MB’s Freelance Week: “I had a lockdown epiphany and went freelance”

tom harrigan freelance barber

This week (19-23 October) we’re shining a spotlight on the freelance barbers in the industry. We’ll be interviewing Dan Gregory live at hairdressing co-working space Hunter Collective and answering freelance FAQs to arm you with all the knowledge you need to consider a freelance career.

But first up MB interviewed male grooming expert Tom Harrigan @tom_the_barber who went freelance after a lockdown epiphany. Four months into freelance life here’s where his head is at.


How did you get into men’s hair?

I come from a hairdressing background – my mum’s a hairdresser and I used to work at Haringtons. I’d say I knew I had a future in men’s hair when I won a Redken Men’s Styling Award. I then worked abroad for a bit, but in 2012 saw that the traditional barbering scene was coming back to the UK. From the 2010s onwards there was a real focus on quality and training. I knew I had a lot to give the industry so I started focusing more on men’s hair. I do 90% men’s hair now. I love barbering – there’s a sense of camaraderie and you feel like you’re part of a club. It’s a smaller club than hairdressing.

I worked with Soho House and Co for seven years on and off. Their grand plan was to roll out barbershops within their hotels and I came in to advise and consult with them. Their vision became more retail focused, but I did open a barbershop in The Ned where I still work part of my week.


Tell me about your epiphany?

During lockdown I really started thinking about my future and where I want to go in my career. I’m approaching my 40s and I thought ‘What do I want the next ten years to look like?’ During lockdown lots of people were messaging me to try and get me to cut their hair (I obviously didn’t!) but it made me realise what a strong client base I had. Personally I felt it wasn’t a good time to open a bricks and mortar barbershop, but I was fortunate enough to know Lacey Hunter-Felton, co-founder of Hunter Collective a co-working space for freelancers in the hair and beauty industry. I now work 1-3 days there and the rest of the time at Ned’s Barbershop.


What are the challenges of freelance life?

It is a huge learning curve! That decision between becoming a sole trader or to register as a limited company is an important decision to make. No one can make it for you – it has to be an individual choice. Thankfully a lot of my friends and clients have given me great advice. If I was to go fully freelance I would get an accountant and work with Quickbooks. But for the moment self-assessment is the option I’m going for.


The one thing you have to be is organised! As barbers we’re great with front of house things like organising our time and clients. But the backend of things – the money and business side, well that’s something I wasn’t used to being organised with.


Getting stock can be a little challenging as a freelance barber too. I think the minimum buy in needs to be lowered and the brands need to rethink the value of freelancers. After all, I think that a freelancer with really loyal clients will have more success selling to their clients than a shop or salon will.



What are the unexpected perks?

I have regained time for myself. I’m in control of whether I start early and finish later. I will work on the weekends if I need to. When you’re freelance you become very good at organising clients into your day, rather than the other way round.


Do you think the hair industry as a whole is moving towards balance between employment and freelancing?

There certainly is a shift. I don’t think mainstream barbers and hairdressers saw this coming. Before people would come for the salon or barbershop name, but now the power lies firmly with the individual. Thanks to social media and personal profiles, clients come to see the barber or hairdresser, not the company they work for.


What are your plans for the future?

I’d love to have an apprentice because it’s important to me that we raise the next generation. At the moment I’m loving the atmosphere at Hunter Collective. Working there are a freelancer I feel like a junior again! I’m inspired constantly by the amazing people around me.


Any regrets?

No! When you’re a big fish in a small pond you run the risk of becoming stagnant. I think that being employed in barbershops and bigger companies can sometimes hold people back. Having the balls to step off the cliff can really pay off.


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