference versus a stylist with towels, garbage, and Kleenex all over their station. That's not acceptable and isn’t how you want to present yourself - that was a huge takeaway for me.
Every single person that I have ever thought highly of in the industry had that mentality: you work, you work, you work until it's perfected...and then you go and you learn something new. As a stylist, I believe that's a trait you always have to have. You're always going to be continuing to learn and the second that you stop caring about learning is the second that you're going to fall off track.
Although it may seem a little cheesy, practice does indeed make perfect. Plus, not being good at something doesn't mean that it's not something that you can continue to work at. If you want to continue to be successful, you need to realize that you're always going to be learning.
Finding A Mentor
Some people will actually approach somebody, asking them to be their mentor. But for me, it has always happened more organically where a person has been an acquaintance, and it grew into that type of relationship.
Mentoring was my favorite part when I was teaching - I would come across students who had nobody in their life to set a good example for them. As a beauty school instructor, I was the youngest on the team and was still working as a stylist. Even many of the students had years on me, some returning to the field or fulfilling their passion in a second career. Some students would cling to me as an example because they felt I was so much more relatable than some of the more seasoned instructors.
Many people are in a situation where they didn’t have the best examples around them when growing up, but there are other ways that things can be set as an example and people who can help. The online world has blown up to be so much more than ever before, and I feel like there are so many bloggers, industry forums, and these big industry influencers out there now. If you do some research online, you get to see their outlook on the industry; that way, you can align yourself with someone who truly inspires you.
The Best Trait for Mentors
When it comes to qualities in a mentor, humility was also always very big to me. Even after they made it so big, the people who I would personally look up to are those who remained humble. Many of them are willing to share and help others get to the same level, and they continue to be loved and looked up to because they are humble. I highly suggest aligning yourself with people who share this desirable trait and genuinely want to help.
Turning the Tables
The point that you find yourself going from a mentee to a mentor is the moment where you know that you've been able to inspire somebody. It can be in the smallest or largest way and can happen at any point in your life. You don't have to have 25 degrees to say that you are a mentor to somebody. It is just that moment that you have genuinely inspired somebody to work harder or to be better at something, or to use you as an example of what they want to live out.
I've always been very expressive to people who have helped me, thanking them and making sure that they understand how much their advice and guidance has meant to me. It makes them feel good and kind of gives them a little bit more incentive to step up for the next person.
I’ve also experienced the feeling myself when somebody has thanked me for stepping up for them. It’s the best feeling in the world, at least in my mind. I’m just happy to pay it forward. After all, so many mentors helped me throughout my career and have been there for me when I desperately needed them most. I am very thankful for that.
I still have the original email from my very first mentor—a humbling reminder of how far I have come. But more so, it affirms the power of mentorship and how a few words of wisdom at the right time can make such a big difference in someone else’s life.
About the Author: Rachel D’Angelo is a former stylist, small business owner, and instructor - she is currently the Director of Client & Partner Relations for Rosy Salon Software.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.