We were fortunate to have Sofia Pastro of DM & Company join us for this month’s Vagaro Live with Two Blondes. In this special webinar, Sophia explains to Catherine and Aileen how investing in skill development, aggressive networking, social media, and Vagaro helped this savvy entrepreneur successfully transition from a salon employee to independent contractor in a year. Check out this 47-minute webinar video.

AILEEN: Let us introduce you to Sofia Pastro. Sofia is one of the up-and-coming stylists in the Victoria area. She has been in the business for just over 9 years. She has really made a name for herself and she is doing all the things that we talk about in our webinars with you. 

CATHERINE: So, Sophia, perhaps we can start with you giving us a little bit of your background. How long have you been a stylist, what made you want to get into this, and how you’ve progressed?

SOPHIA: Thank you ladies for having me on the webinar. I really appreciate the opportunity. I’ve been in the industry for 9 years and I got into it because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I decided to try a couple of different things. One of those trials was getting a job at a hair salon as an assistant and I’ve really fallen in love with the industry. Just being able to create a really cool brand for yourself, your personality, and a clientele that would reflect that. And I just thought all hairstylists were such rock stars! Like getting to wear whatever they want… 

C: The cool girls! 

S: The cool kids! Yeah! 

C: We can tell just by looking at you, Sophia, that you are one of the cool kids! You love to rock that different vibe. Today, when you came in, it was like, “Oh, your hair is orange!” 

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S: It changes constantly! 

C: And it’s great! 

A: But that’s the cool thing about it. Because our industry is about change. 

S: Exactly. 

A: So, tell us a little bit about your change.

S: Well, as I said, I have been in the industry for 9 years. I went from being an employee at a commission-base salon to now, renting my own chair. 

A: Hold up there for just a sec, Sophia, because I want to ask you: What were the reasons that prompted you to move from being an employee to an independent contractor? Because we’re seeing so much of that in our industry. 

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S: What really prompted me was the control— control meaning a couple of different things. Control over my schedule, control of how much I would work, control of my career. I guess in some salons you feel really supported by the owners and you feel you really want to grow with them. Liz from Lavish Salon here in Victoria—I worked with her for three and a half years—she was always very encouraging, always pushed me to grow my business, to do better and be better. Being in that environment was amazing. I ended up moving to a salon that didn’t have that environment and it came to the point where I was doing all this work outside of the salon and I really wanted to reap those benefits. If I was going to be putting in all this effort, I might as well own my own business, you know?

A: So, what would you say was your biggest challenge when you made that leap from employee to independent contractor? 

S: Fear, for sure! Fear was huge. I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to be responsible for rent now!” If I’m not busy, I don’t make money. If I’m not able to make that rent at the end of the month, I’m in the negative. Not being able to take home any food or feed myself, that was a huge scary point for me. Because of my personality—I’m very business-minded—and because I understand that you have to go out there and network, draw clients to you, and attract them, I never had a problem. I was afraid for nothing! 

A: How long would you say it took you to get to the point where all the sudden the fears started to subside? 

S: The first paycheck.  

A: That’s fantastic! 

S: It was the first paycheck! I was like, oh, okay! 

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A: That’s so interesting, because the first time Cath and I met you was at a networking event. And you were so fantastic at that. You have made a name for yourself. It is not something that we see at networking events— stylists coming out to build their business. 

C: You’re the only one that we actually ever met at a networking event. And we talk about it all the time. If anyone listening right now and is a regular listener to the webinars, they’ve heard about us speak about you. 

A: We’ve branded your name! 

C: You are truly the shining example of what it takes to really get ahead as an independent stylist. Well, in any business. I love what you said about fear. As fear can either cripple us or move us forward and to see you take that fear as a motivation factor to push through to your success. I think that says something for us—that all of us can do this. Like seriously people, if Sophia can do it, all of us can do it.  

A: So, you start your work as an independent contractor, but of course, being Sophia Pastro, this isn’t good enough to satisfy you. What is the next step in your growth and moving forward?

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S: My next step is looking at expanding my business from just behind the chair aspect to the online portion. As I’ve been growing in my career, I realized as a stylist, it’s very limiting to be able to just working behind the chair and make that income for only when you’re working. If you get sick or if you want to go on vacation, you’re not making that income. so for me, that was a driving  factor to look at other sources of revenue for my online business.

A: That’s so out there! Most of us when we think about the service industry, we are tying ourselves to the chair. To see this branching out, I think it’s really creative. And again, it’s what our industry is all about: creative ways to earn a living.  

A: So, tell us: you’re famous for your blogs, especially your YouTube blogs. 

