Going Independent: How to Establish Your Own Makeup Artist Business



One of the most exciting times in your career is when you start considering the possibility of opening your own makeup business.

Kezia Henderson Edwards took the leap after gaining experience criss-crossing the nation working a variety of makeup artist jobs that included styling the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader squad as well as working on motion picture productions and national ad campaigns.

Eventually she had the opportunity to move back to her home turf in So Cal and make her dream come true, opening her own business in Ventura, which she lovingly named Cara Mia. Today she offers packages for prom, special occasions, weddings, and teen beauty lessons through her makeup studio, which has earned lots of local recognition, including an award for “Best Day Spa.”

Another makeup artist, Ellen B., also took a risk when she started her own makeup business based out of Brooklyn. Even though she graduated from college with a degree in marketing, her skills in makeup led her to land jobs at MAC and Nickelodian as she was getting her beauty career started. Through hard work and talent these jobs led to more opportunities in media production that included stints at CBS, Fox, CNN, Telemundo, and Good Day NY. By this time her name was definitely out there and she fulfilled requests for makeup sessions with the likes of Snookie, John Legend, Lalah Hathaway, Kelsey Grammer, Method Man, and Gladys Knight.

Currently Ellen B. maintains a home studio in Brooklyn but she does a lot of her work on the road in the greater NYC area. She travels to clients’ events or residences, studio sets, and runway back rooms to do her much-sought-after makeovers. Her business, which she calls Face the Day NY, has been so successful that she’s hired five staff members to help her keep up with demand.

Looking at Your Options as an Independent Makeup Artist: Open a Salon or Work Freelance and Go Mobile

Ellen B. and Kezia Henderson Edwards provide examples of the two basic types of independent businesses that makeup artists usually establish:

  • Beauty salons or spas
  • Freelance independent makeup artist businesses

Of course, your business can blend these two models, but consider these as the basic starting point.

Beauty Salon or Spa Model

This model involves you providing services out of a fixed business location that you rent, lease or own. You may decide to be a sole proprietor and offer strictly makeup services to your clients.

Because many makeup artists are required by state regulations to earn an esthetician or cosmetology license, you may also want to provide a broader range of services in addition to makeup. Many makeup artists also choose to build on top of their makeup foundation and add a massage license, yoga certification, or other type of related credential to offer their clients an even broader range of options.

This model can also involve hiring employees or working with booth renters.

Independent Professional Makeup Artist Model

Lots of makeup artists love the idea of being flexible and mobile, and start their own independent business based on this model. This is for you if you plan to focus on any of the following:

  • Work on-set at runway events, photo shoots, and media production studios
  • House calls
  • Travel to different cities to participate in exhibitions and events
  • Contract with businesses or corporations to do makeup events at on-site locations
  • Makeup for theatres and other performance arts
  • Makeup at on-site locations for weddings, graduations, and other special events

Choosing this model means you will likely work as an independent contractor with a variety of clients. You may also eventually get to the point where you want to hire staff.

Necessary Business Considerations

Whichever model you decide to go with, to be successful you’ll need to have at least a basic idea about key aspects regarding the business-side of your makeup endeavor:

  • State board of cosmetology and health department regulations
  • City or county business license regulations
  • Code and facility requirements if you’re planning to establish a physical business location, even if that is in your home
  • Business tax regulations

State Board of Cosmetology and Health Department Regulations

You’ll find that one of the best resource available to you when starting your own makeup business is your state’s board of cosmetology. They should be able to help you with everything you need to know to get the ball rolling, from city business requirements to health department regulations.

Boards of cosmetology regulate spas, salons, and any other business activities involving the beauty industry. You’ll want to find out if you need a special permit from your state’s board of cosmetology to open a business location or work as an independent freelancer.

You also need to abide by your state’s board of cosmetology and health department regulations regarding sanitation and infection control. Examples of these types of regulations include:

  • Disinfection and clean storage of your makeup brushes
  • Having a waste receptacle for soiled items
  • Having a storage area for items that are awaiting disinfection

City or County Business License Regulations

No matter what kind of makeup business you plan on operating, if you take money for your services then you probably need a business license. Your city hall or county administration office usually issues these licenses.

