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Be A Better Freelancer, Right Now

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Advice you can put into action.

Until this episode our Podcast had always been interviews, but this time we decided to shake things up. In this episode Joey will be flying solo, giving you his most tactical, actionable Freelance tips that you can start using right now. Some of these tips are from our course, Freelance U, and others are from our first book, The Freelance Manifesto, which you can look forward to adding to your summer reading list in June of 2017.

Whether you're a veteran or just starting out, by the end of this episode you'll be a more confident freelancer. You will get Joey's best tips on finding Freelance work, impressing your clients, and getting paid to do the work that you love. Keep a notepad handy, you'll want to write these down.

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Too Old for MoGraph? On Motionographer

Episode Transcript

Joey Korenman: One of the things that we're trying to do with our podcast is to give you, dear MoGrapher, the most tactical, ground-level advice we can. From day one, School of Motion's mission has always been to help motion designers make a living doing motion design. That's why we tend to focus on the nuts and bolts of being a working motion designer and, to that end, I'd like to try something new. This will be a solo episode, and please, give us feedback on whether or not you find this helpful. We'll be doing tons of interviews but every once in a while it might be cool to do a deep dive into some topic in this format.

To that end I will be talking about freelancing on this episode, but not in some abstract way. I want to give you some really actionable tips that you can use today or tomorrow or in two years when you jump into the freelancing pool. Regardless of when you use them, you will find them to be really, really effective. Some of these tips come from Freelance U, which is our short freelancing source, and from the Freelance Manifesto, which is our first book due to be released in mid-June of 2017. If you're listening to this from the future, head to or to find the book or the course. Now, let's talk about some extremely practical freelancing tips. First, here's a quick message from one of our incredible alumni, Chris Gibson.

Chris Gibson: My name is Chris Gibson and I'm from Jacksonville, Florida. I'd been doing freelance motion design for almost four years before I took any School of Motion courses, and I thought I was doing all right for myself. These courses have helped shape my understanding of animation and animation principles immensely. I started with Animation Bootcamp. I was just insane how much my skill increased during that one course. I had regular clients that I did consistent work for paying me to go back and touch up old projects in order to meet the quality of the stuff I was putting out post-Bootcamp. I would recommend any School of Motion courses for anyone who wants to get a solid education based on fundamentals and foundations, and not on tricks or effects. My name is Chris Gibson and I'm a School of Motion graduate.

Joey Korenman: All right, so the first thing I want to say right off the bat is that these three tips, and there's actually more than three ... There's kind of a smattering of tips, but there's kind of three sections of tips we're going to get into. They work. I've used them, you students have used them, and we've had students try some of these tactics and literally double their freelance business in one month. The reason they work is because freelancing as a motion designer, it's not some new uncharted territory on earth. It's business, and business is fairly straightforward if you learn how to do it.

I know that business and sales and things like that can be really dirty words when you're an artist, when you're a creative person, and I'm going to try and help you get through the process of business and sales a little bit easier after you listen to this episode, okay? Now, I will say the caveat here is you must do these things or they don't work, okay? Frankly, that can be the hardest thing, maybe the hardest thing about being a freelancer. I can tell you exactly what to do step by step. If you read The Freelance Manifesto I can even give you the exact words to say to a client, but you still have to say them. You still have to write an email or pick up the phone or go meet somebody and put yourself out there.

Assuming you're willing to do that and give it a try, we're going to be talking about really three phases of freelancing and I'm going to give you a tip or two from each one, okay? The first phase is finding work, so I'm going to give you some very tactical information, take notes, on how to find work. The second phase we're going to talk about is once you have work, how do you impress the hell out of your clients? How do you make them literally need you? When they call you to book you and you say yes, you're available, they do a happy dance and they know they'll be able to sleep at night. How do you get to that point? I'm going to give you a really good tip, probably my best tip for that.

