What Successful Makeup Artists REALLY do

Whenever I ask Makeup Artists or Hairstylists the question “Why did you become a makeup artist?” they usually answer with something like “to be creative”, or “I have always loved playing with makeup”, or “I love helping people look good and feel good about themselves”.  I don’t know that I’ve EVER had someone answer that they wanted to become a business person, an entrepreneur.  And this, dear readers, is one of the big mistakes that freelance makeup artists and hairstylists make.  They begin their freelancing journey thinking only about actually DOING makeup (or hairstyling), and not all the other “stuff” that goes along with it.  I read a comment on a forum recently, from a very successful, well respected freelance makeup artist who said she only spends about 20% of her “working” time actually doing makeup.  I thought about it too, and I reckon it would be around the same for me.

So just what ARE we doing the other 80% of the time, and why is this important?  The other 80% of the time is spent working ON our business, doing the things that all entrepreneurs and business owners need to do if they want to become successful.  It’s really no different for the freelance makeup artist or mobile hairstylist.  This is the stuff that, unfortunately, they don’t really teach you in makeup college, or if they do, its just glossed over (pardon the pun).  And I know this because I spent 4 years teaching Diploma of Specialist Makeup here in Australia, and the main reason I left was because I believed the curriculum didn’t adequately prepare students for freelancing.

It involves things like Marketing – which is absolutely vital if you want to get new customers, and keep your existing customers.  Having a steady flow of clients is always challenging in what can be very seasonal work. Having an actual PLAN for knowing who your ideal clients are, how you are going to find those clients (and keep the ones you already have), and how to leverage your happy customers is really important for your business success.

It’s also about knowing what your ideal clients want, and that involves researching current trends and products, and keeping abreast of what is popular in an ever changing industry. Watching movies, awards shows, even reality TV (heaven forbid), following social media accounts of influencers, celebrities and celebrity makeup artists, reading online forums and Facebook groups, to see what looks are being created, and new products are coming out IS a part of our “job”.

A pic from out makeup artist catch up last weekend

Speaking of products, one thing I’ve noticed over the last 15 or so years, is how many new products are coming onto the market every season.  I think its more noticeable for us here in Australia now, as our market has opened up, and we are now able to buy products easily that just weren’t available here 15 years ago, and the fact that we have cosmetics retail stores like Sephora here now.  As makeup artists we need to keep up with the trends, as our clients look to us for product advice.  How many times have you had a client in your chair ask you: “what’s the best foundation for my skin?”  Of course, its impossible to try everything, but heading into Sephora (or Mecca, or Ulta, or wherever you shop) and playing with testers, and asking for samples to try out yourself is a great way to get that knowledge your clients are looking to you for.

Remember that you are running a BUSINESS, so keeping up with your admin and accounts will take up some of that 80% too.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, its to stay on top of the admin (particularly my accounts), as when I leave it all till the end of the year (or financial year), it’s a mess and ends up costing me money, even if it is in lost deductions. I now set aside 15 minutes each week where I tally up all the money that has come into and gone out of my business that week, AND I pay into my tax account and retirement savings.  Doing this has allowed me to grow my business financially, AND ensure that when I file my taxes each year, I get a pleasant surprise (ie. a REFUND) rather than a nasty shock (ie. A bill)!

Now, I understand that for many artists (you, maybe?) the thought of all this admin and marketing can be rather overwhelming, and I’ve spoken to some artists who simply choose to ignore it, and worry about their accounts “later”.  You’ve probably heard me say before that at least 50% of your success in business is dependent on your psychology, or mindset.  The issue here is that many artists are working with an Employee Mindset.  You need to make the shift from having an EMPLOYEE MINDSET to an ENTREPRENEUR MINDSET. If you have come to freelancing from a regular job (perhaps working in retail) or even straight from school, if your parents have jobs (as opposed to running their own business) then chances are that you have an employee mindset.  Remember, employees are paid for their TIME, while entrepreneurs are paid for their RESULTS.  Making this shift from employee mindset to entrepreneur mindset is not something that happens overnight, it takes time, and focus.

The first step is always awareness.  Have a think about some of these statements to try to determine whether you have an employee or entrepreneur mindset.

Photo: Amy Higg Photography

An employee works set hours, for set pay and the hours and rate of pay are determined by her boss. The boss (or company) might set targets that the employee needs to reach (especially if she is working in retail cosmetics), the boss also makes the “rules”.  So, a good employee is good at following the rules! An entrepreneur, on the other hand, sets their own hours, determines how much they will be paid, recognises they are paid for their results and not just the hours they put in, in short, an entrepreneur MAKES their own rules.  An employee has particular duties and responsibilities, and other people in the company may be responsible for other duties (like the accounts or marketing for example).  An entrepreneur knows that they are responsible for all aspects of their business, so, they either do it themselves OR hire someone else to do those things for them.

One of the things I see a lot with makeup artists in my area, is their short term thinking, which is another trait of someone with an employee mindset.  By this I mean things like dropping their prices to book a client, or even working for free for the promise of “exposure” or paid work in the future.  An artist with an entrepreneur mindset has a long term vision, and will weigh up any decisions they make today on where they plan for their business to be in the future. Are the decisions you are making for your business today helping you get to where you want to be in 5 or 10 years time? I know how hard this can be, especially when you have rent due or really want to buy that gorgeous new eyeshadow palette, but recognise this thinking as your employee mindset, and ask yourself: “What would a successful entrepreneur do?”  The decisions you make today will shape your business of the future.

As an employee, your boss, or your roster, tells you what time you need to be at work.  As an entrepreneur, you set your own hours (within reason, and depending on when you have actual clients), so being a self-starter is imperative.  Having a plan, and systems for your Marketing and Admin will definitely help you to avoid that overwhelm.

Learning to put systems into place will help you to work smarter, and spend less time working on your business, so you can spend more time doing what you love, and why you starting this thing in the first place!


Always remember though, this is a business, and “If you treat your business like a business, it will pay you like a business… otherwise, all you have is an expensive hobby”.