The most important questions to ask a personal stylist to make sure they're the right stylist for you.
Hiring a Personal Stylist is a fantastic investment in yourself, they can remove the stress and worry from deciding what to wear, by showing you how to put outfits together that look good on you, so you can confidently build a collection of clothes you enjoy wearing!
They not only make you look great and feel confident, they make your life a little easier and free up some of your precious time so you can do more of the stuff you like doing!
A good Personal Stylist does all of that. But a great Personal Stylist will guide you through that at a pace that works for you, and in the direction you want to go in, with confidence, empathy and a ton of knowledge.
But how do you find a great Personal Stylist?
How do you find the right stylist for you, someone you feel comfortable with, who is talented without being intimidating?
And how do you make sure the Personal Stylist you choose to work with is the right fit for you?
You ask them these 8 important questions:
Who do they usually work with, and what sort of collections do they typically pull together?
Most Personal Stylists will have a particular demographic that they primarily work with, so ask them who their typical clients are, which shops they use, and what sort of collections they’ve sourced. This will help you to get a feel for how much experience they’ve had working with women similar to you, or whether they align with your ethos.
I also recommend reading through some of their testimonials. Often these will be on their website, but if not, ask the stylist to send you some. They not only give you an idea of how experienced the stylist is, but it will give you an insight into the process and the type of person they typically work with - whether they have similar frustrations to you that were helped. If not, then you might be wise to look for a different stylist who has experience working with other women like you.
What measures does the Personal Stylist have in place to ensure they understand your tastes and requirements? How do they decide which clothes to put you in?
Over the past 17 years I’ve learned there’s a lot of work to do before I even begin sourcing a collection for a client. I’ve developed a 3 step process that I regularly update and modify, that enables me to get an in-depth understanding of where my client is, where she wants to be, and how quickly I can get her there. It’s more collaborative than you might expect, but it’s an effective way to make sure that I’m not only taking my client on this journey at a pace that’s right for her, but that I’m taking her in the correct direction!
What happens if you don’t like the clothes they pick for you?
If the stylist has done their homework and asked you the right questions there will be far less of a chance that this will be an issue, but I do recommend that you ask them this question before you book in.
I can almost guarantee that they will have been asked this question many times before and that they will have a process in place to mitigate this happening, so ask them what that is - ask them what measures they have in place to help you effectively communicate what you want to achieve.
As well as the in depth questionnaire that I ask all clients to fill in, I make a point keeping my client in the loop throughout the process – sharing a style mood board to illustrate the look and feel of the collection I'm proposing, informing the client of my proposed shopping list and regularly updating them on the progress. I'm constantly confirming that my client and I are on the same page so I can make sure that I'm giving them the result they want!
What happens after you've purchased your collection? Is there any sort of aftercare?
Things shouldn’t end once you’ve purchased your collection.
It’s likely that you’ll have a few questions over the following weeks, especially if you’re someone who struggles to put outfits together, so you’ll want to make sure the stylist is available to help you if you need a little extra guidance. Aftercare is included in the price of all my services, but it isn’t with some stylists so check!
How much contact do you have with them, and how do you keep in touch?
Ask the personal stylist how much contact you will have with them through the process, and how you keep in touch.
Depending on my clients preference I'll use a mix of email, Zoom, WhatsApp and Signal. I also set up a google Drive folder so we have a space to store and share documents.
The easier it is to communicate with the stylist, the better the experience and outcome will be.
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What is the process, from start to finish, and how much involvement do they expect from you?
Each Personal Stylist will have developed their own tried and true way of working so ask them what that is. Ask them to go through the process with you, and check that what you need is covered or included. Personal Stylists typically offer a range of services so make sure that what you want is included in the package you're asking about. If it isn’t, ask them if it can be added.
I also recommend finding out how much input and effort they will need from you.
How long have they been styling? And what experience and training do they have?
Experience is the most important thing. The more women they style, the more shapes and sizes they'll be adapt at working with, and the better placed they will be to help you. the learning never stops, even after 17 years of styling women all over the world, I’m still learning and developing my skills!
Whilst not essential, it’s also beneficial if the stylist has had some sort of formal training. There are fundamentals to understand that form a strong foundation for a Personal Stylist, and without them it will take a stylist longer to develop the skills they need to help you. You don’t know what you don’t know so having some sort of training helps to fill in the blanks and makes the stylist better placed to help you. This is especially useful if the stylist hasn’t been working for long as it fast tracks their skills!
Now those are the most important questions to ask a Personal Stylist before you hire them.
But, I also recommend that you ask yourselfa few questions, so you're ready to answer the questions I know they'll have for you...because they also need to find out if they're the right fit for YOU.
Taking a few minutes to answer these three questions will be hugely beneficial:
What has prompted you to consider hiring a Personal Stylist?