S: I originally started my YouTube channel because I wanted the opportunity to reach my clients and educate them. I went through this phase where people would come in to my chair and say, “Oh Sophia, I love the way you style my hair, but I can’t achieve the same results at home! “And I would take that as a compliment like, “I know, I’m the best!” But then an idea popped into my head. It dawned on me that my clients are my advertising. They are my walking billboards and if they don’t look good, that’s on me.

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S: So, I started filming YouTube videos, doing tutorials and educating them because I thought if I can teach you to do your own hair at home then you’re going to look great 24/7.  

C: And that’s your walking billboard! 

S: The amount of times my clients have been stopped on the street, “oh, my gosh! I love your hair. Who does it?” Because of this [sic], I make sure they leave with my business card. That has been a huge part of growing my business. Merging that online portion with the in-person portion and they have to work together… that’s when the magic happens. 

C: We keep talking about how important video is and in this life of social media, people what to see videos 

A: 80% of consumers today are finding their service providers and products online. So as an independent contractor, how do you drive people to your site?

A: With all the original content you put on your site, the more that it drives the search engines toward you. 

C: As an independent, you have to do something to stand out from the crowd. It’s a crowded marketplace. 

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A: How do you find the time to do it all? 

S: That’s a really great question. It’s not about finding time, it’s about organizing your priorities at the end of the day. I only have 24 hours in a day like everyone else. Some days are more filled than others, but it’s about setting your priorities of what you want to do and what you want to achieve and you go from there. Last week, I was in the salon at eight and I was working straight through until about 3:30 PM with clients. And then I had about an hour to do some emails and follow up with some people. From there, I went to a Chamber of Commerce networking event and was there until seven. Then I went to another networking event later that evening. When 9:00 PM came around, I headed back to the salon to film videos and was there until 10:30 PM. Now, that’s not an average day… 

C: But you accomplished a lot! 

S: I did. It was one of those days I had a timeline and needed to make it happen. At the end of that, I had a moment with a technical issue. Nothing worked. I had messed up and broke down. I said, okay, it’s time to go home and go to bed and start again tomorrow. So, it’s understanding that some intense short days are needed and there are other days that I sleep in until 9! 

C: You have to be able to balance out somewhere. That’s another thing as a young entrepreneur that you have to recognize: all work and no play is no fun. 

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S: It’s no fun. It something that can burn you out very quickly and I have a bad habit where I will push myself to the breaking point. But I also understand that I want to build something that will serve me later on. I know this isn’t forever, it’s just for right now.A: Time management sounds like it’s a really big deal for you. 

S: It’s huge! 

A: That also tells me that if you’re into time management, you’re probably also a goal setter, aren’t you? 

S: Oh, yes! I’m typical Type-A.

A: She’s a goal setter! I’m not surprised. Let’s talk about your timeline, because what fascinates Cath and I is that you took a rounded salon business and turned it into a niche market. 

C: When we talk about niche market, we mean by taking the whole and narrow down your focus. You take one segment of your client base and that’s where you hone in. So tell us how and why you did that?

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S: I went to a course in Toronto through a company called Inspiring Champions. They had you write down your schedule for the week then break down all your services. How many services can you pack in a day and how much money can you make from those services. The biggest thing was color services are huge and then extension services. So I realized that’s the most income in the shortest amount of time. So I decided to invest in a course for Great Lengths hair extensions and went to Vancouver to training. 

C: I love that you use the word invest. Because, truly, that’s what you were doing. When you are going into technical or business education, you are investing in your future!

S: You are! If you look at the income that I’ve made off of the extension services over the past 6 years. It doesn’t happen overnight. It really been in the last year that I’ve seen a huge boost in increase in those services and that’s because I’ve increased my marketing, I’ve done videos, and posts around it. But the money I’ve made is way higher than what I invested in. It’s a no-brainer to why I would do that. 

A: That’s a really good point. It’s almost like taking a leap from looking at it as “Oh, god, how much is this going to cost me?” Instead of, “how much am I going to invest in myself?” It’s a mind shift.  

S: I like to point out that at the time, I didn’t have the money to do it. The money I used to go on the course in Toronto or the money I used to take the extension course was all on my credit card. I didn’t have the cash to do that, but I knew that if I had that skill, I could transfer into paying that back and then ten-fold. 

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C: It comes down to fear with a lot of people. They can’t see their way clearly because they’re afraid of spending the money. Whereas you took it and said, “this is something I have to do this. This is an investment in me and my future.” 

A: When you came back from your course and training, what was the first thing you did to incorporate your service and how long did it take you return on that investment?

