Beauty professionals often have a hard time increasing their annual income due to several factors, primary among them being their employer’s failure to grasp the concept of inflation or to recognize its effects as being more than trivial. Unfortunately, too few salon owners understand business math. As a result, the prices they set are often too low to cover expenses and their employees are compensated with an oversimplified, circumstantially legal, and tremendously expensive commission-only system. While these problems are common in small businesses in general and aren’t exclusive to our industry, professional beauty businesses do have unique compensation structures that complicate how we approach seeking wage increases. In this post, you’re going to learn how to justify a raise, how to determine which type of raise will benefit you, and how to prepare for negotiations.

Perform an honest self-evaluation.

I’m going to be extremely real for a second here—as a career salon manager who transitioned into salon ownership, I am sick to death of professionals requesting (and sometimes outright demanding) unjustified wage increases.

Do not waste your employer’s time.

Before arranging a meeting to discuss a raise, perform a self-evaluation. Sit down in a quiet room with a pen and a piece of paper. Pretend you’re acting as your own manager and asses your job performance critically.

  • Are you reliable and prompt?
  • What is your client retention rate?
  • Are you personally responsible for attracting new clients to the salon, either through referrals, word-of-mouth advertising, or social media?
  • When you are not serving a client, are you keeping busy and act as a team player?
  • Are you showing initiative, doing chores and other tasks without being asked?
  • How are your technical skills and service outcomes?

I can’t express to you how important this step is. Nothing frustrates managers more than an employee who asks for more money but can’t back up their request with legitimate reasoning, especially if that employee’s performance doesn’t actually justify a wage increase. Furthermore, your manager may not be aware of how hard you work and may need to be told (or reminded) of all that you do, so make it clear that you’re doing more than simply extending your hand out for more money.

Ensure your math and reasoning makes sense.

Once you’ve established that you can make a strong argument for a raise, think about what that raise should look like. Don’t lob the ball into the employer’s court and force them to guess at your wants or needs. Have at least one proposal ready, then negotiate from there.

In wage negotiations, you should not be throwing numbers at the wall to see what sticks.

Salon professionals typically have three options:

  • Base wage increase: Your hourly wages are increased, resulting in a guaranteed income boost.
  • Commission increase: Your commission percentage is increased, granting you a larger bonus when sales are made and/or performance goals are met. (This is the most expensive type of wage increase for the business, so have modest expectations.)
  • Price increase: Your service prices are increased, making your performance goals easier to accomplish. In performance-based salons, price increases make it easier for professionals to hit their goals and attain conditional sales bonuses.

To determine which method might be best for you, consider your salon, your preferences, and your work style. If you aren’t booked enough to benefit from a commission or price increase but contribute significantly to the salon’s operations in your downtime, a base wage increase would be easiest to justify and most beneficial. If you’re efficient and can be reasonably certain that you’re going to remain so, a commission and/or price increase might make more sense for you.

However, before you approach your employer about raising your wages, consider your request from their standpoint. To have the best chance of success, you may have to do a little rough math and thoroughly evaluate the strength of your bargaining position. I could type up two or three boring paragraphs to illustrate my point, but I’ve found that people learn better through stories, so here you go:

A few years ago, an employee at our Venice location sought a raise. She didn’t ask. She didn’t call for a meeting to have a rational discussion. Instead, she guilt-tripped my mother relentlessly, spouting a series of sob stories intended to provoke pity. My mom is no dummy, but she pretended to be, refusing to allow this employee to bait her into giving her an undeserved wage increase.

This employee had been trying to exert control over the salon and subvert my authority from the day she started. In the short time she worked for us, she:

  • tried to convince my mother that our compensation structure wasn’t “realistic” and that she should misclassify the workers and pay them commission, (“Don’t worry,” she said, “I won’t tell Tina or report you.”)
  • argued that we needed to invest in her preferred product line,
  • claimed our protocol execution times were unattainable, even though my mother and myself both complete services well within the set time frames,
  • left early routinely, and
  • expected pay on days she chose to take off.

