What I Learned About Running a Business from Tabatha Coffey

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I channel-surfed my way to Tabatha’s Salon Takeover during today’s lunch break. I had never seen it before and, honestly, had never felt compelled to. What did I care about the trials and tribulations of hair salons across the country?

Silly me. I was quickly sucked into a three-hour marathon (I know) and, aside from constantly wondering where she got that fierce black jacket she’s always wearing, I realized: Tabatha Coffey has a lot to teach me about running a business.

I’ll admit it: I’m not much of a businesswoman.  If it weren’t for my abilities to create positive professional networks around myself and write kick-ass cover letters, who knows where I’d be? What did Tabatha teach me?

1. Your Clients Are Your Biggest Assets:

Tabatha scolded salon owners for not mixing with their clients, and stylists for not bending over backwards to give clients what they wanted. It’s easy to question the wisdom of your clients when they request work that — to you — seems ridiculous, or provide you with edits that seem to compromise the artistic integrity of your work. But you’re not just an artist. You’re a service provider, and it’s important to remember that the customer is always right.

In addition to making clients happy with work that meets (and hopefully exceeds) their expectations, it’s nice to reward them for their continued loyalty. Hold sales. Throw contests. Give out coupons. Touch base just to show that you care how business is going, and to find out how you can be the most effective in helping the both of you do even better.

That being said, the customer isn’t always right. If you have a problem client, drop them.

2. If You Build It, They Will Not Necessarily Come:

Tabatha urged both salon owners and stylists to hit the streets in order to both drum up business and build mutually beneficial relationships with other local businesses. She staged grand reopenings and marketing events. She taught her terrified salon students to put themselves out there. Because just being available isn’t enough.

It can be tough to balance product development with marketing outreach, but it’s necessary. Here are some of the marketing posts I’ve done up in the past:

3. Respect for Yourself Translates to Respect from Others:

After spying on the day-to-day operations of a salon à la What Not to Wear, Tabatha always asked the owners to give her the grand tour, during which she wrinkled her nose over inches of dust, uncleaned sinks, and other aspects of appearance. Each salon reopening was preceded by a major renovation that made the space more sleek, chic, and efficient.

While we, as freelancers, may not necessarily have an office space where we meet clients, it is important to maintain professionalism through appearance in other ways: professional website, social media presence, attire when participating in on-site meetings, business cards and other forms of business stationery, etc. If you don’t look the part, it will be difficult for prospective customers to place their trust in you.

4. You Have to Take Responsibility and Be the Damn Boss:

Most of us are running solo operations, but there are those of us who actually have employees. Though I primarily work alone, I recently had a stint as lead blogger for two of Nerve’s blogs — which required me to manage a small team of writers and do some hiring and firing (the latter made me want to barf all over myself) — and once acted as Books Editor for SexHerald.com (more of the same). The only problem? I’ve never been much of a leader.

The thing is, when you’re running your own business, you can’t always avoid conflict. You have to command respect. Give orders. Delegate. Critique. Forget about being everybody’s friend.

This is scary, and it seemed to be just as scary for a number of the salon owners Tabatha was dealing with. But no matter what, you have to take responsibility and Be The Boss in order to ensure that your operation runs smoothly.

5. You Have to Work at It:

Because no one else will.

It might mean long hours. Double shifts. Ramen noodles every day for three months. Atrophied legs from all the hours spent at your computer. Creative thinking. Aggressive marketing. Small failures but bigger successes.

No one else cares if you sink or swim, so it’s up to you to put in the hours.

Thanks Tabatha! I need to go and…um…set my DVR.


  1. An entrepreneur I like following is Erica Douglass – http://www.erica.biz/

    The fact that she’s blonde is only one of the many reasons I think she’s great.

  2. Great post!! My biggest hurdle was definitely myself when I first went freelance. Sometimes it is easier being told what to do, but I figured it out and now I can’t imagine ever going back.

  3. Wonderful post! Thank you Steph and Thank you Tabatha!

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