So, you’ve got some skills, done the tutorials, have a half decent reel and are thinking about going freelance. How do you make the leap of faith to become a “hired gun” in the motion graphics world? Visualize Your Competition, and Strive to Be Better
You should take the time to get to know your competition. This can be done in a number of ways, but it starts with classifying your competition based on location, experience and expertise. Check online to see their reel. If you can, ask around about their reputation. Where are they working? How often? This industry, even in the biggest of cities, is surprisingly small. It doesn’t take much to find out about local freelancers in your industry, much less combing the reels posted at places like mograph.net.
Once you get a fix on your competition, you’ll be able to highlight stronger areas to potential clients, like being a strong editor, or perhaps you are also an illustrator and can make some strong style boards, or maybe you are a real techy person and are a whiz at scripting. Whatever your strong areas are, you should champion them to your potential clients in your introduction letters, in your resume and in conversations. Certain jobs will come up that might need a certain mix of skills, and when you have the right formula, you can be a hero to a new client.
Also, when you are juxtaposing yourself to your peers, you’ll find the areas in which you are lacking. For instance, how’s your typography skill? Is it time to get to the local art college and take a course? If you are lacking technical skills, there is a ton of training out there that you can purchase to get your skills up to par. Obviously, there is a great deal right here at graymachine, but visit other places like:
Everyone has their own specialty, and you’ll always be stronger in some areas than others. However, being weak with your tools is one way to ensure that you don’t get a call back from a client. What I always do: visualize the perfect version of what I should be as a mograph designer, and try to come as close to that ideal as I can.
There’s Always Going to be Someone Better Than You
Considering everything I’ve said so far, understand that no matter how far you progress, how great you are, or how many clients you have, there will always be someone better than you. Take a deep breath and repeat: that’s okay!!! We need these visionaries to give us inspiration and ideas. And as great as they may be, you’ll still have skills that they don’t. Look at the works of Kim Dulaney, Anthony Furlong, Carlo Vega, or Mate Steinforth as your mentors that you may or may not ever meet. But, don’t fall into that “Oh, I give up” mentality just because someone is more awesome than you think you might ever be. Take it one project, one reel, one day, one design book at a time. When you occassionally stop and evaluate yourself, you’ll see progress and that’s exactly what you want.
Remember, it’s good that there’s always someone better than you. when you’re hungry, you work harder. If your satiated, you become complacent.
Know How to Drum Up Work
First, when entering the freelance world and have few or no clients, you’ll want to focus locally. You’ll want to send out communications to your former colleagues, peers, and employers, spreading the word that you are now freelance and actively seeking work. You’d be surprised how much your peers are willing to spread the word for you and send referrals your way. You can do this with an informal email, or if you find it suitable, a phone call. Keep it brief and professional. Highlight what you can do, what you are very strong at doing and direct them to your reel.
Second, you should gather a list of local post production & motion design companies, and start going through them, extending communication that you are freelancing in the area. This yields anywhere from callbacks within 15 minutes, to companies that provide no response. Getting a response not only depends on your communication skills and your portfolio, but how busy the company is. Sometimes places are in need of freelancers but use tools that aren’t in your arsenal (perhaps Flame or Quantel eQ). Don’t take it personally if you don’t get a call back. However, keep them on a routine mailing list that updates them as your reel progresses and your client list grows. It may sound silly, but a strong way to pique interest in companies is to work for their competitors. Word gets around quickly when this happens, and it will cause your bookings to increase and your rate to rise. This is one of the reasons I keep my linkedin.com profile up to date with all of my freelance clients.
Third, start combing the active job forums. This is where you’ll find the best opportunities, and the most competition. It’s great to find an ad looking for someone that is looking for someone exactly like you. The problem is, you’ll be in competition with all the other people that will see it as well. So again, be brief and professional, highlight your strong points and thank them for their time. The job forums I’ve found to be most useful (here in the US) are:
Know one local to you? Please post it in the comments.
