Have you ever found yourself at the crossroads of passion and profession, wondering how to turn that thing you love into a full-blown business? If you’re nodding along, then grab a coffee, get comfy, and let me share with you my own roller-coaster ride of a journey as a wedding hair and makeup artist.
I’m Emily Renee Barton, and I fell head over my Tom Ford heels into the world of hair and makeup without a plan. Literally, it started as a passion that I paid attention to.
So! Let’s trace the transformation that unfolded, not just in my life, but the lives of my family, as my hair and makeup business took off in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
The Early Years: Discovering the Passion
I didn’t wake up one day, mascara wand in hand, knowing I was destined for the beauty industry. Nope! I didn’t go to cosmetology school, and I didn’t think it could be an *actual* career.
My introduction was a bit more…unconventional. Picture me, 19-year-old college freshman, knee-deep in bridesmaids’ makeup bags at my very first wedding gig realizing I reallllly liked this job.
I was mesmerized by the airbrushed artistry of a pro who worked on the bride, and my curious brain thought, “Emily, could you pull that off?” The next thing I knew, I was investing my earnings in an airbrush machine and convincing friends to let me practice on them. And…it worked.
Taking the Leap: Starting a Hair and Makeup Business
Fast forward to 2011, and I was fresh out of college, with a mountain of student loans, and a passion that wouldn’t quit.
Lucky for me, I had friends and family in need of a wedding makeup artist.
One of my best friends got married, and she asked me to do her makeup. This was my first taste of what a luxury wedding was. It was a destination wedding on the central coast, with the best vendor list ever. Her photographer was top-of-the-line, and the bride was absolutely stunning. I thought to myself, “This is my dream wedding and my dream client!”
After receiving many compliments from wedding guests about the bride and seeing her pictures from the wedding, this fueled my fire all the more. I used the photos from her wedding to advertise my work on Facebook — the only social media available — and my word-of-mouth business took off.
The business savvy part of my brain quickly realized I could double my business if I learned how to do hair in addition to my makeup services. When I was the makeup artist on the job, I would watch the hairstylist create the hair looks. I would take notes and ask questions.
Then I decided to dive in. When a client would inquire about makeup, I would also let them know I offered hair as well.
Adding hair to my bridal makeup business and the launch of Instagram were game-changers for my business.
Building a Brand: Establishing a Reputation
For me, building my brand wasn’t about creating a logo or catchy tagline, it was about building real relationships and a lasting reputation with brides, wedding guests, and wedding vendors.
Around this time, a lot of my friends and people I knew from college were getting married. They all hired me to do their hair and makeup.
With each passing wedding, I would have another bridal gallery and testimonial to share. This is really when the snowball effect started to happen.
With 35 weddings in a year under my belt, I created a website, used my earnings to do some advertising on theknot.com, and started doing styled shoots with local wedding vendors. I also submitted these photos to big-time wedding blogs to get a broader reach and industry clout.
A few other key moments in my business:
- Getting featured on wedding blogs like Style Me Pretty and Green Wedding Shoes gave credibility to my business
- I was the hair and makeup artist for a wedding aired on a TLC show
- I won theknot.com Best of Weddings Hall of Fame
Looking back, I’m proud of how I utilized every tool at my disposal: photos of my work, client testimonials, and even my own wedding served as living advertisements. I threw myself headfirst into social media, making connections and showcasing my work.
What I didn’t realize at the time was more important than any blog feature was the relationships I was growing with other wedding professionals in my area. These relationships became vital to the growth and referrals of my business.
Slowly but surely, “Designed Elegance” — now Beauty by Emily Barton — was no longer just a name, it was a brand that people trusted.
The Impact on Life and Family
Owning a hair and makeup business didn’t just transform my work life, it was a game-changer for my family too.
By 2014, I had paid off all my student loans. All my wedding money went to my loans and my day job money went to my big girl bills. I quickly realized what a potentially lucrative business I had right at my fingertips.
With the arrival of my daughter and her Cerebral Palsy diagnosis, my world was rocked. I quit my full-time job to care for her, which meant my side hustle became my main gig. The hair and makeup business was no longer a job – it was my lifeline.
But, guess what? My business thrived. I grew my wedding business to 60 weddings a year, and then turned it wayyyy back when I had my second and third child.
Now I’m at my sweet spot, booking 35 weddings a year.
And the best part? The success of my business positively affected my entire family. It allows me to create my own schedule and be the primary parent throughout the week.
Lessons From Running a Wedding Hair and Makeup Business
The lessons? Oh, there are many!
For one, never underestimate the power of relationships in this business. My first—and ideal— client was my best friend. My business grew from my relationships with existing friends and family and vendors I met on every job. Every connection is worth making!
Secondly, diversification is the key. While I started and grew my business in Orange County, CA, I kept my foot in the door of the Central Valley where I grew up. So when I moved back, I already had a name for myself here and on the Central Coast.
Hard work is your secret weapon. If you noticed, I worked multiple jobs to pursue my passion — my hair and makeup business. With a little bit of hustle and a lot of heart, the work you put into starting a business in the beginning will pay off for years to come. I don’t have to hunt for clients anymore, and that’s all because of the work I did in the first 5 years.
So, there you have it, friend!
My journey from a fresh-faced college freshman to a reputable hair and makeup artist and business owner.
The transformation has been truly amazing. I love serving brides and their besties, and I love helping other up-and-coming bridal hair and makeup artists see what’s possible with this business.