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Whilst some of the top super models are known internationally and are instantly recognisable from their high profile advertising campaigns, many models earn a decent living from smaller jobs representing clients to promote their businesses. This can involve modelling clothes, jewellery, makeup, hair, footwear and beauty services, as well as anything else that a company may want to promote.

Unusual and striking models are often popular as they can create a ‘look’ which becomes associated with the brand, and some jobs only require a specific body part, such as hands or feet, to be included so there are plenty of opportunities for a range of models.

Being a certain body type, size and height will certainly improve your chances as a model, but if you have a certain look then you may be able to break into the industry even if you are not of standard proportions.

Modelling is often considered a very glamorous job, including international travel and high rates of pay, but this is mostly for catwalk modelling which is only one aspect of modelling. Many successful models work locally or nationally and can fit their work around their other commitments, but there are often opportunities to enjoy experiences which may not be available to those who have more traditional roles.

Qualifications required

There are no real qualifications needed to become a model, but there are certain physical attributes which make it more likely that you will have a successful career in this field. The requirements vary depending on the product being advertised, but generally include:

  • Clear skin – blemish-free skin is a fairly universal requirement and although some advertisers will hire those with adornments such as tattoos and body piercings, they can be a cause for instant rejection for certain jobs. Maintaining a good regime when it comes to your skin should help keep it looking and feeling good, so drinking plenty of water, cleansing regularly and ensuring that you don’t succumb to sun damage can all contribute.
  • Healthy hair – coloured, treated and overworked hair can quickly look dry and be unmanageable, which can be a nightmare for a client who wants to give you a specific look. Minimising damage through heat and colour, having regular cuts and using treatments which strengthen and condition your hair can all help you to keep you locks looking lovely and easy to style.
  • Professionalism – modelling is a job like any other, where professional behaviour is a priority. Turning up on time and ready to work can be gruelling if you need to be at a cold location for a photo-shoot at dawn, but being keen and willing to make the most of every opportunity will help you to get more work.
  • The right body shape and measurements – for some areas of modelling, such as catwalk and fashion modelling, there is almost no chance of getting work if you are under 5’8” tall for women or 5’9” for men, whereas for commercial modelling, there is often work for men and women who are  little shorter. Usually clients want slim, well-proportioned models, although there is work for plus-size models if you are over a size 12. Being healthy and toned is also likely to help you find work, especially in the increasing sector of fitness modelling.
  • Enthusiasm and confidence – despite the popular belief that modelling simply involves standing around looking pretty, it can actually be quite gruelling to spend all day being photographed or filmed, holding positions until the perfect shot has been constructed and being given direct, and sometimes negative, feedback. Models need to be resilient and adaptable in order to make it in an industry where traditionally they will come under a lot of scrutiny over every aspect of their look.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle – modelling can involve long hours, physical work, travelling and working unusual hours, so being in good physical shape is important. Exercising, eating a healthy diet and sleeping enough are all important for successful models.

Modelling agencies and schools

There are some famous stories of top models being spotted in the street and signed up on the spot, and although this does happen very occasionally, this kind of recruitment is very rare. Most models find their own jobs and the easiest and most effective way of doing this is by joining an agency. This can pose problems in itself as there are a number of unscrupulous organisations who prey on those hoping to launch a modelling career and use their ambition to extract money from them without any intention of finding them work.

Genuine modelling agencies will not charge you to be on their books, and they will give you an honest appraisal of your chances of finding work. If an agency wants to sign you, it will be because they expect you to find work which will earn them commission, so reputable businesses will not charge you for head-shots or to put together a portfolio. You should always check anything you are asked to sign to make sure that you are not committing to unreasonable levels of commission and enable you to compare any offers you may get.

Online reviews can give you an idea of the kind of experience others have had with various different agencies, so if an agency makes you an offer it is worth researching them before signing anything. There are a couple of different website which have directories of modelling agencies in the UK, and the Association of Model Agents works closely with industry regulators to ensure that their members all conduct themselves appropriately. The AMA website has a list of all its members on its website so it is always worth checking with them if you are concerned about the reputation of an agency you are dealing with.

There are also a number of modelling schools who claim to teach aspiring models skills that they need to succeed in modelling. However, the same warnings apply with any kind of training course in that there should be no pressure to pay for extras such as a portfolio. Legitimate modelling agencies all agree that there is no need for those who want to break into modelling to have a portfolio of professionally taken photographs, preferring instead to see natural shots of candidates wearing no make up. Most models do not undergo formal training in order to find work, instead learning from experienced veterans at their agency, picking up skills on the job and building up experience through working on different projects in a range of environments.

Working as a freelance model

Modelling is an industry which lends itself to a freelance lifestyle as you will not normally work for one employer for longer than it takes to complete one project, although some models are chosen to be the ‘face’ of a brand which can mean a longer term relationship. Some of the benefits to freelancing can include:

  • Being able to choose which projects you work on
  • Flexibility over when you work to allow you to fit your career around your other commitments
  • There are tax benefits to freelancing if you manage your finances appropriately
  • Opportunities to increase your earnings by seeking out clients directly and not needing to pay agency commission

Our Freelancer Calculator tool will help you to ascertain the level of take home pay you can expect depending on the contracts you are offered.

Finding modelling work

Because it is such a competitive industry, finding work as a model can be hard, so you need to give yourself the best chances by doing everything you can to increase your chances of finding work.  Good place to start is a website where you will be able to host your portfolio, give details of your experience and promote yourself to potential clients. You can also include links to social media sites which will allow you to promote yourself through your existing contacts as well as helping you to make new ones.

You can also create hardcopy flyers and business cards, although modern technology means that even these can include QR codes which will link to your website, or even just use a folding card which has room for more information than a traditional business card. Handing these out at networking events, to people you may meet socially who could be useful contacts or just leaving them in places where industry professionals might see them can all provide opportunities for more work.

Modelling websites can be a source of work if you ensure that you only use reputable ones – check the credentials of anyone who says that they can give you work and do not pay extra for ‘applications’ or photographers as the chances of you actually getting any paid work from such offers are negligible.

Working as a freelance model 

One of the first things you will need to do when working as a freelance model is to register with HM Revenue and Customs to let them know that you are intending to work in a  self employed capacity. You will then be sent a pack of information about how this works and what you need to do, including details of how and when to submit your self assessment tax return and pay any tax due.

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