Agecny vs. Freelance Modeling

“Should I sign with a modeling agency or be freelance?”

This is the second the most common question I get asked by aspiring models.

Photo by Jeremy Ellsworth

The internet, especially social media, has opened up many opportunities for models, so why would you need a modeling agency when you can get freelance modeling jobs through Instagram? This is a discussion I often have with my other model friends. While I went the agency route, I respect the models that choose to stay 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 pros & cons of signing with an agency that will hopefully help you in deciding which way you want to go with your career!

Pros of an Agency:

Legal Protection

Modeling agencies serve as a model's protection. They have the industry expertise needed to negotiate the best rates, ensure the safety of models while on set, and deal with any legal issues that may occur with the use of a model’s image.

There have been a few instances in my career where clients have tried to back out on payment after I had done the job, or tried to use my photos for advertisements without any authorization. Without my agency to back me, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it.

Access to Big Clients

Most agencies have well established relationships with the majority of their clients, which means no worries about getting caught in a scam booking or running the risk of dealing with individuals who have ulterior motives. They also have access to and relationships with big-name clients who will only book agency-signed models.

The ‘Busy-Work’ is Done for You

Agencies have the resources to do the bulk of the work that it takes to get bookings. This enables you to put all your energy into ensuring you perform well on the jobs you book instead of hustling to get clients and get jobs on your own. Your agent also deals with invoicing & billing clients, so you don’t have to get directly involved with the payment process.

Better Chance of Exposure

Agents know the right people and have the right connections that can give their models way more exposure than they may be able to get on their own. Being on an agency’s roster and being in the vicinity of scouts, bookers, other models, and clients will greatly increase your job prospects. You are also often exposed to international agencies that work with your local agency, which can expand your network even farther.

You Get Taken More Seriously

Many of the high-end clients won’t consider booking models that aren’t agency represented, no matter how well they model. Being tied to a reputable agency helps give you more merit as a professional in the industry.

Career Direction & Training

Agencies can help aid you in taking your career the direction you want it to go. If you want to be a model/actor, they can help accommodate those wishes. If you’d rather be more editorial than commercial, they can also help with that. Most agencies do free seminars to teach new models how to walk, pose, and how to present yourself in a professional setting, which is crucial information freelance models often don’t have access to or have to pay for.

Pros of Freelance:

You're Not Under Contract

Agency contracts come with boundaries, which a freelance model wouldn’t have to worry about. If you decided to dye your hair pink, you could do that without getting clearance or worrying about possible consequences from your agent.

No Agency Cuts or Fees

Without agency representation, you can accept payment from clients directly and in full. You also don’t have to worry about paying the yearly website management fee that many agencies charge since you are managing your own career.

You Can Work with Whoever You Want

Oftentimes, agency models can’t accept unpaid (but fun) projects or may even be told not to work with certain people. Being freelance allows you to work with whoever you choose, and you can accept many types of creative projects that agency models aren’t always allowed to do.

Cons of an Agency:

You are Under Contract

When signing with an agency, you are signing into a legally binding agreement. Contracts come with restrictions that dictate what a model’s responsibilities are. While most agencies work with each individual model in terms of their look and career goals, it can sometimes feel like you're being controlled.

Agency Fees

Each time a model books a job through their agency, the agency receives a commission. Currently, most agencies take 20% to 25% commission per booking. Models are also not allowed to accept payment directly; all rates must be handled through their agent.

You Aren’t Guaranteed Work

Agencies cannot promise or guarantee work for their models. They do their best to promote you and get you in front of the right clients, but the decision of who gets booked is solely up to the client & their team. It can be very discouraging for a model to have agency representation for a period of time without securing any work.

Your 'Look' May Be Controlled

Whe you sign with an agency, they work with you to establish the best "look" for you in that particular market. This may mean that they will tell you not to color your hair a vivid color or suggest you keep it in a certain style. Some people don't like this control and want to be able to do as they please without clearing it with an agent first.

Cons of Freelance:

No Legal Protection

When booking jobs as a freelance model, sometimes there aren’t strict contracts in place, which can lead to you having no control over where your images end up. Your photos can be sold and used in different ads that you didn’t agree to or get paid for, and there’s nothing you can really do about it. Even if there was a contract involved, with no agency to back you up, many clients will take advantage and not hold up their end of the deal knowing it’s unlikely that you’ll take legal actions against them.

Unverified Clientele

When booking a job with a first-time client through social media or email, you never really know who you are going to meet once you arrive on set. Accepting modeling jobs from people you have never met and that you have no way of verifying is an extremely risky undertaking.

Note: To me this is one of the biggest/scariest cons of not having an agency. These days, with many models booking jobs via social media, there is no guarantee that you are actually meeting who you think you are meeting, and it’s so easy to get scammed, or even worse… Always put your safety first!

Low-Ball Rates

Many models no have idea what a fair price would be for a big job like a commercial print ad where your image will appear in a magazine, on clothing tags, or on a billboard. Because of this, many models will sell themselves short, possibly missing out on thousands of dollars. Many people will aslo feel like since they aren't represented by an agency, they can pay them a lower rate despite the freelance model being equally as talented and professional as signed models.

Limited Clientele

As stated above, many high-end clients will only book agency prepresented models despite the freelance models having equal talent. Most of the time the clients will book directly with agencies and never announce casting calls or model requests,

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 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, so there is nothing wrong with managing 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!


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