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Today I want to talk about hiring a salon assistant the right way. What today’s assistants are looking for, and if you’re really ready for an assistant at all or if it should be part of your game plan. If you’ve ever heard my story before, as soon as I graduated cosmetology school, I became an assistant, then I was put in the position of the new employee trainer, I was a new stylist building my clientele, but also managing our assistant team and training them up, then I moved on to the position of salon director where I experienced hiring over 100 assistants in my time. I’ve got it, I’ve been there, I’ve done it right, I’ve done it wrong, I developed a really unique education system for our salon that kicked ass. Our reputation in the Silicon Valley grew to be the salon that you would come to when you graduated school. People who applied at our salon would share with me that they interviewed at another salon and were told that with their talent they should come and interview at our location specifically because of our assistant program. They were right about our program and I think it’s because of a few key things we did. I am going to share all of this with you, and help set you up for success. I will show you the difference between just having an assistant and really having an assistant who supports you and where you make a huge impact on their career. Before we dive in, I want to mention that we have an awesome PDF workbook for this that we will link at the very bottom called The Salon Assistant Checklist.

I find that hiring an assistant to be a funny thing, most hairstylists long for the day that they’re ready to bring on assistant, but at the same time they dread it. They dread having to give up the control, they love the idea of being in a position where they’re so busy they need an assistant, but then the idea of entrusting their clientele with someone else is their worst nightmare. I think a lot of people feel this way about hiring an assistant because it’s hard to hire them and it’s hard to train them. These are hurdles you have to overcome, but if you have a system in place it is easy. You just need to have the tools in place to get there and then as far as the fear that no one will treat your clients as well as you do, that is B.S. there are some really amazing assistants out there who could run circles around their own stylists, and when you hire an assistant and train them up right your clientele is going to love them. Having an assistant should really enhance your experience for the guest and it becomes part of your partnership. I think a part of why our assistant program was so highly regarded was because at the time a lot of salons had programs where a newly graduated cosmetologist would come in and be a shampoo slave. They would shampoo, sweep, stand around, and there wasn’t a lot of training and in comparison, our program was super structured and involved none of that.

I had assistants applying color on clients within 3 weeks of being hired, people had to get up and running and moving. This is what today’s millennials want. They don’t want to spend two years assisting you and watching you and doing shampoos over and over. They want to get on with their life and build their own business and their own clientele. I want to set you up for success in that regard where your program has a start and end date. Everybody’s moving, everybody feels engaged, and involved in everything that’s going on.

Let’s take it back a step and really determine if you are in a position to be hiring an assistant at all. My kind of are you ready for an assistant checklist is:

  1.  Are you booked for solid for four weeks, and I don’t just mean weekends like solid through the week as well? You are going to be hard pressed to find an assistant who wants to work less than four days a week. You are probably going to be paying your assistant minimum wage plus tips or maybe even a little bit more than that. You have to remember that this person has to survive and they have bills to pay. If you are thinking you can offer a position that is two days a week that is not going to work for someone who is trying to build a career. You have to be in a position where you are ready to bring someone on from anywhere from 25-35 hours a week. This is what someone is going to be looking for and you have to make sure that you are able to facilitate this type of environment for a person.

  2.   This may be the biggest one. You have to be ready to release control. For example, you can’t be the one mixing color and double checking the assistant’s application when they are done with it. This is part of the training process and nobody wants to be micromanaged or babied. There’s a big trust factor that goes into this. How do you think your client would feel if once the color is put in their hair you come over and double check it? They’re going to have no faith in the assistant at all. You need to be selling your assistant and talk about what an amazing job they are going to do and let the client know they are in great hands. It is very important to be able to release control and have full faith in another person.

  3. You have to be willing to take on an additional 10 hours of work a month. When you bring on an assistant your income potential becomes exponential, that person can help you to double your annual income no problem. That’s fully possible having a second set of hands, but it comes at a price. You have to invest into that person 10 hours of work a month to be spent on training and education. There are the major benefits to having an assistant, but you need to go all in on that person and be super committed and there is a higher workload that is associated with that.

 If you meet all of those criteria and you’re ready to dive in, perfect!

Step Number One: Decide what kind of education you are going to offer.

Deciding what type of education, you are going to offer is where you start, because real talk an assistant is coming to you for education. That is what they are there for, they want to learn a little bit more before they start to build their clientele. My suggestion would be to sit down and write out at least 30 topics that you could teach an assistant. There are a million topics that you as a stylist could teach your assistant, make a list of 30. If that can’t happen for you, you need to think harder because this person is coming to learn some advanced skills and techniques, not just watch you apply hair color all day. Think about what you could teach a person to enhance their career, if you can make that 30-topic list you’ve just created a curriculum for yourself. You can run through this list weekly, monthly, however you want to do it as your training this person in their advanced education classes. You now have created a syllabus you can work off of, and they have a checklist of things that they need to master before they can graduate or be promoted to the next level.

