How I Did It: Finding The Strength In Starting Out

We all have to start somewhere, right? For Megan Hollinger, an up-and-coming hairdresser who is making a name for herself in the industry has been full speed ahead since she graduated. But it didn’t come easy, and nor should it. How are you to grow if you don’t learn anything along the way? Megan shares her journey of making life-changing decisions and finding the strength to just got for it!

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Telling your parents you’ve decided to not do your student teaching at the end of your college career because you’ve had an epiphany on where you’re supposed to take your journey has been the scariest part of my journey thus far. I’ll never forget that two-hour drive back to metro Detroit from Central Michigan University just to tell my parents that I’ve made the decision to go to cosmetology school instead of completing my teaching degree.

I told them how much I wanted to make this decision and take full responsibility for it and even agreed to move back in with my parents at the age of 24. I had debt from my college loans and knew I wanted to avoid any debt starting cosmetology school. I toured multiple schools in the metro Detroit area and thought I had my heart set on a Paul Mitchell school because of many factors like beautiful new classrooms and a gorgeous clinic floor, not to mention all the press about the brand. Then I toured this school called David Pressley in Royal Oak, MI. It was nothing fancy or new and had been around for decades with an incredible reputation known across the US. The “realness” I sensed during my tour really stuck with me and I loved that it wasn’t stuck on just one product line. I thought deep and hard weighing the pros and cons of the schools and then realized I wanted to learn it all. I’ve always been that type of learner, so I decided I could learn a lot more working with various product lines as opposed to just one and enrolled in David Pressley.

Then the craziest, busiest 1500 hours of my life began! I was attending school Monday thru Friday during the day and then bartending/waitressing almost every night in order to pay a hefty tuition of $15,000 for the year. That’s more than $1000 a month. For someone fresh out of college with student loan debt already that was quite a challenge, but I knew I had to fight through it and come out on top in order to achieve my goal of becoming a professional hairstylist and educator. I knew that if I wanted to make a name for myself and educate others I had to move fast. That year went crazy fast, but also dragged on at times, especially when I had to roll perms on mannequins!
Determination quoteGraduation finally came and I couldn’t have been more broke yet relieved. I was ready to jump all into this industry of creative people. I stumbled upon a Facebook post for a hiring event out in Vegas and decided to go for it! The boyfriend (now fiancé) was by my side 100% and we flew out to Vegas to see what it was all about. What a thrilling first salon interview experience. They couldn’t believe I came all the way from Michigan and had just finished school a week prior. I ended up making it to the second round, which was held in Chicago a few weeks later. I learned so much from that hiring event and thought I was unstoppable. I quickly had a rude awakening when I didn’t make it past the second round due to a lack of culture fit. I sunk into some deep thoughts after that and had a hard time grasping the rejection at first. I was always the girl who made every team I ever tried out for and who always advanced to next levels. This was a first for me and I had to figure out how to deal with it and continue moving forward. I started looking into myself as an eager beauty school graduate and trying to find what needed to be better. I decided to start interviewing at multiple salons in the metro Detroit area and learning about the salon world since I was clueless. I finally found a great fit for my first salon home.

I spent about two years there assisting all of the senior stylists as well as the owner and then slowly starting to have my own days behind the chair while I was still assisting. I loved this concept because it forced me to continue learning while also applying my daily education to my own models and clients. During that time I needed to get the word out there in order to get hair models for various cuts, colors, and styles and to eventually start building my clientele, so I chose to start utilizing social media because I was of course still bartending many nights of the week and weekend and didn’t have time to be attending networking events or going out on the town. I found I could network from my couch or in the break room at work as long as I had WiFi! It was so easy and more importantly, free! You’d be silly not to utilize social media for building your business and spreading brand awareness. Eventually, I started doing the social media for the entire salon and would hold meetings with the “social media committee” before the workday began to go over our plans, goals, and ideas. I loved being able to do this and help my fellow team members grow.

As time went on, the dream of being in a bigger city doing hair, educating, and sharing my passions became more and more realistic. I was becoming confident in my work and knew there was something more for me out there in this big world of beauty. I always told myself I would live in Chicago someday and when life started giving me all sorts of signs personally and professionally, I decided to take the jump. After two years of being in the salon and building a clientele, I took a leap of faith and moved to Chicago without a job and into the tiniest studio apartment in the city!

