One of the areas that causes the most confusion for new models is the realm of fees, expenses, and startup costs. There is a lot of hype and misinformation surrounding the costs of modeling and what a model should and should not pay for at the beginning. This misinformation is particularly widespread in model forums and other online resources. New models can become so confused that they give up and don't pursue their dream any further. Don't let that happen to you.
At the beginning of your journey as a fashion model, you really only need two simple things: snapshots and exposure. Obtaining these things doesn't have to be expensive, and with a little know-how, they can even be cost-effective.
The first step on your path to becoming a model should involve taking some simple snapshots. These photos can be very basic and taken by a friend or family member. For these snapshots, you should wear simple clothing and apply minimal makeup.
Getting the Attention of Model Agents and Scouts
Once you have your snapshots, you need to show them to as many agents and scouts as possible. This visibility will help you secure a contract with a modeling agency, which is the first major goal of every aspiring model. There are various strategies for this step, each with its pros and cons.
You can print your photos and send them to all agencies by mail, but that's the slowest and most expensive method to approach this step. You can also email your snapshots to all agencies. While email is a free alternative to postage costs, it's not always as effective— an email is more likely to be ignored or overlooked than a physical package delivered to an office. Finally, you can publish your photos on model scouting websites if you learn about agents or scouts actively searching for models.
Once you have snapshots and a strategy to get noticed, that's pretty much it! With enough effort and a bit of luck, these two things will get your foot in the door of the modeling world.
When an Agency Wants to Sign You
While getting attention from an agency is a reason to celebrate for every new model, it's just the beginning of your modeling career. Once an agency expresses interest in you, you will likely be faced with a range of new tasks, many of which will cost money. You might be told that you need to hire a photographer, a makeup artist, or a stylist. You might be asked to make prints of your photos, create composite cards, publish your photos on the agency's website, and so on. Some agencies might even suggest that you take a modeling course to acquire these skills.
Now is the right time to take a breath and figure out the best path for you.
Many new models have heard phrases like "If you have to pay for something, it's a scam" or "If an agency likes you, they will cover everything." However, that's not always the case, and the question of costs is never as straightforward as one would like to believe. You shouldn't give up on yourself or an agency when the topic of expenses arises, but you should carefully consider what is being asked of you and what's best for your career.
Some things to consider are:
What's the reputation of the agency? Is it known for developing new models and getting them jobs? Does it have connections to larger agencies in major markets? What's the plan for how they'll market you?
If you need new photos, ask the agency for a list of recommended photographers. If the agency insists that you work only with their in-house photographer, be cautious. That could be a sign that the agency earns more from selling photo shoots than from securing bookings. An agency shouldn't profit from your photo shoots.
Is the agency part of a modeling school? While modeling courses can be beneficial for some models, they shouldn't be a requirement for a contract with an agency.
Are you operating in a major market like New York, Los Angeles, Milan, or Paris? Or are you in a smaller local market? Most fashion models don't start at the top with big agencies in New York or Paris. Instead, they learn the business, develop their look, and build their portfolio with smaller agencies. While a major New York agency might offer you an advance on your expenses, agencies in smaller markets likely have fewer resources to fund new models. However, if you have the opportunity to work with an agency in a smaller market, don't dismiss it. Small agencies can be a valuable asset to your career.
Agencies Can Front Expenses, but Never Finance
When you're under contract with an agency, you're considered an independent contractor. You're not an employee of the agency. Your services as a model are commissioned by the agency. Essentially, you're the sole owner of your own business. Therefore, you're responsible for all incurred costs. However, there are cases where an agency might be willing to cover some of these costs to help you get started. Once you start booking jobs, the agency will deduct the amount from your earnings.
Even as you start working and booking many jobs, you'll have ongoing expenses like new photoshoots, prints for your portfolio, courier services, fees for the agency's website, agency commissions, travel expenses, long-distance call fees, etc. These expenses are not exclusive to new models— even established supermodels have similar expenses from time to time. However, compared to the income you generate, these expenses will hopefully be relatively low. Also, keep in mind that all business expenses are tax-deductible.
Every model and every agency is different
When it comes to starting fees and expenses for a modeling agency, it's important to remember that every model and every agency is unique. If you were to ask 100 successful models how they began their careers, you'd likely hear 100 different stories. Some might have had certain advantages that you personally can't relate to, but most probably didn't. Most models have worked very hard to get to where they are now, and if you adopt their work ethic, you can achieve it too.