Maybe you’re tired of being unhappy with your wardrobe
You can’t envision how to put pieces together nothing seems to ever match
You have a sense of what you like, but you can’t find the right fit
You waste so much money buying clothes that you don’t feel good in
Or you have too many clothes in your wardrobe that you don't like wearing
Why do you want to hire a Personal Stylist? What is it that you want help with?
It could be anything from:
Not knowing what works for you
Or not knowing what your style is
To having a good idea what works for you and what you want to look like, but not being able to find it in store.
Have a really good think about what help you need from the Personal Stylist as it will help you both to reach your end goal!
And how much time and effort are you willing to spend working with a Personal Stylist?
Rather like purchasing an online course or self-help book - simply making the purchase won’t help you, you need to do some work to get the results you’re looking for.
A personal stylist can 100% give you the wardrobe you dream off, but they can’t do it without your input, so you need to expect that there will be some ‘homework’ for you to do before the stylist can start working on your collection.
So there you have it, the most important questions to ask yourself and to ask a Personal Stylist to help you find the best Personal Stylist for you.
If I've missed anything, comment below of contact me here and I'll add it to the list.
And if you need any help with your closet or style, let me know, I'm here to help!
What to ask, and what to look for when you're thinking of working with a Personal Stylist
I know it feels like everyone else around you has a knack for putting outfits together, and just seems to know what to wear, effortlessly. But the truth is that very few women have a natural ability to dress well, most spend years learning the skills…as you would if you wanted to be a good cook, or seamstress. And the others? Well they’ve had some help. Probably from a Personal Stylist.
If you’re not sure what a Personal Stylist is or what they do; they are someone you hire to remove the stress and worry from deciding what to wear, by showing you how to put together outfits that look good on you, so you stop wasting money on disappointing clothes and build a closet that makes you smile!
They make your life a little easier, give you one less thing to worry about, and leave you feeling excited to shop and explore your style confidently, alone!
Working with a Personal Stylist can be quite transformational but I know it can also be a daunting prospect…because I’ve been told. Many, many times. One of my recent clients admitted to me that she was so nervous about working with me it took her a year to book the session she’d been gifted. Even I’m intimidated by some Personal Stylists…and I’ve been a Personal Stylist for 17 years! So I get it! You’re probably asking yourself:
How do I find a good Personal Stylist? Someone who is talented without being intimidating? "
I have a really difficult shape, what if they can't help me?!
I don't want to look like everyone else, I want to look like me...but I'm not sure what that is! How will they?!
Those are all great questions to ask, because in doing so you’ll be able to find the right Personal Stylist for you, but PLEASE don’t let those fears put you off from moving forward!
I know from first hand experience just how much of a positive impact working with a Personal Stylist can have on your life. In the words of some of my clients:
This wasn't just wardrobe transforming, it was life transforming
Niki did so much more than just take me shopping; she made a major difference to my self-esteem and has made me walk much taller!
I feel confident and comfortable. I feel like myself!
Ana jimenez santillana
So, to stop you from falling at the first hurdle, I’ve gathered together the most common worries I’ve had from past clients, and am sharing my tips and advice to help you overcome them, so you can start your journey to building a closet of clothes that makes you smile!
If you know you need some help, but aren’t sure what to do, or how to find the right stylist for you. Scroll on down!
THE TOP 10 WORRIES YOU MIGHT HAVE ABOUT HIRING A PERSONAL STYLIST, AND HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT stylist FOR YOU.
I'm worried I might not be able to afford the items they choose for me, and that I'd feel obligated to buy stuff.
It’s the job of the stylist to spend your money wisely and most stylists will be mindful of this while working with you but it doesn’t do any harm to ask them what measures they have in place to prevent you spending an amount you’re uncomfortable with.
Before you start working together, inform the stylist of your budget and, once you’ve discussed what you’re shopping for, ask them to give you a rough estimate of what it might cost to purchase everything on the list. This will give you the opportunity to check the stylist is creating a collection to suit your budget before any clothes are sourced.
Remember, it’s the job of the personal stylist to source what you need within your budget, and a good stylist won’t try to push you over this and should be able to guide you towards a collection that provides you with what you need, within budget. At the end of the day you should get the last word, and if at any time you feel like you’re being bullied into buying something you need to communicate this to your stylist!
I always have difficulty putting outfits together, how will this be any different?
The role of a personal stylist is to pull together a collection of clothes that not only fit you and your brief perfectly, but that's super versatile and easy to put together, so getting dressed is a breeze and enjoyable!
A good stylist will educate you throughout the entire process but if you feel yourself getting confused or lost at all, encourage her to explain to you:
Why these particular items were chosen for you - what is it about them that makes them work for you?
How the items can be worn together - ask to be shown how to put the collection into outfits
How to dress them up and down
And how you might integrate them into your current collection
You should walk away from the session feeling empowered to effortlessly and confidently mix and match each piece to create all the outfits you need.