To top it off, this woman (who apparently thought she was a super slick manipulator) periodically tried to pit my mom and I against each other by relaying false information and trying to stir up conflict.

To put it plainly, this employee was cut from cloth I am all too familiar with.

When she finally came out and demanded more pay, Mom said to her, “You’re going to have to talk to Tina about it, but what do you think would be fair?”

“$14 an hour plus 65% commission,” the employee said. “I used to be a salon owner and I paid my girls like that, so I know we can afford it.”

Before you place judgement on that request, understand that our Venice location is a small shop in a very small snowbird town where the average age is 68 and nearly all of our clients are on a fixed income. Our prices are here.

…are you done laughing yet?

For those of you who don’t want to do the math, this employee requested the raise using numbers she very obviously pulled out of thin air. Our most popular service was priced at $45 and was designed to take an hour. The employee’s base wage of $14 plus 65% ($29.25) would have left the salon with $1.75 to cover expenses. We’re not even accounting for the cost of her employment taxes, but even if we assume I somehow wanted to destroy my career and run the risk of coming up against the IRS and DOL by misclassifying this employee intentionally, that amount barely covers the cost of our products and disposables used in that service, let alone the operational expenses accrued during that hour.

But wait, it gets better.

Our most popular service was designed to take an hour, but this talkative employee couldn’t finish this service in less than 90 minutes if her life depended on it. Realistically, her labor alone for that service would have cost us $50.25, resulting in a total loss.

Do you have any idea how hard it was to keep from laughing when we had to explain this to her? Instead of accepting the math, the employee tried to argue that “everything equals out in the end.” My mom, finally reaching the end of her patience, couldn’t help but point out, “Maybe you’re a former salon owner for a reason.”

The employee proved that she didn’t put any real thought into her request and hadn’t planned on being asked to justify it. When confronted her with her subpar performance reports, her absences, her tardiness, her failure to execute services within the protocol times, and the client complaints, she had nothing to counter our assessment of her performance.

Furthermore, the employee didn’t have a strong bargaining position to begin with. She knew we were the only salon in our area guaranteeing a paycheck and withholding and remitting employment taxes. She knew we were the only salon offering paid vacation time. She knew we were the only salon in town that shut down for an hour every day for lunch and didn’t take appointments on weekends.

Frankly, she knew she extremely unlikely to find better pay or working conditions anywhere in town.

If she had a strong argument to support her request, her bargaining position wouldn’t have mattered, nor would I have been bothered by her nonexistent math skills. If she had put conscious thought into an arrangement that made sense for her and the salon and even a handful of valid reasons to support a wage increase, she probably would have received it (albeit a modest one). Instead, she failed on all three fronts. If this employee hadn’t quit soon after, we likely would have fired her the second an opportunity presented itself, as that entire episode served no purpose except to—there’s no better way to put this—show us her WHOLE ass.

Consider this a cautionary tale. Don’t show your ass.

Ask yourself:

  • What does the job landscape look like in your area?
  • Can you do better elsewhere?
  • Are you well-prepared to handle criticism?
  • Do you truly deserve to be paid more?

Prepare your talking points.

Once you’ve evaluated yourself, determined what your ideal raise will look like, and have assessed whether your requests are likely to be taken seriously, you’re going to compile all of that information together. Start with the reasons you most certainly deserve to be paid more. Use metrics and verifiable data as much as possible. The majority of the accomplishments you mention should be tangible.

Examples of tangible, measurable accomplishments include:

  • Client reviews,
  • Performance data (for instance, new client acquisition and client retention rates), and
  • Successful projects (for example, moving the salon’s data to a more efficient salon management software or modernizing the salon’s social media profiles).

Your personal problems are not your employer’s problems.

You do not deserve a raise simply because you’re in a dire financial situation. You do not deserve a raise because you want a more expensive car or house. Your professional merit and individual contributions to the business determine whether you truly deserve higher wages, so stick to the facts.

Reason out your wage increase, then get specific with the numbers and the method. Then, if you’re still not feeling prepared, you need to practice.

Practice until you’re confident.

