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Read How One Cosmetology Student Finished Her Program and Built Her Clientele

Karafina Antonio was pursuing a degree in graphic design while working as a receptionist for the Zip Zap Hair salon in San Francisco. Antonio began to consider cosmetology school because she was responsible for payroll at the salon.

Eventually deciding graphic design wasn’t for her, Antonio was inspired by her colleagues to enroll in cosmetology school. Here she talks about making the transition, completing school and building a clientele of her own.

Making the Choice: Cosmetology School It Is

Antonio appreciated the diversity of the salon work and the good pay it was possible to earn. Now that she works full-time in the industry, Antonio says there’s something for everyone there.

“If you’re creative and have an eye for what makes people look good, you can find your niche,” she says.

Sticking With It: Making School Work

Antonio went to school part-time for two years, taking classes five days a week from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., while working a full-time job.

“Being focused on hair, makeup, nails and facials—it’s exhausting. I wish I could have done it full-time to finish school within 10 to 12 months,” she says.

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As grueling as beauty school can be, Karafina encourages new students to hang in there and get support from fellow students. She also recommends getting practice on real clients, such as those who walk-in for discounted services at beauty schools, as often as possible.

The Exam: Confidence is Key

Most cosmetology schools train students for the state’s licensing exam. You’ll study topics such as disinfection, sanitation and professionalism.

Confidence is the key to passing the state licensing exam, especially the practical portion where you have to demonstrate techniques and procedures under observation.

“The thing that can really get you is nerves,” Antonio says. “But they’re looking for you to look like you know what you’re doing.”

Going to Work: Real Cosmetology Career Education

Antonio recommends becoming an assistant at a salon in order to learn techniques in addition to the ones learned in school. She already felt comfortable with hair cutting and styling, so she started as a junior stylist at Zip Zap immediately after receiving her license. After six months, she was able to set regular prices.

“You start to learn people’s hair, what they want, what they don’t like and how their hair reacts when you cut it. You work on new people and see what happens,” says Antonio.

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Building a Clientele: Everybody Knows Somebody

Antonio began building her professional cosmetologist clientele by taking walk-ins. She also had personal business cards made right before she started working full-time on the salon floor.

“You do fifty walk-ins and everybody knows somebody,” she says. “I do people’s roommates, boyfriends, girlfriends and family members. If people see me more than two times and refer three or four people, I give them a free haircut to thank them.”

She also gives clients multiple business cards, so they can hand them out whenever someone compliments their hairstyle. That kind of networking can create a thriving business.

Big Rewards: It’s Not Just the Money

Antonio loves setting her own hours and meeting new and interesting clients.

“This career is so rewarding. You see how happy they are with their hair and how much better they feel. They might be having a bad day, but you make them feel good,” says Antonio.

Plus, her income has improved since receiving her cosmetology training.

“I’m not making loads of cash like someone in a downtown salon, but I’m making more than I was making before, and it only gets better from here. The more years you work, the more money you can make.”

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