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How to Become a Personal Shopper

Tulika Nair
Do you want to turn your expertise at shopping well into your profession? Well, here is how you can make a career out of telling people what to buy.
But think about it: it's really very personal. You're taking a person's clothes off and putting them into a dressing room. It's like baring your soul.
―Betty Halbreich, Shopper at Bergdorf Goodman, on Personal Shopping
A passion for shopping can often be a draining experience on your wallet. The excitement that buying new clothes brings with it can often be washed away by the despair that an empty pocket causes.
But what if shopping could boost your cash inflow rather than draining it? If that seems like something you would be excited by, then try your hand at the rather lucrative career of becoming a personal shopper. An occupation that allows people to help others shop, it is a field that usually focuses on (but is not restricted to) clothes.
The path to becoming a successful and well-known personal shopper can be a difficult one. There is no qualification requirement, no examination that you need to pass, no standardized certification; and therefore, all you have in your armory to prove that you are the right person for the job is your sheer talent and your dedication to it.
But we can provide you with a few tips to help you get started on your journey to become a personal shopper.

Do a Self-assessment

Decide whether you actually want to be a personal shopper. Is that really where your heart lies? If, even for a minute, you think that this may not be the job for you, then you should reconsider.
Let us explain why we say this. Some people are born with an inherent stylish aura about them. They know how to pick clothes, mix and match them, wear the correct accessories, and be impeccably turned out, no matter what the occasion.
And a tinier section of these people can actually do the same for other people. If you can do the latter, then great. This may just be the career for you; but if you are considering a career as a personal shopper because 'you love shopping' and everyone compliments you on your sense of fashion, then maybe you should reconsider your decision.
Having the perfect sense of style may not be enough. You need to be patient, communicative, understanding, have a discriminating taste, and be creative.
Here's What May Help: Do a SWOT analysis before plunging headlong into the field. List down your strengths and weaknesses, and also the pros and cons of going into the business. This should give you a clear idea.

Research the Field Well

Agreed that you don't need a certificate or a qualification to become a personal shopper. But that does not mean that your education stops there. You need to do your research and understand what goes into being a personal shopper. Are you going to focus only on fashion and clothes?
Take up a course that teaches you the basics of fashion to understand styles, periods of fashion, body types, etc. Is decor your dream shopping experience? Do a course in interior decoration to learn the technicalities. While your personal sense and taste will help you, being comfortable with the foundation and backbone of the field can take you a long way.
Always, always be aware of what is happening in the industry. Keep your mind open to new trends and update what you make available to your clients. In-depth research of the industry will allow you to understand what niche you should be working in. It will also help you analyze the pros and cons of working in that field.
Here's What May Help: Subscribe to the top consumer and trade magazines in your field of interest to get an idea of what is happening. Keep abreast of trend forecasts and use them in your work.

Work with a Mentor

When in a field that is as client-centric as personal shopping, it may be a good idea to initially work with someone who has a few years of experience in the field. This helps you understand the industry and gain some hands-on training which reflects well on your resume.
This experience will not only teach you everything that you need to know about the job at hand, it will also furnish you with contacts and credibility that you need in the industry to make it big (or initially to get your first client). 
The way to do this would be to call up personal shoppers who stay/work in your vicinity and ask them about internship opportunities. You could also contact bigger department stores like Macy's and Bloomingdale's, which provide personal shopping services. 
Assisting with someone will also allow you to learn details like how much you can charge someone for your services, how much time you should spend with them, the license you require, the challenges you will face, etc. And any good mentor will tell you that a good personal shopper needs two qualities the most: patience and energy.
Here's What May Help: If you can't get an internship with a personal shopper, try to get some retail sector experience. While not completely related, this will allow you more access to the niche you want to work in, and also teach you how to work with clients.

Set Your Future Goals

While working with someone is a good way to start your journey as a personal shopper, you need to chart out how you are going to move forward.
You will need to figure out whether you want to work for a big retailer or branch out to become an independent shopper who works with clients on a private basis. You will need to work according to your future plans.
Whether your eventual goal is to work for a big-time retailer or start your own service, you will need to work on a portfolio that you can show prospective clients. Build your contacts in the industry and create a name for yourself.
More often than not, wannabe personal shoppers leave the field in a couple of years because they are unable to set themselves apart. In the time you spend with a mentor, try to figure out what you are good at and what areas you want/need to improve in. 
When with a big retailer, this will help you secure a position in the niche you are looking for. And when starting your own business, this will help you create a USP.
Here's What May Help: Make a planner for yourself, wherein you create a detailed future plan with the time in which you see them achieved. This will help you stay on track and not get caught up in the rigmarole of things.

Market Yourself Well

This point is especially important if you are starting your own personal shopping service. Without proper promotion, your business may fall flat. Create social media accounts to promote your work and give tips and advice to get people interested.
Have a regularly updated website with your contact details, portfolio, and if possible, testimonials from clients. Ensure that this website is always up-to-date. There is nothing more off-putting than a website that seems like it hasn't been touched in months.
Create a business card for yourself and hand them out to people you meet. Make flyers and pass them around. Spread the word through your friends and family. If you are ready to spend the moolah, then consider advertising in magazines that reach your target audience.
Here's What May Help: Start out with a blog that gives out tips and advice on the niche you are working in. Style advice on how to wear trends, décor advice on how to pick out furniture, etc., is all appreciated, and will get you return visitors who may choose to meet you for personalized advice.
These tips should help you break into the field of personal shopping, and successfully carve a niche for yourself. Remember that a good personal shopper does not need just creativity and flair for shopping well, but should also have good organizational skills and the ability to put their clients at ease.
Television shows often make it look like you can get away with being brusque and upfront about the mistakes that your client is making, but this is far from true. So, be diplomatic and supportive.
A personal shopper's job may seem glamorous (and it is so at some levels), but at the core of it lies a lot of hard work and the readiness to be available for your client at almost any time.