Ah, alliteration! Why play it up? Because pursuing piercing as a profession requires a lot of P's: Patience, professionalism, proficiency, and performance, just to name a few. Plus, hopefully it made you laugh!
Seriously, though, if you're interested in learning everything that becoming a professional piercer entails rather than just the P's, read on! We'll fill you in on what you need to know before pursuing this profession, including apprenticeships, piercing supplies, finding a job, promoting yourself, and more.
Becoming a Professional Piercer
Pursuing piercing as a profession involves getting the right education--preferably through a piercing apprenticeship--figuring out if you can make enough money as a piercer to pay your bills, getting the certifications you need, finding a job, securing the right supplies, and promoting yourself and your services. Let's dig into each of these areas a bit more deeply.
Find a Piercing Apprenticeship
There are a plethora of piercing schools today, but an old-fashioned apprenticeship is still the recommended way to learn how to become a professional piercer. Nothing beats hands-on experience under the supervision of a mentor in a real-world environment--particularly when it comes to carefully sticking people with needles to give them the piercings they want.
How does one go about finding an apprenticeship? If you're serious about this profession, speak to your piercer first. Ask him or her if s/he would be willing to mentor you or recommend someone else who can. If you strike out with a recommendation, go online and pull together a list of all the piercing shops in your area, preferably ordered by popularity/ratings. Avoid kitchy jewelry shops and mall kiosks, though, because they pierce with piercing guns, which is a no-no in a professional piercing establishment.
Once you have your list, go door-to-door, talk to the piercer(s) who work at each shop, and see if any of them feels like the right person to have mentor you. (You'll either hit it off with someone or you won't; there's no exact science to this process.). If you find one you really like, ask about doing an apprenticeship. The worst they can do is say no, which shouldn't deter you. Sometimes piercers want to know that someone is really serious about joining the profession before they'll agree to help, which means you may need to go back, hang out, get to know the staff more, and keep trying for awhile before you get a favorable answer.
Finding a piercing apprenticeship may seem like the hardest part of the process, but learning to pierce people quickly and gently to inflict the least pain possible is likely to be more difficult. Some people are naturals at it, but everyone needs lots of practice to get it right the majority of the time and in all regions of the body. Our silicone body bits are great practice tools; they won't cry out if you stick them the wrong way!
If you're wondering how much you can expect to make while doing your piercing apprenticeship, the answer is likely nothing. An apprenticeship is an educational experience, and as with most forms of education, it's more likely to cost you money than make you money. At worst, you may need to pay for the piercing supplies you use while learning the trade. Plan on picking up a part-time job to pay the bills for the 12 or so months you're doing your apprenticeship.
At minimum, you'll need to get your Bloodborne Pathogen Certification to meet OSHA's regulations before you begin piercing professionally. You should also get certified in first aid, so that you'll know what to do if a client flips out on the table and gets stabbed somewhere unfortunate or passes out from fear, pain or both. Your state may require other certifications or even that you be licensed before you can pierce professionally. To find out your state's requirements and ensure you're armed with all necessary certifications and licenses before your apprenticeship ends, visit the National Conference of State Legislators' website. It's a great starting point for finding the information you need.
It may also benefit you to take a lab safety class before you strike out on your own. Sterilization and safety are major concerns in a piercing shop, for your protection and your clients'. A lab safety class will supplement the education your master provides about things like utilizing Sharps containers to avoid accidental needle sticks and sterilization by heat using an autoclave vs. a dry heat sterilizer. It may also give you an extra certificate you can mount on your piercing room wall and use to dazzle clients. After all, education makes every good professional look even better!
Find a Piercing Job
As your apprenticeship winds down, start talking to your master or the shop owner about working there once you're done studying. Unless it's a highly-trafficked shop, though, chances are that you'll need to find another shop to employ you, or at least rent you space, post-apprenticeship. Your mentor or the shop owner may have suggestions for you on establishments to try, but if not, dig out your pre-apprenticeship shop list and hit the pavement. Ideally, you should take your portfolio, business cards and a letter of recommendation from your master along with you as you visit prospective shops.
