Business Insight - Anna Gray - Model Students

Where did the inspiration come from to start Model Students?
I studied here at the University of Nottingham. I did a business management degree and always wanted to run my own business. Whilst I was studying I signed up with a model agency and worked as a model whist I was studying, I could see that there was an opportunity for an agency that was specifically for students. I would be going off to castings in other cities and often paying a lot to go to the castings. Something could be done where there was a local agency to work with local business and local photographers who didnít want to pay big agency prices. I spotted a gap in the market based on student models for other students and local business.

How long have you been doing it?
In September 2015 it will be 5 years.

What was it like to start a business from scratch?
Itís been a massive learning curve. Every year weíve grown, Itís been very positive but itís been a slow, steady growth. Itís exciting, every year weíve got more work and taken on more models. Itís been a great adventure to be part of. We did a business plan before we got started and thought we knew our target market but we were actually a little naÔve. We thought we knew who booked models we were surprised to find itís the creatives like photographers who book models, even for the big retail and beauty brands. Just simple things like that, we learned so much in the first 12 months. We also learnt a lot about the day to day running of a company and what that takes.

We have grown by word of mouth, when we started out we bought lists of contacts but that didnít work at all. What has worked is chance encounters, people recommending us, word of mouth and repeat custom. We werenít as successful at networking as most were more corporate events. We never met anyone who wanted to book our models but we were shown lots of pictures of family members and asked if they should be models! We were always looking for new clients, finding our way as we went along. It was a surprise to find luxury hair salons as clients, we didnít realise quite how much they use models, they use them all the time for all kinds of things such as shows and competitions. Theyíre constantly on the lookout for new models

How big is the agency in terms of staff? model students models at work on an outside shoot.
Just Pauline, me and 150 models!

Do you have any plans to expand?
Most of our models are based in Nottingham with a little base in Birmingham, Sheffield and London and hope to continue to recruit from those places but we also want to start recruiting from Manchester and especially London because thereís more work there. We get a lot of enquiries from clients outside of Nottingham. For instance this weekend we have some girls going to Liverpool for a shoot. We have guy going to London for a shoot. We supply models to Birmingham City University and Lincoln University. Itís cheaper for our clients to pay to bring a model down from Nottingham than it is to use someone from London.
We hope to recruit more models from other areas. Going to other cities in the UK seems to be the next thing, it would be brilliant to go international but it might be a little while!

What do you enjoy about running your own business?
Lots of things! Having worked for someone else and run my own business, itís different, everything you do, all the work effort you put in, itís all for you. Thereís never a time when you think I canít be bothered to do this because in the end itís all coming back to you. I donít see it as a bad thing to have lots of meetings booked in or to be working long hours. Itís all good. I have lots of flexibility, If I want to book a holiday itís up to me. You have a different lifestyle, at the weekend you might end up with lots of work to do and you might get a day mid-week where you donít have as much to do so your days get broken up differently and it is just as and when the work comes in. 3 or 4 days a week we are sat at a computer but then when at least one day a week we are out on a shoot or at a fashion show. Thatís lovely and exciting.

Anything you don't like?
Itís the same things! The really long hours, often canít find a time to go on holiday, working at weekends! At the end of the day it does all come back to you. Thereís nobody else to give it to. If itís a Saturday and you have a pile of work, you have to get on with it. We might get calls late in the evening saying ĎIím stuck can you get me a model for the morningí. We canít not deal with it, we have to sort it out.

Nottingham isn't known for being a fashion hub in the UK unlike London. How does that effect your business?
We thought that when we first set up here within the University of Nottingham that thereís Nottingham Trent which is a big fashion university, Paul Smith is based here and the Lace Market too but thereís not as much going on as we initially thought. That said we do a lot of work with Nottingham Trent and the Creative Quarter in Nottingham whereís thereís a lot of fashion labels that are really cool. Our natural resource is students and thereís a wealth of students and itís very easy for them to get to the likes of Birmingham and London where we get a lot of work.

model students model in action on the catwalk. Itís not so much about the base of office space in Nottingham but itís the support we get from the University of Nottingham. Maybe if we had set up in Manchester or in London there would have been more going on but not as likely to have had the business support. Also had we gone to London the costs of office space or living there might have been prohibitive.
We love Nottingham!

Any advice for anyone wanting to become a model?
Our advice, especially to young people, is to be really careful as there seem to be so many agencies out there who take money first to be with the agency and tell the person they need a portfolio and ask the model to pay for that and a make-up artist. Weíve heard of some young people having paid as much as £1200 to get a set of 5 photos which is a lot of money especially if they donít find them any work. We always say that if an agency is interested in you, they donít need to see that, like us we just need to see a couple of snapshots and if weíre interested in working with them we would set up a test shoot and we know a lot of good photographers who would do portfolios at really reasonable prices. We also get asked by a lot of photographers for models on a time for photos basis so we get a lot of new models to do that to build up their portfolio. So anyone whoís trying to get you to pay a lot of money up front probably isnít reputable.
We have also worked with models who have told us that even though they have been with bigger more established agencies they have never made any money because the agencies have taken money out of their wages for things like test shoots and model cards. We realise students donít have any money to pay for photos. We donít charge them for photos or t be with us. We only make money if we find them work. We are trying to be a little bit different, a little bit more ethical.

It does worry us about young models as some are desperate to model. When we are contacted we give them advice about starting out as a model such as if theyíre contacted to go on a shoot donít go alone, always take a friend or your Mum and donít pay out for things.

How much do models earn?
It varies hugely depending on the jobs they do. It varies between agencies too. If they are with a big London agency thatís a totally different story to a local agency and doing the kind of work we do. Our models never earn less than £10 an hour. It does depend on who commissions the model. We have a rate for students who want to book our models and we pay our models a rate of £10 an hour. For other works they can get £120-£150 for a shoot or a show. Sometimes they can get lucky and be there for a few hours or they can be there all day. Where we are different is we donít often send our models off to castings. Often jobs through other agencies where the pay is a lot more the model may have gone to lots of castings to land that job. Most of the time our models are requested specifically for a job. They donít have to travel to lots of places for castings and might not get the work.

model students model in action on a shoot. Where do your models come from?
At the moment we represent about 150 models and about 80% are at University. The rest are at college. A lot of them are from Nottingham Trent University and University of Nottingham and some from Birmingham, Sheffield and London. We also have 5 or 6 students who were with us from the beginning and have now graduated but didnít want to leave so weíve kept them on. We arenít against working with non-students but students are what our business is about.

Will it always be students only?
Thatís always going to be the heart of the agency. We have built up a brand as a business for students that employs students but if we get an application from someone who wasnít a student and we thought we could find them work we wouldnít say no just because they werenít a student.

What was the best bit of business advice you were ever given?
Alan Garcia who was one of the first people who booked our models in our first year he runs an extreme clothing company. He said you donít have to mean to be in business. He said that thereís this idea you have to be hard and aggressive but you donít. Be yourself and be nice and youíll attract other good people to work with.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in the visual media industry today?
Itís not easy! Youíve got to be prepared to give it a lot of time. Have a USP that makes you unique. Thereís a lot of business and a lot of start-ups. There are lots of photographers just in Nottingham and thereís lot of model agencies in the UK. You have to be able to tell clients why youíre better than the competition. Be yourself and be nice people. We have such good relationships with our clients. They then recommend us to others. We put a lot of our success down to that.

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