If you really struggle to put complete outfits together, discuss this with the Personal Stylist before you hire them so you can make sure that there will be a strong emphasis on showing you how to put the collection into outfits.
How do I know the personal stylist isn't trying to sell me the clothes they make the most commission on?
These days it's fairly normal for a personal stylist to earn a little commission on the the clothes they sell you - I do as the extra I earn enables me to charge a little less for my services. But, and this is a BIG 'but', I always source a collection first and add the affiliate links later. If a retailer is not affiliated with the program I use, unlucky for me. The client is the priority.
If you have concerns about finding a personal stylist who is independent, make it a priority to ask them how they source your collection, which retailers they use, and which affiliate program they a member of.
What happens if I don't like the clothes the personal stylist picks for me?
If the stylist has done their homework and asked you the right questions there will be far less of a chance that this will be an issue, but make sure you pose this question to the stylist.
I can almost guarantee that they will have been asked this question many times before, and that they will have a process in place to mitigate this happening.
For example, as well as the in depth questionnaire that I ask all clients to fill in, I make a point keeping my client in the loop throughout the process – sharing a style mood board to illustrate the look and feel of the collection I'm proposing, informing the client of my proposed shopping list and regularly updating them on the progress. All my services are conducted online, but I am there, guiding my client through the process, every step of the way. You can also help the process run smoothly, by being as open and honest as you can throughout. An experienced personal stylist will not take it personally, and will appreciate your honesty as it will help them to source a collection you love!
Give yourself the time and space to consider each item as you try them on - particularly the pieces you aren’t sure about. Ask yourself whether the issue is that you don’t like it, or that it’s different from what you’re used to. Sometimes it takes a few minutes to get used to something new, and I often find that it’s the pieces a client likes the least on the hanger that become her favorite items in the collection!
I'm worried that the personal stylist will want me to fit in with their idea of works for me, rather than what I want to look like.
This is probably one of the biggest concerns people have when they’re thinking about hiring a stylist, and is another subject I think is important to talk about with the stylist before you hire them.
A good stylist won’t impost their style on you, they will be able to leave their style preferences at the door and focus on dressing you in the pieces that not only suit you and your shape, but that suit your lifestyle and style preferences.
To help put your mind at ease ask the stylist what measures they have in place to help you effectively communicate what you want to achieve.
For example, there are 3 steps I go through with a client before I even begin sourcing a collection:
She fills in my comprehensive questionnaire, pins to a private Pinterest board, and shares photos with me
Next we meet in person to chat through all the 'homework'
After that I create a Style Direction board for her on Pinterest to illustrate the look I'm thinking of putting her in. It's not until my client agrees that we are on the same page,that I start to choose the items for her collection.
Another tip is to read testimonials from past clients, this is a great way to get a feel for whether the stylist has a ‘look’ that they stick to, or whether they take the time effort to gather pieces that suit their individual clients.
Check out the personal stylists social media profiles and see if you like their personal style or whether you share the same philosophy. If not, you might want to keep searching.
I'm nervous about doing this!
Of course you are! You’re worried that your body-shape is difficult and like no other she's come across, that she won’t understand what you want to look like, or that she’ll be bossy or bully you into buying clothes you don’t really want.
You are putting your style and budget in the hands of someone else, and are opening yourself up to change. It’s a vulnerable position to be in and your brain is hardwired to resist things that make you feel uncomfortable, or that scare you, it’s your brains way of protecting you! I recommend speaking to the stylist and discussing your worries with them. Most stylists are nothing like the stereotypical ‘fashion person’ painted in the media, we're friendly and very non-judgemental…and we totally understand that most new clients experience some nervousness initially. A quick chat over the phone or Skype (or via email if you’re feeling particularly nervous) will help to put your mind at ease.
Try to stay strong! Remind yourself why you started this journey. Picture feeling free and relieved, and excited to shop and explore your style confidently! Your life will feel a bit easier, with one less thing to worry about!
I worry the personal stylist will dress me in what's in fashion. I don't want to look mummsy or old fashioned, but not fashion led either...
Wearing outdated pieces will age you so there is merit in incorporating some essence of the trends into your personal style, however, it should not be the stylists priority to dress you head to toe in the latest trends as their objective is to create an individual look for you…and slavishly following the trends is not unique! Do your research and look for stylists who talk about creating a style that is individual and authentic, as opposed to one who priorities trends and strives to be in fashion.
And once you’ve found someone who shares your ethos, make sure she knows how ‘fashiony’ you want to be and, if building a timeless collection of clothes is your priority, make sure you communicate that. An experienced stylist will keep abreast of the latest trends and will have the knowledge to adapt them to suit you and your lifestyle so you build a genuine and classic yet contemporary collection of clothes.
I worry that hiring a personal stylist is un-creative and that I'll end up looking like everyone else.
This is one of the biggest myths surrounding personal stylists. It’s the stylists job to turn your vision into a reality and most thrive on turning their clients individuality into a personal style that reflects that!