How are you going to deliver your content and information?  

If you go back and listen to podcast episode 012, we talk about 4 different learning styles. For some of your assistants they’re going to want to practice applying color on a doll head, practice doing cuts on doll heads, yes, you’re going to have to purchase doll heads to make this happen. For some of your assistants they’re going to want to see infographics of haircuts, and the visuals that show the angles that the hair needs to held to achieve some haircuts. For some students this is going to be what they’ll need. Really think about how you can come to the table with all of those tools. I know some of you are already thinking that in your salon you like learning to be a little more organic and let the assistants learn through the work day. Good luck to you. There are very few salons, I actually can’t think of any who run assistant programs that way and are successful where they’re producing great stylists who stay on board and end up building a clientele. I can’t name a one. There was a time when that was the standard, it’s not going to work now. So, if you’re trying to attract the best and the brightest, you’re going to have to come to the table with a little more structure than that.

Step Number Two: Determine how you are going to provide that education.

I always say that to be fair to your assistant you need to be coming to the table with at least eight hours per month of structured class time outside of the workday. So, you could do one 8-hour Monday a month, that’s totally fine. A lot of salons or stylists do that and they’ll do a hands-on class or a book work kind of class and then a live model in the afternoon. You could also do two four-hour blocks of time before the start of your workday or one-hour blocks of time after the workday two days a week. Make sure you’re finding the and carving out the extra time beyond your regular work schedule to train these people. It can be a Monday, it can be a Friday night, but make sure that you find the time to make it happen.

The other thing I want you to do is to involve your assistant in the learning throughout the workday. As an assistant you definitely learn a lot in classes, but for some they may learn most of their formulation applying color for the stylists they work with. For some this will allow them to see the process of where they start with a client and see it all the way through to the end results and it’ll just click. If you’re doing a cool haircut invite your assistant to come up and watch you. I know for a lot of use we’re like oh I don’t want to make the client feel uncomfortable. Think about what a stud you look like when you have somebody who is learning underneath you, you look like a rock star, and your guest feels like a superstar when you when you think they have an exceptional haircut that you want your assistant to sit in on. Don’t be afraid to pull your assistant in there. You want to help foster a relationship where your assistant could easily be your right-hand man, so the more you can get your assistant involved the better.

Step Number Three: Support advanced education for your assistant.

I’ve always said that I think that stylists should give the equivalent of 1% of their annual earnings towards education for their assistant. So, for example if you made $60k a year behind the chair I want you to give your assistant $600 in education to spend to go see any artist, class or show that they want to see. This would make your assistant feel like they hit the jackpot. Providing this for your assistants can be such a win-win because they come back so much sharper because of it. You may have a lot to teach and share, but your assistant may want to learn a technique that you’re not familiar with, so giving them that opportunity to go and learn it is so important. By doing this you let your assistants know that their personal aspirations are important and supported, this alone will do so much for your relationship.

Step Number Four: Allow your assistant to do more than you’re comfortable with.

I want your assistant to do all your shampoos, all of your color applications, your toner, I want them to assist with retails sales, I want them to up sell treatments for you, help check out your guests, blow dries, and down the line maybe even a little foiling with you. I know most of you probably got nervous with the thought of that, and that’s way down the line, but I want you to feel the fear and do it anyway. The more involved you can get your assistant in the process the more your clients will trust them and the more your assistant will be all in with you. I want you to let them get in there, and if you’re afraid that maybe they are going to mess something up that’s a training issue on your part and maybe you need to provide more training to let go of that fear. If you felt like you made the right decision in hiring this person you need to trust they are going to do things right.

Step Number Five: Provide amazing training.

Your assistant’s success lays in your hands. It all depends on the training you provide in the forefront. In the first few weeks working with your assistant you have got to put their training as top priority. Something my business coach has told me is that sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. In hiring and training new people you may have to slow down on the front end of your business, you may have no choice. So, if you as a stylist need to take a couple days off to train your assistant that’s what you have to do. This is part of the process of slowing down to speed up, so be patient with that. If you’re a booth renter it might mean coming in on a couple of Mondays’ to train your assistant to apply color on doll heads. In our salon we had assistants to a tint touch on a doll head 20 times in a 3-week period, and at that 3 weeks mark they were ready and, on the floor, working with guests. I had assistants do shampoos on myself, on other stylists, on family, whoever it needed to be so that they were getting their hands wet and getting some practice so that I could get them out there working on guests as soon as possible.

