Plus Modeling as a Business

Plus Modeling as a Business

As the month of March begins, so does the countdown to tax time.  That means it’s time to begin organizing your paperwork from the previous fiscal year and getting them ready for your accountant and/or tax preparer.

If you are making a nice amount of “change” from modeling and find that you are filling out 1099 forms frequently, you might want to consider claiming modeling as a second income on your annual tax return.  Some of the benefits you get from doing this is being able to get a great deal of the money that you spent on your career returned to you.

Get A Good Accountant.  This is an absolute must!  If you don’t know a reputable accountant ask other models and or industry folk for a reference.  If you are doing an itemized return (and you are if you are claiming modeling as a second income), you need someone who is clear and fluent in tax laws to handle your business.  Unless you are professionally trained, I do not recommend that you attempt to do this on your own.

Put your receipts in order by category.  If you are an organized person (lol…and I am not) you probably are already categorizing your receipts.  If you are a model and/or entertainer of any sort, you should get into the habit of getting receipts FOR EVERYTHING.  Clothing, shoes, accessories, photography expenses, travel expenses, dry cleaning, cell phones, wigs & weaves, dining and entertainment, metro cards, laptops & computers, gifts that you purchase for folks in the industry, cab fare, music, stamps and mass mailings; the list of what you can claim is endless.  If you are in doubt about whether or not you should keep or toss a receipt – (I even save my grocery receipts) keep it and let your accountant tell you whether or not you can use it.

Keep track of your vouchers and check receipts.  Put your vouchers in order by voucher number and then go back and match them with your check stubs to see which invoices are still outstanding and which ones have been paid.  I had to learn this lesson the hard way when I switched from my mother agency Wilhelmina to join the board over at Karin Models.  Things were going swimmingly at my new agency for a long while, (You turned in your vouchers on a Monday and you could pick up your check on Friday!!) It was a beautiful thing.  All of that changed, however, when Karin Models decided that they no longer wanted the “image” of the plus sized model associated with their agency and promptly dropped our division, which was making them a whole lot of money. Wonder where THEY are now?  Google them and see what comes up.  The plus board was then moved to another agency, located on 8th Avenue in Manhattan and this is when things began to go awry.  While the actual move of the agency was a smooth one and the work never stopped coming in for me (I was their top plus sized moneymaker for a while) after about 6 months I realized I had been working steadily and hadn’t received a single check.

I finally made an inquiry to my booker asking about the situation and I got instantly nervous when SHE looked at me incredulously when I told her I hadn’t been paid.  She sat down and had a talk with the owner and he began writing me checks immediately.  The second flag went up when I realized that he was paying me in installments.  I didn’t see the need for that (if the client is paying my invoice in FULL, why are you paying me in pieces?) and I realized quickly that he was “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul”; i.e. a check would come in for a model and he would use a portion of that particular model’s pay to pay ANOTHER model, whose money he had already spent and then give the rest to the actual model who earned it.  Still following me?

I figured as long as he continued to write me checks eventually I’d be paid in full – right?  Wrong!!!  A few months later the checks stopped coming and the excuses began taking their place.  AND the owner would get down right funky whenever I called or came in and asked about MY money.  It was at this point that I began putting my vouchers together and matching them against my check stubs from my agent.

Now, I am not the most organized of folks (for 20 years my desk at work was “organized chaos”) but I was smart enough to just toss all of my voucher copies and check stubs in one manila file folder that I kept at my desk. I also began calling my clients to find out when and if they had paid my outstanding invoices.  It was at that point that I realized that he was withholding “usage fees” from me as well.

What are “usage fees” you ask?  When a model does a shoot for a client like The Avenue for example.  The client will usually come up with an agreement with an agent on how long they can run the ad (it’s usually for a 3 to 6 month period).  The model gets paid a usage fee for the ad to run for whatever period that’s negotiated.  This fee can run upwards into thousands of dollars.  If your ad has been contracted to run from a period from January to June and if said ad runs ANYWHERE after the contracted date – say July 1st; the client has to pay another usage fee.

The bad thing about usage fees and tracking them is that the client will not usually contact the model; they will just send a check to the agency.  If no one alerts you that the ad is running again elsewhere or you have dishonest or unscrupulous management, they can just collect your fee and never tell you about it.

And that’s what happened to me.  When I finished compiling all of the data from tracking paperwork and making phone calls, I realized that this man owed me close to $10,000!!!  When I confronted him about this all he would say was that business was “slow” and he’d get around to paying me all of my outstanding monies eventually.  I began asking questions and making inquiries with the Better Business Bureau and I found that my new agency had been running their business like this for years and LOTS of plus models filed complaints against him with the police but stopped short of going through the whole court process.  They (the agency) usually just kept delaying the payment process until the model gave up in frustration and wrote it off as a loss.

Well, if you know me at all, then you KNOW I might walk away from $100 dollars but I sure wasn’t about to walk away from 10G’s, so I went downtown and filed a suit in small claims court.  I showed up in court with photocopies of everything and ready to fight.  He showed up and admitted that everything I said was true.  The court immediately filed in my favor and I got every dime that was owed to me in two checks.  I don’t think things would have turned out in my favor had I not had my paperwork to back up my claim.