S: Speaking of goal setting, they had you write out daily goals. Not only did I have weekly and a monthly goal of what my services and retail should be [sic], I also had daily goals. It started out as a goal of $100 a day. If I want to make $100 a day, I need to 3 women’s cut and a men’s cut or something. I was physically writing and drawing it out, and that’s what I did. It probably took maybe a couple of months to get into the habit, and then within a year, I saw the changes [sic]. I still have the books and I still keep track.  

C: Something that I’ve learned is that you’re a Vagaro user. 

S: Yeah! So, you can just look it up! You just go to your Reports and you pick the day. And I will do my daily report and my weekly report. Then bi-weekly report, and my monthly report and you just click the dates that you want which is really nice, because it’s very convenient. But I also write everything down so I can see my growth and how far I’ve come. In the last year, my income has increased by 40%. It’s crazy! 

C: You started off targeting extension niche, now I know you moved into another niche because one is never enough.

S: One is never enough!  

A: I can’t even go there. 

C: One is never enough for Sophia. So, tell us what about your other niche. 

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S: The other niche is doing bridal hair services. I got into it because a really good friend of mine, Alexa, a makeup artist who owns her own company, has been working in the bridal industry for a long time. She was talking to me about it and asked me,” Would this be an opportunity that you want to do? DO you want to do more weddings?” And I love doing updos and weddings, so I got into it with her. I think I did over 30 weddings this season. 

C: Was it lucrative for you? 

S: Absolutely. It was awesome, because it gave me another opportunity in addition to my behind-the-chair income.

S: And that all came from networking, having a good friendship with her, building that trust and relationship— It’s been a great business relationship to have with somebody that has the same vision and customer service.C: So, like joint ventures. 

S: Exactly. 

A: And you feed off each other too. For weddings, you are gone all day! How does that impact your every-day business? 

S: On a day that I do a wedding, I don’t go into the salon afterwards. So my hours have decreased at the  salon and through Vagaro’s system, you can send emails clients before the wedding season really ramped up and I said “This is what I’m doing, I have brides to accommodate. If you would like a specific time for an appointment, please book two appointments ahead of time.” So, I turned it into an opportunity to make sure that I was fully booked and clients would constantly be asking for my availability. It was really great, because gave them FOMO, fear of missing out. 

C: You’re creating scarcity! 

S: I am! 

C: And that’s what more stylists need to do. 

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S: It seems a little counter-intuitive, I think. Because you’re like, “Wow, I have less hours, people won’t book with me,” but it is that sense of scarcity. You are literally giving them fear of missing out on you as a stylist and your services. Which is great for retention. 

A: They have to make sure to book with you before they leave salon! 

S: Absolutely. I have several clients now that book in 2 or 3 appointments in advance. 

C: I always book at least 6 months in advance.

A: One of the important things we wanted to talk about today was your client base. How many thousands of clients do you work with, Sophia?

S: I do not have thousands! I have an email list about 500, but I would say my core group is about 300 clients.

A: And that’s the point we wanted to make. You don’t need thousands of clients to build a tremendous business. If you work your clients and have relationships with your clients, you are going to create a great living for yourself. But it’s in the care and attention into that client that builds that business, isn’t it?

S: It’s not about quantity, right? It’s about quality. It’s about quality of clients that I have, how much they trust me, and how much I build that relationship for them, and how much I care. Really, that’s what it comes down to. I care a lot about them and their needs, and that comes across. They really trust me when they come to me with challenges.

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A: Another thing to note here too is that it’s hard to maintain relationships between visits. And I think you’ve seen this in your marketing. What you do online with your blogs and social media is that you’re maintaining your relationships between visits.

S: Absolutely, and you’re staying top-of-mind.

C: And that’s totally what you need to do. And I know that you don’t just do extensions and wedding parties. You have a varied group of clients, but interestingly enough, one of the things you don’t go after is the men’s market, because that’s not who your target market is.

S: Probably in my list of 300, I have maybe 5 to 6 men cuts that come to see me. They are very loyal and very regular. They come about every 5 to 6 weeks.

C: I’ve never seen a man with extensions!

S: I do have one, actually!

C: No way!

A: That’s awesome!

S: Yeah, I do! He wanted to be, um, what was the words he used? He wanted to be Troy– like Brad Pitt in Troy– with the long, flow-y hair.

C: Just like my husband’s hair. It’s just like that!

S: He’s been a very loyal client of mine and he has a full head of extensions and he loves it. He sees me once a week for a blowout, because he doesn’t want to have to worry about, you know, maintenance.

C: But getting back, you’ve really narrowed and honed your marketing to really incorporate the client base that you want, not just those who randomly come in.

A: One of the things that Cath and I talk about a lot is when we’re talking to salon owners and stylists, we ask them who their clients are. And they’ll say, “Well, we do everybody.” But I think you show that you can define your market and you can focus on things and be successful doing that. You don’t have to cater to everyone to create a successful business.