When you apply for a business license you must specify details like:

  • Your business name
  • Your business address – your home address can be used if you plan to conduct your business at on-site locations
  • What type of business you plan to have – sole-proprietorship if you plan to be an independent practitioner and to not hire employees, or possibly an LLC (limited liability company) if you plan to open a franchise, salon, or spa where you hire employees

Code and Facility Requirements

This section applies if you plan to start your own salon, spa, or fixed-location makeup business. Your state’s board of cosmetology and other public safety departments require regulations like:

  • Sinks with hot and cold running water
  • Public bathrooms
  • Square footage requirements
  • Maximum occupancy requirements
  • Working ventilation system
  • Potable drinking water

Check with your state’s board of cosmetology to understand the specific requirements for your state. Code requirements cannot be overlooked, and if the place where you plan to open your business is not adequately equipped you can expect to spend a significant amount of money to get it up to code. This can involve architects, plumbers, and electricians.

Before you open you may need to pass any number of official inspections:

  • State board of cosmetology inspection
  • Fire marshal inspection
  • Health department inspection
  • Building code inspection

Business Tax Regulations

As an independent business owner you are responsible for fulfilling your state and federal tax obligations at least once a year. Check with your state’s department of revenue to know what you’re responsible for at the state level.

At the federal level you can expect to pay a tax rate of at least 15 percent for Social Security and Medicare combined. If you’re making (gross) more than about $6,300 as a single person, or $12,600 as a married joint filer, you can expect your income tax to increase proportionally the more you make.

If your business is a sole proprietorship then your taxes have the chance of being relatively easy. You’ll need to keep a tally (receipts) of all your business expenses in a file for five years, and you can deduct these from your personal income/business taxes.

If you elect to form a more complicated business like an LLC, and especially if you hire employees, your taxes will be more complex. You can try asking an experienced makeup artist in a similar situation for tax advice and try doing them yourself, or you can outsource this to an accountant. If you’re feeling brave, the IRS has even developed a tax booklet specifically designed to help salon and spa owners.

How Do You Know if You’re Ready to Start Your Own Makeup Business?

Are you prepared to tackle the business-side of things as mentioned above? If yes, good. Then you can proceed. If not then you’d better be prepared to hire someone who can, or think again about going into business for yourself. Maybe you will get lucky too. Kezia Henderson Edwards, founder of Cara Mia, was fortunate enough to marry someone who was a veteran of the marketing and advertising industry.

Before you start your business you’d better ask yourself if you can answer “yes” to all of these questions:

  • Do you have enough experience and skills to know what you’re doing and attract/retain regular clientele?
  • Are you ready to take care of everything from advertising to inventory?
  • Are you ready to invest in business supplies that can include sinks, chairs, and mirrors, as well as all your makeup brushes and supplies?
  • Are you ready to take your work home with you every day? Starting your own business inevitably means you will always be thinking about it.
  • Are you ready to take the risk that you might not succeed? Success depends mostly on your own drive, motivation, and skills, however many are too afraid of failure to even take the initial risk.
  • Are you financially ready to start your own business?

This last point has less to do with psychology than it does with objective reality. Starting your own business involves a financial investment.

Financing Your Business as a Makeup Artist

Whatever business model you choose you must make an initial investment in your business. This could be as simple as acquiring all of your makeup artist tools and supplies, and could be as involved as hiring an architect to redesign a property you’ve rented for your spa business.

If you’re thinking about the mobile independent makeup artist model then you likely won’t need a lot to invest in a headquarters – you’ll be doing your services on-site at a variety of different locations. However, you will definitely still need funds to support the following:

  • Purchase of all your tools and supplies
  • Advertising campaigns
  • Business supplies like a webpage and business cards
  • Insurance – business and liability insurance if you choose, but you still need to pay for things like health insurance, car insurance, etc
  • Down time – you should have enough savings to support yourself in the event that your business slows down or you have unexpected interruptions from work

If you’re thinking about establishing a permanent location then you will likely need some capital. In addition to all the expenses mentioned above – and if you have your own physical business location then business and liability insurance is strongly recommended – you’ll also need to fund the following:

  • Shop supplies – chairs, sinks, mirrors, product lines, flat screen TV and a cable subscription, wifi, magazine subscriptions, coffee machine, and more
  • Getting your shop up to code – it can cost a lot to install a public bathroom or redesign the interior of the facility you work out of
  • Monthly lease or mortgage payment

And of course, when you’re funding these you want to have plenty of cushion to support any unforeseen expenses.

How you come up with the initial capital to fund your own business is up to you. Plenty of makeup artists will tell you that it’s not worth going into debt to open a business; if you can’t support yourself with what you’ve already earned from clients then you shouldn’t be taking the leap to ownership.

However, there is also another school of thought: If you have a stellar business plan then you should be able to take out a loan and after a few years be well ahead of the game.

Just remember that going into business for yourself is not for everyone. On the other hand, many makeup artists feel that running a successful independent business is the ultimate goal.

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