Q&A | How do I make money when I am first starting out as a MUA?

Time for a reality check. You won’t be making a lot of money for a long long time. Hard pill to swallow, I know, but to believe you are going to be jet setting around, shopping at Sephora, opening shipments of free product from different brands that want to work with you -  this is a completely inaccurate depiction of how this life is, especially at the beginning. Before I tell you how to put yourself in a position to make it happen as a MUA, here’s a glimpse into what the first few years of working as a makeup artist are going to look like:

You are going to be bad at makeup for a long time. You need time and practice to be good, quick, and efficient.

You need a portfolio (a good one) and this takes time. We are talking years here (I should also mention that your portfolio will never be done and you will have to work on it for all eternity - I can talk about this in another post). You’ll be shooting for free with all kinds of terrible photographers in the beginning before your work gets better, and you get access to better photographers and models. 

You need a portfolio, website, and social media to show potential clients. Did I mention it needs to be good, well curated, full of agency represented models, show diversity, appeal to your client base (this part is trial and error for the first little while) AND it needs to stand out from everyone else’s. Easy enough for sure.

Then there is the part about actually getting paid clients. This is where all the time you spend networking, working for free, and portfolio building comes in. You need to get out there, meet people, and the idea is that the people you meet will introduce you to other people until eventually someone decides they want to pay you to do makeup. Simple right? Did I mention that a lot of companies and brands are more interested in hiring influencers who can sort of do makeup on other people, over actual working makeup artists - this means the client pool has decreased over the last little while which definitely presents an additional challenge. This also means that your social media presence is just as important as how good of an artist you are, (this part really really sucks btw) and this in itself is a part time job.

If you are thinking of going the agency route to fast track your career - heads up, you need a good portfolio to get in the door and you will have to work your way up through the ranks by assisting which pays very little if nothing at all. Timeline on this - also years. 

So what do you do when you want to make this a career? I’ve got some experience with this and some advice to share:

Stop thinking that what you see on social media is an accurate representation of how this job actually is. I can tell you first hand, it’s not even close to what really happens. It’s an amazing industry to be a part of, but it is a job like any other. It takes time to make things happen and requires your full effort and energy.

Put your blinders on and focus on yourself, your career, and your own happiness. Success is not defined by how many celebrities you work on, how many followers you have, or how others perceive the work you are doing - it’s about doing what makes you happy. The money will come eventually if you work hard and treat people well. 

You have to be committed to working all the time. You’ll have to get a part time (or full time job) that can pay the bills while you slowly work away at getting better at makeup application, networking with people in the industry, and building your portfolio. When you are not at work you need to be contacting photographers, scheduling photo shoots, and practicing on anyone you can get your hands on.  Avoid going into an insane amount of debt to build your kit and don’t collapse under the pressure of social media to buy everything that is flashed in front of you. Remember it is going to take you a while to pay all of that back. 

Don’t ignore the bridal industry and the earning potential in personal clients. I can’t tell you the number of people who turn their nose up at bridal, but it is a fantastic way to get really good at makeup application and build a consistent paying client base. Just a reminder that regardless of what state the economy is in, people still get married. 

This industry can be tremendous and I personally can’t see myself doing anything else, but there needs to be a reality check for anyone being led to believe it is an easy way to make a living. You are going to struggle with your own confidence and with feeling like you are never going to make it. This is normal and you are not alone. If you work hard, make smart choices about your business, and continue to learn and grow as an artist, you will make this happen for yourself!!


Photo courtesy of Mike Brown