If a cookie cutter look isn’t for you, (and I don't' blame you!) find out who the personal stylist typically works with, and request testimonials to back this up. Check out their Pinterest boards and Instagram profile to see what sort of styles they're drawn to, and if you can personally relate to their style. If not, keep looking.
And as I mentioned previously, ask the stylist what processes they have in place to help you communicate the look you want.
I also suggest taking some time to figure out what you want your style to be so you can effectively communicate it to the stylist. Think about things like:
What’s important to you?
What are you passionate about?
What do you wish your style communicated to others?
I nervous I'll end up with a closet full of really cool clothes that I'm too nervous to wear!
Most personal stylists strive to empower their clients to effortlessly and confidently build a closet of clothes that they can’t wait to wear, and they know that if they guide you through your transformation at a pace that is right for you, the life changing effects will be lasting.
We’ve all seen the makeovers on the TV where the stylist takes their subject through a dramatic change in a matter of days, only for them to return to their old style habits a month or so later. Everyone is different, and as such their pace of change need to be tailored to suit, and an experienced personal stylist will know this.
Have a think about how radical a change you would be comfortable with. Be honest with yourself and mark it on a scale of 1 – 5 (1 being no risk, 5 being very risky) and then make sure you communicate that to your stylist so they know how far they can take you out of your comfort zone.
I’m nervous about paying too much attention on my body and finding out there’s nothing that can be done for me!
I can honestly say that in my 17 years of dressing women, I have never found a shape that I cannot dress to look great! Spending time focusing on your shape can be a scary prospect, but with the right guidance you'll start to become familiar with the great things you've spent years overlooking. Every body has assets and it's the job of a Personal Stylist to find them and showcase them so you look and feel confident, and beautiful when you get dressed.
If you have reservations about the Personal Stylists ability to dress you, ask them what shapes they've worked with in the past, and if they've come across a similar shape to yours...I'm pretty confident that they'll say yes ?
Those are the most common worries I hear from clients when they’re deciding whether to hire me, but I know you probably have more, so feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me HERE if you need any help or support!
Today’s post is a little different to usual, it’s a Q&A session and an opportunity for you to learn a little more about how I came to be a personal stylist, how I grew my business and what I wish I’d done…or not done! I share post after post giving you tips on how to grow and develop your style and closet but today, after receiving the 100th email from a budding personal stylist asking me if I’d mind answering a few questions about how I started my business, I’m sharing my answers to the most common question I receive.
I know how hard it is to get a business like this off the ground and to make a success of it, and I also know how hard it is to pluck up the courage to ask a peer for advice (I’ve been there myself!) so when a budding stylist reaches out to me for advice or help, I can’t ignore them. I’m sharing the highs and lows of being self-employed (and oh how high those highs are, and how very low the lows!) and am giving you an insight into what it takes to grow a successful personal styling business, should you wish to start, grow and develop your own business (personal styling or other) or know of someone who dreams of being a personal stylist.
But before I go into the Q&A session , I want to share a little of my background with you. I’ll warn you though, it’s lengthy, but I thought you might find it interesting to hear a little more about how I came to be where I am today. However, if you’re short on time or have heard it before, feel free to skip this next bit by clicking here to go straight to the Q and A.
Not skipping by? Alrighty…I graduated from University with a Textile Design Degree and spent the next few years working in retail and designing fashion fabrics – freelance – whilst trying to work out what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that whatever I did, it had to be creative. But that was about it. I applied for a variety of jobs and eventually secured a position as a Visual Merchandiser (VM) for John Lewis (a major UK department store). I thought my dreams had come true; that I was finally on the path towards a successful creative career, only to discover that the job was mundane and wasn’t the creative outlet I had hoped for. I was working full time as a VM, and part time as a freelance textile designer, I was tired, miserable, and my confidence was at an all-time low thanks to a section manager who never challenged me and couldn’t really be bothered to teach me anything.
The only time I enjoyed my job was when I was styling the mannequins in the fashion department, where I was allowed a little more freedom to be creative…and discovered my love of layering (back then, the store I worked for didn’t have the fantastic stock it has today, but I quickly learned to mix and match and layer pieces to bring them to life). Some of the mannequins I styled were located outside the Fashion Advice room, and I’d see Deb, the only Personal Shopper at the time, running in and out of the room with mounds of clothes, laughing and chatting with her clients as she sourced new collections for them. I saw women enter the room, most of them nervous and many of them with a low confidence, leave about an hour and half later, transformed and walking tall! It was amazing to witness and it wasn’t really until this point that I’d even considered a career as a Stylist, but knowing how much I loved clothes and fashion, and seeing the effect they had on Deb’s countless clients, I knew it was the right fit for me.
