How to Start a Modeling Agency
A modeling agency helps its models find jobs in a variety of industries, although the fashion industry is the most prominent. Sometimes the modeling agency works directly with the models and sometimes it works with a head agency that is also working with the models. Agents take on a variety of roles to help models models, including billing employers, paying the models, and helping to market their careers.
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Learn how to start your own Modeling Agency and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a modeling agency by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Modeling Agency
- Form your Modeling Agency into a Legal Entity
- Register your Modeling Agency for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Modeling Agency
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Modeling Agency
- Get Modeling Agency Insurance
- Define your Modeling Agency Brand
- Create your Modeling Agency Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your modeling agency. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
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STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a modeling agency?
The costs involved in opening a modeling agency actually vary greatly, from $2,000 to $10,000. These costs are relatively low because agents are able to easily operate out of their own homes. In fact, the agent's duties of helping to find possible jobs, contacting potential employers, and assisting models in marketing themselves can be completed using a computer. As such, the startup costs primarily involve obtaining the correct licensing, liability insurance, tax identification number as well as the marketing costs for your agency as well as any of the monthly overhead related to the business (although running the business from one's home helps to greatly integrate some of that overhead into the regularly monthly upkeep for your home).
What are the ongoing expenses for a modeling agency?
As with other aspects of the modeling agency business model, ongoing expenses can vary. For a home-based agency, the expenses are little more than the cost of ongoing promotional material and insurance fees as well as travel-related costs in helping you network and attend various fashion shows and other events. You may also want to invest in fast internet if you are primarily working from home, and may choose to pay for some of the travel expenses of your models. Beyond that, costs such as rent, utilities, and equipment are absorbed into what you would already pay. These costs exponentially jump if the agent decides to lease an office or building each month, which also greatly increases the cost of utilities and ongoing supply-related expenses.
Who is the target market?
The exact types of models that agents work with is limited in part by the kind of business they are running. While “model” typically brings images of runways and fashion magazines, there are other kinds of models who range from people who hold props for photo shoots to people who work behind the scenes to help fashion houses perfect their latest designs.
How does a modeling agency make money?
The modeling agency business model is actually very simple. The agent has each model sign a contract that guarantees the agent a certain percentage of the model's profits. While this percentage can vary and it is wise to leave room for negotiation, the industry standard for the percentage is twenty percent. This model helps underscore the symbiotic work relationship between agent and model, as it is in the best interest of the agents to find their models as much work as possible.
How much can you charge customers?
As mentioned before, the industry standard is to charge models for twenty percent of their profits from each successful job. There is room for the agent to change that figure, though, and it is usually commensurate with how much extra work the agent will be doing on behalf of a model. For instance, helping first-time models with every aspect of taking their first test photos, training them for client interviews, and answering their constant stream of questions may take a lot more time than simply helping a veteran model land their latest gig. Accordingly, you may choose to ask for a higher percentage to represent the greater amount of time you invested in the model's job.
How much profit can a modeling agency make?
The profitability of this venture is something of an X factor. As a whole, the industry is experiencing slow and steady growth, and once the agency is established via proper licensing and a network is established, profitability becomes very easy. The only significant expenses of a home-based agency are advertising and travel expenditures, so if clients are regularly receiving work—and the agent is regularly getting 20 percent of their money—then the profit margin can be generous so long as the agent is both diligent and successful.
How can you make your business more profitable?
There are a variety of ways to make a modeling agency more profitable. The most basic methods include taking on more models and finding all of your models additional work. You may also consider doing more than the competition for your models and charging a higher percentage—they will see it as valuable premium service, and you will still see a nice return on the investment of your time. Ensuring that your webpage and social media hub prominently feature testimonials from happy models is also crucial. Because modeling is an industry where models are sometimes taken advantage of by skeezy agents and scams, letting your own successful models convince other models of your honesty and character is a godsend when it comes to securing work. Finally, you can make your business more profitable by making it more competitive: consider specializing in a particular niche that is understaffed in your area to help establish yourself as the name in that particular business.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Modeling Agency Name Generator
If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your modeling agency is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
You can form an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: 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.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: 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.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a modeling 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, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
In addition, modeling agencies are typically licensed at the local level. For more 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.”
