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So, you’ve decided to have your hair braided. Wonderful! A foundation in African culture, braids are a stylish way to create a new look, and a great alternative when you want to give your stressed tresses a rest.

Now that you’ve decided to embark on the braid journey, finding someone qualified to bring your desired look to life can be challenging. There are a plethora of braiders to choose from, each conducting business on different levels.

Many braiders work in salons. They rent booth space and provide braiding services during salon hours. Some salons are exclusive to hair braiding. Other braiders freelance and do business from their home or yours. With so many options, how do you find a braider that is right for you?

In my own recent journey to finding a braider as I transition from a chemical relaxer to natural hair, I was faced with the very same question. After much braider drama over the years – from braiders in pajamas, braiders who braid too tight and braiders who stop to run errands and cook meals – I decided to be more selective in my search for a professional braider who met all of my criteria (more on that later).

Based on my new strategy, I’ve put together the following six steps to help you find and choose a professional braider that is right for you:

1. Make the Decision – You already know you want your hair braided. Now you must decide if you prefer the foundation of the salon environment, or if you prefer the more relaxed one-on-one setting you’ll find with a freelance braider. You know your style and your comfort zone. Go with what makes sense for you.

2. Shop Around – Ask for referrals from family, friends, co-workers or your regular hair stylist. Look through the Yellow Pages under “Beauty Salons & Services” to find listings for braiders in your area. Check out Craigslist.com for your area as well. A lot of salons and freelance braiders take advantage of this free form of advertising to generate business. Do a search for “braids” in the “services” section of Craigslist. And remember while shopping, many states do not require braiders to have a cosmetology license for their services. For more on this subject and to see your state’s requirements (if listed), click here: http://cornrowsandco.com/politicsSub.cfm?politicsID=2.

3. See the Work – While in the shopping stage, you definitely only want to consider braiders whose work you can actually see. If they were a referral you’ve probably seen the work firsthand on someone. If you found them in the Yellow Pages or on Craigslist, ask if they have a website or online photo album that you can view if it isn’t already listed in their advertisement.

4. Choose Three – Take your time to really study the braiders on your list. Consider prices, creativity of style and location convenience. Look for a slight edge that makes them stand out (more on that in a bit). Make sure they know how to create the style you’re looking for. Factor in all of these elements and choose your top three.

5. Visit – Contact your top three choices and arrange a time to meet face-to-face. Each visit should last no more than 15 minutes. That is more than enough time to survey your surroundings and get a feel for the person performing the services. I can’t put enough value on the importance of meeting potential braiders face-to-face. Know what you’re walking into before you walk into it.

Be up front and let them know that you are interviewing braiders and would like to come by to meet them personally. If they object, take them off your list. Otherwise, plan your visits within two to three days of each other so each experience is fresh in your mind and you can make a sound decision. If you’re choosing to have your hair braided in a salon, you can usually walk in during normal business hours without an appointment. I still recommend making the arrangements ahead of time as a courtesy.

Quick Safety Tip: Always let someone know when you’ll be visiting a new braider and give them all the contact information. You can never be too careful!

Once in front of each braider, ask the same set of standard questions so that you can compare the responses. Take notes and share your past experiences. Make sure your expectations are crystal clear.

Pay attention to the vibe you’re feeling while you’re with each braider, it makes a difference. And remember, the objective of the visit is to evaluate the overall level of professionalism. This is the time to tie in what you already know with what you will learn in the face-to-face visit to see if they match.

Here are the criteria you should look for from start to finish in a professional braider:

* Prompt – Answers your initial phone call or e-mail request for more information (such as price for a certain style) within 24-hours.

* Reliable – Someone who is dependable, punctual, and who will contact you immediately if their schedule changes.

* Appearance – They don’t have to be dressed to strut down a runway, but they should at least be dressed!

* Focused – While braiding, the focus should be on the task at hand, not anything that will be a distraction from completing the job. In a salon or in a home, this is a business and it should be treated as such. Bathroom and lunch breaks within reason are of course acceptable.

* Clean – Surroundings should be clean and well kept. You want to feel comfortable and not have the creepy crawlies the entire time you’re there. If getting extension hair and the braider provides the hair in their price, the hair should be new and in an unopened package. Never accept partially used hair.

* Friendly – While you may not become best friends with your braider, you do want to feel comfortable with the person who will be “in your head”. Especially if this is someone you are considering going back to in the future.

* Hair Health Conscious – As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of braiders out there. Unfortunately, not enough of them are really tuned into the needs of hair. Braiding is a wonderful method to use to give the hair a rest so that it can grow to optimal potential. However, if done incorrectly, braids can cause severe damage and breakage. The hair braider you choose should be gentle, doesn’t use a lot of tension while braiding, doesn’t put too much extension hair on each braid that weighs down your natural hair, and should provide hair maintenance tips before, during and in-between each set of braids.

* Affordable – The person you choose should be someone whose work you like and their price fits within your budget. As a rule of thumb, freelancers should charge less than salon braiders. Don’t forget to ask ahead of time what forms of payment are acceptable.

*Experience – Years of experience as well as experience with all types of ethnicities, hair textures and hair conditions are equally important. Someone with five years of experience may work with several clients who have balding and thinning issues, while someone with 15 years of experience may have limited exposure in this area. Think of your own needs and consider what works best for you.

* Slight Edge – Look for golden nuggets that make braiders stand out: websites; online photo albums; work guarantee (will correct mistakes free of charge or money back); location convenience; braiders who will accompany you to the beauty supply store to select the right type of hair; and freelance braiders who travel to you. These and other above average traits are all pluses that rank higher in the selection process.

6. Choose and Follow Up – Remember, this is a business transaction. You should not only expect professionalism, but you should also demonstrate professionalism in the process. Once you’ve made your choice, reconnect with each braider either by phone or e-mail to let them know your decision. Start with the braiders who didn’t make the cut. Thank them for their time, let them know you chose to go with someone else and wish them continued success. Period. No explanation needed.

Next, contact the braider of your choice, thank them for their time and book your appointment!

In the end, I chose the mid-priced braider. She is very concerned about hair health, which is also of great importance to me. And while my appointment isn’t until next month, I feel confident about my selection and the steps I took to make my decision.

Use these same steps to finding and selecting a professional braider and you will be well on your way to a great new look and an overall pleasant experience from start to finish. Happy braiding!

Source by Kitara R. Wilson

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