Shortly after this revelation the fashion department advertised that they were looking for a full-time Personal Shopper (talk about perfect timing!) so I applied. I didn’t really expect that I’d get an interview, let alone get the job, but I did! And it totally changed my outlook (I want to type life but that seems a tad too dramatic!). My new manager, Deb, was supportive and inspiring and more importantly she challenged me – My confidence grew and grew and I loved getting up for work in the morning. Making people not only look fantastic but FEEL fantastic too, is so rewarding and enjoyable! I felt like I was finally on the right path…but after a couple of years I realized something was still missing. The service we offered was free so people would book appointments just for advice, yet as with most of these jobs, we had sales targets to meet and this conflicted hugely with my desire to help people no matter what their budget (I just want to say at this point that none of us ever pushed clients to make purchases they weren’t comfortable with!). I also couldn’t ignore the fact that taking people shopping was only solving half of the jigsaw puzzle for them, I knew that my clients had closets bulging with clothes that they weren’t wearing but undoubtedly could, and I wanted to fix that for them before they purchased new items.
It was at this point that I made the daunting decision to leave my job and set up my own personal styling business offering both closet consultations and personal shopping. It was the best decision I ever made and I’ve never looked back. But you need to know that it is HARD. Even with the support of a loving husband and wonderful friends and family, it’s bloody difficult. Even now, 10 years on from launching my business, I’m still learning and overcoming obstacles, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It is the most rewarding career and I flipping love it!
Phew…still with me? Great! Give yourself a gold star! Now you know a little (a lot) more about how I became a personal stlist, I’m going to focus on you and your questions in the hope that I can help you move a little closer to turning your dream into a reality.
These are questions from real people who have contacted me over the last 400 million months and I have provided my honest answers, advice and recommendations below. I’ll be updating this as and when I receive new questions so be sure to bookmark this for future reference!
HOW TO BECOME A PERSONAL STYLIST – QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: I’m interested in becoming a personal stylist and I was wondering if you don’t mind giving me some advice – I already have a degree in fashion and textiles but no specific qualification in styling. Is it better to do hands on experience or do you recommend doing a course? I’m thinking of doing a 5 day course with the London College of Fashion.
This is a great question and something I get asked a lot. I would say the most important and valuable learning you will ever do is to just go out and style as many people as you can, and as many different shapes, sizes, ages and styles as possible – ask family, friends, friends of friends…just get as much experience under your belt as possible. Styling yourself is one thing but dressing and styling other people? That is a whole other ball game. The more experience you get the more confident you’ll become styling different shapes and sizes and confidence is your friend when it comes to gently guide your clients out of their comfort zone.
My first step towards running my own business was working as a Personal Shopper for John Lewis. I received a high standard of training and was working alongside one of the company’s top stylists. I styled, on average, 5 women a day, for a variety of different occasions from needing an entirely new collection of clothes, to attending weddings and special events. My clients ages ranged from the early 20’s right through to the late 80’s so I got a HUGE amount of experience. I learned about the cut of clothing and how it should sit on the body, which brands best fit which body types best and how their sizes come up, and I learned how to interact with different clients (and how to deal with tag along friends/mothers that think they know better) and it taught me that styling people isn’t just about looking good, it’s much more complicated than that – it can be such a personal and emotional experience for many women and I learned how to deal with that. I’m not sure I’d be where I am today without this wealth of experience, so I can’t emphasis enough how important hands on experience is!
With regards to training, if you think you have a gap in your knowledge or need help turning your side hustle into a business, then I do think this is a worthy investment. While I had a ton of experience dressing women before I went it alone I had very little idea about running a business and I also wanted to update my skills, understand how to conduct a closet consultation and get a fresh perspective on personal styling, so I invested in a 2 week training course that did just that. So, yes, while your degree in fashion and textiles will stand you in good stead, I would definitely recommend doing some sort of training to fill the gaps in your knowledge. Shop around and find a course that caters most to your needs and I would steer clear of the courses that offer fashion styling rather than personal styling as these are more geared towards editorial styling than dressing personal clients.
Q: Hi Niki, I decided early this year for a change in direction career wise. I currently work for a supermarket 30 hours a week and I work on being a personal stylist when not working. I had a bit of trouble with support from where I studied for my course, so I changed direction preferring to go it alone. I am currently working on my website which I need to design. Then I need new business cards and a business account, and I need to network. I want to get a job in fashion to support what I do and I also need to decide on an hourly rate as well as get more experience styling clients. What advice would you give me and do you think it’s realistic to do this on my own?
First of all I want to say how sorry I am that you didn’t receive the support you needed from the people you trained with, that’s so disappointing to hear, but don’t give up! At this point you’ve already beaten most people and have taken a huge step towards realizing your dream; you’ve found your passion, have done the training and are fully aware of what you need to do to move your business forward, you’re just a little overwhelmed by it. But, you know what? Everyone who ever launched a business has gone through the same roller coaster of emotions and if they say otherwise, they’re lying. You just need a little focus and direction, and to know that you’re not alone!