It is imperative that you fill out your vouchers correctly and then keep them TOGETHER in some sort of order along with your check stubs – just in case you need to pull them out at a moment’s notice. And speaking of vouchers:

How to fill out your voucher – The time that I spent as a booker last year was an eye opening experience for me.  I was both surprised and alarmed at the number of new (and old) models who consistently filled out their vouchers incorrectly.

Your SIGNED voucher is your ONLY proof that you actually worked a job.  Fill it out wrong or (gasp!) forget to get it signed and there is good chance that you will not get paid.


YOUR Agency Name & Logo
YOUR Agency Address
YOUR Agency Phone Number and/or Email

1) Model’s Name __________________________2) Date ________________________

3) Employer ______________________________ 4) Address _____________________

5) Showroom ______________________________6) Rate Per Day _________________

7) Print/TV _________________________________ Rate Per Day _________________

8) Fittings _____________ 9) Time From_______ To ______ Rate Per Hour _________

10) Agency Fee __________________ 11) Total Fee ____________________________


12) Voucher # F1234567      13) Authorized By _______________________________

Agency Copy

The above is an example of what your basic model voucher looks like.  Let’s go over it line by line:

First things first, your agency name and contact information is ALWAYS printed in triplicate at the top of the voucher.  You don’t need to write it anywhere else on your voucher.

1)    Model’s Name – Er…that would be where you put YOUR name.
2)    Date:  That would be the day that you worked the job/booking.
3)    Employer:  That would be the CLIENT you are working for NOT your agent.
4)    Address:  That would be the address of THE CLIENT, NOT your agent.
5,6,7 & 8) Showroom, Print/TV & Fittings:  These lines indicate the TYPE of work you are performing and the rate per DAY (if you are being booked for a full day’s work).

9) Time: Start & End – This is where you write the start and end time of your booking if you are being contracted by the hour.  FYI – if your client goes OVER the contracted time and you find that you are working overtime, note the end time of the job and then make an immediate call to your agent to find out how to handle the extra over time.  It all depends on the client and your agent and the type of agreement/relationship they may have.  You might have to eat that extra 30 minutes of over time if the client is a good one.

10) Agency Fee – This is the fee that the agent charges the client ON TOP of the fee that charge for your services – it’s generally 20% and usually you don’t have to fill it out this line – it’s already been negotiated with the client.  If it feels like you’re agent is being paid twice – it’s because technically they are.

11) Total Fee – This is where you calculate your hourly or day rate by the number of hours/days worked.

12) Voucher Number – This number is also printed in triplicate on your voucher and the copies.  It’s for accounting purposes and it’s what you will need to refer to if you ever find yourself having to chase down your monies.

13) Authorized By – This is where the person who contracted you or their representative (if they are not on set with you) needs to sign to confirm that you actually worked the job.  DO NOT leave your gig without getting this piece of paper signed.  I don’t really care what your agent’s relationship with the client is – I would prefer that you be a smart businesswoman and always get them signed.  An unsigned voucher is worthless in court.

Your voucher comes with two copies attached (all in different colors):

•    The ORIGINAL signed copy is returned to your agent for processing.
•    The second copy goes to the client.
•    The third copy is for your records.
•    All THREE copies usually have your agency’s cancellation policy on it.

One voucher is good for ONLY ONE model, there is no piggy backing on someone else’s voucher because you forgot yours or you ran out.  Always keep a few in the back of your portfolio (which you should have on your person at all times).

The sooner you turn in your voucher, the sooner the collection process can begin.

A smart model will sit down and fill out all of the information needed on the voucher before she arrives on set.  You will already have all the info needed from your agent, if you fill all the info (except the finish time, which may or may not change) and all you have left to do is get it signed when you are done.

If you have any questions regarding filling out your voucher, get them answered BEFORE you arrive on set.

If you are an unsigned model and don’t have vouchers, you can always create an invoice for a client yourself on your computer at home.  You might have a hard time getting promoters and designers to sign an invoice on a local level (where you are more likely to get ripped off, unfortunately) but it doesn’t hurt to try.

The bottom line here is of course to STAY ON TOP OF YOUR BUSINESS!!!  As a plus sized model or any model for that matter your business is YOU.  No one is going to keep track of your money for you, so you MUST do it for yourself.

Pay attention to “red flags”, if you notice that you are not being paid the full amount of monies owed to you – question it immediately.

Put your friends and family on alert – If you know that you are going to be featured in ads in magazines and in stores and you know that the client can only use them for a limited amount of months.  When that time has lapsed, make some phone calls, send a few emails and have your friends check out the magazines in THEIR areas to see if they see your ad running in markets that are outside of where you live.

The Last Word:

Remember that as a plus sized model you are an entrepreneur.  Your business is YOU!  Handle your business now.  Collect those receipts, stay on top of your paperwork, I promise you that you’ll thank me for it later!

“When you reach an obstacle, turn it into an opportunity. You have the choice. You can overcome and be a winner, or you can allow it to overcome you and be a loser. The choice is yours and yours alone. Refuse to throw in the towel. Go that extra mile that failures refuse to travel. It is far better to be exhausted from success than to be rested from failure.”

– Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics

Continued Success!