How To Become A Model Without An Agency: 7 Lessons from 7 Years as a Freelance Model // FrameAmbition

Hello hello!

I often get asked how I got into modelling, if I make a living off it in Africa, how I’ve managed to find success without an agency, etc. Having largely booked my own gigs and worked without agency representation, I’ve been lucky enough to shoot campaigns for Carlton Hair, Specsavers South Africa, Saucony, Puma, Imprint ZA, featured in a music video and a FashionTV short film to name some highlights.

It feels like there are a ton more obstacles than the average agency model, not to mention being in Africa (Kenya and South Africa for me) and I’ve had to get creative and push myself, but so far it’s worked out alright.

I've touched on the basics before in this post and frequently update my portfolio page if you'd like to take a look, but:

Here are some things I’ve learned working as a model without an agency.


1. Research is key.

It’s important for every model to figure out what their brand and look is going to be. High fashion, commercial, catalogue, androgynous, beauty, glamour/lingerie – the list goes and on these days.

Consider what (or maybe who) made you want to be a model in the first place, see if you’re suited to that style of work or not, maybe check what the market is like where you live and if you’re ready to compete, fill a gap or pave your own way and make a new niche.

Which one are you? ;)

Which one are you? ;)

2. It’s about who you know – and who knows you.

I’ve gotten a good number of jobs because I’ve grown my brand with this blog and by posting my best photos not only on my blog posts but a professional Instagram account (@julie_olum) specifically for my modelling work as well as networking sites like and

It also doesn’t hurt to reach out to brands you admire just letting them know that you exist and are available for any campaigns or shows and the same with photographers, stylists, make-up artists, casting directors, etc. At the very least you’ll be on their radar – remember to include a link to an online portfolio in your message, or a comp card (tutorial on how I make mine here).

3. You grow and improve by collaborating.

Sometimes work is a little low or you’re nervous about an upcoming gig in something you’ve never done before – practice, practice, practice. A sure-fire way of doing this is organizing TFP shoots with photographers and other creatives – this stands for time-for-photos, where no money is exchanged i.e. everyone contributes their time and skill in return for banging photos for each of their portfolios.

Say for example you notice you’re interested in getting into underwear modelling but have no experience and no photos to show in your portfolio of this. Maybe you’re just starting out and don’t have very clear photos of your current hair style/colour, good head shots, photos showing your body shape and proportions well, etc. TFP’s save the day as you’re practicing being on set or location, getting somewhere on time, your poses, angles and facial expressions and working with a team to produce quality photos everyone is happy with.

Contact designers and brands to see if they’ll loan you some clothes or accessories to rock on the shoot for a double-win.

The result of one of my first TFP shoots shot by Nazeem Ryklief with  Eszter Hercsik  on Make-up. Cape Town, 2013.

The result of one of my first TFP shoots shot by Nazeem Ryklief with Eszter Hercsik on Make-up. Cape Town, 2013.

4. Don’t shy away from different types of work.

There are reasons models also take up acting jobs and work in other creative or looks-oriented fields. One is money – some of these mean a steady paycheck while you wait for your big modelling break. I’ve made up to R2000 in a day (USD 160, KES 16,000) on photo shoots for stock image and video companies, where they sell the photos or footage for those generic ads or place-holder photos in the picture frame on display at the shop.

Another reason is, once again, networking and making connections. More often than not a stylist, make-up artist, photographer, videographer, whoever, is on set with you on a random-seeming job but works in fashion too and now you know each other. More people to collaborate with and suggest you for modelling jobs in the future.

So far I’ve been a hostess at a Cirque du Soleil-type event, frequent stock photo/video model and an extra in a music video. You could hostess, serve or bartend at a swanky restaurant/bar you know industry people hang out at, get extra work on TV or movie sets (GREAT pay at times), and more.

New friends after a stock photo shoot at Lion's Head, Cape Town.

New friends after a stock photo shoot at Lion's Head, Cape Town.