S: Touching on that, when I talk about niches and defining my market, I know my market is primary women between the ages for 40 and 65. When I write them out, I know they’re professional women who maintain certain level of care on themselves. I write in other personalities things like they like getting their nails or facials done or they shop at certain stores. I’m very detailed with describing my market, and that’s my broad market. From there, I have my four sub-markets, and call them Little Personalities and I even give them names.

C: They’re your avatars!

S: Yes! So my avatars have different names and I describe what kind of woman they are. So when that woman materializes in front of you at a networking event, I already know how to communicate with them or know you’re willing to spend more time with that person, because you know what their attributes are.

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C: You haven’t created a new avatar once. You’ve go back and you review, because we all change. I love the fact that you have several different avatars to talk to, because we’re not all cookie-cutter.

A: As professional women, we’re all going to have different likes and dislikes. I just think it’s quite brilliant!

C: I’m sure you’ve seen your average ticket over the years just increase and increase and increase.

A: That’s a really good point. How often do you raise your prices?

S: I usually raise them about every two years. But I’m thinking now that we’re moving salons, it may be another opportunity to increase again.

C: If you were 90% booked outside of your niches, then you need to raise your prices. Because you need to open up some space for those people who will pay more. To give them an opportunity, because some people will only comfortable at a certain price point. Sometimes it’s okay to be willing to let go of some people. Because of what we do: we touch people and form really close relationships with them. Often times, we hang onto clients for way too long and cut them deals. This is your income, going home, that takes a hit.

A: I liked that you change your prices on the regular almost on a rotational basis. So your prices are fluctuating regularly with your increasing costs. I bet you one thing that has happened in the last nine to ten years is that you haven’t seen costs decrease.

S: No, of course not. We live in a beautiful city and it’s one of the most expensive cities in Canada. Other than that, it’s being able to plan for my future, and being able to have the capital to invest in my business so that I can give back in a different level.

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C: Touching on going back to your niches, tell us what has been the most successful way to reach your clients. What kind of marketing are you employing?

S: It’s a combination YouTube videos, Instagram posts, and Facebook posts. I don’t do ads, those are the online segments. And of course, the in-person marketing, so the networking events.

C: And a great website.

S: Oh, yes!

C: Sophia has a great website called lifeofhair.com

A: And we encourage all of you to check out her website. She’s done a beautiful job. I believe in branding and creating a consistent theme throughout your marketing and business cards and Sophia has done an amazing job with this. There is much to learn from this young woman. I noticed that you use Vagaro for your booking service. Could you please tell some of our webinar attendees how fabulous and easy this program is to use?

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S: I really enjoy it. Like we’ve talked about before about being able to look at reports, being able to book clients and the ease of their booking on the website as well. Not only as my behind the chair booking system, but also as my own schedule. It’s not just a schedule for the salon, I put all my personal stuff in there. Spin class, 7AM. My hair cut starts at 11, and if I have a networking event, it’s at the end of the day. It’s literally my calendar!

A: It’s your lifeline.

S: Absolutely.

C: It totally keeps you organized. I love that.

A: That’s one of the reasons why we love Vagaro, because of the ease of use.

C: It sounds like you take full advantage of the reports.

S: Yeah, it’s great. It’s information and the analytics. It tells you where you can go and it’s important to look at them.

C: When you started doing video, you started with your phone. And you have progressed from there. You learn as you go along. For Anyone listening, it might be intimidating to see these fabulous videos on Life of Hair, but remember that Sophia didn’t start there. She started with a phone.

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S: I think I have around 60 videos on my YouTube channel, and if you go to the beginning, you can see that my videos are atrocious! But I keep them up there to show the progression. Like, this is how bad I was when I started, and this is what I’ve grown into. It’s about building that comfort level to be in front of a camera, understanding lighting, sound, how to edit, and they are skills that take a while to learn. Unless you’re willing to pay and outsource that. In this stage of my business, although I’m very happy and very close to hitting that six-figure behind-the-chair mark, it’s still not something I can afford, because video is so expensive to produce. But it is a goal that I’m willing to outsource that, because editing is not my strong suit. You do what you can.

C: The big thing, though, is feel the fear and do it anyway.

A: That exactly!

A big Thanks to Sophia Pastro for joining our webinar. You can check out her blog and videos at lifeofhair.com. Please visit DM & Company to book with Sophia and for their list of their available services.

If you have any questions or comments for Industry professionals, Catherine and Aileen, please contact them at twoblondessales@gmail.com.

For more about Vagaro for professionals and businesses, visit their sales page.