Then I'm going to talk about the endgame with freelancing, and this to me is really the most important thing I've ever learned in my career. It changed the entire game for me and really became my mantra, and frankly, in some ways still is. The first section, the first phase of freelancing I want to talk about is finding work. Obviously if you don't have work, you're not going to be able to freelance, you're not going to be able to pay your bills. Finding work is what freelancers typically freak out about. Because it's scary, and it may seem that there's not a lot of opportunity out there. Maybe you live in a small town in the Midwest and there are zero ad agencies in your town. The truth is, in today's Internet-connected world it doesn't really matter.

You just need to know how to find companies that need freelancers. If you haven't already you should definitely listen to the previous episode where I interviewed Chris Do of Blind and of The Futur. He gave out a bunch of amazing tips, but one of the most important things he said in that episode was that studios like Blind, not just Blind but almost every studio out there plus companies like Airbnb, Apple, Google, Microsoft, they need motion designers now more than ever. They need you to contact them and let them know that you're available, so how do you do that? Okay, so here's the tip. When you're reaching out to someone ... Okay, first of all you're not reaching out to Blind. Okay?

I wouldn't recommend emailing [email protected] or [email protected] or [email protected]. That is going to send your email into a black hole, into an abyss, and it's probably not going to make its way to the right person. Sometimes it does, sometimes it works, but you have to jump through far more hurdles when you do that, okay? Here you go. Step one: you need to find and curate a list of people at companies to contact. Okay? The short version of how to do that is to use the Internet and all of the cyberstalking tools that you have at your disposable. Do you want to know all of the motion design companies that are in Kansas? Right? Let's pick a state that isn't known ... Except for MK12 of course, but other than MK12 isn't really known for its MoGraph scene.

That was a bad example. I should've picked a different state, but we're going to go with it. We're going to go with Kansas. What you could do is start with the obvious thing, Google. Like "Kansas motion design", "Kansas motion graphics", and some stuff will come up. A better way to do it is to get on a job board, like a Motionographer or even a or something like that, and you're not getting on the job board to actually look for freelance work. That isn't going to work, but what you're looking for are companies that are hiring video professionals: editors, video producers, shooters, occasionally you'll see an ad for a full-time motion designer. If companies are hiring any of those people, it's a safe bet that from time to time they need some After Effects done.

If you reach out to them, first of all they'll probably be shocked because they're not putting an ad out for an After Effects artist, but it's safe to assume they're going to need one at some point. Another really great tip is go to LinkedIn and do an advanced search, and if you don't know how to do an advanced search on LinkedIn you can Google it. There's YouTube videos. It's not very hard to figure out. What you want to do is do a search for the term "motion design" or "motion graphics" or "animation". You can try different keywords. In the advanced search search for those words plus limit it to a location, and you can limit that location to a specific city.

If you live in San Diego, you're very likely to find dozens of companies that have people working at those companies who are on LinkedIn, and somewhere on their profile you might find the words motion graphics. What you're going to find doing a LinkedIn advanced search is you're actually going to find people who are working at companies and in their title they have "Motion Graphics" or "Motion Design", or maybe After Effects is listed in their skills or something like that. What you're going to find are other motion designers, other motion graphics artists. Now why would you care about that? Why do you care ... This was really one of the things that blew my mind when I was putting Freelance U together, was I was kind of doing this as an experiment to see how well this tactic works.

I found out that Houghton Mifflin, which is one of the largest publishers in the United States, they have motion designers on staff. Almost every major company, even mid-sized companies now, have their own video production departments, okay? They're typically run by people that are video savvy but probably not motion design savvy. If you can get their contact info, reach out to them, show them a killer portfolio and let them know "Hey, I'm available for freelance work," you are probably the only freelancer that has contacted them. Okay? Because most freelancers go out and they look for the low-hanging fruit, which is actually the highest-hanging fruit. "Oh, well, I know Buck hires freelancers. I know Giant Ant hires freelancers occasionally. Why don't I reach out to them?"

