Young models and actors just starting out aren’t usually very knowledgeable about how this industry works therefore, it’s easy to feel, or actually be, taken advantage of. Many become so afraid of that happening that they dismiss anything that isn’t a paying job, or that has a cost associated, as a scam and miss out on some great opportunities.

So, how do you know who to trust and how to protect yourself from being ripped off? In my experience, the key is to understand how this business works, what role the main people you might interact with each play, how they each fit into helping you achieve your goals, and what the common misconceptions are.

There are many different types of models and modeling work. The first thing you can do to help protect yourself is to have a clear, realistic understanding of where you fit within them. This will help you to clarify your goals for yourself, and improve your ability to identify legitimate opportunities that are in line with your goals and image. This knowledge will also help protect you from ‘flatterers’ who are looking to take your money without offering any real value or opportunity in exchange. For example, if you know that you are not the physical type that would generally be offered fashion editorial or runway work and you encounter someone trying to convince you that working with them will get you that work you should consider that their true intention may not be to help you but to take advantage of you for their financial gain.

If you haven’t downloaded it yet, my free ebook, Modeling 101, can help you gain clarity on the different types of models and modeling work, where it can be found, and where you might fit best in this industry.

The next big step is to learn about who the players are, what roles they each have, and how each can help serve your specific goals. Some of the common professionals you’ll likely encounter on your path to success are agents, managers, photographers, scouts, coaches, mother agents, and modeling development training schools.

Many working models initially begin to develop their look, portfolio, and professionalism in a smaller market and/or with the help of coaches, training facilities, and local or “mother” agencies. Models who are successful in this arena and driven to do so then move to the larger, more competitive markets once they have a bit of experience and have started to build their portfolio. Some model scouts work with local agencies, some with national or international agencies, and some with training facilities. If you ever encounter someone representing themselves as a scout you should ask them who they are scouting for or what agency they are affiliated with.

A common misconception is, if you have the right look a modeling scout will pluck you from obscurity, hook you up with a major agency, you’ll begin working, and all of this will cost you nothing. While scouting for new models in malls, clubs, or even on Instagram does happen—for fashion models most specifically, it is not the way many models get their start. Most models find and attend a model search event in their area (usually held by a training facility), or have sough an agency directly themselves, not the other way around. And, no model ever rose to success without some amount of financial investment in herself and her photos.

Ill informed young models often believe that when a legitimate agency is interested in working with them, the agency will not ask the model to spend any money on photos. When it comes to major markets and top agencies for fashion models, the agency will likely want to help guide your image (overall look) and marketing materials (photos/portfolio) to best fit with their clients needs. This will give you the best chance of getting booked, which is as much your agent’s goal as it is yours. This is how they make money after all. They will absolutely expect you to continue to test shoot (see my blog on Building Your Book for more info on this) at least until you are booking regular work and getting lots of great tear sheets (published photos) to put in your book. The difference between a legitimate agency and a scammer here is that the agency will give you the names and contact info of photographers they frequently use, you will set the shoot up yourself and pay the photographer directly. The agency will not sell you a photo shoot.

If someone claiming to be an agent—not a photographer, coach, or training facility of some sort—does try to get to you purchase photos directly from them, this should be seen as a red flag. If they are making money from selling photo packages, it indicates a lack of clients and professional connections that can hire their models. This means they are not likely to find you much paying work or help you get very far in developing your career.

All modeling and/or talent agencies are required to be licensed by some states. Some states do not require anything more than registering as a business, if that, which anyone can do. So it’s largely up to you to look into anyone representing themselves to you as an agency. Do they have a website? An office? Any images around the office of the models they represent and the work their models are doing? Look into what kind of work they are booking, who some of their clients are, and what types of models they’re working with. You could also check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints. Even a Google search may lead you to any negative reports or scam warnings, though I would not make Google the sum total of your search. Here is a list of state by state requirements for licensing to get you started.

There are a couple of scams that are more specific to models working without the partnership of an agency.

The first of these is asking the model to pay to work. An example of this is casting a runway show for NY Fashion Week (the holy grail of fashion runway in the U.S.) and after models have auditioned and been selected, telling them there is a fee to participate. Other than photo test shooting, a model should never have to pay to work. She may work for free in a limited capacity to build up her resume and book (portfolio) but even that should be limited. There are circumstances under which you will have to spend money prior to the shoot and be reimbursed that are legitimate. An example of this would be that they request you get a specific manicure/pedicure prior to the shoot. In this case you will bring your receipts for those expenses with you to the set/shoot and submit them to the production company for reimbursement. A legitimate company will never transfer money to your bank account in advance to pay for these expenses.

Modeling/Acting competitions are another area of great skepticism and for good reason. This is another area that is largely unregulated. The selling point for these events is that they will introduce you to successful industry professionals who may decide to sign you to their agency, give you a record deal, cast you in their upcoming projects, tec. I personally attended one of them where I was introduced and later signed to Wilhelmina Models NY, and I know several other performers who have similar success stories. The key here is get as much information as you can about who will actually be in attendance for you to meet with. Also, is there a training/prep aspect to what you are being sold and if so, what does it include?

One final area I want to discuss that has been frequently labeled a scam is model development training or coaching. Obviously I have a vested interest here but, not just because this is what I do, it’s also how I got my start. There are many working models who’ve followed this path to success. If you are submitting to agencies or looking for work without much success or, lack the confidence and industry knowledge to reach your goals on your own, this is one of the best ways to get there. But, it’s important to be clear on what your goals are then find the program or coach who can best support that path—or one who can help you achieve that clarity if you don’t have it. My blog on the benefits of coaching can offer a bit more insight there.

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