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Freelance Advice with Hayley Akins

By Ryan Plummer

Going freelance can be a nerve-wracking decision. That's why we're asking a panel of incredibly talented freelancers for their tips on how—and when—to take the leap

Hayley Akins studied film production at Staffordshire University. She discovered a love for motion design and set her sights on developing those skills. She worked for a tiny little company called Google for 4 years before making the leap into freelance. Running her own business for a few years helped her see a gap in the information available to designers just like she founded an incredible site called Motion Hatch!
Hayley has been there, seen that, and written a course about the whole thing. She is a fierce talent and a force to be reckoned with. Fill up that slushy and grab a beanbag, it's time to listen (read) and learn!

Interview with Hayley Akins

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Thanks for chatting with us, Hayley! Can you dig into some of your history for us?

After working as a staff motion designer for 7 years, I finally made the jump into freelance. It was very scary.
Luckily, I had made lots of contacts who gave me work, and I had a few freelance friends who told me what they charged, among other things. Once I got into the freelance space, I found a lot of people undercharging and almost nobody was regularly increasing their rates.
Some freelance motion designers with years of experience had only increased their rate once in the last 5 years. I felt like this was crazy!
I joined a digital nomad community called Location Indie, and they helped people freelance or start their own business with the aim to be location independent. I thought this was great, and wondered why no one had created a website offering information on how to freelance, what to charge, etc in the motion design industry.
It took me a while because of imposter syndrome to realize maybe I could do something about it. 
I started the Motion Hatch podcast in late 2017 to open up conversations about the business side of motion design. It grew from there, and now 2 years and 6 months later we still release a bi-weekly podcast!
We have a Mograph Mastermind Program where we help people with their businesses and careers through small peer-to-peer groups providing feedback, accountability, encouragement, and community to our members.
Actually, we will be releasing our first online course very soon about how freelancers can find their ideal clients and create a system to get clients consistently called Client Quest.

Wow, you've been digging in! With all of this experience, who would you recommend giving freelancing a shot?

It’s important to have some experience working on client projects before freelancing, ideally in a studio or agency (when you can). This helps you to get a feel of what it’s like to work with clients and how to deal with feedback, etc.
It also gives you an insight into how people run their studios and agencies. I would advise you to pay particular attention to the person that deals with the client requests, which is usually the production manager or producer. 
If you have been at your staff motion design job for a while and you would like to try freelancing, I would encourage you to do it!
Just make sure you have the necessary things in place so you can hit the ground running:
  • A good website (Squarespace or Adobe Portfolio will do) with your own URL. Don’t send people Vimeo links. If you want to know what to include in your portfolio, here is a free checklist. 
  • A reel (usually under a min). If you only have 30 secs of good work, that’s fine. Don’t fill it with work you’re not proud of, or work you wouldn’t want to do. 
  • At least 3 months of savings, if possible.
  • Start building your contact list before you go freelance. Reach out to people to let them know the date you are available from. 
  • A business account. You need to keep your finances separate so you can easily file your tax return when the time comes.
  • Ideally, you would have an accountant or CPA too. Ask them for advice on whether you need to set up an LLC or Sole Proprietorship or Limited company or Sole trader or whatever is relevant to where you are based. 

There's obviously a lot that goes into jumping ship. Who would you encourage to not become a freelancer?

If you’re straight out of School or University, ideally you would find a place in an agency or a studio to get some experience, as I’ve already mentioned. 
If it’s not possible to do that, you should seek to get as much information about the freelance motion design world as possible. Educating yourself online for both your practical skills (looks like you’re in the right place for that) and your business and freelance skills.
You can find many free and paid resources at Motion Hatch

From where you've been observing, what are three positive things about the current state of the freelance market?

  •  People are opening up to the idea of hiring freelancers remotely.
  •  There are so many platforms that you can use to showcase your expertise, help others, and even get hired. Many motion designers are starting YouTube channels and communities. It’s great to see everyone giving back to the community.
  •  It’s really easy to learn online and increase your technical skills and business knowledge. 

So, now what are three things that are hurting freelancers and those entering the freelance market? Maybe something that you’re seeing commonly pop-up in your Mastermind groups?

  • Lack of confidence is a big problem. As artists, we are usually quite humble and don’t see the value in our own work. You should think of yourself as a service-based business, which means you help people by providing your services. You aren’t trying to force them to buy from you and you shouldn’t. Put yourself out there, share your work, but also be part of the community.
  • Many people are cold-emailing to try and get work, but not doing anything to warm their potential clients up. You should be focused on building relationships with people. Head over to Instagram and find the studio or agency you want to work with, and engage with their work. Give them value in the comments and not just an emoji. Then reach out to them via email or in the DM. They might recognize your name and are more likely to respond. 
  • Motion Designers usually only do outreach to get work when they have finished a project. It leads to desperation when trying to get work. Instead, try putting a system in place to do consistent outreach which leads to consistent clients and breaks the cycle of the ups and downs of freelance life. 

If there was a golden freelance tip that you could pass along, what would it be?

Set a time every week when you reach out to your potential clients. Use a client tracker or CRM to keep track of when you last contacted your clients and when you need to reach out to them again. Be consistent!

Freelance Panel

At the end of this week, on June 19 2020, we will be hosting a Freelance Panel with all of our incredible freelance guests: Jazeel Gayle, Hayley Akins, Leigh Williamson, and Jordan Bergren. If you'd like to submit questions for our panel, take this quick survey here!