Expenses are an area that seems to create the most confusion and misunderstandings between new models and or actors and agencies. Modeling agencies often hear new models say “Well, if you liked me you would pay for everything”. Unfortunately, the hype surrounding modeling agencies paying for expenses is grossly exaggerated and often wishful thinking on the part of new models who don’t understand how the modeling industry really works. We understand that models have been told “don’t pay an agency to represent you” – that is true. But that is much different from investing in your own basic start-up costs that don’t involve the agency, such as photo shoots, composite cards, etc. These are services you need from outside sources such as photographers, stylists, printers, etc.
Agencies that were willing to finance the careers of new models were much more prevalent in the 1980′s (the Supermodel era) than they are today. In the ’80′s the modeling industry was booming, many of the agencies such as Ford Models, Next, Company, Elite, IMG, etc. were new and building their rosters; clients were paying huge fees for models; Linda Evangelista “wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.00 a day” and competition between modeling agencies was fierce. Well, those days are all but over.
Modeling agencies soon learned that financing the careers of new models was more costly than profitable. Many agencies lost hundreds of thousands of dollars each year when new models were unable to fulfill their obligations for a variety of reasons that were no fault of the agency. Young models may have found they couldn’t handle the stress, they didn’t like being away from home, their looks changed, they were difficult to work with, or any number of reasons that would send a new model packing and the agency holding the bill.
Today, many agencies expect to be repaid for advances even if the model does not work. Some agencies have gone as far as taking legal action against models that have outstanding debts. These days over 90% of models working with top agencies in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Paris, London, Milan, etc. did not have their initial expenses advanced and they worked long and hard to get where they are.
As a fashion model you are a self-employed, independent contractor. You are considered a sole proprietor in your own small business; you are not an employee of the agency. In addition to basic start-up costs, professional models, including those represented by top agencies such as Ford Models, Elite, Next, Wilhelmina, DNA, Women or Karin’s are required to cover all of their own promotional expenses such as composite cards, agency books, head sheets, websites, couriers, etc. These promotional expenses can run anywhere from $200 – $600 per year to post photos on the agency website, $1,500 – $2,500 per year for composite cards, in addition to couriers, postage, working visa’s, legal and accounting fees. Professional models understand that this is simply the cost of doing business and it is standard in the industry for the model to cover these promotional expenses.
Don’t make the mistake of telling an agent to pay for your expenses. Agents consider this extremely rude, presumptuous and unprofessional and it is a sure fire way to make the agent show you the door. If an agent is willing to help you financially they will offer it. Keep in mind this is extremely rare and is generally offered only by large agencies in markets such as New York, Paris or Milan and they will deduct what you owe them the moment you book a job.
Agencies in smaller markets simply do not have the resources to finance new models. However, the agencies in smaller markets are very important to a new model’s career. 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. If you have the opportunity to work with an agency in a smaller market don’t pass it up, they can be a valuable asset to your career. And please, please don’t expect modeling agencies to finance your career. Remember that agents are just that – they are AGENTS. They are not bankers or magicians.