Step Number Six: Begin with the end in mind.

What does your assistant need to achieve before you decide they’re ready to move on? Do they have to take a test? Do you say that at 30 weeks they are done? You can decide whatever you want to decide, but bottom line is no matter how much you love your assistant or no matter how much they love assisting you you’ve got to push that baby bird out of the nest and at some point. Very few assistants will stay solid for more than a year. Very few, even fewer than that are going to stay solid for 18 months so that is why you have to put a lifespan on this. There was one assistant that I had that was amazing, and he decided he wanted to be a lifetime assistant and I said yes. Not long after I said yes, his work ethic began to slide and he started calling in sick often. This happened because nobody wants to assist forever and ever, very few people do. Every once in a while, you’ll find that perfect person who’s burnt out of doing clients and really does want to assist for ever- but this is rare. If you by a miracle find this person that wants to assist forever talk about what leveling up looks like for them and set goals for them. Make it so that they’re going somewhere, because nobody wants to be endlessly working at a job. You have to have goals before you can even start bringing somebody in. You also need to think about what happens when you do reach that stopping point. Is there a space in your salon for your assistant to graduate onto the floor? If your assistant can earn a chair what do they have to do to make that happen? When they do get the chair are, they there full time or part time and still assisting you for a few hours? You really have to think about these things all the way through before hiring an assistant.

Step Number Seven: Hiring your assistant.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re still all in and you’ve done all the steps leading up this point now you get to hire the assistant. You have figured out what tasks they are going to be doing, you’ve decided you’re going to release control. You’ve completed a training program, you have the end in mind, you’ve decided when you’re going to educate them. Hopefully you’ve determined how you will be paying them. You have all of that logistics worked out and you’re ready. Then you bring in the assistant and now what. How do you find her to begin with, right? The very best way to hire an assistant is to attract them through industry reputation. For years and years and years I didn’t even have to run and ad because I was in the position where I got to say I wish I could train all of you, but I don’t have the space right now. Other salons were literally sending us the best of best, because they knew we had awesome training. In addition to this I also went and spoke at local beauty schools to the point that I was a familiar face. I didn’t go in with the intention of teaching a cut or color, but went it to have fun with them and speak about the culture at the salon I was with. I spoke about business and marketing, building a clientele, the realities of what life in the industry is like and really spoke about things nobody else was talking about. Really focus on your strengths and do that to help you shine and connect at your local cosmetology schools and get those students dying to come work for you. If you can’t do that and you’re desperate for somebody you can run ads on sites like Craigslist, Facebook job postings work as well. You can absolutely advertise on social media, through email marketing as well. Use all the outlets available to you, but building that strong industry reputation, nothing beats that. Make sure you are working on your social media presence. There’s nobody in their right mind today who is not going to look at your website and social media before coming to work for you. Nobody. If both of those things are not on point it will be a little of a struggle for you.

Step Number Eight: The interview.

When you have somebody come in for the interview, let’s say you’ve had the perfect applicant. I want you to make sure that you want to hang out with this person eight hours a day. I always say you have to hire for personality and train for skill. You will have a difficult time training anyone who has a terrible attitude, they aren’t coachable, they aren’t confident or that they can’t carry on a conversation with you. When you are interviewing you should want to know what that person’s goals are in the industry, but more than anything you want to try and figure out if this person is a good time. What I mean by that is how seriously are they going to take this role, where do they see this going for them, how do they see themselves connecting with your guests. Learn what they do on the weekends, find out if the conversation between the two of you flows naturally, because if you guys can talk and connect, they could likely flow and connect with your clients as well. For me it's all about the personality and making sure they are truly a right fit for the business. So, I really really want you guys to focus on that human and personal connection more than anything else. From there guys you enjoy the ride, you bring on the right person, you train them up properly, you allow them to really become a key piece of your business. You encourage your clients to fall in love with this person. Bringing on an assistant is a blessing to your business not a curse. It can be a really wonderful thing, just be sure you’re ready for the commitment of taking this person under your wing and training them up properly.

As mentioned at the beginning of this I have attached a cheat sheet that you can download that is kind of the hair stylist guide to hiring their first assistant, I’ve also included some bonus information on how you can structure their pay, what they’re looking for as far as compensation is concerned and more!

TO HEAR MORE ON THIS TOPIC TUNE INTO THE THRIVING STYLIST PODCAST EPISODE 13. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN NOW.

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