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Freelance Modeling 101: How to Become a Freelance Model (Step-by-Step)

Figuring out how to become a freelance model by yourself can be tricky — sometimes even dangerous.

It certainly can be a lucrative career with no formal requirements. But to be successful in freelance modeling, you need to know what you’re doing.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know to get started, including:

  • How to build your portfolio
  • Where to find your first jobs
  • How to stand out from the crowd
  • How to avoid scams and stay safe

Let’s dive in.

What is a Freelance Model?

A freelance model is someone who is paid —usually by the hour — to model for clients. Freelance models are often hired on a project-by-project basis and can work from home or in person.

Since you can find shooting locations locally or abroad (and WFH modeling gigs can essentially be done from anywhere), this can be an awesome job for travel lovers

The technical freelance model job description is:

A model who works independently from an agency or another constituent. 

That said, some do use an agent to find jobs easier.

Choosing to model freelance (as opposed to being tied into a contract) gives you more flexibility over which clients you want to work with and what type of modeling you want to do. 

These days, freelance modeling relies heavily on social media. Many Instagram influencers highlight as freelance models and make a lot of money through sponsorship deals.

How Much Does a Freelance Model Earn?

If you’re wondering how to become a freelance model, you’re probably also wondering how much money they make. 

It’s not uncommon to see models on Instagram flashing fancy cars, suited up head-to-toe in designer gear. 

But is that just for the cameras? Or is possible to actually pull in over six figures and live this lavish lifestyle?

The truth is, freelance modeling rates differ depending on the job. According to ZipRecruiter, the average hourly rate is $33 in 2023.

The annual salary for a freelance model can be anything from a measly $17,000 to a whopping $171,000. But the average in the U.S. is $68,789 per year.

Your salary varies widely based on:

  • Your social following
  • Your skill and experience
  • The type of modeling you do
  • The companies you work with

Even if you only do print work, your hourly rate is still dependent on the style of shoot and brand you’re working with.

In the end, it’s one of the best freelancing jobs for people who can work a camera.

Freelance model salary factors

Here are some factors that will affect your freelance model rate:

  • The type of freelance model you are – Freelance modeling is not a one-size-fits-all scene. There are many different areas you could get into including runway, TFP, commercial, part models (hand, foot, face, etc), catalog, live events, lingerie, and TV modeling.
  • Your gender – It may seem sexist, but female models usually earn a higher salary than their male counterparts.
  • Location – Working in top fashion cities tends to fetch a steeper salary than other destinations. For example, in Milan, New York, and Los Angeles, top supermodels earn as much as $20,000 per show. Models are required to travel to these locations, so if you’re a bit of a globetrotter, this could be a win-win.
  • Your dedication to the role – How often you work is completely your choice. If you want to earn more working 9-5 every day, you could. But you could also make it an easy side hustle to earn an extra 50 bucks per day (or more).
  • Your appearance – In any type of modeling, appearance matters. You may be viewed as worth more or less depending on how you look, whether you have any distinguishing features, and how well you fit the part the client is hiring for.
  • Your uniqueness – You could be viewed as more “valuable” if you have a unique look that’s harder to find.

You also need to consider reductions. Models sometimes have expenses deducted from their salaries (like flights, accommodation, etc). You could also have a percentage cut by an agency if you have representation.

As you can see, how much freelance models make depends on many factors besides experience and skill.

There are TONS of ways to earn money freelancing. While building your modeling career, you can also try:
How to Become an Online Tutor for Elementary Students
How to Land Entry-Level Writing Jobs Online
How to Start a Drop Servicing Business Step-by-Step
How to Teach English Online While Traveling the World
How to Become a Scopist for Court Reporters
How to Become a Successful Freelance Translator Online
How to Become a Legal Transcriptionist From Home

How to Become a Freelance Model, Step-by-Step

So, here’s how to get started as a freelance model.