Well, yeah, but every freelancer in the world is sending their portfolio to those companies. If you're looking for work, it may not be the best work, may not end up on Motionographer, but if you're going to be freelancing and you're starting out, don't be picky. Beggars can't be choosers as they say. All right, so once you find these people on LinkedIn, these motion designers at companies that you probably wouldn't have assumed needed motion designers, now you know that those companies sometimes need motion designers. They have one on staff, but what happens when that one's busy? What happens if that one leaves? What happens if that one goes on vacation? Right? They're going to need freelancers. It's a safe bet.

The next thing you're going to do is you're going to try to find the right person at that company to contact, so I would go directly to that company's contact page, I would go to their web page, and I would try to find ... A lot of companies, agencies, marketing companies now, typically not huge corporations, but smaller companies have a team page on their website. You can go check that out. Go look for someone on that page with the title of producer, EP, possibly an art director or creative director if it's a small enough company. Once you get that person's name, the right person to contact, then you need their email address, okay? This is where the Internet and the tools that have come about in the past few years just make it really fun to do this.

Let's say you find the name of a producer at Houghton Mifflin, and their title might not be Producer at a company like that. It might be Project Manager, but if you read their job description in LinkedIn it might say something about producing video content, so you suspect that they have the similar role of a producer. You find out their name, and you find out Houghton Mifflin's URL. There are tools where you can put those two pieces of information in and there's a certain amount of Internet voodoo that happens, and out comes an email address that you can then send a cold email to. It's pretty crazy. I'm going to tell you about three that I really like.

The first one is Voila Norbert. All right, so Voila, the French voila, and then Norbert, like a geeky kind of name, Norbert. All one word, dot com. Okay? You go there, you put in first and last name and the URL, and about 60, 70% of the time it will find that person's email address in a minute or two. It's freaky. Try it on yourself and see what happens. It's pretty cool. Another great one that's newer is called, and it works the same way as Voila Norbert. It has a little bit of a higher hit rate in my experience. There's another one that's really convenient called Find That Lead, and you have to ignore the kind of salesman-y name, but it's actually a Chrome plugin that works in tandem with LinkedIn.

When you find that person on LinkedIn, you can click a button and it will find their email address for you. Okay? Now, there's 15 tools out there that do this and the truth is, you never know which one is going to work because inevitably, with some URLs or some domains, Voila Norbert works really well, but with other ones it just can't work for some reason. Rocket Reach works with those, but then if it doesn't work there Find That Lead sometimes works, so you have to kind of play around with all three services and just do some research into other ones because they're always changing. By the time you listen to this episode those three services might be gone and there's going to be 50 more in their place. Okay?

I went through this really fast. I blasted through this, and there's a lot more detail if you're curious in Freelance U and in The Freelance Manifesto, but that in a nutshell is how I got new clients really, really consistently for years. Okay? You'll notice that there's nothing amazing about it. Not once did I mention "Oh, I have a great reel. I know these people personally." I didn't, and I didn't. I didn't have a great reel or know them personally. It doesn't matter. What you need to understand, and frankly I talk about this a little bit in the Motionographer article that I wrote ... It's called Too Old for MoGraph. We'll link to it in the show notes. It was a guest article I wrote.

I talk about this idea of having an abundance mindset. If all you do is look at Motionographer and you think that that's the motion design industry, you're going to think "Oh my gosh, I'm seeing the same dozen studios on there over and over again because they are doing the best work." Yes, for every one of those there's 100 mid-level studios, and for every mid-level studio there's 100 low-level studios, and for every low-level studio there's 100 ad agencies or marketing agencies building their own internal teams. All of the above need freelancers. There's pretty much an endless supply of freelance work. As part of our Freelance U course when we were putting it together we did a survey, and we reached out to dozens of producers and studio owners and creative directors and people who work at ad agencies, and we asked them: Is it difficult for you to find freelancers?