Fourth, network like crazy!! You need to get yourself to industry social events, like AIGA mixers, company parties, etc. You need to be in the faces of those that you want to work for. Get their business cards, get their IM names, and build your potential client database. Good motion designers will start to easily find work after landing a few jobs, and the word starts getting around. Once you get connected, stay connected. It’s something that you constantly need to maintain and build upon. If there is a client you’ve not worked with in a while, you should jump at the opportunity to attend one of their social events. I can’t stress enough how much of an influence it has to simply be “in the face” of clients, when trying to land work with them. When you do this, build a positive social reputation. You want your presence to be a positive experience for your clients. Don’t don’t criticize others, or gossip. It will always come back to you. Speak as if the whole world can hear you.
Fifth, if you are still having problems finding clients, perhaps it’s time to seek out a few busy motion graphics mentors. Now, I can’t say that this will always work out, as many are not able to subcontract based on contractual obligations. But, you can try to offer up your services at a rate low enough for bigger names to subcontract work. Can you handle roto work? Type out 100 lower thirds? Set up some basic camera moves? Search for stock images? It can be very helpful for someone to take over tasks like these. So, if you comb the internet for some busy designers and kindly ask them to help, you might get lucky and end up with a great mentor with some great projects that you can help with.
Need more ideas? Here’s 101 of them from freelanceswitch.com.
Be Ready for Any Opportunity
The second you decide to become freelance, you need to lock down all the things that will be needed to quote and land freelance jobs. I am surprised when I talk to budding motion designers how little of this has been thought through. This includes:
- Business Cards
- A Portfolio (hard copy and online versions)
- A day rate
- An invoicing system
To be a professional, you need to look like one. This means having business cards to hand out, and having a portfolio somewhere other than vimeo or youtube. Check this excellent set of tips from motionographer on setting up your portfolio site.
If you need to quote a job, get your day rate ready. So this always leads to the question, what to charge? This varies so widely based on location and experience, it is hard to even write about it here. However, for someone entering freelance work with few clients and little reputation, you’ll most likely not be charging much over $400 / day. If you have clients to draw upon, and you are in a large area like LA or NY, you’ll certainly be charging more (and probably not reading this article). Ultimately, your goal is to not get laughed out of a job. I’ve been staff at places where freelancers charged $600 / day and they seriously lacked the skills to match their bills, and they were not called back. I’ve also gotten quotes from recent graduates with rates topping $500, which, in my book, is way too much. Charge what you can, know what you are worth, but make sure your value matches your rate.
When it is time to send a invoice, many take the route of using Word documents to send invoices. I tried this at first, but I quickly got confused as to what I had already billed. Also, I had a hard time pulling reports for my earnings and billings. After a few jobs, I realized that I need an invoicing system. I use freshbooks.com. I really like using an online system that allows me to enter my time, send invoices, check reports, from anywhere in the world. I recently upgraded to accommodate more clients as I finally topped the 25 client limit!
Know When to Make the Switch
If you are thinking about going freelance, then you need to approach it with caution. First, you need to have savings tucked away for about 3 months of expenses. You might (or might not) suffer a large drop in income for a few months, while you build your client base.
I can only say from experience that what worked for me in easing the transition of full-time to freelance. was to go through a few overbooked months before I left my job. I started networking while still employed, stating that I was available to potential clients. I focused on landing small jobs, being fulling open that I was still juggling a full-time job, but had a firm date that I was leaving. It was a tough couple months, where I felt like I was working all the time. But, when I left my staff job, I had some momentum already going and I was already building a client roster.
It’s All About the Reel
When it is all said and done, when you follow all the tips and advice I’ve laid out, it’s really all about what you can showcase as your best work. You can network, shmooze and send emails, but if your reel is weak, then it’s a lot of wasted effort.
Take the time to get a critique of your reel. If you want an HONEST, no-holds-barred critique, post it at mograph. If it is bad, they will tell you. Don’t take it as a slap in the face, but an honest opinion from a group of people already doing what you are trying to do.