The first few months I started my business everything (even the smallest of tasks) overwhelmed me. I’d just finished some training and my head was whirling with ideas that I wanted to implement straight away but I just didn’t know where to start. I would try and take it one day at a time and go through my ‘to do’ list (which seemed endless) in a methodical way, but the truth was I was terrified and felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I had left my job to pursue this and the pressure I put on myself to succeeded was insane! I think the thing that kicked me into drive was reading the book Start your Business Week by Week, by Steve Parks it walks you through the steps, week by week, to getting your business idea off the ground. It broke everything down into bite sized pieces and forced me to write a business plan. I’ll be honest, writing a business plan wasn’t something I particularly wanted to do, nor did I feel there was much point in doing as I wasn’t looking to raise funds, but it was the best thing I could have done. It gave me some direction and focus, and it gave my business some structure. While we’re on the subject of books to read I also highly recommend Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers, and Do Fly by Gavin Strange.
In answer to your question about whether it’s possible for you to do this on your own – I believe it is but you don’t have to, not entirely. I was fortunate to have a fantastic community and great friends to bounce ideas off as a result of the training courses I did, however, the one person I used (and still use) as a sounding board the most is my husband. He has no experience of being self-employed (nor of personal styling) but having someone to check in with every so often to help get my head out of the weeds, to help me think about what I might have missed, or to just acknowledge how far I’ve come is invaluable. Reach out to your peers for advice and engage with other personal stylists on social media, (it’s a smashing place to find or create supportive communities!) but you might just find the most support comes from someone with absolutely no experience in your arena.
I also want to tell you not to get disheartened if you feel it’s taking longer than you had thought it would to get things off the ground. No one tells you how hard it is to set up a business like this and if Instagram is anything to go by you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s easy – it’s bursting with pictures of personal stylists taking us around the shopping mall for the umpteenth time that week and talking about all the clients they’re styling – but you need to understand that us personal stylists know more than anyone how important image is and that spans beyond clothing to our brand and how it’s perceived. So but don’t be fooled by the pretty feeds and seemingly endless sessions with clients – behind the scenes, the part that rarely gets shown, is all the extremely hard work it took to find and secure those clients, and the weeks between seasons when things go quiet. It took me about a year, working on my business full-time, before I had anything that was close to resembling a successful, income generating, business with a strong client base. So, while I’d love to tell you there’s a straight forward path and that it’s easy, the reality is that it is bloody hard work, especially if you are trying to do this alongside working another job. But the flip side is that this truly is such a rewarding career and there is a huge market for what we do, so take it one step at a time.
As for getting a job in fashion to support what you do, I’m not entirely sure that this is necessary. I suppose it adds weight to your credentials when it comes to impressing potential clients but unless the job involves styling people, I don’t know how much it will add – I’m sure some people will disagree with this but it seems to me that adding another task to your already long list of things to do is just going to create more obstacles. I would focus on getting as much styling experience as you can (with regards to fees, I’ve covered this in the answer below) and visit your local shops as often as you can to keep up with and try on the new stock to see how it fits. Keep doing what you’re doing, it sounds like you’re on the right path!
Q: I have struggled with my fees and pricing (sale percentage vs. hourly rate?). How have you dealt with this? I was thinking hourly rate for closet consultations, and a percentage rate added to whatever was purchased from a shopping appointment.
Aghhhh, deciding on fees and pricing is always a difficult task. I’ve played with mine quite a bit over the years and have finally settled on a structure that seems to work well for me. I charge a fixed amount for my closet sessions – these last 4 hours and anything over that is billed by the hour, and for my shopping trips I charge my clients by the hour and offer a minimum of 2 hours. I originally started out charging a fixed price for a set amount of personal shopping time but I found that this deterred potential clients who had smaller budgets and who weren’t looking to purchase an entire capsule collection.
As for adding a percentage rate to whatever clients might purchase; my tagline is that I offer friendly, honest, impartial advice in a pressure free environment, so I made a decision on day one to never add a percentage rate to whatever was purchased and to NEVER take commission. I want my clients to trust that I will only take them to the shops which I whole hardheartedly believe are suitable for them, and will only encourage them to purchase the items that are 100% right for them. I believe that excepting commission of any kind and being paid through a percentage rate of what they purchase on a shopping trip has the potential to jeopardize this trust. And quite frankly, only being paid a percentage of what my clients purchase sometimes isn’t nearly enough payment, but at the end of the day you must do what feels right for you and what you believe is a fair price for your services.
This job is extremely time consuming and tiring and is MUCH more than taking people shopping; I sometimes feel like I’m part councilor, part stylist. If you value your time, your clients will, too, so make sure you don’t undercharge. And once you’ve settled on a price, have confidence in it. I learned pretty quickly that if I sounded like I had any doubts about what I was charging, my client did, too.
Q: How long did it take you to build a sustainable business or is this a part time situation for you?
