How to get more paid commercial work

I recently surveyed the makeup artists on my email list, and polled readers of my Facebook page, asking what you would most like to learn about.  One of the most common responses was about how to get more (paid) editorial and commercial work.

This was definitely my #1 goal when I first moved to Brisbane 14 years ago.  I’d spent 4 years building up a very busy, successful bridal business in Far North Queensland, in what I lovingly refer to as the “destination wedding capital” of Australia.  I was working on weddings 7 days a week.  Moving to Brisbane though, meant that the vast majority of the weddings were on weekends.  My kids were just about school age, and I wanted to spend more time with them on the weekends, so that meant finding more jobs during the week.

Over the next couple of years, I really focussed my efforts on building up the COMMERCIAL side of my business, and now I have many national campaigns and published editorials in my portfolio.


In this blog post, you’ll learn my top 5 tips for getting more commercial work.


Tip 1. Know the difference between commercial and editorial work.

I find that often artist say “commercial” work when they are actually talking about editorials.  If you’ve been working with personal clients for a while, there are a few key differences to note:

In COMMERCIAL WORK there is a product (or service) that is being advertised.  The purpose of the shoot (still images or video) is to make a PROFIT.  So, there will be a client involved and he or she will be responsible for how the shoot looks, including all the details right down to the hair & makeup look.  Sometimes the client will delegate this responsibility to an ad agency, creative director, or even the photographer, and sometimes they will ask the makeup artist for input.  The important thing to remember is that ultimately, the client has the final say.

The person in your chair (unless that happens to be the client or the owner of the business) doesn’t have any say in the makeup you do for them, which is obviously very different from bridal or special event makeup.  You may have only one person in the chair, you may have many throughout the course of the shoot – which could be a half-day or stretch out to multiple days in several locations.

Examples of commercial work include advertising campaigns that appear in magazines, on billboards, TV commercials, websites, look-books, e-commerce, and even social media campaigns.

brisbane makeup artist, commercial makeup artist, sue mclaurin makeup artist
Commercial shoot for The Ruby Collection holiday apartments, Gold Coast

There is a sub-section of commercial work which I refer to as CORPORATE work, and this includes things like in-house company videos, head-shots for corporations like legal firms, banks, or even real-estate companies.

EDITORIAL differs from Commercial work, in that there is usually no product or service being sold explicitly.   If there are products (think fashion, accessories), being featured, remember the primary purpose of the shoot is not to sell those products, it’s all about the STORY, and the selling is secondary.  Editorial images are those used to accompany a story. There may be a lot of text, or the “story” may be told solely by the images.

Editorial work can be highly visual, and is often conceptual and thematic.  There is a HUGE range of possibility within Editorial work, and as creative makeup artists, there really is no limit to what we can create.


The next big difference is that you will be (or SHOULD be) paid for commercial work, based on your time, not the number of people in your chair.  You should have a set DAY-RATE or HALF-DAY rate which covers not only the time you are doing the makeup/hair, but also when you are on stand-by ready to jump in to do any necessary touch-ups or adjustments.


Tip 2: Tailor your portfolio to the work you want to be doing

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, your portfolio is your number one marketing resource.  Your potential clients will judge you based on your portfolio LONG before they take the time to call you or send you an email.  Your portfolio should show your potential clients the sort of work you do, but also the sort of work you WANT to do more of.

Be clear in the message that your portfolio is sending.

If your portfolio only shows brides or behind the scenes shots of your personal clients, prospective commercial clients will probably keep looking.  If your portfolio is only on Instagram, unless you have a really large following, your chances of booking commercial work are slim.  That’s not to say it doesn’t happen.  I hear about artists being contacted through Instagram for commercial work quite often… but usually this is smaller fashion labels, and not big national brand campaigns.

Commercial work usually calls for minimal makeup.  In fact, quite often the brief will be “make her look like she’s wearing no makeup”  or, “just fresh and natural”.  Have a good look at the ads you see in magazines, on TV and on billboards, you probably won’t find a cut-crease and glitter eyeshadow look there!

So what do you do if you have no commercial work in your portfolio?  How do you go about showing your potential clients that is the sort of work you are aiming to do?

Lorna Jane Campaign shoot

Tip 3. Leverage your editorial work and publications

I will write a lot more about editorial work in an upcoming blog, but in my experience, and from what I’ve witnessed with other artists, having published editorial work in your portfolio is the best stepping stone to booking more commercial work.  And that’s for two reasons.  Firstly, your clients will see that you are accustomed to working with teams, and secondly, you’ll be networking on the job, with photographers and stylists who may think of you for their next commercial gig.


Tip 4. Network, network, network.

Commercial work is SUCH a “not what you know, but WHO you know” industry.  Its one of those things, once you start getting jobs, you’ll get known and will get referred for other jobs.  So, whenever you can, network with people within the industry, especially photographers!

Also, broaden your network of other makeup artists.  I get as much work referred to me by other makeup artists as I do from any other source.  Just last month I was referred a 3 day commercial job from an artist on the other side of the country!  I’ve never actually met her, but we know one another through Facebook. (Thanks again V!)

Learn more about the power of networking HERE

Kingsford Terrace Retirement Village campaign

Tip 5. Assist an established artist.

This is probably the most important tip.  When you assist an established artist, you will not only learn on the job, but, you also have the opportunity to make an impression on that artist, and she may refer you for upcoming work that she is unable to do.  Learn more about the Golden Opportunity of assisting HERE.


The thing to remember about booking commercial work, and becoming an established commercial makeup artist is that it takes time.  You need to be patient and persistent.  Keep working on your portfolio, keep reaching out to photographers who’s work you admire.  Keep testing and submitting editorial shoots, and never be too proud or busy to assist another artist.


Don’t miss next week’s blog post for an interview with an amazing makeup artist…