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How to Become a Freelance Model

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Instead of signing with a modeling agency, some models roll the dice and go freelance, meaning they work independently instead of as an agency employee. Becoming a freelance model takes more effort than trusting an agency to promote you and find you gigs. Not all agencies are trustworthy, however, so some models prefer to control their own lives and careers.

Freelance Model Requirements

Becoming an agency model involves creating a portfolio of photos and showing them around until an agent decides you're worth signing. A freelance model doesn't need an agent's support, but they have to market themselves to potential clients, rather than to modeling agencies.

If you're going into high-fashion modeling, beauty is a prerequisite. For other types of modeling, good body proportions and a smile are a plus, but good attitude and reliability count more than beauty. As you build your career, a reputation for being dependable and easy to work with counts for a lot too.

A portfolio is still essential, but as a freelance model you'll show it directly to potential clients. Your portfolio should show you in different poses and different clothes, displaying your versatility as a model. You'll probably have to pay to get a portfolio together when you're starting out; it's worth paying the most you can afford to ensure that it packs a punch. Over time, you can use professional photos from your modeling gigs to upgrade your portfolio.

Agencies promote their models; as a freelance model, you'll have to promote yourself. Fortunately we live in the internet age: you can use a website and social-media profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so on to showcase your portfolio and your modeling ability. You can use them to develop your brand, if you have one in mind: elegant, androgynous, outdoorsy, sophisticated or which ever style you prefer.

As a freelance model, you're running a business, so don't neglect the business side. Keep accurate track of your income and expenses, and report them on your tax return.

Finding Freelance Work

Without an agency, you'll have to show plenty of hustle to find paying jobs.

  • Check networking modeling sites and job-listing sites such as Model Mayhem and Model Management.
  • Network and form friendships with other models. Friends refer friends. If you hear about jobs that your friends would be suitable for, refer them and hope they'll do the same for you.
  • Contact stylists, make-up artists, ad agencies and photographers you'd like to work with. Do the same for companies or brands you'd like to model for. Always include a link to your online portfolio. 
  • Keep an eye out for related jobs: TV or movie extra, trade show model, or a model for stock photography, such as you see at photo-selling sites online. It'll help build your portfolio and keep a roof over your head.
  • Don't stop networking when you're established. Stay in touch with the friends and contacts who helped you. You don't want a reputation as someone who uses people, then drops them.

Pros and Cons

Going freelance is a trade-off. You give up the advantages of having a modeling agency represent you, publicize you and find modeling jobs for you. As an employee, you may qualify for benefits, but not as a freelancer. However, agencies take a cut from every gig for which they sign you, which is a fee that a freelance model doesn't have to pay. And there's no guarantee that if you do sign with an agency, that they can find you enough gigs to make a living. Some agencies exploit models in various ways, charging them for nonexistent expenses or cheating models out of their earnings.

Agencies also wield amazing power over their models, controlling where they live, what diet they follow, how they do their hair and how they dress. As a freelancer, you avoid all that. For some independent-minded models, freedom from an agency's grip is preferable, even given the greater financial risks.

About the Author

Over the course of his career, Fraser Sherman has reported on local governments, written about how to start a business and profiled professionals in a variety of career fields.. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com