When I initially setup my business (over 10 years ago) it was extremely challenging and took me well over a year to get to a point where I had a sustainable business. Social media wasn’t a big thing at the time and my business grew predominantly through word of mouth (actually, word of mouth is still my primary way of getting clients) but once that chain started there was no stopping it. It became a full-time job for me after about a year and a half and continued to grow steadily year after year until I had maxed out the number of clients I could realistically see a week. It was at this point that I put my prices up and had to make a decision as to whether or not to hire a stylist to work with me. But before I was able to make that decision my husband and I moved to India (through his work). I did everything I could to maintain my businesses presence in the UK (I continued to write for a local magazine back home in the UK and I flew back to the UK to style clients) with the hope that we would return and I would be able to ramp things up again, but as is often the way with expat life, we didn’t go home, we moved to the USA instead – Pittsburgh, PA. And then, two years later we moved again, this time to South Carolina.
Moving around the world quite possibly could have meant an end to my business but instead I’ve been able to retain my existing business in the UK and online whilst also establishing “new” styling businesses locally in a new part of the world. It’s been challenging re-establishing my business locally in each area with each move, but the beauty of this line of work is that it’s actually very flexible. There are lots directions one can take it in and it has a ton of potential and as such I’ve been able to adapt my business to suit our nomadic lifestyle, and have continued to grow and develop my business. If you have the passion and ability, and can see your challenges as opportunities, then I believe you’ll be able to build a sustainable business.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges to overcome, things you wish you would have been better prepared for or aware of?
This is a great question and I’ve covered some of them already in my answers to the previous question, but I there are definitely a few more to mention. The first challenge I’ve had to overcome is constantly having to explain to people what it is I do for a living and then trying to get them to see the value in it. I can’t tell you how many people question that someone can earn a living from personal styling…interestingly it’s often these same people who will flippantly ask me where they should shop for jeans or what colors they should wear (go figure)! I now answer them by asking them how often they’ve put an outfit on and felt confident and beautiful, and then tell them that a personal stylist will make you feel like that every day!
The second challenge I wish I’d been more prepared for was just how hard it was going to be to get clients and build my business. I left my final training course with the opinion that the clients would come rolling in. Maybe I was naïve, maybe I was slightly misled. It was probably a bit of both. Either way, I quickly realized that, sure, I had this fantastic service that would change women’s lives but they didn’t know I existed, so they didn’t know to look for me. I spent a lot of time getting a website up and running, designing business cards and stationary and then I sat back and waited for the inquiries to roll in…and you know what? They didn’t. I panicked and then it dawned on me that having a website wasn’t going to cut it, I had to go out there and promote my services in person – I spent a lot of time networking and hosted workshops and talks, which leads me to my 3rd biggest challenge: public speaking!
I’d spent my entire working life avoiding this at all costs and I was now in a position where the only way I was going to get my business off the ground was to get out there and tell people about my amazing business. I still hate public speaking to this day, and I still panic when the inquiries slow down, but learning to overcome all of these obstacles just made me and my business stronger and proved to myself that I COULD and WOULD build and grow a successful business.
Q: Are there any major pieces of advice that you feel I should be aware of?
Yes! I have 3 pieces of advice: The first is expect to be challenged on a daily basis, in both the day to day running of your business as well as the practical, styling side. I’ve been styling people for 12 years now and still come across a new body shape from time to time so my advice to you is what I tell everyone who emails me asking for advice – style as many people as possible.
The second is: try not to give too much away for free. There is a tendency for some people to struggle to see the value in what we offer and if we offer our services for free this will never change. I understand that you might not be comfortable charging friends and family when you’re starting out, so ask them for honest feedback or to complete a questionnaire you’ve developed to help you improve.
And the third is: try not to get hung up about what your competition is doing. In the early days, I would spend ages looking at what my competitors were doing and comparing myself to them. If I wasn’t bitching to myself about how ugly their newsletter was or how unuser-friendly their website was, I was comparing my business to theirs, wondering what they were doing and thinking they were more successful than me and were getting all the customers in my area – it was tiring! Eventually I had to call it quits so I started to look at things from a different angle – what was I doing that was good? If I did look at what my competitors were doing, what could I learn from them? How could we help each other?! At the end of the day there’s no point dwelling on what everyone else is doing, follow your own path, do what’s right for you. In a business like personal styling, clients will choose to hire you based on YOU. So DO you and the clients will come a knocking. I read a great caption on Instagram by @the_imagepreneur the other day and I think it’s more than fitting for this:
“it is your uniqueness that sets you apart, we all have a story and therefore have a different way of expressing ourselves and this mean you are your only competition, so be the best version of yourself.”
Q: I know you studied Textile design (I’ve done my homework and read your about page, LOL), but how did you transfer that knowledge to styling? I get so stuck on the fact that I don’t have a fashion degree of any kind. And: How do you get over that and establish yourself as an expert? I now I have a knack, but I have zero fashion training. I’ve worked in a vintage clothing boutique, and I help buy and do visual merchandising for my friends baby boutique, but that’s the extent of my background.
