School of Motion

Advice on Going Freelance as a Motion Designer

  • By Austin Saylor
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Thinking about going freelance as a Motion Designer? Here's a few tips to help make the transition easier.

Why do you want to be freelance? This is an often overlooked question for those who have their rose-tinted glasses on and the sound of freedom ringing in their ears.

Maybe you want creative freedom or the choice of who you take on as a client. Perhaps you want more Benjamins or the freedom to walk around in your underwear at 3pm without it being weird. There are a lot of advantages to being a freelance motion designer, but if you don’t know why you’re after, you may never find it - and let's get real, you know you want to enter your bathroom to find it free from suspicious smells or at least know where said smells came from.

A Freelance Case-Study

David Stanfield’s reasons for wanting to go freelance shifted from being more career oriented (client choice, creative freedom) to being more family oriented when he and his wife started having babies.

Whatever stage of life you're in, it's good to consider the reasons you want to go freelance. This quote comes from an interview David did with Reverly and it’s 100% worth a full read:

“I basically worked two full-time jobs for about half a year, taking on as much freelance work as my wife and I could handle with a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old at home. And then, in March of 2014, with our third child due in about four months, I handed in my two-week notice at my job. It was easily the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” - David Stanfield
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Sir Freelancelot, David Stanfield.

With all that being said. Going freelance isn't going to be as easy as a cake walk. Or maybe it is, I've never attended a cake walk before, they might be difficult I suppose...

Anyways, what I'm trying to say is freelancing is a challenge and often counterintuitive to the 'School > Job > Paycheck' mindset that many of us were trained to believe most of our lives. It will take a lot of hard work, but the payoff can be incredible.

A Few Tips for Going Freelance

So now that we have the 'why' question out of the way let's talk about some actionable tips to make it happen.

1. Build your ideal portfolio

Wouldn’t it be awesome to get hired to do work you love making? Well it won’t happen out of the blue. Clients hire you for the work you’ve already created. Luckily, you have control over the work that’s in your portfolio. Don’t wait for clients to ask you to make something amazing. Go out and do that on your own.

Personal projects have launched or helped many MoGraph careers career.

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From "Original" by Vucko

Having your ideal portfolio isn’t the only key to getting good clients and maintaining good relationships.

2. Be Cool, But Not in the Sunglasses Indoors Kind of Way...

It’s amazing how far being a kind and respectful person can take you. Do what you say you’re going to do. Own it when you mess up. Don’t rush to find someone or something to blame. Basically, Be cool.

Jorge Estrada (aka Jr. Canest), while working at Giant Ant, described how being good to people is as important, if not more important, than how good you are at motion design.

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Be cool like Fez

3. Get Social

Go where the people are. In today’s uber-connected world, you can virtually hang out with anyone. Just because you're hanging out online doesn't mean you can't crack a cold one.

Chat with industry peers in the weekly Twitter gather, #MoChat.

Check out Mixed.Parts, where there are in-depth discussions on all things mograph. You can even create your own posts to ask freelance specific questions and get thoughtful responses from other motion designers.

Spend some time each week interacting with people on Twitter, Instagram, Slack, etc. Use these modern network tools to your advantage. Befriend other freelancers, ask for advice, and help others out when they have questions.

Share your work on social media, but don’t be afraid to be you. Not everything has to be a serious animation piece. The motion design industry is a friendly place and we like getting to know you.

School of Motion loves sharing awesome MoGraph projects on their social channels. Shoot 'em an email and they just might share your work.

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It's good to get mixed up in these parts

4. Get Personal

One thing that made a big difference in my ability to make a living as a freelance motion designer was getting on video calls with other motion designers. A little face time makes a big impact. Most of my best motion design connections/good friends have started with Skype calls. And I can’t tell you how many freelance gigs I’ve gotten or been able to send to others because of these connections.

It’s simple, just follow these two easy steps.

  • Step 1: Build some rapport by interacting with them for a little while
  • Step 2: Slide into their DMs and respectfully ask if they would like to hop on a quick Google Hangout to ask a few questions about their experience as a freelancer

That's seriously all there is to it. Motion Designers are super helpful people. You'll have no trouble getting advice from other artists.

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Internet friends are the best friends

So far we’ve discussed a lot of networking ideas, but what about just getting a good paying gig?

5. The Freelance Manifesto

I wasn’t sure if moving to the Arizona desert during a freelance dry spell was a good idea, but I had just finished reading our very own Joey Korenman’s Freelance Manifesto, so I knew I had a good plan. I revisited my copious amount of notes and reached out to all of the studios in the area with modified scripts he provides. Within a week, I landed a 3 day gig at a sneakily big studio that more than paid for rent that month.

I’ve since worked with them multiple times and sent them some of my biggest invoices. If you don’t have consistent work coming in that pays well, you should definitely do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Freelance Manifesto!

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6. Document the Journey

We already know that people hire other people they know and like. So what's a scaleable way to have people get to know you and your personality? Video! And trust me, I already know your objections: I don't know what to say. I'm not an expert. I don't like the way I sound.

To those fears, I have to say: Talk about what you're up to and what you're learning. You don't have to be an expert to be interesting. And get over yourself for a second (blame your three little ear bones called ossicles and move on).

I didn't have a master plan when I left my full time job to pursue the riches and fame of freelance fortune, but I did record a few vlog style videos to help people know I was available for work without sounding desperate. Though none of these videos were (or ever would be) a viral sensation, they helped me land a few crucial gigs at the beginning that kept the dream alive.

So don't be afraid to put yourself (your work and your personality) out there. Get to know people better. Becoming genuine friends with others in this industry is a great way to build a budding freelance career.

And when you're ready to grow the skills you need to land your dream job check out our bootcamps here at School of Motion. We also have a snazzy jobs board where you can find freelance gigs around the world.