Once you find a shop that seems like it would be a good fit for you, it's time to...
Ask your master what s/he makes per piercing, on average, and roughly how many piercings s/he does in a month. Ask him or her what supplies typically cost on a monthly basis. Also find out what kind of percentage the shop takes, or if the piercer pays a flat monthly fee for a room or booth within the shop. The shop where you end up working may have a different arrangement in mind, but your master should be able to give you a fair idea of what kind of profit you can expect from each piercing you do.
Things to Consider: The average cost of a piercing is around $50. (This number varies widely depending on the type of piercing, whether it's being done as a one-off or as part of a pair, the region where you live, and so on. This is a rough average of the cost of all piercings in urban areas, where piercings are typically more expensive.) Worst-case scenario, you can assume that you'll have to hand over 50% of that to the shop owner who employs you each time you do a piercing. Knock off another $5-10 for supplies, including everything from skin prep to piercing needles, gloves to body jewelry, and so on.
At best, you may only make $15-$20 per piercing on average. If the shop where you work has enough traffic, you might be able to do a piercing an hour for a whopping $120-$160 per day--before taxes. You could make quite a bit more, but you could also make less. Can you live on that kind of income? This is a crucial question!
If you're concerned about becoming a piercer because of the pay scale, don't be discouraged. There are ways to maximize your profits, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Negotiate. The shop where you're interested in working may want a percentage of every piercing you do, or they may ask for a flat monthly fee for renting space. Either way, there should be some room for negotiation. Counter by asking them to give you a higher percentage, a lower monthly rate, or a price break during slow months.
- Shop Smart. Purchase supplies in larger quantities whenever possible to take advantage of bulk price breaks. At minimum, stock up on the things you use most frequently. Use coupons whenever they're available. If you buy your supplies from Painful Pleasures, you can also save by shopping in our Wholesale Store, where we offer reduced prices to industry professionals spending $100 or more at a time.
- Promote Yourself! Create an online portfolio in addition to an actual shop book. You can do that for free using our Gallery. After uploading all of your photos, post a link to your personal gallery on your Facebook page, add it to your business cards, and include it in any online directory listings you create. You should also be as active as possible in social media, using sites like Instagram and Facebook to promote yourself, share tips that will engage readers (i.e. clients and prospective clients), and make announcements about any special events you have coming up, including appearances at conventions.
As you get settled into your new shop, your first order of business will be ordering the supplies you need to conduct business. Our article titled The New Piercer's Guide to Getting Started includes a very handy list of all the items you should include in your initial piercing supplies order. It gets as granular as suggested quantities and sizes for each type of jewelry, needle sizes, specific skin prep and other disinfecting supplies, absolute mandatory piercing tools to have on hand, and so on.
If you've decided to start your own shop, take a look at What Piercing Supplies to Buy for a New Shop instead. It includes a much more comprehensive list to ensure you'll have everything you could possibly need on hand when you open your new shop. If you're striking out on your own but will be working the convention circuit rather than opening a shop, you may still want to reference this more comprehensive list.
As mentioned previously, we offer several great ways to save on piercing supplies, including coupons, special sales, and our everyday-low Wholesale Store prices. For smaller orders (below $100), you're also welcome to purchase supplies from our Retail Store, where we offer below-retail prices to the general public. You may be interested in perusing these Retail Store sections to see what we have to offer:
Basic Piercing Jewelry
Skin Prep & Skin Cleansers
Latex & Nitrile Gloves
Piercing Aftercare Products
As you explore a career in piercing, we invite you to take advantage of all the great free informational resources we offer. Check out the Piercing Information, Shop Safety and Body Jewelry sections of our Info Center to find tips on everything from piercing safely to setting up a sterile field and beyond. We've even included a sample piercing waiver for your reference.
Happy piercing, and happy shopping!