Many salon professionals are choosing to work from home or offer on-location services, however, there are protocols for establishing and running these businesses. Protecting yourself needs to be your first priority. Read this article if you’re thinking about establishing your own on-location business or home salon for general insight into the factors that need to be considered before beginning.

Keep in mind that laws vary from state to state, so your first step (after reading this article) should be to check the laws in your state and compose an email to your state board of cosmetology for clarification.

Also included are some links to excellent resources for workers who do business on the go!

On-Location Services

I get a good deal of emails from beauty professionals wanting to offer “on-location” services, looking for advice on how to set up and get started. Unfortunately, it’s almost never as simple as throwing your tools and products into your trunk and showing up at a client’s home.

Almost all 50 states have laws against offering services in private residences unless certain conditions are met.

The regulations in your state will vary, but in general, you can expect the following restrictions:

1.) The appointments must be booked through a licensed and inspected salon, where a copy of your client list and appointment book are kept and available for review by a state board inspector.

2.) An itinerary must be provided to the state board every month detailing the client names, addresses, and services provided.

In addition to those, 1 of the 2 conditions below must be met as well.

  • The client must be medically homebound and unable to leave their residence or facility.
    or,
  • The services must be performed in conjunction with a motion picture, fashion photography, theatrical, or television industry; a photography studio salon; a manufacturer trade show demonstration; or an educational seminar.

“Photography studio salon” means an establishment where the hair-arranging services and the application of cosmetic products are performed solely for the purpose of preparing the model or client for the photographic session without shampooing, cutting, coloring, permanent waving, relaxing, or removing of hair or performing any other service defined as cosmetology. The salon must use disposable hair-arranging implements or use a wet or dry sanitizing system approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Many states also have regulations against what type of services can be performed outside of a licensed salon.

Most states will not allow you to offer chemical services outside of the salon at all, regardless of whether or not the client is homebound or Mariah Carey.

Mobile Salons

When we talk about “mobile salons” we are not talking about “on-location services.” You would be surprised how many people get confused about that. Packing up your supplies in your trunk and doing services at people’s homes or hotel rooms is “on-location.”

A “mobile salon” is literally a salon on wheels. It can be a bus or an RV.

In any case, the states that allow mobile salon businesses also regulate them strictly in the same way they regulate traditional fixed salons. They will be required to comply with the same standards as a traditional, fixed location salon.

To facilitate periodic inspections of mobile cosmetology salons, prior to the beginning of each month each mobile salon licenseholder must file with the board a written monthly itinerary listing the locations where and the dates and hours when the mobile salon will be operating. This means that you can’t just take last-minute appointments at different locations. Your business will operate very much like a bloodmobile. You will submit the itinerary every month and go to the locations on the itinerary.

In addition, each mobile salon license holder shall maintain a permanent business address in the inspection area of the local district office at which records of appointments, itineraries, license numbers of employees, and vehicle identification numbers of the license holder’s mobile salon shall be kept and made available for verification purposes by state board personnel, and at which correspondence from the state board can be received. Post Office box or private mail box addresses may not be used for these purposes. (So you may have to rent an office.)

Many states are also pretty strict about plumbing and water requirements. You’ll definitely want to look into that as well as your county guidelines regarding permitting and operation of mobile businesses.

Home Salons

Home salons are completely legal in the vast majority of states–if they are properly inspected and licensed. Before doing anything, check with your state board to find out what the requirements are.

Check with your HOA and your county as well to ensure that you won’t be violating any of their regulations or zoning laws.

Simply doing hair out of your kitchen is a bad idea for several reasons. For starters, no professional liability insurance company is going to cover any malpractice on your part if you’re violating the state cosmetology laws. Secondly, it’s tacky and unprofessional. And lastly, you want to keep your living space and your professional space separate.

Almost all states require that your salon area be completely isolated from your home by a permanent wall and has its own separate entrance.

Also, they require that you have a handicap accessible bathroom and a sink (and basically that your salon comply with the same state regulations that standard salons do).

Almost all of us do quick trims and touch up jobs on our close friends and family members in our homes–that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about running legitimate businesses out of our houses.

Trust me, you don’t want strange people in your home and most of your customers have no desire to be in your living quarters.

It’s definitely worth spending the money to have a contractor build out a new entrance and separate the salon space from the home space with a permanent wall.

Treating it Like a Business

For people to take your non-traditional salon seriously, it’s really important that you treat it like an actual business; not a fun little hobby.

Be professional. It doesn’t matter where you’re working, hold yourself to the same degree of professionalism your customers would expect if they were patronizing a traditional salon. You don’t show up to work in your bathrobe, you don’t allow your pets or children to run wild in your home salon, and you don’t allow your mobile salon to look cluttered, disorganized, or dirty inside. Remember, your clients aren’t your friends. Establish policies and boundaries the same way you would at any business you would run.

Plan before you spend. In addition to doing your research with regards to your state board regulations and county/community restrictions, you’ll need to have a thorough business plan that will need to be written prior to moving forward in any way. It’s far better for your business to fail on paper.

Math is critical. Part of your business planning process should include cost analysis and service pricing. If you’re working alone, you may want to consider buying The Microsalon Owner’s Complete Business Toolkit. If you’re going to hire additional employees, The Service Pricing Toolkit may be worth looking into. If you’re going to rent space in your non-traditional business to other microsalon owners, check out The Salon Landlord’s Toolkit. Before doing anything, work those spreadsheets and analyze the salon’s numbers under a variety of scenarios to determine how to ensure profitability from Day 1.

Insurance is necessary. Never, ever attempt to operate a salon business without a solid professional liability insurance plan. I don’t care where you get it (many professional associations offer discounts on PLI policies to their members), but you need to have it.

Resources

Square is a great mobile credit card processor that allows you to process all of your credit transactions using your smartphone! I absolutely love it (and so do all of my friends that operate independently). The white scanner is free of charge and slips right into your headphone jack. You can instantly email copies of the receipt to your client. Your client can also tip you right from the phone. They only take 2% per transaction, which is considerably less than other credit card processing companies. There are no monthly fees for use either and all card types are accepted.

Wix is the easiest website building tool on the internet. It takes a bit of time to learn how to fully utilize all of its features, but once you do, you’ll love it. It doesn’t cost anything to build a site. You can choose from tons of templates or you can go rogue and build from scratch. It’s all point and click so if you’re computer literate, you’ll have no trouble at all. Hosting costs $9 a month (unless you want to add a store or a bunch of other crap you really won’t need). The SEO is second to none, so you can be guaranteed that your site will appear at the top of the search engine results if you know how to set the right keywords.

IRS.gov is the official IRS website. They have TONS of resources. Finding what you’re looking for is incredibly easy using their search tool. Trust me and bookmark this. Use their resources to ensure that you’re in compliance.

DOL.gov is the official website of the Department of Labor. While their search functions leave much to be desired, they’re very easy to contact if you require any kind of assistance or advice. If you’re considering hiring staff, drop them as many emails as you can handle with any questions you have.

Please keep in mind that this article is very non-specific because laws vary widely from state to state. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to comment below!

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Tina, Thanks for the post.

    I have seen many stylists offer on-location bridal makeup/styling services at homes/hotels. Is that illegal?

  2. I have my Mobile Salon for 3 years now. I’m licensed and insured here in California. Yes it was quiet an adventure. Stressful? Yes. Worse it? Yes.

  3. Thanks for the information, your blog has many great resources! I am a salon owner looking to expand my bridal business by assembling an on location team. Do you know of where I can find information on the legality of this?

    • Hi Ashley! You’d have to check with your state board about the legality of doing offsite services. The majority of states don’t permit it, and the few that do have strict requirements for it, generally requiring the customers to be medically homebound.

  4. great read! im worried because i recently had to stop cosmo school for personal reasons but wanted to continue my bridal makeup services for on location weddings until i am able to return to beauty school. After reading this now i am unsure of what to do to continue my craft until i become licensed and i am also in florida. I invested so much into my website, business cards, contracts, and other misc. what advice would you give someone in my position? in need of help

    • If I were you, I’d find a loft space and share it with a bridal boutique, then I’d submit a petition for declaratory judgment to the State Board, asking them to permit makeup application for wedding venues if I really wanted to work on site. However, I don’t advise working on site for so very many reasons.

      First, there’s no reason a bridal party can’t come to the salon. To expect a team of professionals to pack up, set up and work at their location is absurd. What could they possibly require on-location services for? They’re not handicapped, they’re not going to be capable of getting up and moving around while the professionals are working, and it’s dangerous.

      When it comes down to it, when you show up on location, you lose control of the appointment. You’re not in your territory, working at your station, at your place of business. Because of that, brides and bridesmaids view you and your role very differently. They feel empowered to ask for free services (“Can you just touch up my lips real quick?”) and treat you like a servant (“Pour me another mimosa.”).

      Bitchy bride behavior is far more likely to happen in a venue dressing room than in your business. Personally, I’ve never understood why anyone would want to work on-location.

  5. Hi Tina, I am glad I found your blog and just got your book. I am a licensed cosmetologist in CA for 5 years. I am working part time at a salon. I have a few questions, first, I do my friends hair at home although I don’t charge like salon prices, they usually pay me for products/supplies I used and give a little extra. Is that illegal to do at home? I have a set up in my garage, I only have 2 people that come in regularly and others just whenever they have time. My 2nd question is, I would like to start going to a nursing facility to do hair, I would just maybe do hair cut and styling but no chemicals. Do I need a business license, insurances to be able to that? Thank you, I would greatly appreciate it.

    • You definitely shouldn’t be doing hair in your house in California without the appropriate facility license. It is against board regulations there and the penalties are severe.

      Regarding insurance, however you’re practicing, you will need professional liability insurance. Literally ALWAYS have a PLI policy, even if you’re working at someone else’s salon. (The policies are cheap and well worth the money.)

      Any time you conduct business, you should have a business license and separate bank accounts to streamline your taxes and accounting, so I highly recommend getting all of those things lined up also.

  6. So i have been searching online and even calling the state board.. i am trying to open a small home salon… im in illinois.. what kind of requirements do they want for the area of shop? Does it literally have to b completely envlosed from the rest of the house? It is literally 2 steps from my fron door and i have a professionally made wooden gate/door entrace. Do i need an outside entrace since its 2 steps away? That wod b annoying to use the restroom to go outside and back in the house and back out to go in shop again.

    • My understanding is that Illinois requires you to file several applications. First, your home must be zoned correctly. The other applications make your request public record, and I believe a hearing must be held, during which time your neighbors can contest the residential salon. Home salons in Illinois are incredibly rare because as far as I can tell, several overlapping agencies have regulations prohibiting or severely restricting your ability to open one. (Ironically, the state board in Illinois doesn’t appear to be one of them.)

      My advice is to start making calls to other authorities–I recommend starting with the Illinois Small Business Assistance center.

      A friend of mine lives and works in Chicago as a session manicurist. The hoops you will have to jump through to establish a home-based salon there are numerous. You may be better off renting a space elsewhere, because you will likely be required to make major alterations to your home.

  7. I would like to start an independent contractor business for Esthetics on the go; to be able to go to clients homes and perform facials, microdermabrasion, eyebrow shaping and makeup application in Florida. No chemical peels, no hair services and no massages. Just simple skin care. Would i be able to do that here in FL?

    • Nope. Mobile services are only legal in Florida under limited circumstances, and your use of the IC status (at least on the surface) doesn’t sound appropriate. You can read more about the mobile situation in Florida by reading this post here.

      Out of curiosity, are you licensed yourself? Are you aware of how involved esthetics is? The equipment, products, and tremendous liability–it’s a serious mess. I highly, HIGHLY advise against this business concept. Sending people into the private homes and hotel rooms of strangers (especially in this state) is seriously a bad idea. Personal safety issues aside, there’s no professional liability insurance company out there that will insure a business that isn’t legal in the state they operate in, so there’s that to consider too.

  8. Hi Tina I am almost done with nail school and I will like to do a mobile salon so you know the requirements in Pennsylvania I live in Pittsburgh

    • Check with your state board of cosmetology regarding your state’s regulations. These are things your school should be going over with you as part of your licensing requirements, but they’re available online as well.

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