So many people ask me if they need to have a fashion degree to become a personal stylist and the truth is, I’m not sure you do. Many personal stylists do come from a fashion background – I have a degree in textile design for one – but (and I can only speak personally) I don’t know how much my degree has helped me when it comes to personal styling. There is an understanding of color and composition gained through my degree that has definitely stood me in good stead, as well as an ability to identify trends and adapt them to suit different markets, but I wouldn’t say that it was necessary for me to pursue a path in personal styling. I think the thing to remember is that qualifications only really matter if clients require you to have them. At the end of the day you’re selling yourself to clients so figure out what they need to give them the confidence that you know what you are talking about, and that you have the required skills and experience to help them. Is a qualification going to give you credibility? Probably. And will it help you to establish yourself as an expert early on? It might do. But in all honesty I have never had a client ask me I have qualifications in fashion or personal styling so I have no proof that my degree sealed the deal. Nowadays the world is moving much more towards client reviews and feedback and it’s giving us as customers much more power. How many times have you purchased something based on its customer reviews? And have a think – would you be more likely to select someone to plan your wedding or build your house based on their qualifications alone, or several positive reviews and recommendations from friends?
I wouldn’t let your lack of a Fashion Degree get in your way. If you have a knack for styling then build on that and get as much experience as you can by styling different shapes, sizes and ages. And if you feel you’d benefit from some training then I’d suggest investing in a Personal Styling course that will be far more targeted then a degree in fashion, and will arm you with the knowledge you need to turn your experience into a business. At the end of the day I think it’s a balance, I don’t think it’s worth investing the time and money in an expensive degree just to give you the credentials you think you need, but, if you have a gap in your knowledge then it isn’t as much about the qualification as the actual learning you will achieve from doing it, and that is worth investing in.
Q: How did you grow your business and client base? What structures did you put in your business as a personal stylist?
Another great question! I started my business before the days of Instagram, and before social media was a big thing so the primary way of promoting my business was attending networking events, hosting workshops, getting involved with charity events and writing for local publications. In fact, the later was the best thing I ever did. A friend of mine, a fellow Personal Stylist who had trained at the same style academy as I had, originally run her own PR company and suggested I approach some of my local editors to offer my services as a fashion advice columnist, so I did. Only one of them showed an interest but that was all it took. We met for a coffee, I pitched my ideas, and the next thing I knew I was writing a monthly fashion column showing readers how to wear the trends.
Initially I wrote for them for free in return for promotion, but eventually I got paid to do them. It definitely helped me develop a name for myself and grow a reputation as an expert in my field, and this in turn resulted in further opportunities such as radio interviews and writing for local papers. I also had a good number of clients book me after reading the column (I remember one lady in particular, showing me the items she’d purchased after seeing my column!). Yet, even with all this promotion, the biggest way I grew my client base (and still do today) is through word of mouth. If you can turn your customers into fans, they’ll sing your praises and promote your business for you!
Q: How do you meet the right people to style and how do you make connections with PR places and showrooms to use their designers?
This is an interesting question. I think you’re coming at this from the view point of a fashion stylist rather than a personal stylist and while they overlap, the two are actually quite different. So I’m going to pass this over to a friend of mine who is both a stylist and personal stylist, Christina Imberlina:
“When I first started out there was no one to help me. No one could give me advice and I found myself at a dead end consistently. So I decided to do everything on my own. I built my portfolio from the ground up. I hired my own hair and makeup, models, photographer. I created mood boards in order to properly convey my style to a potential client. I found after I built my portfolio visually I needed to take that to local boutiques and agency’s I wanted to work with and speak with them in person. Emailing doesn’t do anything for our line of work. It’s the in person interaction and determination of an in person meeting that could make all the difference. Do your homework, research the owners or directors of these businesses and come to the table showing that you know everything you can about them and why they would fit into what you’re doing. The last part is aside from that in person interaction is building trust. You need to show that the clothing you borrow is basically your child and that when you’re out there representing them that you know how to do so. Building relationships are the key to what we do. After that everything falls into place. Slowly, but it does”
Q: I’m struggling to settle on a name for my business, how did you choose yours?
Oooh, this was difficult for me! I experimented with, Styled by Niki, Niki Whittle Style, The Bristol Stylist (I lived in Bristol in the UK at the time) but in the end I decided to just use my name as I felt it was more personable and gave me the ability to expand into other avenues easily if I wanted to. The one piece of advice I received that stuck with me with regards to settling on a business name and domain name, was to check it’s not unintentionally inappropriate when written as an URL – if you’re not too sure what I mean , read this article.
Aaaaaaaaaand we’re done! I hope that’s given you an insight into running a personal styling business and has answered all the questions you have, but if not, please comment below and I’ll add it to the list for a follow up post if this is popular!