5. You need model friends.

Now I’m not saying you need to fall in line with whatever ‘scene’ goes on in your area or chill with people you don’t like for the sake of appearances like you’re in some sort of reality show. BUT it is important to have a good relationship with other models you encounter and I’ll tell you why.

My babe Ekow and I met in Cape Town when he was walking in SA Menswear Week AW’17. I took his photo for my ‘models off duty’ blog post and we kept up with each other on social media. Fast forward a couple of months, homeboy texts me to ask if I’m available in a few days to shoot a short film for FashionTV – he had shown my photos to the production team in a meeting and they liked my look so decided to cast me. And that was that.

Other models are some of the best people to tell you about a casting you haven’t heard about or what to look out for with this and that photographer or designer (some people are demons and that’s life). You can relate to one another like most people can’t and it’s actually more camaraderie than competition and bitchiness. Really, it is.

Ekow and I in 'Run/Paint The Town' by Adrenus Craton for FashionTV. Stills by Sivan Miller.

Ekow and I in 'Run/Paint The Town' by Adrenus Craton for FashionTV. Stills by Sivan Miller.

6. Follow up and maintain your relationships.

So now you have friends in high places putting you on for major work and expanding your horizons – don’t forget them when you’re at the top and make sure they don’t forget you either! Social media has made this SO easy. Check up on what other models and creatives are posting, leave comments, share their work on your own accounts if you like it. For goodness’ sake say hello when you see each other out in real life. Basic manners, man.

7. Have your rates and payment conditions in mind at all times.

Money and legalities can get hairy in the fashion/modelling industry, especially when you represent yourself and especially in fairly unregulated industries like those in most African countries. You need to protect yourself, your image and your bank balance.

Your Rates

Do a little research on how much models charge per hour, per half-day (usually 4 hours) and full-day (usually 8) in your area. Usually you’ll command less money than a signed model, but that’s because their agency gets a commission too.

Terms and conditions

Whether you’re the one being approached for a job or you reach out to a team, find out immediately:

  • whether the job is paid or a TFP/collaboration
  • if it’s paid, how much and when payment will be made (also the mode of payment)
  • how many hours you’ll be required for and what those hours are
  • if food or transport will be provided
  • who will be on hair/make-up/wardrobe, if anyone. You might have to sort out some of this on your own in some cases or honestly you could run into incompetence e.g. a make-up artist who doesn’t know how to work with your skin tone, a stylist with clothes not in your size, etc.
This shoot was fun but the hair stylist had no clue what she was doing with my hair. Stay woke!

This shoot was fun but the hair stylist had no clue what she was doing with my hair. Stay woke!

I genuinely believe it’s worth it to type up a short contract before you go on paid jobs stipulating the fee that’s been offered, the hours you’re expected to work and the payment period. Sign it and hand it to the party who booked you before you start the shoot, so everything is understood and agreed on before any work is done.

I was a rookie once

I once was cast in a music video where all I knew was the location I needed to be at (to get there on my own) and what time we were supposed to start shooting. I waited 2 hours for everyone else to show up (on an isolated beach), the other model and I did our own make-up because the MUA didn’t show up, and we were only really needed for about 15 minutes of a very long 12-hour shoot.

Passing the time on a loooong music video shoot.

Passing the time on a loooong music video shoot.

We rode to location 2 all together and in the end, perhaps because of time constraints, perhaps not, we weren’t needed there at all and sat around until the whole shoot was done because we were a long way out of town and would all be riding together to be dropped home. I was on set at 8am and got back home about 11pm. We each got paid R400 (USD 30, KES 3200) after all that – a value I hadn’t even thought to ask about beforehand and wasn’t sure if we’d be getting paid on the day or not. Wow, Julie. No, no and no!

Cover your own ass and demand fair working conditions – remember nobody is doing you a favour, this is your job.

And there you go - the things that have helped me get great modelling jobs without an agency.

Comment below - are you a model or thinking of getting into it? Do you find any of these tips helpful? Let me know which ones you agree or disagree with and keep in touch:

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