Do you want to start your freelance career, but don't know the first step? We had a chance to sit with a panel of experts to learn the pros—and cons—of going freelance
In early 2020, School of Motion attended a Freelance Panel at Sarofsky Studios, part of the Sarofsky Labs event. With motion designers from all over in attendance, a panel of experts set out to explain the path to freelancing in this industry.
With Erin Sarofsky, Duarte Elvas, Lyndsay McCully, and Joey Korenman, you've got a team that has been there, done that, and learned all the lessons needed so you don't have to start from scratch. We cut down hours of footage into 5 short videos, each jam-packed with enough knowledge to kickstart the next phase in your career.
So grab a bucket of pineapple lumps, it's time for a roundtable of rockstars.
The Sarofsky Labs Freelance Panel
Understand the pros and cons of fulltime and freelancing
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to a career in Motion Design. While some people excel more in an office environment, others need to feel the sea breeze while they play a game of render-chicken with their laptop battery. It all comes down to what you’re optimizing for.
Optimizing for freedom and flexibility? Freelance.
- Make your own hours
- Choose your clients
- Take a vacation on your terms
- Work from anywhere
- Try out new skills and diverse projects
Optimizing for stability and consisitency? Full-time.
- Set hours during the week so you aren't asked to work at midnight
- Work comes to you rather than having to seek it out
- Salary and benefits, whether or not you've been grinding on a project
- A stable work-life balance...depending on the studio
You don’t necessarily make more money freelancing, so choose your path for lifestyle reasons or for career goals.
Studios are not the only clients out there
Do a LinkedIn search using this format: [Your City] Motion Designer. If you do this using Chicago, you’ll find that there are hundreds—if not thousands—of people already working in this field in one form or another. You’ll be shocked at the variety of companies (like Encylopedia Brittanica) who are hiring Motion Designers.
These companies need work, and they are likely to pay just as much as anyone else. You can make a great living without trying to break through the door at Buck.
Don’t just look for studios.
Go Pro before reaching out to potential clients
Do your homework first. If you want to come across as a freelance professional, then you have to be professional. This isn't just about your skillset; this is about how you present yourself to potential clients.
- Get a vanity URL, don’t just use @gmail.com
- Fill out your LinkedIn profile
- Have a portfolio site with some work on it
- Have an About page with a decent bio and a good photo of you
- Do a social media scrub; make sure your first impression isn’t “this person is a Twitter troll."
All of these things signal that you “mean business.”
Follow an email formula
Emails should be short, personal, and shouldn’t hard-sell anything. Do your homework and find a way to make a personal connection with the person you’re reaching out to.
You notice that the company has a lot of dogs in their office? Share a picture of your canine partner! (if you don't have a dog, do NOT grab one just to land a client)
Don’t openly ask for work, just subtly leave your portfolio link dangling out there. Don’t leave “open loops,” which are phrases that signal an expectation of a reply. “I hope you hear from you soon,” is an example. These will make the person feel guilty if they’re just too busy to respond, and guilt is a bad way to get booked.
Instead, be gracious and understanding. "No need to reply, just have a great day!"
Make yourself memorable, and they will certainly be calling you back.
“No” doesn’t mean “Never”
Even if you write the perfect email, there may not be a job to put you on at the moment. Don’t let that deter you. Use the built in “snooze” function in Gmail to set yourself a reminder to follow up in 3 months. If you find yourself with some availability, you can also send an “availability check” email to the person letting them know you have some time open in case they need extra hands.
You don't want to be a pest, but you want to stay on top of their minds. If you give off a good impression, and stay in sight, they'll call you.
Understand the pitfalls of being On-Site vs. Remote
If you’re on site, you’re generally working for a day-rate and can offload more responsibility to the Producers and staff artists. You can ask questions, and answer any that come your way.
If you’re working remotely, you need to be both Artist and Producer. You have to take on the idea that "everything is your fault." No matter what, you are responsible for the end result. Over-communicate to your client to make sure they feel comfortable and can trust that you’re not charging them money to watch YouTube all day.
You also may find yourself working with a client that doesn't quite know the workflow for these sorts of projects. Over-communicating can help make sure they are happy with the entire process and the final product.
At some point, you’re competing with your clients
If you grow your freelance practice to a the point where you’re doing direct-to-client work, sub-contracting out work to other freelancers, and generally acting like a studio… newsflash: You are basically a small studio. Some of your clients may begin to see you as a competitor, so just be aware of this and be sensitive in how you act as your business grows.
It's a good problem to have, but still something to keep in mind.
Being put “on hold” doesn’t mean you’re booked
The hold system is a controversial subject, but if you approach it with the right mindset, you’ll find that life is a lot less stressful.
Holds mean nothing. Do not assume that because someone has a first-hold, you can already spend the money you’re assuming you will make. If you only have holds, you have nothing.
Communicate with the client to check if they want to change that hold to a booking. Don't pester, but be persistent.
Don’t over or undercharge
Find out what rate you should be charging by asking other freelancers in your area. Be honest about your skillset, and don’t charge a senior-level day rate if you’re not senior-level artist (yet). Also, make it clear to clients what your policies are regarding over-time, weekend work, and canceled bookings.
Some freelancers like to get everything in writing and have a formal contract. Others prefer to discuss terms in email and leave it at that (a written record—such as an email—is legally binding). Find out what makes you, and your client, the most comfortable.
Don’t get blacklisted
Motion Design is a small industry, and word travels fast. If you’re freelancing, you’ve taken it upon yourself to be more professional, more buttoned up, and more reliable than the average bear. Show up on time, don’t engage in office politics, and be a proactive problem solver. Acting any other way can get you put on a client’s “don’t book” list, and clients talk.
This shouldn't scare you. Clients are talking trash just to be mean. If a freelancer gets on their bad side, it's likely because of a series of missteps rather than one small mistake. Just remember to behave the way you would want an outside employee to act. It means maintaining some distance, especially when office politics come up.
Most importantly, make the client feel better. Make them feel that whenever you're in the office, the job is pretty much good to go. You are a problem solver, not a problem maker.
Get More Tips from Industry Professionals
Want more awesome information from the top-performing professionals in the industry? We've compiled answers to commonly asked questions from artists you may never get to meet in person and combined them in one freaking sweet book.
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!