So you want to be a freelance makeup artist? Yes! Congratulations! Being a makeup artist is amazing, scary, fun, daunting, competitive, cut-throat, and oh-so-rewarding.
But starting your makeup artist business – even if it’s as a side hustle – can be a little challenging, especially if you have never worked with it before. There are so many things you need to think about… makeup tools, setting up your workspace, prospecting clients, contracts, invoices, and so much more. And it all comes with a price tag! But, in the end, what are the real costs to start up your freelance makeup artist business?
Here’s what we are going to unfold in this blog post!
PS: Becoming a makeup artist doesn’t happen overnight, but you can call yourself one. That’s step #1 to start your freelance makeup artist business.
PS2: If you want to learn more about the makeup artistry business and how I started out, you might like this episode from my podcast, where I talk about I became a freelance makeup artist and run my own makeup artistry & beauty coach business!
Now that we got this out of our way let’s talk business.
Whether you are self-taught (like myself) or choose to go to cosmetology, esthetician, or makeup school. The truth is your work, your reputation, and your discipline will speak for itself in the long run and over time. What does that mean?! Well, it’s not like you’re going to present your certificate, and people will instantly hire you. Your work is what speaks to them, and if they love the makeup you do, it doesn’t matter if you have a degree in cosmetology or you’ve learned it all from YouTube.
Consistency, professionalism, integrity — those are the characteristics that will get you ahead in this industry. Otherwise, you are building your foundation on sand. Eventually, it’ll crumble.
For all you self-taught artists (like me, yay!), you need to follow the law and make sure you are legally allowed to apply makeup (and makeup only) onto faces wherever you live. Fortunately, I’ve always lived in places where I can legally apply makeup on paying clients without a certificate. However, always look for regulations before you start.
If you move around a lot and holding a certificate to apply makeup is not a requirement, you may consider saving for school in the future. You never know if the place you’ll end up requires a certificate.
Over the years, I have spent and re-invested quite a bit of money into masterclasses and learning from industry leaders. From attending IMATS in London, learning bridal makeup from the former creative director of Kat Von D Beauty to honing my color theory with Terri Tomlinson’s class in Mainz to investing in Sonia Roselli’s amazing Finding Your Ideal Client course, you will have to invest money into your craft. You will have to invest in your skillset. It’s a part of the job.
While it is true that you can find a lot for free on the internet nowadays, you should definitely invest in something more for your business. It’s not only about learning how to apply makeup, but it’s also about getting deeper from knowing the skin tones and undertones and learning how to prospect the right clients.
You need to think of these as investments. Investing money into tools that will help you to grow your makeup artist business and make it more professional will only make you book more clients and find better ways to make more money and become a reference in your niche.
When you choose to go into business as a self-taught artist (like I did), you should keep in mind you will likely have NO professional network, likely no professional and portfolio-worthy images to share. This means you will have to hustle your heart out to make a reputation for yourself.
Suppose you aren’t confident in your technical ability to apply makeup on anyone regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. In that case, you will likely have to turn down opportunities and practice (for free) until you are confident enough to charge for your services.
The three main ways to become a certified makeup artist is through cosmetology, esthetician, or a licensed makeup school. Please do your research. Visit the schools. Ask questions. How long do they focus on makeup? What type of makeup do they focus on? What kind of makeup do they use? Who provides the models? Who are the photographers? Look at the photographers’ work, make sure they are quality.
You want to use your time and money in a great beauty school; after all, you’re not only looking for education, but for great instructors, foundation – not the one you use on your skin –, the opportunity to network with amazing people, plus an amazing portfolio.
Ultimately, I did not want to cut and color hair or do nails, so cosmetology school was not a sound investment for me. However, a cosmetology certification will give you amazing skill sets that will allow you to offer more services and, well, make more money!
Probably at/around four years into my business, I realized that if (and when) I go to school, it’ll be esthetician school. Skin is the canvas for makeup… and being able to serve my clients with skincare services is something I wish I could do more of.
Freelance makeup artists cannot legally treat skin conditions. In other words, you can get sued if things go wrong, and yes, it’s very easy for things to go wrong, especially if you don’t know what you are doing.