83% said yes or sometimes it is. Think about that for a minute. These were producers at big studios where they probably have a spreadsheet with links and reels and freelancers on it 200-people long. Even in that case there's sometimes just not enough people, so if you're one of these smaller companies or you're Houghton Mifflin and you're a video producer there not steeped in the motion design industry, you probably don't have that long Rolodex of freelancers. When a good one reaches out to you and somehow finds your contact info and writes a nice email to you, you are very likely going to look at their reel and give them a chance. Okay? Hopefully that tip is useful.

If you have trouble finding new clients and finding work, try that, okay? The short version is: look, go to LinkedIn, do an advanced search for motion design, motion graphics, animation, After Effects, try all of those, and limit it to your area or an area that you're close to or an area where you speak the language. You frankly don't even have to be in the same country. Depending on the company and depending on your people skills you can probably convince them to let you work remotely. It's just super standard these days. Hoo, all right. I'm a little out of breath now. That was the first phase of freelancing. You're looking for work, okay? Now of course we're skipping a few steps.

You need to write the perfect email and you need to have a good portfolio and all of those things, right? That's all very important. Let's skip ahead. Now you've landed the gig. You have an actual client paying you actual money to do actual motion design. Hallelujah. What can you do to make them happier than any other freelancer has ever made them, ensure that you get repeat business, and make your life easier and less stressful all in one fell swoop? This is my favorite tip. Okay. Let me tell you a story. Back when I was running a studio in Boston called Toil ... You can go to It's probably still live. You can see some of our work.

We had a client, an ad agency in town, and one of their really big accounts was a chain of stores that sells long sandwiches. Let's put it that way. We did a ton of work on that account. This is one of those accounts that generally doesn't produce real worthy work, right? It needs to get done, it needs to look good, they had good budgets for it and stuff like that, so we did a ton of it. When I started Toil we had two editors that would edit these spots for this chain, and then there was always a step that had to happen before the spot went out, which was we needed to animate the name of the sandwich, whatever sandwich was being featured. We needed to create an animation showing that sandwich name coming on the screen in some interesting way.

If it was a flame-grilled something, maybe we would get some flame stock footage and we'd create a little flame wipe or something like that. You know? Or if it was the big beefy something, maybe the type would kind of grow really big and scale down and do something interesting, okay? Look, we're definitely not winning any motion awards for that work. I at the time had more ego than I should have and I'm thinking to myself "This is like the easy stuff." Let's be honest. As a motion designer this is not really what you signed up for, right, to be animating sandwich titles? What I would do in the very beginning was I would get the name of the sandwich and I would come up with some way of animating it that I thought was cool and I would do my best.

I'd look at it and I'd be like "This is legit. It looks good, you can read the name, it's appropriate, it's perfect. I even thought about it and it ties in to the name of the sandwich and there you go." I would render that out and I would send it to the client and say "Here you go. Here's the sandwich title. What do you think?" Inevitably they would have to change it somehow, sometimes radically, and for no reason. If you think about the purpose of that commercial, that commercial is designed to sell sandwiches. Okay? The way my title animates in is not going to sell more sandwiches. It's just not. Why is the client beating up this three-second animated sandwich title?

I talked about it with my business partners who were far, far wiser than me, and they told me to try something. They said "Next time you animate a sandwich title, animate three different options. Show the client all three and see what happens." Now, that annoyed me because, I don't know, maybe I'm lazy or something and I didn't want to do extra work and plus I just didn't see the point. I thought "Look, if I scale this sandwich name up letter by letter with a little overshoot, maybe a little squash and stretch, getting there in the curve editor, make it nice, isn't that enough to sell the frickin' sandwich?"

So whatever. The next job comes in and this time I do three options. It takes me three times as long to do the job, and then I send those three options off to the client. You want to know what happened? They picked one. That was it. There were no revisions. They just picked the one they like. I was kind of blown away by this, and the one they picked is not the one I would've picked, of course, but it made my job so much easier from that point on. Because I realized that what I had not been taking into account was the psychology of client interaction. Clients, when they hire you, they're hiring you because you're the expert. Okay? The art director over at the ad agency is not an After Effects artist, doesn't understand animation really.