1. Create a professional portfolio

The first step to becoming a freelance model is getting a professional portfolio to showcase your work. A portfolio is your way of marketing yourself – it’s your digital front door, and the first thing clients see before they decide to hire you. 

That means it needs to highlight your best work and show recent, high-quality images. 

You can sometimes get photography work for free by teaming up with beginner photographers who are also looking to build a portfolio. But usually, models hire a professional photographer and perhaps even a make-up artist for this.

Still, it doesn’t have to be complicated. 

These days, your Instagram profile can act as your portfolio. Simply post your best shots, use Instagram’s features to make them look professional, and include a line in your bio to let clients know you’re a freelance model for hire.

The second option is getting a portfolio through a modeling website, such as Star Now or Model Mayhem. Both of these sites are free to join, but Star Now does has paid membership options as well. 

You could also build your own website through popular platforms like WordPress or Wix and create a self-hosted portfolio. This is more work but gives you complete control over your content and how you present it.

No matter which portfolio option you go for, be sure to include all your contact information, so potential clients know how to get in touch.

2. Decide what type of modeling you want to do

After creating a killer portfolio, it’s time to decide which direction you’d like to take your modeling career. 

There are many different types of modeling, so let’s go over a few options:

Catwalk or runway. Catwalk modeling is usually done in a runway setting. You’ll be walking the length of a catwalk, posing for photos along the way. Catwalk models often attend fashion shows and other events around the world (once again perfect for travel-lovers) to showcase outfits by talented or famous designers.

Fitness. Fitness modeling is usually associated with sports brands and requires a muscular, toned physique.

Commercial. Commercial models are those you see on TV while watching advertisements or working in magazines as spokespeople for products.

Bikini or Swimwear. Bikini modeling is typically reserved for adults only due to its explicit content (though exceptions may exist).

Lingerie. Similar to bikini, lingerie modeling is usually for ages 18+. There is also sometimes a level of nudity required from lingerie models.

Print. Print models can be found in magazines, catalogs, and advertisements.

Parts. Part models only model parts of their body, such as hands, face, or feet. It may sound a little weird, but learning how to sell feel pics online is one of the fastest ways to start making money modeling. Selling hand pictures is less lucrative, but also arguably less creepy.

Fashion (Editorial). A fashion model is the face of a brand that showcases a clothing line or accessories. They are often seen in high-end magazines like Vogue, work for top designers, and require more experience.

Promotional. Promotional models also work exclusively on behalf of a brand, but instead of doing this behind a camera, they work live at trade shows and events. They need strong personalities and a good knowledge of what they’re promoting.

3. Use social media to your advantage

No matter which type of freelance modeling you decide to get into, social media can be a goldmine. 

I’ve already touched on the power of Instagram, but models can also use Youtube, Facebook, and even Twitter to find work. Using social media to promote your work is a great way to get noticed. 

Best of all, it’s free.

4. Register with modeling platforms

Websites like Model Mayhem or Star Now are free to sign up and create a profile. You can start applying for jobs as soon as your profile is approved.

When using these types of modeling platforms, make sure to use proper safety precautions. Always confirm an ad is legitimate or ask someone to accompany you to the shoot.

5. Decide if you need a contract

Before you start signing on to work, you need to decide if you want a contract. 

A freelance model contract allows you to set your own rates and take more control of your work. It’s a legally binding agreement between you and your client, and it’s the best way to protect yourself from scams. 

To write one, you can either hire a legal professional or use a pre-made freelance modeling contract template.

A contract helps ensure freelancers are paid on time and in full for all work they do. They also prevent or penalize either party from backing out of an agreement, and help eliminate grey areas regarding who gets rights for content or images from a shoot.

That said, contracts can be difficult and may involve some level of negotiation on your part. Plus, they might even put off some brands, particularly when you’re just starting. 

But when it comes to security, especially in the freelance world, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Before signing on the dotted line, always read the conditions carefully and be sure it’s a brand you trust.

