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Agency Contract Basics

Whether it's your first time or one of many, signing the dotted line on an agency contract is a big step in a model's career. For new models especially, this can be as overwhelming and scary as it is exciting. It's pretty easy to get so caught up in the moment that we don't thoroughly read the contract, or we're too worried to cause any trouble so we don't ask to clarify something we don't fully understand and just sign our name and assume everything will be fine.

Photo by Alex Todd

While everything usually does turn out to be fine, you never want to put yourself in a position where you're legally bound to an agency and get stuck in a less-than-ideal situation because you didn't fully read or understand what you were signing. Read below to find out a little more about some key points to pay extra attention to when reviewing an agency contract!

*Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and do not have a background in Law. I am speaking solely on personal experience and pointing out things I have seen in agency contracts. If you get offered an agency contract, please review it with a legal team.

Contract Type

A surprising fact for many is that there are a few different types of contracts an agency can have you sign. Therefore, when you're offered a contract, it's essential to know the type you're signing to better understand what your contract involves. Common types of contracts are Non-Exclusive, Exclusive, One-Time-Only, and Mother Agency. Each contract has different parameters of what is expected of you as a model.


This is the area that your contract covers. For example, some agencies only cover the city limits of their location, or it may be as broad as the "Midwest Region". Knowing how much area your contract covers is important if you plan to sign with other agencies or do a little freelance work on the side.

Commission & Payment Process

Agencies don't make money if the models who are signed to them aren't making money, and agency models don't get paid directly at the end of a booking. Agencies make money from models by taking commission from every paid booking they receive. This rate is usually 20-25% of your paycheck but may be more or less depending on your market and contract type. Because the agency takes this cut, the client doesn't pay the model but instead sends the payment directly to the agency, and then they will send a check (minus the commission rate) to the model. This turnaround time can be a 30–90-day process and is often detailed in your contract. It's important to be aware of this process and to stay on top of your finances so you can remind your agent if payment to you is overdue.

Length of Contract

It is very important to know how long the contract terms are binding. The length of your contract with an agency often depends on the type of contract you sign. Typically, the contract length is anywhere from one to three years. It's uncommon to have an agency contract that is longer than that and can be a red flag if it is for five or more years.

Contract Renewal & Termination

It's also important to note that contracts don't just end once the expiration date is up. Most contracts state that they will automatically renew unless you provide the agency with the proper termination notice or the agency releases you from your contract. If you wish to get out of the contract before it expires, sometimes a simple conversation with your agent is all that is needed, but in some instances, the agency will (and can) refuse to release you. This is why it's essential to fully understand what you are signing and know the consequences should you want to terminate your contract early.

Many agencies will also have a non-compete clause in their contracts, so you must be aware of this when wanting to terminate your contract or if you get dropped by the agency. If your relationship ends on good terms, they will often drop the non-compete clause.

Expected Fees

While signing to an agency is completely free of cost, there are some fees you will be expected to pay to your agency during your career. It is not unexpected for models to have to cover the costs of portfolio shoots, portfolio books, comp cards, and a yearly website fee. These fees will vary from agency to agency but are expected expenses that are usually mentioned in your contract. Keep an eye out for anything extra. There should never be any signing, representation, or contract fee. If there is, it is a major red flag!


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