He's an art director, okay? He understands design, but if it's his name on this commercial and he didn't get to put his thumbprint on every little piece of it ... Not everyone works this way, by the way. This is kind of an ad agency stereotype, the thumbprint thing. This guy, he liked to put his thumbprint on everything. If I didn't give him an opportunity to do that, he would take one. If I only gave him one option, he had to change something. It was in his nature. He couldn't help it. Most clients work this way whether they realize it or not. First of all most clients aren't art directors, so when they see something and you're showing them one option, and they're not sure if they like it, they think they might but they're not sure, they don't have the vocabulary to talk to you about it in an intelligent way.

What you're leaving them kind of floundering about to do is to try and throw a dart at what is going to make them love it, and that's not what they're trained to do. However, if you give them three options and specifically give them the option that they asked for if they asked for one ... If they didn't, if they're just like "Animate this sandwich name," animate one that is so obviously the right one. Simple, clean. It's a sandwich, we don't need a flame wipe. Are you kidding me? Then do the flame wipe, and then do one that's even simpler than your first one. Right? It's called bracketing. It basically means you give them the right answer and then you give them two kind of right answers.

That way, psychologically they see the right answer in the context of two answers that aren't quite as good, and it's so obvious to them: "Ah, I have the taste to tell this animator that that's the one I want right there." Now they've gotten to put their thumbprint on it without having to give you revisions. Now it doesn't always work. Okay? They may still give you revisions, and frankly it's not bad to get revisions. It's part of the process, right? But we've all gotten revisions for no reason other than somebody just wanted to make a tweak. Somebody wanted to be able to tell their boss "You see that? I made him do that." Okay? This is called the three-option trick and it really works just because of human nature.

Humans want to have some ownership over things that they're in charge of. As a bonus, this trick is also a very good practice, okay? This is another thing that kind of annoyed me when I realized that it's true. When you're sitting there trying to think of an idea, not just an animation idea but a design idea, a concept, a way of editing something, and you have that eureka moment and you got it, you've got the answer, it's very tempting to want to stop and say "You know what? There's the answer, I got it. I'm done." It's a little naïve and a little egotistical to think that your first idea is the best idea you've got. All right? Ad agencies, for as much grief as I give them, they actually know this.

They know this very well, that one good idea is not enough. You need to have multiple good ideas, and frankly you need to have multiple right answers, multiple ideas that could work and be correct. If you get in the habit of doing that it gets less painful over time to constantly dig and dig and dig, dig new holes after you've already dug one, and you will find that you will kind of trip over these ideas, your second idea, your third idea, that "Whoa, that's way better than my first idea." Had you just thrown in the towel and said "I'm done," you wouldn't have ever arrived at that, and you're setting yourself up for a ton of revisions with your client. If you're freelancing in-house at a studio and you're asked to animate something, to design something, to edit something, always find a way to give three options.

Three seems to be the magic number. They can be simple. Three color palettes. If you're designing something super intricate with tons of 3D and tons of compositing and it's like one frame takes you three hours to make, you may not have the time to do three totally different options. However, do three color palettes. Do an option with all the bells and whistles and then turn a bunch off and do a simplified version. Okay? There are a lot of easy ways to give your client, who could be an art director, it could be a producer, it could be the owner of the company ... Just give them three things to choose from. If you're editing, three music tracks. Sometimes that's it.

The editors at Toil, when they would be editing a commercial, they would edit it way more than three different ways. By the end of it it would be 20 different ways, and then they'd pick the best one. When the client came in for that first supervised session, it was always at least three completely different edits, different music options, different pacing, and it gives the client something to latch onto that becomes their choice, and they will love you for this. Okay? Most freelancers don't do it, so if you do it you are going to separate yourself instantly. I'm serious, you will laugh at how well this works the first time you try it. Okay? Cool.

