The journey to becoming an independent stylist isn’t an effortless or straightforward process, a fact that SarahMarie Smith and Ashley Lewis, the duo behind CocoLemon Hair Salon in Richmond, VA, know best.
Smith and Lewis spent years building CocoLemon to be a dream salon for independent stylists. “After working in different salon environments, we cherry picked all our favorite pieces to build a creative space for likeminded people,” Smith says. But it was a rocky operation, one that involved a lot of figuring it out as they went.
“SarahMarie and I became instant best friends working at the same salon in 2006,” Lewis shares. “Within a month of working together we were told to stand on opposite sides of the salon because we talked too much.” From there, they bounced from a commission salon to co-owning a salon, time off for family and back to a commission salon again.
“I'll never forget Sarah texting me saying how miserable she was in our new workplace,” Lewis says. “I just said, ‘Life is too short to be unhappy.’ That was the catalyst for our futures. Sarah packed her things and walked out in the middle of her workday!”
Then, for two years, they worked in a small studio sharing a chair, working opposite schedules, and loving every minute of it. Each was able to create a dream career that was fruitful for them, their guests and their families. Eventually CocoLemon was born and, with it, a mission to mentor independent stylists in need of a pep talk and help finding their footing.
If you're thinking about going independent but you're unsure of where to begin, we asked Smith and Lewis draw on their experiences and guide how you can turn ambition into a reality. The takeaway: It is easier to build a future with a solid starting point.
Here are the five questions every stylist should ask before becoming independent, to make sure it’s the correct move for right now.
1. Can I afford it?
"First and foremost, this is the question you should ask,” Lewis explains. “And that starts with sitting down with an accountant. The exciting thing about going independent is being able to make all these decisions about how to run your business – but that has to come along with discipline.”
2. What makes me feel inspired during the workday?
Think about what makes you feel most energized during your hours in the salon. As Lewis asks, “Do you want to work solo as a studio owner or would you like to be in a team environment?"
3. What are my strengths and weaknesses?
Smith believes it's important to pin down what your strengths and weaknesses are. “Being a good business owner is about delegation. Personally, tax documents and bank statements can keep me up at night, so hiring outside help is worth every penny."
4. Is this a good time for me to make a career move?
According to the duo, there might not ever be a “right time.” It's more about knowing when you’ve outgrown a space and finding that it no longer brings you joy. “Independence is having the opportunity to soar with an idea and the freedom to pivot when something is no longer working for you," Lewis says.
“In all honesty, 2021 might not be the perfect time for some people and that's fine!” Smith adds. “I'd say if work is draining and you have big ideas on how the experience could be better for you, your family and your guests then it's time to come up with a plan. But like with any small business, having a plan is important. Don't be like me and quit your job with no idea where you're going."
5. Who can help me succeed?
Envision your perfect day as a business owner and what that looks like behind the scenes and for your guests. While the freedom of a custom career is an invigorating goal, it usually requires the support of a team to help get you there.
The CocoLemon mantra is “independent, but never alone” because Smith and Lewis realize how crucial community and resources are on your journey.
“We created Squeeze the Day, an interactive e-course that covers what we wish we would have had when we started out as independent stylists. We talk about everything from startup costs to using social media without the burnout.”
Smith continues, “I also like to remind people to use their resources. Commercial realtors, small business lawyers, accountants and bookkeepers are all service providers just like us. They want to help you succeed and finding a support team in your area will make things so much easier."
Feeling ready to plan your first step? Sign up for the CocoLemon mailing list and get a free workbook with everything you need to launch your big move.
“We have your back,” Smith reassures. “We want to build a community of hairstylists who know who they are and who are comfortable enough in that success to cheer on everyone else around them. It's not a competition. There's enough hair out there for all of us to be happy.”
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.