Landing a Makeup Artist Job or Renting a Booth: The Pros and Cons of Each

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Should you work independently and rent space in a spa or salon or try to land a job as an employee? The correct answer to this question really depends on you…

Pure Enchantment Salon and Spa in Hooksett, New Hampshire states its mission is to make every woman look and feel beautiful. It accomplishes this goal with the booth rental model, where independent beauty practitioners team up to offer their combined talents at one location. Clients can choose among makeup, hair, hair removal, nail, and spray tanning services. Each beauty practitioner sets their own hours and prices, and also provides their own supplies and tools.

Oasis Hair, Makeup, and Spa in Chicago makes its clients look and feel beautiful through the employment model. Staff are hired and paid an hourly wage or salary and work together as a team to ensure clients leave smiling. Employees on the Oasis team can focus on serving their regular clients as well as walk ins, leaving the business-end of the spa to their manager, whose responsibilities include making weekly shift schedules.

Both of these spas offer makeup services from skilled artists. Both generate enough business to support their affiliated makeup artists. Both offer great opportunities for makeup artists to develop and grow their careers.

So how do you know which model is best for you?

Before giving the pros and cons of each model, let’s start by making sure we have our definitions straight:

  • Booth renting – also referred to as renting space or renting a room, under this arrangement you pay a weekly or monthly lease as an independent contractor; generally you set your own prices and hours, and see your own clients
  • Working as an employee – under this arrangement you are classified as being an employee of a business; your employer sets your hours and you are paid an hourly wage, a salary, and/or a commission

Renting a Booth vs Being Hired as a Makeup Artist

One way of deciding which method works best for your own personal circumstances is to consider the perks and drawbacks of each type of working arrangement:

Advantages of renting a booth

  • You are more independent
  • You set your own prices, see your own clients, and set your own hours
  • You have a greater potential for profits
  • You can make your own promotional offers

Cons of renting a booth

  • In general your responsibilities are greater and consume more time
  • You must spend time on non-makeup-related business activities like paperwork, taxes, accounting, and advertising
  • You must invest more in your own supplies and tools
  • You face a greater risk – if you have a bad week there’s a chance your earnings for that period could slip into the minus; if your clients dry up then you’re out of business and you’ve lost all you have invested
  • You should have savings before you start renting a booth – enough to cover unexpected purchases of broken tools or lost supplies, as well as enough to cover a few terms of your lease in case something happens and you can’t work or don’t have clients
  • New Jersey and Pennsylvania don’t allow booth rentals

Advantages of working as an employee

  • You work in potentially more of a non-competitive team environment
  • You have more access to new clients, and to a greater volume of clients in general
  • You don’t have to worry about bookkeeping, advertising, accounting, or supply inventory
  • You don’t have to take work home with you
  • You know exactly how much you’re going to earn each month

Cons of working as an employee

  • Your profit ceiling is potentially lower than the booth rental model’s
  • You don’t have as much flexibility as the booth rental model – if an outside opportunity suddenly comes up you might have to pass due to your schedule
  • You may find it more difficult to take your clients with you if you decide to change employers or working arrangements

What Do Successful Makeup Artists in the Industry Have to Say?

When comparing these two business models, hair stylists, estheticians, and many makeup artists first point out the most traditional path of progression. That is, typically makeup artists start as hourly/commissioned/salaried employees to gain experience and build a list of loyal clients. If they decide to go independent and switch to the booth rental business model, they do so after a few years of working as an employee.

Miki Wright – a platform artist, business coach, award winning hairstylist, and general leader in the beauty industry – gives presentations on exactly this topic. When it comes to deciding if you’re ready to rent a booth, Wright advises that you must have enough clients to support your transition from the employee model to the rental model. “The booth rent is due rain or shine, every single week. It doesn’t matter if you had a good week or if you didn’t have a good week. The landlord doesn’t want to hear it.”

However that route is by no means absolute. Many makeup artists work on a salary and/or commission their entire careers, while others rent space as soon as they graduate from beauty school.

April Orgill, a professional stylist for over a decade, started booth renting as soon as she finished school. However she admits this was a gutsy move that wouldn’t be right for everyone. When speaking about her choice to go straight into booth rental, she says, “If you are really scared of that and it’s just too much to try then you can try to find a salon that does commission that can transfer over to booth rent.” Orgill also mentions that one business model isn’t better than another; it just depends on your own preferences.

Kiyah Wright, celebrity hairstylist, says she has done it all: booth renting, freelancing, and commission work. Her main goal as a professional in the beauty industry was to work for a prestigious establishment, and she realized that goal when she started working on commission at the Warren Tricomi Salon. She says she prefers the commission model for several reasons:

  • “They have a store, so any product that I use on the client – guess what – they can purchase it right up front.”
  • “They have a receptionist that can handle the books and scheduling because, as you guys know, creative people and business; it’s kind of hard to manage the two.”
  • “They handle all the supplies.”
  • She also notes that in the commission structure you can grow your business as well as learn from your coworkers.

More Autonomy Can Be Especially Valuable for Makeup Artists

Makeup artists are perhaps the most mobile professionals in the beauty industry. Unlike hairstylists, estheticians, or manicurists who tend to be more confined to a base of operations – in large part due to the tools and supplies that are required for those professions – makeup artists are dependent only on their makeup kit, which is inherently portable.

That being said, the autonomy of renting a booth in a spa or salon can provide an important level of flexibility for makeup artists who are busy traveling in the field between runway shoots, digital recording events, or on-site at a wedding. You may find an ideal model to be renting a space in a beauty salon three days a week, and then leaving the rest of your schedule open for your professional mobile activities. Of course, you could always arrange a part-time schedule with an employer too, but even then you’ll still potentially be less flexible if something comes up that requires you to travel on a scheduled work day.

The Employee and Booth Rental Models Come Full Circle

Donna Curry started out by graduating from beauty school in Noblesville, Indiana population 55,000. Her first job was as an employee at a salon and spa on an hourly/salaried basis. While there she also had time to participate in a mentorship and several out-of-state product trainings and expositions. Less than a year later she moved to Evansville where she landed a job as an employee with another establishment, the Absolute Beauty Day Spa, where she gained even more valuable experience.

Fast forward four years that include marriage and a baby, and Curry wanted to try something new. So she experimented with booth renting at All About You Salon and Spa. That experience turned out to be so good that she decided to take it one step further and start her own business. Because she was booth renting she was able to take her regular clients with her when she opened up Donna Curry Esthetics: Skin Care. Waxing. Spray Tan.

Now Curry has come full circle as she herself is in the position of evaluating whether or not to hire employees or offer booth rentals. Of course as the owner of her own business, she may just want to keep it simple as a one-woman operation. When reflecting on her situation Curry beams, “My business has become more than I could have ever dreamed! I look forward to what is to come!”

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