Additional Legal Considerations
- When scouting and recruiting models, it is typically illegal to charge registration and consultation fees.
- Modeling contracts are required and state-regulated.
- Agency fees are often limited, with limitations varying by state.
- The Better Business Bureau provides an informative guide outlining modeling contracts and legalities.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
Recommended: Learn what business insurance for your Modeling Agency will cost.
STEP 8: 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.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a modeling agency
Marketing a modeling agency begins with understanding the market. A prospective agent should make a habit of attending any fashion shows, trade shows, or events thrown by local ad agencies. This, along with visiting fashion retailers and others who need models regularly, will help you begin to establish the network of contacts that is absolutely vital to this job. Advertising the agency through traditional print and television sources while also establishing a webpage and social media presence means that models and fashion houses alike will be aware of your services. Finally, consider holding periodic “open houses” that help directly introduce your models to prospective clients, allowing them to appeal to clients directly in something other than a dry series of photos and a resume.
How to keep customers coming back
Fortunately, the process of attracting and retaining models is relatively simple. Models require agents to help them find work and secure payment. As such, attracting models is mostly a matter of savvy and persistent marketing that helps establish your agency as superior to any rivals they might choose to go to. Retaining models is likewise straightforward, as models tend to stay with the agents who are bringing them a steady stream of jobs and, therefore, profits. Keeping a healthy and robust network of contacts makes it easy to find models work and to thereby secure their loyalty to your agency.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.
Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Modeling Agency in your State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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Is this Business Right For You?
This business is ideal for those who enjoy flexible schedules and thinking on their feet. Partially, this is because the agent must be prepared both for inevitable cancellations as well as jobs that must be completed within a very sudden and narrow time frame. Agents should be “people persons” as they must regularly deal with both a variety of models and all of their potential employers. Because of the aforementioned need to function as a kind of manager for the different models, the ideal agent should also be highly organized and highly self-motivated.
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What happens during a typical day at a modeling agency?
The daily activities of an agent can vary. Sometimes, it means directing the models to test photographers and helping them determine which images should be used in promotional materials. Often, it means seeking out employment that would be a solid fit with the model and arranging a meeting between the two parties. Early in the process of working with the model, agents typically determine what kind of work they are most suited for, such as whether they find more work on fashion runways or in print magazines. Agents provide all the necessary information about a job to the models and do their best every day to find work for their models. While not a universal responsibility, many agents also assist models in finding the best nutritionists, physical trainers, and doctors, ensuring that they look their best each day.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful modeling agency?
Running an agency involves a number of different skills, and having experience and/or formal education in subjects such as business or marketing can help the agency get established. Direct experience in some aspect of the work, such as having worked for another modeling agency in some capacity, is highly valuable. Previous work in the industry can also help when first establishing a network of contacts. Such a network is more valuable than usual with this business because contacts in a variety of different fields will make it far easier to find your models steady employment.
What is the growth potential for a modeling agency?
There is modest growth potential for any modeling agency. As an industry, modeling has experienced modest but steady growth in the last half decade, making continued growth a likely forecast. At the same time, the essential core of a modeling agency doesn't really change as it gets bigger. The agent may eventually hire subordinate agents to deal with a high volume of clients, and the agency itself may become large enough to require multiple buildings and many more employees. At the heart of the work, though, it still simply involves the agent securing work for models and receiving twenty percent (or more) of their eventual profits.
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Take the Next Step
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.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
How and when to build a team
Deciding how and when to build a team for a modeling agency is tricky. Most agents, if they wanted to work with many employees, would be working for a larger agency on the East or West coast. However, sometimes business is booming to the point that a single agent is no longer able to efficiently handle the volume of models he is working with. At that point, it makes sense to branch out by starting with a partner. This helps the agent have his cake and eat it, too: it's easier to work with a single trusted individual in order to remain consistent in terms of service, networking, marketing, and so on. It's also easier for two individuals to continue the process of working out of their homes if they so choose, further keeping the ongoing overhead very low.
Read our modeling agency hiring guide to learn about the different roles a modeling agency typically fills, how much to budget for employee salaries, and how to build your team exactly how you want it.
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Real World Examples
- Modeling agency directory
- Boutique fashion modeling agency
- Commercial modeling agency
- Wilhemina modeling agency (big fashion modeling agency)