“Modeling is a labor of love in that I have modeled to live so I can live to model.”
I get asked often how to start modeling, and specifically how to make money modeling. That question is more complicated than people realize. I don’t have a great answer for it. I feel like I stumbled along a path riddled with mistakes and accidently fell into a modleing career. I didn’t set out to model professionally. The opportunities came my way after it was a hobby for a few years. When hobby modeling felt limiting, I feebly built a career, determined to build a reputation, so I could model more. I didn’t think I ever could model professionally, but I also didn’t know anything about modeling.
I took as many opportunities to model as I could when I began. I was entranced by costumes, posing, and the art of expression. I modeled for the act of modeling, fun, self exploration, and adventure. Money wasn’t a high priority for me. While I worked with some good artists, I also worked with a lot of bad ones because I was caught up in learning more about modeling and posing. Sometimes I got offered money, which I was happy to take, and I’d use it to buy gas, wardrobe, etc. Eventually there came a time that if I wanted to model more often I’d have to make money. I had no idea how to make money though. I felt insecure asking to get paid. Most of the photographers I’d worked with up to that point ranted at the indiginity of models suggesting paid work. Being so new, I was not about to make people angry and the community turn on me. So I hustled with marketing all the time. I mean 60 hour work weeks at least for months to publicize and market my first tour to have enough photographers reach out to me with job opportunities. It worked. I made the most money I ever had in my life at that point. Mostly, I was flattered people believed in me enough to hire someone from across the country to model for them! Marketing techniques have changed a lot, and keeping up with them can be overwhelming. Every time I think I’ve learned the right way, the world’s changed a bit. I’ve learned what it feels like to be a telemarketer. It isn’t fun, but is necessary for this job.
Without getting paid, it’d be hard to model with as many of the people as I do. There is a lot to say about getting paid and who gets paid for a future discussion.
Modeling is my small sole proprietorship. When I’m not enjoying my photoshoots, I obsess with budgeting, who I work with, what photos I post, marketing, travel logistics, scheduling, etc. Before most of my decisions I asked how will this support and promote my business. It can be hard to get out of that headspace in freelance. The more work you put in, the more opportunities you get out. I looked for photoshoots constantly, so I could shoot constantly. At a point, I had to say if I want to shoot constantly, I have to make it a job, or I was not going to survive very long. While I accept modeling opportunities that I’m not enthusiastic about because it is a job, I’ve felt a lot more rewarded from being hired to model. Someone values the efforts I put into each session, and I work with a lot less people that are just excited to have literally any living person (usually woman) to model for them.
The advice I got from others along this journey worked in varying degrees. A lot of advice was well intentioned, but didn’t work for me. I’m not other models. Modeling is personal and has no real rules. Every model determines their limits, genres, look, brand, clients, etc. There are general notes, guidelines, social contracts, etc, but there will never be a single definition for professional model. The job fits many roles and evolves constantly. Models can work with agencies, shoot pornography, earn sponsorships, etc. I find that my business interests don’t frequently align with other models I work with, and the model-to-be’s that ask for my advise don’t always want the same kind of business I have. Nevertheless, I do want to help models navigate this strange world, maybe prevent someone else from wasting time on the mistakes I made. So, here are 3 tips, I think can be universally helpful.
1. Get paid whenever you want
I’ve seen models walk off the street and start charging. There is always a market for it. Often it’s easier with a portfolio and you can control your brand a bit more with a portfolio of looks you want to offer. Building a network is the main way to build your business. Skill level can either be learned, born, or subjective. Like any business it’s easier to start with money to support you as you grow. Modeling comes with overhead that can add up, specifically transportation. Cars and public transportation can really add up after a while. If you travel outside your area a lot, you may find places to stay are very expensive. Most of all you want emergency money becasue every model finds themselves in situations where they need to fix a last minute emergency such as car trouble, shoot cancellations, flight cancellations, etc. Modeling isn’t all about the money, in my opinion. I think it’s a hard job to maintain if you don’t love it to bits. The money will come and go, but you are worth the money because you are providing a service, body, and time. I spent years thinking I wasn’t good enough or a real artist if I got paid, but realized how many doors opened up to more modeling opportunities and respect came with turning modeling into a job.
2. If it’s sketchy, it’s sketchy
When you first start it’s hard to tell what is normal and what isn’t. What is inappropriate and what’s part of this weird business? Honestly, if you don’t like the way you feel doing it, it’s probably wrong. For instance, if you don’t want to shoot nude, then it isn’t good for you. It can get deeper than this, as modeling has been used to describe a lot of jobs, from running the registers at Hollister to escorting. It is up to you where that line runs for you. There should be no expectations for you to do more than you’ve offered publically, but you may find you’ll have to bring up where your limits are and services you offer to people that didn’t check or think more may be on the table than on your portfolio. It’s because a lot of models aren’t open about every service they offer or how they mix those services. We also all feel differently about our bodies, and what we have chosen is art or modeling. Stand hard at your limits. There will be other jobs, and accepting jobs that don’t make you comfortable will isn’t the career you were working on. This also goes for how people treat you. Not everyone I work with I like, but I don’t work with people that will tear me down. I get out if someone is acting inappropriate. I shut down behavior that tests my comforts. It isn’t worth it. There are other jobs out there. Another reason to always have some in savings if you can.
3. Treat it like a normal busines job
Even before money, I tried to be professional. I goofed off with friends, but I also didn’t casually bail out of commitments. If I plan a shoot, I hold it in high priority. I had to be in a situation I couldn’t possibly get out of to cancel. Acting inappropriately is a sure way to have a hard time booking work or modeling in general. This includes partying on set, being distracted during a shoot, lack of communication, flirting, drugs, etc, etc. If you wouldn’t do it at another job, don’t do it while modeling, even if it’s a hobby. You’ll know when there are exceptions, like you would know at any other job or obligation. It isn’t that this industry is a high running company that needs to run like a well oiled machine, but it’s about respect. Modeling involves working with others, if you want them to work with you, you have to show a certain amount of respect for other people. Besides what you do and say in person, your online, public persona can deter or attract people to working with you. Modeling is showing up and presentation. You can be the best model in the world, but no one will know it if they don’t see you.