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An Honest Look at Freelancing as a Motion Designer

By Liam Clisham

For many of us the idea of freelancing as a Motion Designer is the ultimate goal, but what does it look like to be a full-time freelancer? In this article I'll share what I've learned after two years of freelancing.

“When it comes to freelancing, you can pick and choose whether you want to do a project or not. You’re not answerable to anyone. You don’t have to get involved in office politics. You can take a holiday if you want to. You can choose to change the direction of your career anytime you want. But, of course, the downside of that is the uncertainty.”
Lilian Darmono — Motion Hatch Podcast 001
That quote pretty much sums up freelancing.
The pros of freelancing very much outpace the cons, but the uncertainties are always present. Uncertainties in freelancing range from if a project will turn out to be worth the effort, to the uncertainty of when your dry spell will end and you get another payday. As a freelancer I thought it'd be helpful to have an honest talk about freelancing and discuss some of the honest realities of being a modern Motion Design freelancer.
Full Disclosure: This isn’t some Buzzfeed pros and cons list, that “trust us, you’re just not going to believe #5!” I’ve written this more as a retrospective to the last two years of freelancing.
This is why you can't have a unicorn.

Responsibility and Flexibility. Turds and Unicorns. Cats and Dogs living together.

About three years ago when I started freelancing, I would wake up with pure joy. I would awaken, knowing I didn’t need to drive two hours to a job that probably wasn’t leading anywhere or helping my career much. It was awesome.
As a freelancer, every morning starts with me working on a project that I have chosen to work on. If I don't have a big project to work on I could split the day by looking for work and doing some personal explorations like learning the newest Cinema 4D render engine.
As awesome as it was, around month three shit got real.
The honeymoon began to fade. Freelancing morphed from this awesome way to manage my life on my terms, into focusing on it as an awesome legitimate business. It became evident that freelancing is my job now. As a freelancer, I control everything.
If I want to hold up the lifestyle we are living, I no longer have a corporate turd, that upon polishing, farts out money each week. I have to find turds to polish, unicorns to wrangle, and make them turn out good enough for clients to pay me.
After all that, I have to manage the relationships so they ask me to do more work for them. The thrill is amazing and the uncertainty, if you let it, can be paralyzing.
Uncle Ben dropping some knowledge.
Yup, that is the cliche Spider-Man quote you just read! As you get take on higher-paying projects and flex your schedule; the responsibility grows too.

Freelancing is running a small business.

As a freelancer, I am running a small business. Albeit an extremely small one, it is still a business.
I am constantly changing the hats I wear. From creative director, to animator, sales person, or business development professional. When you have a salaried position, you only have to make everything look just good enough to not get fired. Some days I will spend three hours writing emails, writing estimates for things, or traveling around to get coffee with clients. Other days, when I’ve got some down time, and the cogs are working correctly, I’ll watch three hours of Helloluxx Houdini tutorials. The biggest con of being a freelancer is the mindset you have to put yourself into: that being a freelancer is running a business. You're not going to get to work on sweet liquid motion design every day.

The Pros of Freelancing

Awww yeah!

The Money

If you’ve read the freelance manifesto, or the results from our state of the industry survey, you probably know that as a freelancer you can make some coin. Try not to cry reading this math:
There are tissues on the counter over there.
Those high paying jobs come at a cost. The jobs that pay freelancers the most are going to be corporate sludge that you’re not going to want to put on your reel.

Your TPS reports are due Monday.

Creative Freedom

Even with that sludge, though, as a freelancer, I am able to balance my life around jobs that pay the bills with jobs that flex my creative muscles. You know, the ones that make the reel shine like a Flava-flav clock.
Flava Flaaaaaavvvvvvvv. You totally just said it like this in your head.
Those creative muscle builders don't always pay the bills. The internet is really good about showing only the best projects places have to offer.
Even studios like Buck and Giant Ant have to take on jobs that pay the bills and are pretty meh.
Being a freelancer awards you with opportunities to work on projects that you want to show off instead of being stuck in a career that has you climbing mountains only to find you're at the top of the wrong one.
Yes, these creative projects can be unicorns and possibly come in with a very low budget. However, having the ability to choose between projects is a huge benefit.
Some of the best work I ended up doing this past year was things I worked on in my down time for myself and not for clients. As fulfilling as that is, there is one thing that I’m not sure I’ve heard another freelancer talk about, but I love...
ABC. Always. Be. Closing.

The Thrill of the Kill

The hunt and thrill of booking a job. I literally just let out a soft, semi-erotic sounding F-bomb writing this and thinking about it. When a client signs your contract and you’ve sold the assurance that you’re going to deliver something great for them, there is no rush like it.
There isn't a feeling quite like hearing a client say, “I really wish you were an employee. We need you!” If you manage your client relationships well, under-promising and over-delivering, your clients will fall in love with you.
You’ll be the first person they call.
Each client is different, though. Even if you are doing all these things, clients can be monsters to wrangle and you may never hear from that client again despite the glowing reviews. I'm still working on solving this one with Scooby and the gang.
Tell us your story!

Tell us your story!

Are you a freelancer? Are you interested in freelancing? Have you been freelancing for years? Let us know your pros and cons, fears and excitements, or background over on Twitter.
And if you really want to become the best freelancer possible check out the Freelance Manifesto on Amazon.