Beloved around the world for both her prowess with marketing as well commitment to keeping it real from an educational standpoint, Sophia Hilton is the queen of cutting out the facade and focusing on mistakes as learning opportunities.
The education extraordinaire and social media sensation is currently travelling around Australia with L’Oréal for an educational tour of epic proportions, and we recently had the opportunity to sit down with her at the Sydney event for a chat about all things ‘cutting the bullshit’ in education as well as the importance of making mistakes.
TJ: Can you chat us through your ‘cut the bullshit’ approach to education?
SH: I worked for the woman that was British Hairdresser of the Year three times in a row, Kelly Brooks, so would travel around with her and be on stage. She was very authentic and she would say things as it as it is. I would find in general on the show circuit on the education circuit, that there was so much lying – especially with colour. They’d come out and they’d say, ‘Oh, you know, we use this toner’, and I’d be like ‘the hell you did, you used five to get there because it went wrong. And you know, I’ve done that myself in the past, I’ve also lied on stage to make myself look better.
I guess over time, I realized that it didn’t take away from me to show my vulnerability and mistakes I’ve made. In fact, if anything, it’s better opportunity for them to learn. Most of my education is learned from all of my shit laid out. I would say that approach to education has become more popular now. I see that on Instagram everywhere, but certainly when I sort of started that approach, publicly, it was quite shocking for people.
For example, when I open my Bleach Specialist Course, which is the biggest selling bleach course in the UK, I open it with a massive picture of hair that I burned off to the scalp. It’s about making other people feel like it’s okay to fail. Today will be no different with my show. I will go through and I will tell you the truth about things that worked and things that didn’t work.
TJ: What can audiences expect to see from you today?
SH: One of the things that made my brand really successful are the marketing campaigns we’ve done. As a result of them we became known for much more than just our hair. What I’m trying to help people do here is understand the difference between a promotion and a marketing campaign – a promotion is like let’s get money in the till fast, and let’s get my junior stylist booked up. Let’s sell a shampoo.
The purpose of a campaign is like let’s get the whole village talking about us. Let’s get everyone whispering. My speciality is getting people to talk about me – good or bad, they will talk about me. What I say when I start this talk is that it’s not my job to try and make you like me today. I realized that my brand is deliciously tacky and trashy, bright and over the top. I know that’s not right for most people, but the line I use is that I specialize in helping people find what’s special about them. I didn’t know that line until I said it on stage about three times – I was like to myself, oh that’s what I do!
TJ: If there was one message or lesson that you want people to walk away from your presentation share, what would it be?
SH: Oh, that’s a great question. Be brave. I think when you come up with an idea, if most people think it’s terrible, it’s probably going to be exciting. If you come up with an idea, and everybody agrees with you, it’s probably incredibly beige. So in my experience, the best things I ever did was when I stopped listening to people and just went for it. That would be my biggest advice – stop listening to other people, and just be brave with your ideas.
TJ: I read on your websitea quote that really resonated. It was “be really great at your job and be really, really nice”. Where did this idealogy come from, and how has it served you in your career so far?
SH: My boss was really big about not having an ego. She held my ego down like it was like a fighting tiger! She tamed me, and I needed that. I think that as we grow, and as we become more successful or very good at our craft, it’s easy to become ego-filled and think we have the right over other people. Especially when it comes to customers. I’m all about working with them. Just because I’m more knowledgeable than than them doesn’t mean I have a right to tell them what to do. I think that’s where stylists go wrong. Yeah, they’re like “I know more than you”. So what? It’s still her head and her hair, she’s the boss.
I do a lot of work with hairdressers around assertiveness. So not being overly dominant, or being too submissive. Sitting in a really great assertive middle. Yeah.
TJ: Can you chat us through the marketing group that you have created?
SH: I started teaching social media seven years ago. We had become the second most followed salon in the UK after six months. Things are going amazing, and people wanted to know how I did it. I set up a membership group, and I was teaching people.
I’m gonna be super honest with you. I noticed in the last few years, social media alone is not enough. My members from five years ago, are putting the same effort in for half the results. I felt guilty and I was like, I can’t do this. I can’t sell this to people. I have to be like honest. So what I did was I restructured the entire membership group to be social media and marketing. I realized the thing that I’m probably best at is creating campaigns that get people seen, so now what we do is we help people get seen in their area through email marketing, through working with their community, through working with influencers, writing copy, you name it. There’s a monthly webinar with me thats live, so then it’s also a monthly Q&A with me. There’s a WhatsApp group as well. The WhatsApp group is wild! I take on 100 people every time I do an intake, and I’ve got 320 that are in another group that won’t leave. The purpose of the group is to help in those moments where theyre not sure. It’s those moments where you just post a reel and it randomly deletes or something and you’ve got someone to go to straight away. Other times it’s like, I don’t know what I’m doing today. Someone give me an idea. We’re going into year seven now of me doing this and it is literally my strongest business business. Yeah, that’s great. I love it. I feel like yeah, it’s an area where I think everyone understands, or hairdressers understandThe problem is if they really honestly just want all this knowledge, they could probably find it on YouTube. What you really want is that accountability. Someone with you every step of the way to make sure you actually did it which I think really makes a difference. Hairdressers are such social people as well, so having like a personality that they can relate to, and that resonates with them makes good lessons kind of set.
I say that my speciality is making something very complicated, very simple. I can teach anything that’s at university level, but I could make I could teach it to a 10 year old so that they would understand it? That’s why people like my education because it’s all fun and its colourful.
TJ: L’Oreal got you here on the road. Can you talk me through your relationship with L’Oreal, and how they support you?
SH: I’ve been I’ve been a loyal salon for nearly 10 years now, and I’ve been with L’Oreal for 17 years.- I was L’Oreal’s biggest and fastest selling educator for my first three years with L’Oréal which was really amazing. I teach everything – colour one day, marketing the next. It all boils down to about what the topic is, and when we got talking about this tour it just felt really good.
I think the best way that L’Oréal support me is that they don’t dictate what I do for them – they trust me and they give me that creative freedom. They work with me and are so understanding that I have my own career goals and I have things I that I want to work on. I get bored very easily, and want to move on to something new and exciting – and they move with me just as fast. I would say as well, massive compliments to Australia. They probably have like the best business network I’ve seen around the world. It doesn’t exist in the UK, they don’t have a business network at all. They don’t have these events at all, and I really missed that.
TJ: In terms of key trends, what are you loving at the moment
SH: I’m really bad with trends because I don’t really follow fashion! I will say, because of the ethos of (Sophias salon) Not Another Salon is that we are not fashion led – we are individual led. I love the idea of like a woman that has been working in the office for 15 or 20 years, but secretly wanted to be a punk at school. You’ve gotten bullied in your past and not let that side show. Then she comes to my salon one day, and says she wants red hair with a side shaved offWe allow people to just express whatever it is that they felt like they couldn’t in their past. A lot of my clients are not necessarily as young as you’d expect and they are ready to express themselves in whatever way that might be.
TJ: Okay, last question. Finish this sentence, “In 2024, I will be…”.
SH: Oh, thats interesing! In 2024, I will be further established in as a keynote speaker. So I’m doing a lot more keynote speaking, and next year is focused on doing more both within this industry and also outside the industry. Workplace toxicity is one of my topics, and so is intergenerational management. I’ve been teaching this for a year already. But next year, I want to go outside of the industry and teach this because it’s completely applicable. I really enjoy going to business conferences and teaching from my perspective as a member of the beauty industry. And its great because I also get to learn from all of the amazing other speakers they have at the event!