Working at a Salon – Employee vs. Independent Contractor

Cosmetologists who work as employees on a commission basis keep a percentage of the income they bring into the salon through the services they perform, typically 50% of the total amount.

Although as an incentive, some salons will pay their stylists on a sliding scale, with the greater the amount of money brought into the salon by the cosmetologist, the higher the percentage she will be allowed to keep, sometimes 55% or even 60%. Cosmetologists who are paid on a commission basis are also paid a percentage of the total amount of retail products they sell, usually 10% to 15%.

Hair Stylist Cutting Hair Photo

The salon owner provides all the products and supplies used by commissioned employees, including shampoo, conditioner, permanent wave rods, hair color, and towels, and also pays the business expenses. The employee usually supplies her own combs, brushes, shears, blow dryer, curling irons, clippers, and other specialty items. Commissioned salon employees normally work a schedule set by the salon owner or manager, use the supplies (such as shampoo and permanent waves) that the salon owner purchases, and sell the retail product lines that the salon owner chooses to offer for sale. Many salon owners will pay all or part of the fees for continuing education for their employees, and some offer fringe benefits such as vacation and sick pay. Other than keeping an appointment book for their clients, the bookwork necessary for a commissioned stylist is usually not extensive or complicated. Advertising is also the responsibility of the salon owner, although word of mouth is undeniably the best advertisement of all. Individual hairstylists usually have their own business cards and the responsibility of building their own clientele belongs to them.

Many cosmetologists who are self-employed own their own salons, but a growing number of the self-employed lease booth space or a chair from the salon’s owner.

In this case, workers provide their own supplies, and are responsible for paying their own taxes and benefits. They usually pay a monthly or weekly fee to the salon owner, who is responsible for utilities and maintenance of the building. Booth rental cosmetologists enjoy greater freedom but also have greater responsibilities than commissioned salon employees. In exchange for their rental payment, they usually receive a vanity, mirror, hydraulic salon chair, and access to shampoo bowls, towels, and chair or “hood” dryers, all provided by the salon owner. The independent contractor must purchase all the products she uses on her clients as well as the retail products she chooses to sell, and like the commissioned employee, she furnishes her own shears, combs, brushes, styling tools and numerous other specialty items as well. Independent contractors pay their own registration fees for continuing education, and do not receive fringe benefits through the salon. Owners of booth rental salons may or may not advertise their business; independent contractors are often responsible for their own marketing.

When it comes to taxes, there is a great deal of difference between an employee and an independent contractor. Independent contractors must also hold a state sales tax license, collect sales tax on their services and retail sales, and periodically send the sales tax collected to the state in which they practice, while commissioned employees don’t have to worry about any of that, as it is all the responsibility of the salon owner. Because they are not employees and federal income tax is not withheld from their pay, independent contractors are required to pay self-employment tax and usually file quarterly estimated income tax payments to the Internal Revenue Service to avoid having to pay their total tax bill at one time. Because their tax returns are more complicated to file than those of a regular salon employee, independent contractors often enlist the help of a bookkeeper or accountant when tax time arrives. It is important that independent contractors keep accurate business records and receipts of all income and expenses, while salon employees have no need for keeping most of these records, although business expenses such as license fees and equipment may be claimed as a deduction by both employees and independent contractors.

Independent contractors are free to set their own schedules, can come and go as they please between clients, and maybe even take a second job or a class. They are able to choose the product lines they want to use and to sell. While all this freedom is very appealing to many cosmetologists, most wait to become independent contractors until after they have a steady clientele built up, because whether or not they have any appointments on their books, they must pay their rent and purchase supplies to stay in business.

As with other careers, cosmetologists who have a strong work ethic and a great deal of self-discipline make the best and most successful independent contractors, mainly because it can be quite tempting to take a long lunch or an afternoon shopping trip instead of working on clients, and no boss is there to tell self-employed cosmetologists to get back to work! Many independent contractors eventually spread their wings and decide to pursue a life-long dream of owning their own salon, as Marta Ankele of Ambiance Salon in Rapid City, South Dakota, did.

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