Modeling Resources

Never Pay To Join a Modeling Agency

It is the "Never kiss on the first date rule."

Legitimate modeling agencies make money the old fashioned way. . . they EARN IT by getting you work.

You should NEVER pay to join a modeling agency! There are indeed some very legitimate reasons for a modeling agency to ask you for money – AFTER they have proven themselves to you. I will discuss them later in this article.

You should always apply the “Don’t kiss on the first date” rule. If a modeling agency asks you to spend money on the first visit – I don’t care what their pitch is – I am confident that they are not worried about getting you work. What they want is for you to break out that credit card and pay them.

First and foremost, let’s be clear that if you decide to be an agency model – you are deciding to start your own business, the business of marketing yourself to advertisers. Since modeling agencies have already made the connections with advertisers, YOU WILL HIRE MODELING AGENCIES for the purpose of helping you get work from those advertisers. And you will agree to pay them 20% of what you earn – AFTER they get you work.

(Clients pay models. Modeling agencies don’t pay models – models pay modeling agencies for getting them work.)

You read that right – Models hire modeling agencies for the purpose of helping them to get work. So by default, that makes YOU – the model – the BOSS!

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like you can just call up a modeling agency and say YOU’RE HIRED! Modeling agencies will decide if they want to “sign you,” which means, they are deciding whether or not they would be wasting their time trying to get you work. If they don’t have a client who is likely to hire you, they are probably not going to sign you and waste their time trying to market you.

So what do I do if an agency asks me to spend money in order to get signed?


Since the Internet is becoming the primary way that modeling agencies first introduce prospective talent to their clients, most modeling agencies now display their roster of models online. Some have the entire group publicly available, while others only allow a client with a username and password to review their talent base.

The best agencies view this as a cost of doing business and do not charge their models to be included on their website. Other agencies will tell you that they are trying to get away form using paper comp cards and that the cost to you for this service is anywhere form $10.00 per month to several hundred dollars per year.

Do some quick math here . . . If an agency has just 75 models and we multiply that by the amount of money that they charge . . . and factor in the fact that it costs anywhere from $40 dollars to $200 per year for a modeling agency to host a website – that means they are making a hell of a lot of money – just for putting your pictures and statistics online.

So if this happens to you, don’t tell them no, but definitely don’t say yes. Don’t run for the door and definitely don’t give up. Negotiate!

Here is an example that I have had many models use that works very well, because it forces the modeling agency to show their hand in terms of just how much they really are interested in getting you work, or if they are just interested in your money.

You should explain that you have already invested a lot of money into becoming a model – you have paid for a portfolio shoot, printed comp cards, purchased a portfolio, etc.

Suggest / ask to them if they would be willing to put you on the web site initially at no cost. Then of course when you get your first booking(s), they can deduct the fee for the web site listing directly from your earnings before paying you.

This is a simple negotiation tactic. Now you have turned the tables on them. They told you that they like your look and are very interested in working with you. You have said awesome, please prove it and I will pay you the money.

Think about it, this is a win-win for both you and the modeling agency. You don’t have to take any money out of the bank and they still get the money they are asking for. Even if it takes more than one job for you to pay back the fee for the website, you are building your resume in the process – WIN!!!

Will this work every time? I can’t make you that guarantee, but it will sure give you a very clear picture as to how sincere any agency is about earning you money as opposed to taking your money. How so you ask?

If the agency is willing to let you walk out the door, they clearly weren’t looking at you with the thought “I have five clients who would book him/her tomorrow.” They clearly wanted YOUR money. If they have clients in mind that they believe they can get to hire you, they are not going to let you walk away just because you can’t afford to pay upfront for the website.

Important Note

Don’t be DESPERATE! It is not a very flattering trait for a model. IF you try this negotiation and it fails, if the booking agent is willing to let you walk out the door and not sign you because you can’t afford the fee – you MUST thank them for their time and LEAVE. Do NOT suddenly open your wallet and give them the money.

I can guarantee you that if two weeks later, you are thinking that this Joe Edelman guy is wrong and your only chance at becoming a model is to give them the money . . . They WILL still take your money. Just remember – I warned you what the outcome will be after you pay them.

Other reasons a modeling agency may give you to get your money

There are several other money making scenarios used by agencies that are looking for a quick buck.

Some will tell you that your “timing is perfect” and go on to explain that they are just about to print their books or headsheets and they would like to include you. Others will explain that since you are new and they don’t know you, or because you have very little professional experience that they want you to attend a workshop or camp. You can use negotiation tactic successfully for each of these scenarios.

In each case – if the agency is sincere about what they see in you – they should be willing to work with you on these terms or at least negotiate a plan that is more reasonable and puts some of the burden of proof on them.

Let’s talk about those legitimate expenses

Understand that once a modeling agency signs you, their goal is very much the same as yours – GET YOU WORK, so that they can earn their 20%.

It is a common and fair practice for an agency to call you several months or a year down after they sign you and after they have booked you for several jobs – and ask you to further invest in your career so that they can better market you.

They may want you to share in the cost of postage for a mailing to promote you to a broader base of clients. They may request that you print a new version of your comp card that has their agency logo and contact information on the back of the card. They may tell you that they have a specific wish list of photographs that they feel will make you more marketable.

As long as they are not asking you to give them the money to do it, AND as long as they have already booked you for some work – DO IT!!!

It does take money to make money and any successful business owner knows that you must reinvest in your business from time to time if you expect continued success.

Bottom line

Never pay a modeling agency up front to market you. Make them earn their money by getting you work.

There is always a way to negotiate your way around an agency that is trying to take advantage of your wallet and by doing so, you will quickly find out just how much work they believe they can book for you.

Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and "No Bull" Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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