How to Start a Modeling Agency

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Our guide on starting a modeling agency covers all the essential information to help you decide if this business is a good match for you. Learn about the day-to-day activities of a modeling agency owner, the typical target market, growth potential, startup costs, legal considerations, and more!

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Start a modeling agency by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your modeling agency. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

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 initial costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your modeling agency is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account

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.

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.

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.

STEP 7: 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.

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.

STEP 9: Establish your 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.

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Business Overview

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.

Who is this business right for?

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.

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 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. 

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.

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 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).

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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Growing Your Business

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.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

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.

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.

Legal Considerations

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:

Maintain Personal Asset Protection

Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
A smiling man sits at a computer and learns about corporate veils


To learn more about maintaining your LLC's corporate veil, read our guide and protect your personal assets.

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.

Earning Potential

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.

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.

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.

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