6. Promote, promote, promote

If you don’t promote yourself, it doesn’t matter how fancy your website or portfolio is.

Keep your profile updated, stay active on social media, and go to events related to the type of modeling you want to do. It also doesn’t hurt to reach out to clients or brands and pitch yourself as a model.

Don’t be discouraged if the jobs don’t come right away — persistence is key. Just show businesses what you’re all about and your work will speak for itself.

Freelance Model Requirements: Are You Qualified?

One of the best things about becoming a freelance model is there are very few requirements to get started.

You don’t need any qualifications. All you really need is a professional portfolio, confidence, a good attitude, and some knowledge of posing and how to work the camera. 

If you need to sharpen your skills, you can sign up for a freelance modeling course online to boost your knowledge. There are a bunch of affordable courses on Udemy (like this one), just make sure to read reviews before buying — and don’t forget to practice what you learn!

Of course, when it comes to your personal look, certain attributes will make you more successful in this field:

  • Healthy hair. Dry, damaged, or overworked hair can be difficult to work with. Try to minimize over-coloring, over-styling, and harsh chemical treatments to keep your hair shiny and healthy.
  • Clear skin. Blemishes and dry skin don’t look good on camera, so maintaining a good skin regime is essential.
  • Healthy lifestyle. Your body and looks are effectively what you’re selling as a model, so it pays to look after yourself. A regular exercise routine, a balanced diet, no smoking, and plenty of water go a long way in maintaining your health and fitness. This also does wonders for maintaining healthy hair and skin.
  • Body type. Your body type may determine which type of modeling to choose. For example, catwalk models are rarely under 5’8” tall for women or 5’9” for men.
  • Professionalism – Although it differs from a regular 9-5 in many ways, freelance modeling is still a job. Professionalism pays. The more professional you are, the more likely customers will come back and leave you good recommendations – which will likely lead to more work.

Where to Find Freelance Modeling Jobs FAST

The best places to find freelance modeling jobs are via modeling websites, agencies, or social media sites like Instagram. You can also find freelance modeling gigs on websites such as Craigslist or Gumtree.

That said, when using these types of platforms, you need to be really careful to avoid scams and danger.

A few of the best freelance model websites are:

  • Model Mayhem
  • Star Now
  • Button 21
  • PurplePort
  • Madcow Models
  • Model Kartei

A lot of models use these sites as their main source of work. They’ve been vetted and most of the postings are trustworthy.

But, as with any freelance job, there are always risks, so make sure you thoroughly research the company posting the job before meeting anyone. A good rule of thumb is, “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

The other option is to go straight to a freelance modeling agency.

An agency will charge you a fee for their services, but they can help you get more work.

Here are a few top freelance model agencies:

  • IMG Models
  • One Management Group
  • Wilhelmina Modeling Agency
  • Ford Models

In addition to taking a commission oN each job they find for you, some agencies also have clauses in their contracts forbidding you to find outside work independently. So be careful what you sign up for!

For more insider tips on where to find freelance jobs fast, this video is full of juicy tips:

Freelance Modeling vs. Agency: Which is Better?

This is frequently debated among freelance models.

If you want help finding jobs, then an agency is the best option for you. 

Working for an agency allows you to build up your portfolio and resume, figure out your “look”, and build your brand without spending hours pitching or applying for jobs. You also won’t have to write your own legal contract and you may be entitled to employee benefits.

On the other hand, if you…

  • Are self-motivated
  • Love setting your own hours
  • Want more flexibility and freedom
  • Don’t want to share your earnings with an agency

…then starting your freelance modeling career independently may be best. 

Plus, as an independent freelancer, you can charge more than agencies for the same job.

As an independent freelance model, you have to write your own contracts and are responsible for finding jobs and pitching to brands. 

This gives you more flexibility and can lead to higher-paid work over time. But it’s also trickier in the beginning as you’ll be working alone instead of having someone to represent you.

There are benefits for both working for an agency and freelancing independently, so weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.