If you know that you want to offer facials and custom skincare solutions and advice, consider esthetician school! You’ll also learn so much about ingredients, how they work together on the skin, and much more.
I did look into makeup school… and was so close to signing up! Unfortunately, the closest accredited makeup school was a two-hour drive away from my home.
There are a dime a dozen makeup schools, so if you want to go:
Do your research! Before you invest one penny into a school (and time commitment), make sure their objective aligns with your professional goals. Think hard about what you want, and if that school can help you achieve your goals, otherwise you might end up not using a great part of the knowledge you have paid for.
When you become a freelance makeup artist, you are really becoming a business owner who does makeup. So you have to officially become a business.
The sooner you learn that the easier everything will be!
So you must consider the legal expenses of starting a business, which varies from state to state (in the US) and country to country. On the Small Business Association website, you can find more information on how to calculate your startup costs – which include getting permits, etc. – and get some free counseling.
I have been a sole-proprietor since 2014 and am an official “freelancer” here in Germany. This has been both the easiest and least expensive option for running my business legally.
In any case, the bottom line here is: do not put makeup on anyone’s face and charge them without being legal.
I hate to admit this publicly, but I didn’t carry liability insurance for the first five years of owning my business. I honestly thought my water-tight contract would protect me from getting sued. I thought the fact that I did not offer skincare services would protect me from getting in trouble. I also thought my kit would be covered in our renters’ insurance policy.
I didn’t ever consider makeup lights falling on people (or me).
I didn’t ever consider falling down the stairs with my kit.
I didn’t ever consider hurting my back on set.
I didn’t ever consider hurting talent (by accident).
Yes, accidents happen. So the best thing you can do for yourself and your clients is to get the insurance. To help you out, here’s a list of some Insurance Companies for Makeup Artists with a starting point at around 10 dollars a month. Just make sure you do proper research before hiring any of these and that you have everything covered.
Well, suppose you’re becoming a professional makeup artist. In that case, even if it’s “only” as a side hustle – you should definitely invest in creating a brand identity. When I started asked my graphic designer friend to design a logo for me for $100.
Tons of templates on Etsy, Creative Market, and designers for hire on Fiverr and Upwork. Do your research and pay what you can afford. You can always upgrade later, but the idea here is that you come up with something that reflects who your brand is and what your work is like.
If you want to work with me on branding, avoid the headache and analysis paralysis of finding someone you trust who “gets it”, I have an amazing team and the know-how to get your brand on the map. Check out my a la carte coaching services to get started!
Remember, you get what you pay for. Do NOT ask for discounts; just hire someone in your price range, okay?!
If you want to step up your game and be really professional – and get clients through social media and Google’s help – you should definitely have a website.
I’ve built my own website on Wix when they were running a 50% for a one-year plan. I found a template in Wix and made it my own, without a “brand” or a coach, or a mentor $0 (drag and drop websites are the best for newbies). I ranked high on google despite all the SEO warnings with Wix. I booked high-brow weddings. Wix is a great platform I’m happy to recommend and one-year will cost you around $200.
Now, you can also create awesome websites with WordPress and Elementor, just dragging and dropping basically everything you can think of.
Of course, if you can afford more, go for it! Web developers are always ready and willing to build you a pretty custom site for at/around $5000 (this a Hyundai or Toyota). For a high-end, optimized, and fully developed site, you are looking at $10K.
Alternatively, you will find top-shelf themes at/around $1000. I purchased Adriatique from Tonic Site Shop. Although it’s not my current theme for nataliesetareh.com, I use this theme for my Be Your Own Makeup Artist book website. PSA Jen’s emails are gold! Get on their list! Use my affiliate link and promo code NATALIESETAREH to get 15% off your Tonic site (seriously, these sites rarely go on sale).
I bought my domain at hover.com (where I buy all my domains – I’m kinda a domain fiend) for $20/year.
On a side note, you can do a quick research on Google and find several sites where you can buy your domain and hosting service.
This is where things can get super costly, super quickly.
The bottom line is: you HAVE to have a kit that can serve ANYONE at any given time for any job you want to take.
You can see that there are TONS of makeup artists who show what foundations they carry in their kit, and I swear, you can spend hours and hours curating your perfect kit.
