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Production companies regularly have specific talent needs for the productions they’re working on. Casting agencies help production companies find the talent they need. Most agencies specialize in a specific niche, such as theater performers, commercial actors, films and television show actors, or extras.
As video-based mediums continue to grow, there is a lot of opportunity for casting agencies. According to IBISWorld, agencies’ aggregate revenue in the United States is $875 million annually and growing at 4.3 percent.
Who is this business right for?
Casting agencies are good businesses for people who have a passion for entertainment and previous experience in the industry. A love for the work will help business owners stay motivated when working long hours, and previous industry experience helps business owners network (see below).
Business owners should be prepared to work nights and weekends, as production companies rarely operate on a standard 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. schedule. Most people who have experience in video or theater are already familiar with the hours that the industry requires.
What happens during a typical day at a casting agency business?
A typical day at a casting agency business involves a lot of emails, messages, phone calls and in-person meetings. Business owners are in near-constant communication:
- Finding and auditioning prospective actors who want to join the agency’s list of talent
- Checking what production companies’ current talent needs are
- Recommending talent for production companies
- Arranging auditions between production companies and talent
- Negotiating contracts with production companies
What is the target market?
While casting agency businesses must advertise to actors in order to build their talent list, their target market is ultimately production companies. It’s companies that pay casting agencies.
How does a casting agency business make money?
Casting agency businesses earn commissions on the contracts that they secure for talent. This is usually expressed as a percentage of the contract, but sometimes an agency may assess a flat fee on top of a contract.
Kerry O’Donnell reports that some casting agencies also charge talent registration or “digital processing” fees.
What is the growth potential for a casting agency business?
Generally speaking, casting agencies may be “boutique” operations that carry a select list of talent or large corporations that represent lots of actors. Agencies that specialize in extras tend to be larger, because extras’ contracts pay less than those of other actors.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful casting agency business?
Business owners must be well-connected within the entertainment industry to start a successful casting agency. They need to know producers and casting directors so that they can learn about different production companies’ casting needs early on and recommend talent.
The best way to build these necessary connections is by working in the industry before launching a casting agency. Owners can continue to build their network by attending events, such as shows, parties, festivals, and fundraisers. Getting plugged into the most exclusive events requires a previously established connection, though.
Because networking is so important, business owners may want to work for a casting agency before launching their own agency. Working as a casting associate or casting assistant won’t pay a lot, but the relationships forged while in such a position can prove invaluable.
What are the costs involved in opening a casting agency business?
The startup costs for a casting agency can run between $10,000 and $50,000, but it’s also possible to keep them lower. The initial expenses go toward:
- Securing an office and audition space
- Purchasing a phone and computer (along with internet access)
- Attending events and going to meetings
Business owners who have limited capital can greatly reduce these expenses by using a home office or renting space at a shared coworking center. If renting space, business owners should make sure a private conference room is available for auditions.
Most business owners already have a phone and computer that they can use, further reducing the total startup cost of an agency.
What are the steps to start a casting agency business?
Once you're ready to start your casting agency business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your casting agency business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your casting agency business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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What are some insider tips for jump starting a casting agency business?
Business owners who have limited connections to producers and casting directors must make the most of the connections they do have. Business owners who can convince a close connection to give their new agency a chance can leverage the opportunity into more in the future. Providing a producer or director with outstanding service will eventually lead to recommendations and referrals, which will ultimately produce new clients.
How to promote & market a casting agency business
The importance of networking can’t be overstated. Casting agencies learn of talent needs through their connections, which is why business owners must constantly be building new relationships and maintaining old ones.
Moreover, business owners must be careful not to burn any bridges -- even when an agreement goes awry. The entertainment industry is small and people talk, so finding ways to amicably end contracts is always preferable to completely severing relationships.
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How to keep customers coming back
In order to attract production companies, casting agencies must have actors to represent. Agencies can find talent by:
- Attending shows and approaching performers
- Advertising online and in magazines
- Being listed in Spotlight’s Contacts and The Actors Handbook
How and when to build a team
Business owners can hire employees as their agency grows and has revenue needed to pay staff members. Successful agencies usually hire receptionists, casting assistants, casting associates, and casting directors.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a casting agency business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
A casting agency business is generally run out of an office. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a casting agency business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your casting agency business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Casting agencies typically earn 10 percent of the contracts they negotiate. In some states, their fees are capped at 10 percent.
Agencies that charge a registration fee might charge talent anywhere from $25 to $500 for signing up. Most successful agencies understand the reason for a nominal charge but won’t increase this fee into the hundreds of dollars. Those that do charge $500 are frequently not as highly regarded in the industry.
What are the ongoing expenses for a casting agency business?
The ongoing expenses for a casting agency business are minimal. They include the cost of utilities, office and audition space, internet access, and travel to events. Businesses that have employees also have salaries to pay.
How much profit can a casting agency business make?
Even with just a 10 percent commission, casting agencies can earn a significant profit.
On the low end of the pay scale, extras often make $10 per hour. Supplying a production company with 300 extras (e.g. for a crowded city scene), however, would result in charges of $3,000 per hour. Over the course of a 10-hour shoot, an agency would earn a commission of $3,000.
On the high end, actors for feature films can earn tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Payscale lists the median salary of actors at $49,825 per year. Based on this, each actor that an agency represents would net the agency an average of almost $5,000. With just 50 actors, an agency could bring in $250,000 annually.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Business owners of casting agencies can add a side source of revenue by offering auditioning classes to aspiring actors. Classes may be offered as a training package or through a separate company.