Creative Freelance Modeling Tips to Make You Stand Out

Here are a few tips to make you stand out as a freelance model:

Get to know your brand. What do you stand for, and what are you good at? This doesn’t just mean posing for the camera. What are your talents? Who is going to be attracted to what you do? And which sort of brands best represent you?

Be selective about jobs. This may seem count-intuitive, especially if you’re trying to make money. But being slightly more selective about what you accept means you can focus more on what you believe in. For example, if you’re a vegan, you probably shouldn’t be the model for Harry’s Hamburgers.

Update your portfolio regularly. You have to show off your best work to get hired, so make sure your portfolio is up-to-date with the most recent shots. Once you’ve done a shoot, update your profile as soon as possible to get those pictures circulating. Try not to be shy about this. If someone asks for references or examples, be proud to show them.

Build up an online presence. This includes creating profiles on social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, etc., as well as any other model networking platforms available (like Model Mayhem). This puts you on the map and some models get signed on their social media alone.

Network with other models. Networking makes it easier to find like-minded people and connect with them. Don’t view other models as competition. Many experienced models are happy to share their knowledge and help beginners. Plus, in the long run, collaboration opportunities can boost your career.

Be professional about everything. From answering emails to following up after meeting new contacts and so on. If clients know how reliable and organized you are, you’ll get hired much quicker than someone sloppy and slow.

Use a headshot that stands out. Most models use a plain and simple headshot photo on their profiles. Don’t get me wrong, you do need one of these. But choosing a photo that’s a little edgy or different will catch the eye of potential clients, resulting in more views and potentially more hires.

Be confident in yourself and how amazing you are at what you do. Modeling is all about confidence. The more you can build your confidence, the better success you’ll have.

Freelance Model Mistakes and Red Flags to Avoid

There’s no such thing as being too cautious when it comes to freelance modeling because there are always people looking to take advantage.

Always be suspicious of someone who:

  • Wants you to model work that doesn’t fit your portfolio
  • Asks for any personal information or bank account info before talking about any potential jobs
  • Won’t give specific details about the job and only offers vague information (e.g. “I need help doing some photography work”)

Unless you know the reason (for example, beginner photographers), be cautious of anyone that doesn’t have any previous work history or wants you to pay for anything for the shoot.

How To Avoid Freelance Modeling Scams

▶ Read the job description carefully and ask questions. If anything sounds fishy, don’t be afraid to say no.

▶ Research the company you’re working for thoroughly. Do they have a website, social media pages, and reviews? It may also be worth checking the website’s domain authority (DA) to see if it’s a fairly new or spammy website.

▶ Is someone asking you to wire them money? If so, run away fast! Scammers ask freelancers for upfront payment for things like travel expenses for jobs that don’t exist. Trust me, it’s nearly impossible to get your money back.

▶ Be careful about providing any personal information. Freelance models may have to provide social security numbers, tax ID numbers, and other sensitive info to be hired for certain jobs (e.g., international freelance modeling assignments for frequent travelers). But you should always ask questions before handing over any data.

▶ Don’t dramatically drop your rates, offer to work for free, or offer to work in exchange for “exposure” or free products from a company. These clients are usually after free advertising and it won’t benefit you as a freelance model.

Freelance modeling scams happen more often than many beginners would expect. But don’t be put off. There are ways to avoid them and plenty of legitimate jobs out there. 

Some of these tips may seem like common sense. But when you’re just getting started and desperate to land your first clients, common sense has a way of disappearing.

Don’t get caught off guard.

Is Freelance Modeling Right For You?

Freelance modeling is for you if you are:

  • Confident and comfortable with your body
  • Photogenic and aren’t shy about working a camera
  • Willing to put in effort to build contact and work up the ladder

Success doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible. 

Some freelance models struggle, some make a killing, and most fall somewhere in between.

Fortunately, if you follow the steps in this guide…

You’ll be off to a strong start.

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