Modeling Expenses and Startup Costs for New Models

Spectators watching a fashion model on a catwalk
•••

 Ryan McVay / Getty Images

One of the areas that creates the most confusion for new models is the area of fees, expenses, and startup costs. There is a lot of hype and misinformation surrounding modeling expenses and what a model should and shouldn't pay for as they're starting out. This misinformation is particularly prevalent in modeling forums and other online resources. New models can get bewildered to the point of giving up and never pursuing their dream. Don’t let this happen to you.

When you first begin your journey to become a model, you'll really only need two simple things: snapshots and exposure. Acquiring those things doesn't need to be expensive, and with a little know-how, it can even be cheap.

Basic Snapshots

The first step in your modeling journey should be to take some basic snapshots. These photos can be extremely simple, and they can be taken by a friend or family member. You'll want to wear simple clothing and very little makeup in these snapshots.

Get Exposure Modeling Agents and Scouts

Once you have your snapshots, you need to get those snapshots seen by as many agents and scouts as possible. That exposure will help you get signed to a modeling agency—the first major goal of every aspiring model. There are several strategies for tackling this step, and they each have benefits and drawbacks.

You can print out your photos and physically mail them to all the agencies, but this would be the slowest and most costly way to approach this step. You can also email your snapshots to all the agencies. While email is a free alternative to paying for postage, it's not always as effective—an email is more likely to be ignored or accidentally missed than a physical package that gets delivered to an office. Finally, you can post your photos to model scouting websites, if you learn of any agents or scouts who are actively searching for models.

Once you have snapshots and a strategy for gaining exposure, that's pretty much it! With enough effort and some luck, these two things will get your foot in the door of the modeling world.

Once an Agency Wants To Sign You

While earning an agency's attention is cause for any new model to celebrate, it only marks the beginning of your modeling career. Once an agency has expressed an interest in representing you, you will likely be given a whole new set of tasks—many of which will cost money. You may be told that you need to hire a photographer, makeup artist, or stylist. You may be asked to make prints of your photos, create composite cards, post your photos on the agency website, and so on. Some agencies may even tell you that you need to take modeling classes at schools that teach those kinds of skills.

This is the time for you to take a breath and figure out the best path for you. 

Many new models have heard "if you have to pay anything it's a scam" or "if an agency likes you, they will pay for everything." However, that is not always the case, and the issue of expenses is never as cut and dry as people would like to think. You shouldn't give up on yourself or an agency when the topic of expenses comes up, but you do need to think carefully about what you're being asked to do and what’s best for your career.   

A few things to keep in mind are: 

  • What is the reputation of the agency? Is the agency known for developing new models and getting them bookings? Do they have connections to larger agencies in bigger modeling markets? What is their plan for how to market you?
  • If you need new photos, ask the agency for a list of different photographers they would recommend. If they insist that you use their in-house photographer, beware. That could be a warning sign that they earn more selling photoshoots than they do getting you bookings. An agency should not earn income from your photoshoots.
  • Is the agency part of a modeling school? Modeling classes can be beneficial to some models, but they shouldn't be a requirement for you to get signed to an agency.  
  • Are you in a large market like New York, Los Angeles, Milan, or Paris? Or are you in a smaller, local market? Most models do not start at the top in big New York or Paris agencies. Rather, they learn the business, develop their look, and build their books in the smaller market agencies. While a big agency in New York may offer to advance your expenses, agencies in smaller markets are less likely to have the resources to finance new models. Still, if you have the opportunity to work with an agency in a smaller market, don't pass it up. Small market agencies can be a valuable asset to your career.

Agencies May Advance Expenses, But Never Finance

When you are signed to an agency, you are considered an independent contractor. You are not an employee of the agency. Your services as a model are contracted by the agency. Essentially, you are a sole proprietor of your own business. Therefore, all the expenses incurred will be your responsibility. Having said that, there are instances where an agency may be willing to advance some of these expenses to get you started. Once you start booking jobs, the agency will deduct what is owed to them from your account. 

Even after you start working and book lots of jobs, you will have ongoing expenses like new photoshoots, prints for your book, couriers, agency website fees, agency commissions, travel expenses, long-distance telephone charges, etc. These expenses aren't unique to new models—even established supermodels have similar expenses from time to time. However, these will (hopefully) be small expenses in comparison to the income you will earn. Also, remember that any business expenses will be tax-deductible. 

Every Model and Every Agency Is Different

When it comes to modeling startup fees and expenses, it’s important to keep in mind that every model and every agency is different. If you asked 100 successful models how they got started, you’d likely get 100 different stories. Some may have had certain advantages that you can't personally replicate, but most of them probably did not. Most models worked very hard to get where they are, and by matching their work ethic, you can get there, as well.