There are many reputable modeling agencies that genuinely care about the well-being of their models and work hard to help them succeed. Unfortunately, there are also a few bad apples that try to take advantage of new models.
When red flags are popping up everywhere on the path to becoming a successful model, it's best to pull the plug as soon as possible before spending money on an agency that promises big things but delivers nothing. If something doesn't feel right with an agency, it often isn't. However, if you're not familiar with the modeling industry, certain common things might confuse you if you don't know better. Below are five questions to help you determine whether a modeling agency is legitimate or just looking to exploit you.
Is the agency in good standing with the BBB (Better Business Bureau)?
The BBB is a system for rating businesses and their ethical practices to provide consumers with feedback and help them make informed decisions. The BBB has specific standards for accredited businesses. Checking with the BBB is a good way to research the legitimacy of a modeling agency. It's a positive sign if the agency is recognized and accredited by the BBB. The BBB is also a good resource to find out if there are reports against the agency alleging unethical behavior or exploitation of aspiring models.
Are they promising huge numbers right from the start?
We're all used to seeing photos of supermodels leading luxurious lives and earning millions of dollars a year; perhaps this was a major factor in your decision to start modeling. While modeling can certainly be a financially rewarding career, it takes time, hard work, and a good agency to reach that point. If you're a new model and an agency is promising you figures that sound too good to be true, they probably won't be able to deliver, and you might end up losing money instead of earning it.
Is the agency insisting on modeling courses?
There's absolutely nothing wrong with attending a modeling course if you want to improve yourself and have fun. However, a red flag is if an agency insists that you take their courses before they represent you for jobs.
Models should never be obligated to take a course, and if an agency demands this from you, it's a sign that the agency is making its income from courses rather than from booking model jobs.
Many new models reside in smaller modeling markets outside of New York, Paris, and Milan. Thus, it can be very difficult to find an agency that can solely survive on booking modeling jobs. An agency-affiliated modeling school is the only way for the agency to find new models who could potentially become the next supermodel. So, if you're in a smaller market, don't immediately dismiss the agency; instead, make an informed decision on whether it's right for you.
Is the agency insisting on a specific photographer?
Sometimes an agency has a "house photographer" and insists that you purchase photoshoots or portfolio packages from them and their photographer. This usually indicates that the agency is just a front for a "photo mill" and should be a clear warning sign.
Again, exercise your judgment, as many reputable agencies prefer to work with photographers they already know will get you bookings. Agencies in larger markets usually offer test shoots for free but will deduct the costs from your first booking.
Remember, you never need professional photos before meeting with agencies to determine if you have the potential to be a model. Simple snapshots are perfectly fine and are often preferred by agencies that want to see your true face without special lighting or makeup.