“Should I sign with a modeling agency or be freelance?”
This is the second the most common question I get asked by aspiring models, right behind "how do I get started?".
Social Media and the Influencer industry has really shaken up the processes of the modeling industry and has opened up many more opportunities for aspiring models. With many of them now being able to book jobs through social media, they often ask why they would even want to sign with a modeling agency and have to deal with all the rules that come with it?
This is a discussion I often have with my other model friends- is being freelance better? While I went the agency route and plan to stay in that lane, I have a lot of respect the models that choose to stay or become freelance. For me, the pros of being signed with an agency far outweigh the cons, and they have helped me not only with growing my career, but have had my back when issues with clients have come up.
Below, I explore some perks of signing with an agency along with some of the differences that come with freelance modeling that will hopefully help you in deciding which way you want to go with your career!
Access to Clients
One of the biggest perks of having a modeling agency is the access to their client list. Agencies have worked years to create well established relationships with big-name clients that pay well for their bookings, so you, even as a brand new model, will now be put in front of those clients. As a freelance model, you could bust your butt for years and still not even be on the radar of those clients because they're exclusively working with agency models.
Agencies having a reputable client list that their models are working for also cuts down on the chances of you being scammed or being put in a possibly scary situation. As a freelance model, you're having to vett the jobs on your own, and it's easier to scam someone who doesn't have a team behind them making sure that the jobs being offered are legit and safe.
This is probably the second biggest perk of having an agency. When you're signed with an agency, you have the security of knowledge that they have your back when it comes to reviewing contracts, securing your payments, and also help ensure your protection/safety if something were to ever happen to you while you're on set.
There have been a few instances in my career where clients have tried to skip out on payment after I had done the job, or tried to use my photos for things outside of the terms agreed upon in the contract without any authorization. Without my agency to back me, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it.
When working as a freelance model, you don't have someone checking the terms of the contracts for you, you have to do it on your own and sometimes the contracts involved aren't in your benefit. If you miss something in the fine-print, it could put you in a less than ideal situation. You also don't have anyone with a lot of power that can go to bat for you if your photos are being used outside of the agreed upon terms.
You Have Help with the Hustle
Agencies are business, and often have a team of people to keep the business side of things running smoothly. As a signed model, you still have to hustle, but you can put most of your energy into making sure you're doing a great job on the castings and bookings you're being sent to instead of trying to find all the jobs and connections on your own on top of working. You're also not having to create and send invoices and chase people down if they're behind on payment because your team at the agency does that for you.
You Get Taken More Seriously
Many of the high-end clients won’t even consider booking models that aren’t agency represented, no matter how talented they are. Being tied to a reputable agency helps give you more merit as a professional in the industry and clients feel comfortable booking you because they know your agency wouldn't keep you on the roster if you weren't professional and reliable.
They Provide Career Guidance
With an agency, you have years worth of industry knowledge and experience at your fingertips. The modeling industry as a whole is very tough to navigate, but with your agency you can go to them for advice and assistance with reaching your career goals. Many freelance models have to just figure it out as they go, and may experience more detours and delays than they would've if they had an agency to help guide them.
You are Under Contract
Many people see this as one of the downsides of being signed with an agency. Unlike being freelance, when you commit to an agency, you are signing into a legally binding agreement. Contracts often come with stipulations and even some restrictions that you now have to follow. As a freelance model, if you decide to chop off your hair or get a tattoo sleeve, you could do so without a second thought about it. As an agency model, however, you would have to let your agency know your plans and they may say that if you wanted to continue to be represented by them, you can't make those changes to your appearance.
Obviously, agencies make their money by taking commission out of the paychecks models earn from their bookings. Freelance models get paid full rates and don't have to give anyone a cut of it. To some, this is the biggest drawback of having an agency, but I like to look at it as that is the payment I give them for handling all of my back-of-house stuff like finding bookings to submit me for. That 20% doesn't seem like much when I know I wouldn't be able to do that job well on my own!
There's also the yearly website fees, and occasional portfolio or comp card fee that has to be paid ot the agency. While this seems like a drawback to some, these are fees that you would likely have to pay out-of-pocket for as a freelance model as well, so you're not actually saving any money but still having to do all the work.
Whichever route you choose, make sure you are comfortable with your decision and it’s a right fit for you! Just because you may have had an unpleasant experience with one agency doesn’t mean they are all bad and you should write off agencies for good. I had an awful experience with my first agent, but now I have two amazing ones that I couldn’t be happier with.
I also know many models who are very successful at freelancing and do a fantastic job of marketing themselves and book a ton of jobs, so there is nothing wrong with choosing to manage your own career.
Always be sure to do your research and do what you think is best for what you are wanting to achieve in the industry!