HOW DO I: Decide between being a generalist and specialist?Do you want to be an expert in a narrow field or a jack-of-all-trades hairdresser? The main difference: specialists have depth of knowledge with generalists have breadth of knowledge. For instance, a color specialist can correct the most challenging hot-mess hair color, create subtle tonal shifts and explain the differences among all color brands. A generalist can cut, color and style hair.

The two biggest factors in your choice may be where you live and where you want to work. In general, larger salons and corporations have more specialist opportunities. “Specialists require a denser population, which salons in rural areas just don't have. In bigger cities, both are possible and needed,” says Keith Ferguson, owner of Salon 6100 in Orlando, Florida.

Competition and Marketability

Noting that generalists are on the rise along with full-spectrum color training, Suzi Bond, owner of Perfect 5th in Mooresville, North Carolina, says specializing still works, but there is always a difficulty associated with scheduling one client for two staffers. “Both will work with the correct business model, appropriate marketing, an excellent community reputation and proper guest training in expectations.”

Eric Fisher, who owns namesake salons and an academy in Wichita, Kansas, tells his students that given today’s competition, being well-rounded works best. “All our staffers learn a simple makeup application, so they can tell the client they can define or shape their brows,” he says. “They can all also tell the client how a few highlights will help skin tones or make blue eyes pop and that they can do if for them. Cutting alone won’t make you marketable unless you are in a big city and have a great reputation.”

To specialize, Fisher says (just 5% of his salon employees do), realize that practice and experience alone won’t cut it. To develop true mastery over a niche, attend dedicated training and advanced classes, follow a rigorous apprentice program and secure a specialist mentor. Then, add hard work.

“Consider the difference between a basketball player who hits the court regularly and one who practices 500 left-handed free throws in row,” says Fisher.

If you’re still on the fence, ask yourself:

Am I a geek for just one aspect of the business? For instance, do I love chemistry and the nuances of hair color?

Do I want to color my own hair cuts for a total design?

Do I want to work for a manufacturer? Style hair on a movie set, which requires experience with wig work and hair extensions?

Will the area in which I live support specialization, and can I get top-notch training?

What do I have a true passion for?

What provides the best future opportunities for income and growth?

Finally, you can add a revenue-raising narrow-niche specialty to your generalist status by specializing in hair extensions (most salon have just 1-2 stylists who perform the service), curly hair or men’s cuts. All require advanced training.

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