All right, so now you've got a bunch of new clients and they all love you because you're doing the three-option trick. Cool, so now what? Okay? Now, this is something I talked about in that Motionographer article Too Old for MoGraph. I almost said MoldGraph, which is kind of ironic. In Too Old for MoGraph I talked about the phenomenon of becoming successful. When your career is kind of on this upward slant you kind of always have positive reinforcement. You're getting new clients and they're paying you more, your work's getting better, you're getting compliments, it's awesome. Then at a certain point you're just kind of saturated. You can't take on anymore work.

You've got your four or five freelance clients that book you all the time, and typically that's all you need. You don't need 30 freelance clients. There's no way you could juggle that. I'd love to see somebody try. It would be comedy. Let's say you've got your four or five freelance clients. They're keeping you busy, they're paying your bills, everything's great. Well, now what? Now you're no longer on this upward trajectory. Now you've kind of leveled off. If you're like me, you might have to learn the hard way that it's okay to level off. It's okay for your career to stay in one place for a while. You don't necessarily need to go open your own studio.

Once you get to that point, what are some of the ways you can optimize what you're doing so that your work can continue to get better, you can over time earn more money, and you can still increase the quality and the volume of what you're doing? This is a quote directly from Freelance U and from The Freelance Manifesto. This is literally the most important idea, I think, in all of freelancing. Frankly, it applies to so much more than freelancing but particularly freelancing. It's this. Do the work you want to get paid for before you're paid to do it. Okay? Let that sink in for a minute. Do the work you want to get paid for before you're paid to do it. That's the secret right there.

Giant Ant, Buck, Royale, all these studios, you see these amazing pieces. "Good Books" from Buck: classic, instant classic, right? They did not get paid to do that. There may have been some budget but I guarantee you that job ran well into the red. That was the kind of work that they wanted to get paid to do. Okay? Now they're doing work like that for David Blaine. Even at the highest levels, the highest echelons of MoGraph, that is how it's done. If it works for Buck, it will certainly work for you. Let me tell you how I sort of arrived at this. I did not come up with this idea myself. I sort of stole it, borrowed it, appropriated it from David Lewandowski. If you don't know who David Lewandowski is, his website is, and he is brilliant. Amazing motion designer.

Really sick Cinema 4D artist, and he worked on Tron with GMUNK and he's done a bunch of really weird, wacky stuff. Okay? He's probably most well-known for a video called "Going to the Store," and there's another one called "Late for Meeting," and it's like this ... It's hard to explain. It's basically like a person made out of rubber and they're naked and their body isn't quite shaped right and they don't move the right way and it's just bizarre and there's this really strange music going the whole time. It's one of the weirdest things on the Internet, and it's brilliant in its own sick way. It has millions and millions of views, and has been licensed for TV shows and all this stuff. David's done these brilliant music videos that are incredible.

If you look at those things and you're savvy about the industry you might wonder: Who the hell paid for those? There's no client. If you're doing a music video ... By the way, anyone who wants to do music videos, here's a secret. You will do them for no money. They do not have budgets typically. I mean, they may have a budget in the low single thousands, okay? When you see these amazing music videos that took a month or two to do, you need to realize that that is someone doing the work they want to get paid for before they're getting paid to do it. Anyway, I went to dinner a few years back with David Lewandowski and I asked him about those videos, and I was really curious because they obviously took so much effort to do. How the hell are you doing them?

Because you're clearly not getting paid to do those. There's no client asking for that. What he said kind of blew my mind. Here's his idea. Here's the way he described it, is that there are jobs that have huge budgets, and then there are jobs that have tiny budgets. Typically there's a correlation. The job that has the huge budget is going to be something like a dog food commercial or an internal ra-ra video for a bank or something like that. Stuff that you may not even want your name on, right? It needs to be done and done well and you'll crush it, but it's not going to go on your business card, right? Then on the other end you've got these jobs that have so little budget that they basically are forced to say "If you'll do this for this amount, you can do whatever you want. Just make it cool, please."