However, every artist works with different clientele, which means they use some colors, palettes, and products more than others. Here’s a practical example: if you follow a professional Makeup Artist in LA and buy everything they have in their kit, but you live in Florida, things aren’t going to work the same. The weather and climate and different and probably the people you apply makeup on too.
I seriously developed the BEST way to build my kit… I’ve NEVER been unprepared for a job or a client. My kit-building strategy is something that will seriously save you a TON of money and TIME. You’ll always be confident for and at any job.
So if you want professional help from an award-winning makeup artist – that’s me – click here and let’s talk. I’d be more than happy to help you build your professional makeup artist kit according to your needs and budget!
However, if you’re not at the point where you can be personally coached by me to build your makeup artist kit, you can always get my Essential Makeup Tools Guide, where I share all my absolute favorite makeup tools – from makeup brushes to eyelash curlers. This is a great place to get started for personal OR professional use.
I didn’t own a makeup light of any sort until 2016. I would schedule clients during daylight and find the window with the best light and set them up there. I will say, some jobs didn’t go as well as I hoped for because I didn’t have proper lighting… but most of my clients in the early days were brides and were getting ready in the beautiful morning light or sunset light.
It wasn’t until I started doing more studio work in 2016 when I finally invested in a light. Well, by investing in a light, I mean that I asked my family for a ring light for my birthday present (they all split the cost, about $20/each). The ring light was great, and everyone always loved seeing it!
I now work with the Makeup Light (2 square panels and one eye light), but it took me quite a long way to get there. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that if I have beautiful natural light available, I use that over any artificial lighting to this day (depending on the nature of the shoot)!
First of all, do not buy used brushes.
Second, be aware of counterfeits. A small blurb even made it into my book based on personal experience. Sought more MAC brushes for my pro kit – found a good deal… in the end, it was too good to be true. Who knew fake MAC brushes were a thing? They are! And I lost all the money I spent on them and had to throw them away.
If you’re looking for makeup brushes recommendations, I recommend you to take a look at my Makeup Brush Guide post, where I tell you everything you need to know to choose the right makeup brushes. If you want a list of my favorite makeup tools and brushes, here’s where you can get it! I tell everything I love about them and list the essential makeup tools everyone should have.
I bought a used giraffe print director’s chair on Craiglist from a former teacher. It’s heavy, but I knew I didn’t want to hunch over and hurt my back. This $25 chair has become iconic with my brand and my image. Everyone loves the giraffe chair, and it’s made its way into numerous photoshoots over the years.
I’ve also bought this black bag on Amazon – stopped using it in 2018 and donated it to my husband and his bike tools.
The answer is: “It depends,” but it can cost less than $500.
There is no black and white answer. Like with anything, the sky is the limit! You can spend a fortune on schools, masterclasses, supplies, studios, lights, marketing, web development, etc. before making it official!
I didn’t start that way; I bootstrapped every single aspect of my freelance makeup artistry “practice” until I realized, wait, this is actually a business!
I seemingly “became” a freelance makeup artist overnight after my friends suggested I start a side-hustle.
Honestly, my biggest regret was NOT having a mentor and brand map, or even knowing to find one. I felt like a huge imposter, saying what I thought anyone and everyone wanted to hear from an up-and-coming makeup artist.
Shameless Plug: My à la carte coaching services are PERFECT for aspiring makeup artists. They are exactly what I wanted and needed when starting out. Take a look at mine or heck, find an artist you admire, and ask for mentorship!!
I lived in California at the time…. an expensive and competitive state to start a business in! I didn’t let that stop me; I approached it smartly.
So, what are you waiting for to start your makeup artist business?!
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P.S. If you asked me a beauty question, if I don't immediately know the answer, I must thoroughly research every question I receive, and sometimes do not have an immediate answer or I need clarity on unlisted ingredients in certain beauty products, sometimes getting a clear answer takes up to 3 weeks... have patience, it'll be worth it!
Beauty is about perception, not about make-up. I think the beginning of all beauty is knowing and liking oneself. You can't put on make-up, or dress yourself, or do you hair with any sort of fun or joy if you're doing it from a position of correction.