Model turned agent, a runway success
“I thought, ‘There is a fairer way to do this and I don’t think it’s that hard’, so I stepped in” ... Taryn Williams.
It’s one thing to work in an industry and another to see its flaws and decide to work on it.
After nine years as a model, Taryn Williams, 27, was ready to move on – but not out of – the industry she’d worked in since the age of 15.
Frustrated by slow, poor (and sometimes no) pay, a lack of a modelling union or professional body and fuelled by a desire to improve models’ overall working conditions, Williams created her own Sydney-based models and promotions agency, WINK.
Her priorities: to pay models within seven days of any job, regardless of whether clients had paid, and to ensure those she represented were treated safely and fairly. Six years on, she’s still true to her word.
“I didn’t like the way the industry was being run,” Williams says. “I thought, ‘There is a fairer way to do this and I don’t think it’s that hard’, so I stepped in.”
Last year WINK turned over $600,000, doubling Williams’ previous year in business.
“The last two years have shown huge growth for us,” she says. “A lot of it has come from word of mouth. When clients want to book a model they’ve had to go to a traditional top-end modelling agency, whereas I wanted my rates to be more realistic, more affordable. There hasn’t been that company in-between.”
Representing models for advertising shoots, PR stunts, experiential marketing and product launches, some of her big-name clients include Qantas, Vodafone, Sportsgirl, Woolworths and MAC Cosmetics.
For her efforts, Williams has just been named as one of only three women in the ‘Hot 30 Under 30’ leading entrepreneurs list, compiled by SmartCompany magazine.
“A lot of the models on my books have come from high-end agencies, seeking work on a more regular basis rather than holding out for those rarer big gigs,” she says.
Williams employs one assistant and one account manager. Her next goals are to open an office in Melbourne, branch out further into Queensland and to broaden her lists to include make-up artists.
“When I started WINK, I was quite well-known in the modeling world for having a good work ethic. People often called me asking if I knew of models fitting varying descriptions who I could recommend, so I was already fulfilling an agency service in an informal way. Starting WINK meant formalising that service and growing it from there.”
After starting as a boutique agency in 2007 – initially working with a small number of clients and industry contacts she’d developed while working in another industry, event management – Williams has since sourced models for thousands of jobs and now represents around 350 models, actors and MCs Australia-wide, placing her small business in the ranks of Australia’s biggest modelling and promotions agencies.
“Rather than represent a very select group of fewer models, which a lot of modeling agencies do (for example, one mid-20s Asian model or one blond woman in her mid-30s) we’re happy to have a big range of people to accommodate a broader scope of work.”
Williams says gone are the days of clients funding $40,000-50,000 for, say, a major airline company print ad, or $20,000 for a car ad.
“We see the odd job come across the desk for $10,000-15,000 but the prices these days are more grounded, more realistic,” she says, adding that demand for women models is still higher than men because more products are aimed at women.
Modelling is also a revolving door industry; many models come and go, often leaving room for new talent to enter the profession. Williams’ assistant helps recruit and screen the 10-15 applications WINK receives each day.
“A lot of the applicants are young, aspiring models. We often have to redirect to help them get started, advising them where to get photographed and how to establish a portfolio,” Williams says.
In her first two years of business, Williams worked from home. It was thanks to one of her first clients, Nokia, which came knocking with a major print campaign during its peak popularity as a handheld, that helped Williams cover initial costs of an office and establishing a website.
Thanks to her previously itinerant careers as a model, events and photographer’s producer, Williams says the leap into starting her own small business didn’t seem that huge.
“I’ve never had a salary, a well-paying job or the security that comes with full-time work. And while I had a great mentor in (ad agency owner and marketer) Glen Condie, sometimes I think it would have been lovely to do all this with a business partner. One of my big challenges is delegating!”
Five tips for entrepreneurs
Make sure you’re doing something you love – you’re going to have to live and breathe this business so if you don’t love it now, you’ll hate it at 2am when you’re still up perfecting a big pitch for the next day.
Hire people to do the things you can’t, whether that’s accounting, bookkeeping, PR. These might seem like areas worth saving costs on but it’s best to free yourself up to do what you’re good at.
Learn to ask for help from friends, contacts, family. People will be flattered you value their opinion and input and will often be more than happy to help.
Find a mentor – someone who is willing, who you admire and who isn’t financially invested in your company.
Take care of yourself: eat well, make time for exercise, a massage. If you fall apart, so will the business.