Those jobs are awesome, because those are the ones that end up on your reel. Those are the passion projects. Those jobs get even better when there's no budget, and that's what David was doing. He was funding a lot of this stuff. The "Going to the Store" and "Late for Meeting" series was self-funded. How was he able to do those things if no one's paying him and they clearly take months to produce? Well, he was doing work that you'll never find on the Internet. Okay? He was doing the work that all of us motion designers do. Even the big studios do work that they don't put on their websites. I remember hosting the Blend Conference in Vancouver back in 2015, and I had the pleasure of leading a panel that featured Ryan Honey from Buck, and I asked him about doing spec work. That's work that's unpaid.

It's essentially what we're talking about here, doing the work you want to get paid for before you're getting paid for it. I think he said something like only 10% of the work Buck does ends up on their website. That's pretty amazing if you think about it. That means that there's this mountain that you don't see of work that's probably still awesome, but by Buck standard it's just not what they want to be known for. You know? Buck has to pay the bills and I'm sure they're doing a ton of work that pays really well and frankly just isn't that cool. That's how David was able to fund that stuff. He kind of incepted this idea into my head that you can purposefully take jobs that aren't cool, that are not going to go on your portfolio, that might be painful to do, maybe it's a tough client, but they pay you so well that you then have the luxury of time after it's over to do the thing you really want to do.

Okay, so here's my version of that. In my last round of freelancing ... I freelanced a few times in my career but the last time I did it, when I was really using all of these principles and being really successful with it, one of my favorite clients to work for because they were kind of cool was this major sports network. I got to work on a lot of stuff like the Superbowl and the World Series and the college basketball March Madness tournament. I got to do a lot of fun stuff that, when I told my mom and dad about it, they were very excited and thought it was cool. But, going back to that relationship that David talked about ... Jobs that are really cool, like the coolest jobs, they have no money. The ones that are super un-cool, they have tons of money.

Then there's the ones in the middle, and that's where these were. All right? I wasn't doing the graphics package for the Superbowl. That was probably Troika or someone way better than me. I was doing graphics for the little on-air pieces that would air about the players right before the Superbowl and stuff like that, and those did not have huge budgets. They had some budget, but they had just enough budget to ensure that what I was doing was not going to be super cool. There wasn't enough time for it to be super cool. Right? Sometimes the client would be difficult and it'd be difficult to please them and they were kind of nitpicky sometimes, and so it was also painful.

Those jobs would last me maybe three weeks and I'd bill maybe four or five thousand dollars, so pretty low. Now this isn't like three full weeks of work. This would be like over the course of three weeks I'd bill about four or five grand. Now, if that's the rate you're billing at for three weeks of work, you've got to work all the time pretty much. You can't just stop for two months if that's all you got unless you live super frugally. I had two kids at the time. That just was not in the cards. I had another client that would book me less frequently, and I actually didn't actively go after work from them. I just kind of waited for them to come to me because every time I did a job for them, to be honest, it was kind of unpleasant.

The people there that were booking me were awesome, but the work itself was stupendously unsexy. Because this was for a fairly large ad agency, the revision process, getting through legal, last-minute fire drills, jobs coming in a week later than they should have so the schedule's just not long enough: those types of things happened every single job. Every time I said yes to a job from them, I knew what I was signing up for which was two to three weeks of really stressful, frantic work, but they had huge budgets. Unlike the sports network that would pay maybe four or five thousand dollars for two to three weeks of my work, the big ad agency could actually pay 15 to 20,000 dollars for two to three weeks of my work.

