Real Talk – Luke Benson on everyone wanting to be a session star

Sometimes you just have to follow your gut instinct. As Luke Benson discovered, following your dreams means jumping in feet first.

It’s December 2016. I’ve just won London Hairdresser of The Year, my column is packed full of clients wanting their Christmas haircuts, and I should be absolutely buzzing. But I’m not.

My accolade wasn’t pushing me forward in the way I’d hoped, and I knew deep down I just wasn’t getting the excitement of salon life anymore. About three months passed, where I was hoping for a change in circumstances, for something to happen, but nothing did… so I took the plunge and went freelance, leaving the security of employment and guaranteed clients to pay my mortgage.

I woke up the next day with an overwhelming sense of anxiety, worry, and fear of the unknown –  but my goodness, the excitement outweighed it all. I was ready be my own boss; I was already shooting editorials and testing constantly on my days off and evenings. I had made lots of contacts in the freelance world, so why couldn’t I do this full time?

One thing I kept hearing, whispers from previous colleagues – that instinctive fear given voice – was “everyone wants to be a session stylist, he won’t last.”

And they were right in a sense, it appeared everyone did. There’s a funny misinformed link between someone doing full time session work and someone who is working in session in their spare time as a freelance hairdresser, doing some clients from home or in a salon a few days a week, or being a brand educator some of the time.

And there is nothing wrong with any of that, I just wanted more – I wanted session to be my full career. I wanted to have all the opportunities you imagine from a successful session stylist career. It was that determination, coupled with people thinking I couldn’t do it that gave me the fuel to my fire to succeed!

I’ve been out on my own for just over three years now. I’m represented by Frank Agency, and if we take out the COVID-19 issue, I’m busy, and happy. But as we all know, being freelance or self-employed, we never feel secure so we can’t rest on our laurels. We have to keep fighting for work and for that next job… but more importantly, do the last job really well so you get booked again!

I’m fortunate to now have a lot of repeat clients and brands that I shoot for, photographers and make-up artists that I work alongside a lot, celebs that I look after all the time or when they are in the country. But tomorrow it may all end, and it’s that uncertainty that keeps me going.

 

There are so many good things about being freelance or a session stylist. I love the variety of work I have each week. My ambassador roles with ghd and Wella Professionals have led some incredible opportunities and campaigns. Teaching, both nationally and internationally, with Wella Professionals keeps me on my toes. I’m part of the judging and mentoring team for Wella TrendVision which has been so exciting, and there are a few surprise projects to be announced with Wella so watch this space.

But there are also the bad bits: the empty weeks in your diary, the last minute cancellations, the jobs you see someone else doing that you were in the mix for, and this can really get to you if you let it.

If you’re thinking about going freelance or really pushing to do session full-time, then go for it! Embrace all those amazing times: the busy times, the fun shoots, the great people you will work alongside, but be prepared for the quiet bits. Learn to embrace them too, enjoy moments with family and friends and don’t let the anxiety get to you. The harder you work and more people you meet, the busier you will get and the more secure you will feel.

We are part of an amazing industry with so many different paths we can take. Try it! If it doesn’t work or feel right, re-assess and take another path to fulfil your creativity.

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