Just how much should you be charging for Motion Design projects?
I have an awkward question for you: How much do you charge for your motion design work? Are you project-based? Daily? Hourly?? All three??? If this conversation makes you a little uncomfortable, you're not alone. Plenty of freelance artists have trouble discussing their rates, but that's a challenge we have to overcome.
Why is this such a difficult topic? It almost seems like you have to be some sort of "chosen one" to even understand the finances of this industry, and that's even if you can build a successful freelancing career. And if you don't have that experience, there's just no way to know if you're charging enough, right?
Well that's what I thought for the longest time.
Luckily for you, we've made figuring out your rate much easier.
The Freelance Manifesto
If you don’t know yet, our fearless hairless leader, Joey Korenman, has written a book called “The Freelance Manifesto” that goes into juicy detail of the ins-and-outs of the Motion Design industry. Much of this post is taken directly from his book. If you want to know more, are thinking about or trying to freelance, want to up your freelance game, get paid more, or have more time, it’s worth your time to read it.
Today, we're going to demystify the financial side of freelancing. In this article, we'll:
- Debunk the myth that only skilled freelancers get paid well
- Show you how much to put into business expenses
- Tell you what rate to charge as a motion designer
- Teach you to charge based on your value
Myth: The more skilled a freelancer is, the more they get paid.
This is one of the biggest lies in the industry. We've surveyed many studios and have found that there is almost no correlation between a freelancers’ talent and their price.
Unfortunately, there is no place to go to see every Motion Designer’s current rates and what they were paid for particular projects. As a result, accurate numbers and prices are hard to come by.
Also, what do you even search for? Unlike "car salesman," motion design work falls into a number of terms—motion designer, designer, animator, editor, 3D generalist, 2D explainer, illustrator—on and on and on.
Just check out some popular Reddit articles about this subject. They are all over the place!
This particular one here has people saying their rates are anywhere between $20/hour up to $150/hour.
This one as well has many talking in terms of weekly, daily, or hourly rates. Any amount of googling takes you from insanely low numbers to ridiculously high ones.
One of the goals of the book, our podcast, the blog, and everything we do is to get this information out in the open so we can get a better idea of what to charge our clients.
Think about it. If you freelance, you are responsible for paying the self-employment tax, as well as for your own health insurance premiums, retirement savings, etc. This is why employers are opting for hiring freelancers when the jobs come in, because they don’t have to pay all of these expenses every month. They only have to worry about spending money when the work comes in. This puts freelancers in a fantastic position: You can have premium rates, and the studios are able to pay.
How Much Money Should a Motion Designer Put Into Business Expenses?
Your numbers may differ slightly, but here is a great place to start. We won’t dive into the math, but if you want to be certain you will have all your bases covered and bills paid follow this simple process:
Take the total amount you make on a job, cut it in half, and set the first half aside for all your business expenses (federal and state taxes, health insurance, life insurance, retirement savings, costs associated with workspace, etc.), and use the rest for everything else.
I know, it sounds like a lot, but when you are getting freelance gigs and getting paid for what you’re worth, you’ll be surprised how far it can go.
In other words, set aside 50% of gross pay for all your business-related expenses.
What Rate Should I Charge as a Freelance Motion Designer?
This is one of the most common questions we get asked, and it is critical to understanding your future as a freelancer. You don’t HAVE to go by these numbers. Use your best judgement and take an honest assessment of where you are at.
AS OUTLINED IN THE FREELANCE MANIFESTO:
- $350/day - New to freelancing, just got out of college, or not as confident in your abilities. This is not so much where it’s a risk for the client, but enough so the client doesn't question your abilities.
- $500/day - You are confident, have a decent reel, and have a couple years under your belt (this was Joey’s rate when he started freelancing).
- $650/day - You have many years of experience, multidisciplinary, can do 3D and 2D, can mix, edit, do some sound FX, etc. You are more than an order-taker. You contribute to the overall creative vision for the project. Clients can tell if you are worth that amount, so you need to make sure you have the experience and the expertise to back it up.
- $750/day - Your work has appeared on sites such as Motionographer. You have a reputation of getting a job done with minimal management. You take away as much work as possible from the client, make them look good, and come up with ideas that they wouldn’t have thought of if they didn’t hire you.
- $800-1000/day - You can run your own studio, and have experience subcontracting work out, have connections, and can handle large projects. You might be directing a piece, or a team of motion designers.
- $1,500/day - You are a specialist. Few can do what you can do, at the level you can do it, with the speed and efficiency you can do it with. Realflow, Houdini, particle, fire, water simulations, etc.
- $2,000+/day - You are a select few that have been in the industry 10+ years, have worked with some of the largest clients in some of the largest studios, where you might be hired to oversee a project from start to finish. You might have to roll up your sleeves and do some motion design, but that's not what they are paying you for. They are paying you for direction, creative ideas, and thinking of out-of-the box solutions that really stand out, all the while knowing how to execute with a team.
Charge Clients Based on Your Value as a Motion Designer
When discussing price with a client, here are some lines of what NOT to say:
- “Can you do $400/day?”
- “What’s your budget?”
- “I am around $500/day”
- “I can do $650/day, does that work?”
Here’s what you should say:
- (In a confident voice) “My rate is $600/day.”
Then leave it at that. Once you say your rate, stop talking. You're rambling because you're nervous and belying a lack of confidence. State your rate and wait for the client to respond. If they can’t do it, they can’t do it. Don’t shortchange yourself. You know what you are worth, and you know how much time you have spent developing your skills and how much money you have spent on hardware and software.
Trust me: The more confident you are about your ability and worth, the more valuable you will appear to the client, and the more the client will be confident to pay you what you are worth. There is a lot of work out there, and if you lose one client because of price, you will gain a better, more trusted client that can pay you (most of the time a client can come up with the money if they think you are worth it, or if they can’t, they remember you for next time and will hire you for the next project at your rate).The book goes into much greater detail about the nuts and bolts, how to handle overtime, when and why you could charge hourly or per project, going after businesses directly to be able to expand and scale your work, and the process step by step to launching and maintaining a freelance career.
Frequently Asked Questions for Motion Designers
- Do Motion Designers Provide Their Own Music?
In general, a motion designer is not expected to generate original music for any project. There are a huge number of reliable, royalty-free sites out there for you to peruse and use. Include the price of the song purchase in your invoice, and be sure to check what sort of license the client will need.
- Do Motion Designers Create Their Own Illustrations?
Many motion designers start their career in Graphic Design, but an equal amount have little to no background in illustration. While there are similarities in these skill sets, they are still quite different. Don't feel bad if you're not the world's best artist. The most important thing is how you bring your characters to life.
If you wanted to learn how to create better artwork for your projects, consider Illustration for Motion.
- How Do You Handle A Client Asking for Additional Work?
Sometimes a client will ask for additional work that wasn't in the original scope of your contract. In this case, first decide if you can actually take on this additional work. Don't say "yes" just because you want to be a people pleaser. Then, write up a supplement to the contract that adds the new language and whatever the additional cost will be, then have the client sign. There's nothing wrong with taking on new tasks, but don't work for free.
Where Should You Take Your Motion Design Career?
Now that you know a little bit more about making money as a freelancer, it's time to ask the next impossible question: Where is your career headed? Do you know what the next step is on your journey? Could you use some help? That's why we designed Level Up!
In Level Up, you’ll explore the ever-expanding field of Motion Design, discovering where you fit in and where you’re going next. By the end of this course, you’ll have a roadmap to help you get to the next level of your Motion Design career.