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Living the Dream

From getting initial experience and photos to selling yourself at an appointment with an agent, this is a handy how-to guide for finding an agent for freelance manicuring work.

Our Experts

Beth Fricke, manicurist, Artists by Timothy Priano

Crystal Wright, founder, Crystal Agency and

Jenna Hipp, manicurist, Célestine Agency

Myrdith Leon-McCormack, manicurist, Ford Artists


Getting Initial Experience and Photos

Also known as “testing”, your first step is to collaborate with photographers in return for professional-quality images of your work.

Find photographers whose work you admire, then contact them to volunteer to do nail (for free) for an upcoming photo shoot. E-mail the photographer first, then, if you haven’t received a response, follow-up by phone a few days later.

You can find photographers here:



> local photography and art schools (contact seniors who are looking to build their own portfolios)

> Googling the photographer’s name (for instance, if you admire a local photographer whose work you’ve seen in a magazine)

During the photo shoot, you might also work with a hairstylist, fashion stylist, and/or make-up artist. Keep in mind that the photos may or may not be published. Expect your only payment to be the photos themselves or magazine tearsheets


Putting Together Your Portfolio

Referred to as your “book” in the industry, your portfolio is an agent’s or client’s first introduction to you.

You’ll need to have both a physical book and an online version (which allows for updates). You’re ready to put this together when you have at least 12 great and varied shots of your work (including published work and/or test shots). Make sure to include a cross-section of styles, like natural nails, acrylics, embellishments, etc. Make sure the photographer’s name and publication name are noted with each tearsheet.

Hard Copy: Buy a professional portfolio book like the ones at House of Portfolios ( or JC Presentations (

Online Version: Create a page and post your photos on or hire a web designer to create your own individual site. You can include videos or electronic press kits that include your resume and bio.

Smart Phone Version (optional): If you have an iPhone, organize your photos so you can show your portfolio using the touchscreen.


Approaching an Agent

Don’t wait for an introduction; cold-calling (or e-mailing) an agent is standard practice.

Research agencies who take manicurists, then e-mail an agent directly. In the e-mail, introduce yourself by quickly summarizing your experiences (naming any notable photographers or celebrity clients you’ve worked with); include a link to your online portfolio, your complete contact information, and attach your resume. Ask to schedule an appointment and offer to do a complimentary manicure to prove your skills. Wait two or three days, then make a follow-up call. The goal is to get an appointment to meet the agent in person.

You can find agencies here:




If the agent says she doesn’t have time to see you, try saying, “Can I just come by, shake your hand and give you my resume?” or “If anyone’s doing a test, I’d be glad to do it free.”

If the agent still isn’t ready to meet with you, ask if you can keep in touch periodically. Then, after about a month, e-mail her an update with a few new images of your work. Keep your e-mails short and sweet and make sure they clearly display your website and contact information.

Selling Yourself at Your Appointment

You’re almost there; be on time and be confident at your meeting.

Wear clothes you’d wear on a set (don’t dress in a suit or other too-corporate outfit), making sure you’re comfortable. Make sure your nails, hair, and make-up are done, but aren’t over the top.

If the agent has taken you up on your offer to do a demo, then just do a clean manicure. Remember that presentation matters too. Get some nice bottles and towels; make everything look pretty. 

Brush up on fashion trends by reading Allure, Glamour, and other beauty magazines regularly. Be prepared to answer questions like: What are the hot colors this season?

Keep in mind that the agent is sizing you up to see how well you’d represent the agency at photo shoots with celebrities and other important clients, so your personality has to be friendly and accommodating. The agent will want to find out if you apply basic etiquette rules (like not repeating celebrity quotes to Page Six or being a know-it-all) and are a good match for the agency.


Additional Resources

Want more in-depth guidelines?

Here are some helpful books and classes:

> Hair Makeup & Fashion Styling Career Guide by Crystal Wright

> Crystal Wright’s [2-Day] Portfolio Building Workshop: Empowering Makeup, Hair & Fashion Stylists. Various dates, various cities.

> Myrdith Leon-McCormack’s [3-Day] Pre-Fashion Week Workshop (plus stay for Fashion Week to get first-hand experience). September 2009, New York City.

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