Now, it was painful, but I could do one of those and then I had my bills paid for a couple of months. You know? I could just basically stop. When it dawned on me that I didn't have to fill in those gaps with more freelance work, but maybe what I should be doing is filling in those gaps with work I actually want to do, maybe the work that one day I'd like to get paid to do but right now I just don't have the street cred and I don't have the portfolio to make that happen, maybe I could do a bunch of that in my downtime, building something for my future. As a freelancer this is doing spec projects, doing your own personal projects, that look the way you want your portfolio to look.

If you would like Buck to hire you, your portfolio needs to have Buck-level work on it. If it doesn't and your current freelance clients are not giving that to you, you need to take time and do it for free. That is just reality. For me, the last time I did this I took on a huge last-minute job for my client. I billed them, I don't remember, $22,000 or something for like three weeks of work. Okay? Big check. That meant that I could take about two months off before I'd need to really start looking for work again. In those two months I said to myself "I'm going to make a tutorial every single day and release one a day for 30 days, and I'll call it 30 Days After Effects."

I did that, and that is literally the reason you're listening to this podcast. Because if I hadn't done that there would be no School of Motion, none of the classes that we offer would exist. I'd probably still be freelancing instead of running School of Motion, which is the best job I've ever had and I wouldn't have it if I had waited for someone to pay me to make online training instead of just making online training, and then figuring out how to get paid afterwards. I want you to take that same philosophy and try to apply that to your freelance career. Now, I will say that you can't really do it when you're starting out. You're not going to have the variety of clients and you probably aren't going to have clients that are paying you that much right at the beginning.

It does take years to get to the level where you can actually make a reasonable demand for that amount of money for that amount of work. By the way, in order to charge rates like that you essentially need to be able to produce a job from start to finish. I'm talking storyboards, design boards, style frames if necessary, animatic, handling voiceover, music, sound, mixing, all that stuff. If you can handle that, then you can actually charge those really big rates. If you're in your twenties and you don't have kids yet and you're living cheap and your rent's low, you don't need to make that much to take two weeks off and do something really badass and submit it to the Motion Awards, put it on Vimeo, put it on Tumblr, Tweet about it, get a lot of people excited about it.

That's when studios will start noticing you. It's when you're doing the work that you really are passionate about that you want to be doing and not just waiting for some client to have an opportunity to pay you to do it. All right? There you go. Those are three tips, and there was a lot of little sub-tips in there that I hope you could take away. Listen, these things do work and they can be challenging and they can trigger impostor syndrome the first time you do them, but just try to push through it because if you're going to be a successful freelancer, the most successful freelancers do all of these things. All right?

I hope these tips are super helpful and that they're things that you can start applying to your own career. Freelancing is, frankly, a fan-friggin-tastic way to take more control of your career and to give you the time and the flexibililty to do the work you want to get paid for before you're paid to do it. If you would like to learn a ton of info and tactics related to freelancing, check out our Freelance U course at, and look out for The Freelance Manifesto due out June of 2017 on Amazon. That's it for this episode. Man, thank you so much for listening. We'll catch you on the next one.


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The freelancer’s guide to finding, booking, and keeping clients.

Drive your freelance motion design career to the next level with a repeatable method of finding, contacting, and landing clients. You’ll learn new ways of identifying prospects and nurturing leads, plus how to develop a freelance philosophy that keeps you thriving through chaos. See this system in action so you can implement it yourself!

Not sure where to start?

If you’re a beginner, here are some great courses to help you get started:

After Effects Kickstart

Dive into the fundamentals of motion design with our most popular (and recently updated) After Effects course.


Photoshop + Illustrator Unleashed

Master the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator and gain invaluable insights in this introductory level course.


Design Kickstart

An introduction to the design principles behind all great work.


More Advanced?

If you’re a more advanced student looking to up your game, here are some great options:

Animation Bootcamp

Learn the art and principles of creating beautiful movements in Adobe After Effects.


Design Bootcamp

Learn to design for motion in this intermediate-level, project-based course.


Cinema 4D Basecamp

Learn Cinema 4D from the ground up in this exciting introductory C4D course.


Now is the time to learn the skills you need to advance in your motion design career: