You see them at the shows. They’re on stages, cutting hair with swords and using a can of hairspray as a blowtorch. They’re wearing crazy makeup and microphones, shouting instructions over thumping dubstep to the gawking professionals who clog the convention’s carpeted paths. (Or they’re at the head of a dark classroom running a Power Point presentation, dressed like Wednesday Addams moonlighting as a corporate manager, comparing professionals who take walk-ins to brothel prostitutes and those who work by appointment-only to streetwalkers–yes, I do that.)
Whatever. If you’re reading this post, you likely want to be one. (An educator, not a prostitute.)
You have two options here, and both are equally valid ways to become an educator. However, each come with their own pros and cons. The path you choose will depend on your preferences.
The Easy Way: Brand Ambassador
[BIAS WARNING: I’m an independent educator. My experience as a brand educator was not a positive one, and it’s rare that I hear many positive things about the position from current and former brand educators. I routinely research the expectations and requirements various companies have for their educators, and am thoroughly unimpressed with what they have to offer, and how they treat their “educators.” I’m aware that rare exceptions to the Cons listed do exist, and if you’re an educator for one of those exceptional companies, please share your experiences with your preferred company in the comments.]
Product companies are hungry for fresh ambassadors. They call them educators, but since the focus of your role as a “brand educator” is to close as many sales as possible during your demonstrations, I don’t consider the title to be accurate. This position requires educators who are confident public speakers and aggressive salespeople, with acceptable technical skills.
- Becoming a brand ambassador is often relatively easy. You submit an application, attend the company’s training (which you’ll likely be required to pay for), and if you meet their standards (which you likely will), you’ll be added to their list of educators and will be given the opportunity to either teach classes they organize, or organize your own.
- It will require very little of you in terms of effort. The company will set up most of your events. They will take care of securing the venue, marketing the event, and collecting payment. All you’ll have to do is show up and sell.
- This path also will give you the ability to travel extensively, if that’s what you’re into.
- You’ll be part of that brand’s “family.” Corporate cultures in this industry are very fun and can be very appealing.
- You’ll make valuable connections, and gain experience. This, to me, is the most valuable Pro in this list. You will meet a ton of people, both locally and within the industry. The more people you know, the better off you’ll be. You can never have too many contacts in this business, and working with a brand will give you access to heavy-hitters you’d have a hard time meeting otherwise.
- Motivated professionals have the opportunity to become headline platform educators and creative directors. We’re talking about the 1% here, so let me make that very clear. If you want to become the next Robert Cromeans or Beth Minardi, you have to be extremely talented, an exceptional presenter, and a hardworking, seriously career-oriented person. It doesn’t happen overnight and it isn’t easy. Those positions are few and the people vying for them are not. Competition is fierce. If you can’t hustle, you’ll be a local (state or regional) educator forever.
- They’ll have a strict list of rules for you to follow, which will include a prohibition against speaking about any competing product lines (even if the line you’re educating for doesn’t carry a similar product).
These restrictions will impair your ability to truly educate.
If you’re interested in being an actual educator (instead of a salesperson who performs live tutorials on how to use a company’s product line while trying to upsell other company products), this route isn’t for you.
- You won’t be an employee, but you’ll be treated like one. Sure, you’ll be able to accept or decline classes, but you’ll be expected to wear the company’s branding, follow the company’s class protocols, and hand out business cards with the company’s information on it. They won’t be paying your taxes either, but this bleeds into the next con, so let’s go there…
- The pay sucks. I have a lot of brand ambassador friends. I know what educators are making at virtually every major beauty brand. It varies, but you can expect anywhere from $75-200 for a four hour class. At trade shows, most pay around $125-175 per day.
At a trade show, the first “day” runs 12-15 hours in a hot convention center, unloading and unpacking boxes to set up the booth. The second and third “days” are another 10-12 hours of absolute insanity.
Most companies offer some form of commission bonus also, but these bonuses aren’t impressive enough to make up for the weak compensation. If you’re a successful professional–or, you know, someone with bills who actually pays their employment taxes–this figure won’t be very motivating since you’ll be making 15.3% less than whatever your check comes in at. Established professionals could generate more income in 1-3 hours in most salons, regardless of their local economy.
There are two people making major money in brand education: platform artists and the CEO.
- You may have to pay for the training and the travel, even if you’re not chosen to be a brand ambassador. I always laugh when someone tells me they were “accepted” to attend training to become an “educator” for a brand. I do know of a few companies who will cover travel and hotel for their educator trainings, but they’re very few and come with contingencies (for example, you’ll have to actually meet their expectations during training and sign a contract to become an educator for their company).
Before getting excited, ask the company if they’re covering the cost of travel and training, and if your kit is included. If they’re expecting you to pay them for the PRIVILEGE of selling their crap, you didn’t get “accepted,” you’re getting solicited.
- You’ll be expected to pay for everything out of your own pocket. You have a class four counties away that requires an overnight at a hotel? You’re putting up that money. The company isn’t paying you for your travel time. They’re not paying you a per diem for meals. You’re an “independent contractor,” after all. You’re being paid for the class. That’s it.
- Payment can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks. Yeah. You read that right. Many companies don’t pay out for an event for months afterwards. If you’re in a financially shaky situation, the money you spent on travel, hotel, and anything else for the event will be gone, and you won’t see a penny in compensation until the company’s accountants get around to sending out your check.
These companies will expect you to submit your travel and hotel costs for reimbursement, but their contracts will contain very broad clauses that will allow them to refuse to reimburse them, for whatever reason. You’ll also be expected to pay to restock your kit if the company has a threshold on what they’ll restock for you (and most do).
- Classes are not guaranteed. Taken from my brief, real life experience as a brand ambassador: Two classes are scheduled in Jacksonville, five hours from my house. I’m expected to drive there and get a hotel overnight. My pay is $150 per day. Because I have a friend who lives in Jacksonville and haven’t taken anything resembling a vacation since 2006, I decide to take it since it’ll give me an opportunity to hang out with her. I book the hotel and move my salon appointments to free up the class days.
The day before the class, the company calls to inform me the class didn’t meet attendance thresholds, and is being cancelled.
Now, I’m stuck with two empty days and a hellish workweek to make up for the time I took off for this stupid class, plus I have to spend more of my precious time arranging for a refund from the hotel.
If you don’t have time for this bullshit–I certainly didn’t–thoroughly investigate the company’s policy for class cancellations. If those policies put you at a disadvantage, do not go this route.
- Some companies do not organize events for you. I couldn’t even believe this was happening, but it is. Companies are expecting people to fly out to their training, pay for everything required (including the training), purchase a ton of product, and then go to work soliciting salon owners, store owners, and schools to host their classes. These brand ambassadors are then expected to bring the inventory (or an order form) and sell the product to the class. The company pays them a commission on the sales. It’s like a tacky MLM scheme, and in case you didn’t know, I despise MLMs.
- Educators are often treated as “replaceable.” This is the most frequent complaint I hear from my friends in brand education. It’s hard to find a company that truly values their educators, and with so many people falling at their feet to become one of their salesbots despite receiving virtually nothing in return, it’s easy to see why.
The Hard Way: Independent Education
[BIAS WARNING: As an independent educator, I’m heavily in favor of independence. However, I have nothing to gain by your choice. Unlike a corporate brand, I won’t be paying you pennies to go out and sell my products. I won’t be taking your money for “kits” or “training.” You won’t be wearing my branding and passing out my company’s cards at your events. Keep that in mind. I recommend independence because I truly believe it is the best way to work.]
If you consider yourself ambitious enough to become one of the 1% who stand on stages, preaching to the masses, you’re ambitious enough to build your own success without another person’s logo emblazoned all over you. I consider it best for any aspiring educator to spend a year or so teaching at a cosmetology academy (at least on a guest basis) to get a feel for what’s involved and to gain experience before going out into the world as an independent educator.
- You answer to no one. That means nobody is telling you what you can and can’t say, or what you can and can’t do. Nobody’s going to email you to condemn you for a tweet you made, or for “liking” another brand’s status on Facebook. Nobody’s going to expect you to hit sales quotas and sanction you if you fail to meet them.
- You can maintain your credibility. No product line is perfect, and brand ambassadors who claim their company’s entire line is perfect are liars, or painfully inexperienced with competing products. Even my favorite lines have produced some real garbage products from time to time.
During my stint as a brand ambassador, it physically pained me to have to tout the benefits of a product that didn’t perform well whatsoever. As an independent educator, you’ll be able to recommend products that do the job best, regardless of what brand created them.
- You set your rates. As a brand ambassador, you have little room to negotiate your fees, if any. That is not the case when you’re an independent educator.
- You will never be guilty by association. You know how brands who tout themselves as being “pro-only” sometimes sell out to major retail corporations and end up on Walmart’s shelves? Any time you associate with a brand, you’re putting your professional reputation in their hands. So, when it turns out that company is using dangerous ingredients, making piss-poor marketing decisions, or committing other acts of idiocy–your name is tied to theirs. As an independent educator, the only person who can ruin your reputation is you.
- You determine your terms. For me, this means that the person requesting the class must either a.) provide or secure the venue and pay for any associated expenses, or b.) have me present them with venue options and a breakdown of how that will effect ticket prices. My travel costs, accommodations, and class fees must be covered in full at the time of booking. I require a secured class minimum of six attendees before I’ll send them an event contract, but beyond that it’s their responsibility to fill the seats and manage ticket sales. There are no refunds. Once an event is booked, it’s booked, so none of my classes will be “cancelled due to low attendance.”
If you’re considering becoming an independent educator, put serious consideration into your terms and policies.
- You’re self-employed. Oh hey, look at that! This was one of the cons of being a brand ambassador too. But at least now you have all those awesome freedoms that come with that higher tax rate.
- You’re responsible for your own marketing. This means having an active, credible blog (or vlog) and a strong social media presence. This means participating in beauty forums and Facebook groups and commenting on other blogs. This means picking up the phone and making connections with salon owners, beauty schools, and beauty supply stores to let them know you exist and that you’re available for hire. This means having a website that details the classes you have available and maybe offering a webinar every so often.
This means working your ass off.
- When it comes to shows, unless you’re specifically requested by an organizer, you’re a vendor–and being a vendor is CRAZY EXPENSIVE. Even small shows can be cost-prohibitive for an independent educator who lacks a product line. If you have a product/service to sell, then absolutely go for it. However, if you don’t have either (or the potential income won’t justify the investment for a substantial amount of time), don’t sign a vendor agreement just so you can have classroom space at a major show.
Instead, wait until you’re a big enough deal to be invited, or ask the organizers about their policies for unaffiliated educators. Depending on your notoriety, they may allow you to teach a class or two at their event for free, without a vendor commitment, but those concessions are only made for people whose names can attract attendees–and if you’re not one of those people, you likely won’t qualify until you are.
So, those are the options available to you. If you want to read more what it takes to be an educator, you can read this article I wrote with Jaime Schrabeck on our blog Nail Tech Reality Check, where you can also find a few more posts that address various aspects of the topic.
Are you an aspiring educator or current educator? What have your experiences been? Did I miss any pros or cons? Let me know in the comments!