About a month prior to my move, I came to Chicago to attend an academy on updo/runway styling and strategically kept in touch with the educators and brand that hosted it because I knew this was a realm of the industry I needed to learn more about. I had no clue what I was doing or where I was going but my gut told me to just go for it and own it. So I did and that has been my mindset throughout this journey. I then Googled “best salons in Chicago” and set up an interview at about 20 of them that popped up.

I learned so much during this process and it was great seeing how differently salons and management can operate. I found it fascinating and took notes on each one whether good or bad. Moving to a new city only knowing a few good girlfriends from college and childhood, I knew I had to find a way to put myself out there in front of a lot of people without having to be out and about all the time, so I turned to social media yet again. I started following hashtags relative to what I was looking for in the city. Instagram was actually how I found a salon I ended up working at for about a year here in Chicago and I’m coming up on my two-year Chicago anniversary in April.

The salon I was at was a blowout type salon and I instantly was drawn to how active they were on social media and knew that my work would be put in front of many eyes, which was ultimately the goal! The buzz grew fast there and girls were asking if I did cut and color too, and, of course, I was like “Yeah girl! Hit me up on Instagram!” I loved it. I was getting to do what I love every day and meet so many incredible girls in the city. I was flying through styles and people loved my speed mixed with talent. Eventually, that took a toll on me, and when you’re getting your hands in about 20 heads of hair a day and surviving on Starbucks runs throughout the day can you blame me?!

I finally hit a breaking point and knew my time was done and it took an incredible, talented rock star hairstylist to come to town and teach and listen to make me realize everything perfectly clear! She took time out of her trip to mentor me and give me the strength I needed at that time in my career. During all of this, I was also working two days a week at a full-service salon so I had a beautiful place to do my cut and color and learn from another incredible team of stylists.

A few months later I got a call from Industrie. Was I dreaming?! 2015 was insane and there’s even more. After working with them for their launch, a fellow hair friend in NYC referred a comedian to me while she was in town for her Chicago show and then that same week I was working on set doing hair for a Chevy TV commercial. So much was happening all at once and my schedule was getting tricky to manage and make everyone happy with quick adjustments and I found myself becoming more stressed than I needed to be in that moment. I knew I was growing yet again and I knew that I needed to have the flexibility in my schedule to do the things I really wanted to do and to also service my clients at the best times that worked for each of us, not just within regular salon hours.
believe in yourself quoteThis became a turning point in my career that I wasn’t sure I was ready for whatsoever, but with the stress of trying to make everyone happy and look out for what’s best, in the long run, I knew it was time to make a move. A few fellow beauty industry friends had been working in these gorgeous salon suites in downtown Chicago right off the Magnificent Mile and I had found out that a suite had literally just opened up the week I was having these thoughts and had decided to quit the salon I was at. Let me tell you that was not easy, it never is I’ve decided, and it’s so hard to remember it’s simply business. Once that was finalized, I called the suites manager up and inquired about the space and he said there was someone else interested in it and coming by the next day and I panicked a little thinking, “Oh boy what am I doing?” But I knew I had clients needing to be serviced next week and had to have a home for them. So, I went for it and decided to open up my own salon suite.

Told you 2015 was quite the year! I found myself reading all sorts of business articles and books, as well as taking care of licensing, insurance, tax paperwork, furnishings, and inventory. It all happened so fast and I opened my salon in mid-August and it’s been growing tremendously ever since. In December, I quadrupled my business and I have no idea how I survived. I definitely need to get an assistant, considering January and February are typically on the quiet side and they have been just as busy as December.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t glamorous by any means; it has been constant hard work and dedication along with my determination to make a name for myself before I’m 30 (and I just turned 29. No pressure!) Overall, I believe my strength comes from truly wanting to make people feel beautiful and great about themselves and from the hard working mentality my amazing parents and grandparents instilled in my siblings and me.

I believe your strength can really shine when you focus on you and your craft instead of worrying and wasting energy on what others may be doing.


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