You’re going to do some solo role play to ensure you’re well-prepared to confidently hold your own during negotiations. I’m going to be your boss. Are you ready?

You’ve entered my office for the meeting you’ve scheduled and have taken a seat. “What’s going on?” I ask.

How are you going to proceed from here?

Don’t beat around the bush. Look your boss in the eye and say, “I want to discuss a raise.”

Not, “I want a raise.”
Not, “I need a raise.”
You’re there to discuss a raise, and that’s exactly what’s going to be happen.

This word choice matters. I want a raise implies that you don’t need it. I need a raise implies that you do. Neither of those things are relevant and both sentences sound more like a demand than a mutual agreement.

“Okay, let’s discuss it,” I say. “What did you have in mind?”

Whatever follows should show that you’ve carefully considered the options. You should be able to explain exactly what you’re looking for and how/why you’ve chosen it. Then, explain why you deserve higher wages.

Don’t stop talking until you’ve justified your request. when you have, invite your employer to respond by asking a direct question.

Here’s an example of how your part of this conversation should go:

“Ideally, I’d receive a 3% increase to my sales bonuses. My retention rates haven’t dipped below 91% for the past year. I consistently generate the most revenue and nearly all of my new clients are referred by existing clients. My Instagram account provides a lot of value to the salon and helps drive a considerable deal of new clients here. Since I built our online store six months ago, retail sales have nearly doubled. I’m reliable and always willing to pick up shifts when others need to take off. Have you had any complaints about my job performance?

If you’re afraid to ask if your employer has any complaints about your job performance, you aren’t ready to negotiate a raise.

Prepare a list of possible questions and challenges your employer may pose. Take the time to carefully consider your responses. If they tell you they can’t afford to give you a raise at this time, what will you say?

Don’t forget to pause.

Give the employer time to respond to the information you present. If you’re a nervous talker who feels the need to fill silences, practice that impulse away before you meet with your boss. Developing the confidence to speak with authority and intent, then holding eye contact silently may take time. For many of us that type of communication doesn’t come naturally, as that deliberate approach can sometimes feel borderline-confrontational.

During coaching calls with salon professionals, I find so many of them struggle to communicate confidently with authority figures, especially during stressful situations. If you’re one of those who sweats, stammers, and searches the floor for the right words, you aren’t alone. I’ve had anxiety and social functioning issues my entire life. If I can modify my behavior and pass for an assertive, articulate adult, you can too. Planning and practicing help a lot. If that fails, remind yourself that you’re so insignificant, in a cosmic sense, that literally nothing you do matters. (Welcome to This Ugly Beauty Business! Come for the practical advice, stay for the existential dread.)

Keep practicing until you can straighten your spine, square your jaw, and wear those mannerisms like a second skin.

Ultimatums

You didn’t put your personal needs or desires into your list of reasons but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If you have needs/wants that aren’t up for debate, line up your backup plan. What will you do if your employer refuses to grant you a raise?

Make those plans in advance but don’t disclose them during negotiations. If you’re denied a raise and plan to move on, solidify that plan first, then deliver your resignation.

If your employer wants to attempt to outbid the offer you’ve received, exercise caution. Some employers will offer a raise to keep you around long enough for them to replace you with someone cheaper. Should that happen, you could find yourself out of a job entirely.

Request a private meeting, but before you do, assess the situation.

To get the raise you’re seeking, ask at the right time. To clarify, the right time is not

  • when tourist season has died down and your employer is cutting hours,
  • when the salon’s costs have suddenly and unexpectedly increased, or
  • when the salon owner has taken a serious emotional and/or physical blow (death in the family, surgery, divorce, serious injury, etc.).

Schedule your private talk with your employer when things are calm and stable, and when they’re most likely to be receptive to your request.


If you’re well-prepared, your meeting should go well and result in a raise, but if the timing isn’t right or you’re denied for another reason, remember that you have to do what is right for you—which may mean finding a new job or a second job. If you have financial or career goals that have outpaced your workplace’s ability to satisfy them, it might be time to move on. If you want to learn how to leave on good terms (and more) read the recommended articles below.

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