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How I Do It: Hairdresser Madison Finn on finding her niche

IMAGE VIA COCO STORE

WORDS BY ISABELLA WIGHT

“You’ll never forget the lessons you learned when you failed. If you don’t fail, you won’t grow.”

Impressive job titles are one thing, but what about people who have carved out their own niche and created a job specifically for them? Rather than landing that covetable LinkedIn byline, working for yourself presents a whole new way to choose your own adventure. That said, it’s not always about exploring the road less-travelled – sometimes it can mean forging your own entirely untrodden path.


We round up the best career advice weekly. Keep up to date with our Life vertical.


It’s a tough slog, but if being your own boss is your own personal dream, How I Do It is the column for you. We’ll talk to established freelancers and friends of FJ who’ve been at this long enough to have the benefit of hindsight, and they might be able to help you figure out how exactly they ‘do’ what they do.

Money, agents, timelines and tight turnarounds – this is how to hack the creative hustle. This week, we hear from Melbourne-based experimental hairdresser, creative and mum, Madison Finn. Here’s how she does it.

Run me through the last, say, five years of your life. What’s been happening for you?

I started working for Fur Hairdressing in 2016. At the time, it was my total dream job and I moved up to managing the salon. I was so lucky to work alongside the creative hair genius Frank Valvo. I did a lot of growing in this time… I felt I could really connect with him and his work. We’re still very close to this day.

Around mid-2018 my boyfriend and I decided to move to Forrest in rural Victoria and I surprisingly found out I was pregnant. I worked at a salon up there within the Biba chain until [my daughter] Maimie was born – big love to them. To tell you the truth, I hated being pregnant so this was a hard time for me.

In 2019, Maimie was born on my birthday, April 22! Everything got crazier from that day onwards. I made the decision in 2020 that I wasn’t happy with my life and left my partner. With a young baby and no idea what I was going to do, this gave me the push I needed to open the salon! In October 2020, I told my dad “I’m going to open a salon” and he laughed, “You have no money”. I worked hard and saved for the next few months. I can proudly say that in February, I finally opened my own salon!

How do you explain to extended family members what exactly you ‘do’ for work?

I own my own private hair salon in Fitzroy that you can only enter through a cool little bar (Milneys)! My work pushes the limits with bright fun colours, but in a sophisticated, grown-up way. It’s hot, cool, sexy and fun, all at once! We like out-there hair that’s wearable and easy for our customers. We like great fashion and love not fitting in – and hair plays a big part in that. My clientele is full of young creatives that aren’t afraid to do something out of the box. I just want to do hair that helps people express exactly who they are at that point of time.

How do you explain to them how you pay the bills?

As a single mum, there’s a lot of bills. I work a lot – some weeks up to eighty hours, taking 10 or more clients a day. Hard work pays the bills. If I can quote myself on this one, “I’d rather be wearing designer clothes and working 12 hours every day, than working normal hours and not getting to have all the things I want”. I have an account for bills and every month I make sure that’s full before I put anything in my savings or make a purchase. It helps me see clearly how much money I need to make at all times!

What do you wish people knew about what you do and why you do it?

I want everyone to be able to come to the space and feel seen! I want them to come in and feel good being themselves. I want the space to change into what they need for that day. I want to fill their cup. I want to make people feel happy and loved. For me it’s not even about the hair, it’s about the whole vibe and the emotions we all experience. Hair is just a cool way to express that!

Take me back to age 18, when you left school. Did you have any sense of what you wanted to do, and if so, what steps did you first take?

I left school at 15. By 17, I was already a fully qualified hairdresser working on Toorak Rd for Biba. I hated school, I never fitted in and felt like school didn’t cater for people like me. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I had to leave.

Luckily for me, I found Biba Hairdressing Academy. I completed a full-time course with them and worked in a salon on my days off. I was the youngest in the whole school and caught an hour-long train ride every morning and night. The teachers there really took me under their wing and helped me find my way at such a young age. I’ll never forget the owner Carmel giving me analog clock-reading lessons every day before I went on lunch; little things like that I’m so grateful for.

Take me back to your early twenties, when you were just finding your feet. Did you have any sense of where you were going, and if so, how did you get there?

I get this a lot with the new salon, the younger generation looking at what I’ve done and feeling like it’s easy and fast. It’s not. I only really found my path in this career halfway through last year – after 13 years in my field.

I worked for salons and partied hard for years. I didn’t have an end goal, I just wanted to have fun. I never even used to tell anyone I was a hairdresser. The only thing I didn’t do was give up. I wasn’t ever doing the hair I wanted, but I waited, built my skills and slowly moved to higher-skilled salons that were more to my taste. It takes a long time to figure out where you want to be… every year it changes. You just have to keep doing work to open up new doors.

 

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A post shared by Madison Finn (@madisonbymadison22)


What’s a common misconception about people who work freelance?

That it’s all fun and flexible. It is, but in that flexibility there’s a lot of tears, 12 hours days, wondering about money and chasing payment. It can mean as a creative sometimes working paycheck to paycheck until you get on your feet.

How did you learn to set your own rates? 

Charging is the hardest, no creative ever sees their worth. It’s so personal. The higher you charge the more expectations, but the lower you charge, you’re cutting yourself short and not pushing yourself to meet those higher expectations. I learnt to set my rates from looking at other artists with the same expertise as me, then comparing that to my overheads to find a baseline that works for my salon.

Do you have any resources to share/any bits of advice when it comes to dealing with the money side of things?

Get a good accountant! My accountant saves my life. One of the most important points is to have your money in order so there are no big tax debts after the first year or any other nasty surprises. If you want to make money, having all your funds in order and anticipating what’s coming up is critical!

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of leaving school and freelancing for a while in their chosen creative field?

Be patient, don’t give up. Keep creating and learning from the different people you meet. Listen to what they have to share with you and apply it to your own life. The most important thing that people forget is to not be afraid to fail! Every time you fail, you learn more than when you succeed. You’ll never forget the lessons you learnt when you failed.  If you don’t fail, you won’t grow.

@madisonbymadison22

Check out the other How I Do It interviews here and our non-freelancer focused career series How I Got Here here.

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