Everything to Know Before Becoming a Freelance Animator

Being a freelance animator can seem like a dream job for some people. You get to be your own boss, you control your working hours, and you can work from home. However, there are also challenges that animators might face while being self-employed. 

If you want to know more about the daily life of a freelance animator, so you can decide if this path is right for you, this guide is here to help.

Researching and Planning

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Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

Starting off as a freelance animator isn’t as easy as you might think. You don’t just become a successful freelancer with many clients and adequate income overnight.

If you want to ensure you’ll have a successful freelance career, you have to execute intentional actions and learn more about freelancing from experts. Read blogs, watch videos, and talk to colleagues who can help you with your freelance animation career.

Research how to draw up an invoice, how to manage taxes, how to get and afford insurance, how to deal with clients’ expectations, how to price your services, and other challenges freelance animators deal with. Doing these things will help you adjust as you start your freelance animation career.

Developing Your Skills

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Image by Chris Benson via Unsplash

You may have graduated from animation school, and you may have a great set of foundational skills, but there will always be new developments and trends in animation. While you may learn a lot in animation school, you will definitely learn more when you start to work on projects. You may even want to sharpen your skills or learn new skills by taking extra classes online. 

It’s also important to develop non-technical skills that relate to animation. For example, you should grow your observational skills. Better observational skills will help you understand body language and movements, which you can apply when doing character animation.

Remember that a big factor in becoming a successful freelance animator is putting a lot of effort and time into your own development and the characters you bring to life.

Investing in Software

software

Image by Wahid Khene via Unsplash

Self-employed animators should save up and buy useful software and tools.

Luckily, we found have an in-depth list to help you decide which software might work best for you. Some software you can use include: After Effects, Animate CC, Toon Boom Harmony, and TVPaint for 2D animation. For 3D animation, you can look at Autodesk Maya, Cinema 4D, and Blender.

For the 2D animation hardware, you will need a computer with an i5 processor, a built-in 2GB graphic card for your GPU, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, and a graphics tablet. Then, for 3D animation, you will need a computer and a tablet. The computer specs for 2D mentioned above will suffice.

You can also upgrade your specs for better processing power and a better work quality.

If the software you purchased is new to you, you can always practice and turn to your colleagues and/or online courses to help familiarize yourself with it. 

Getting Animation Clients

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Reality is, in your first few months of freelance animation, you probably won’t be able to earn enough money to make a living. Yes, you may have a few clients, but after a few weeks or months, you will need to find new clients again.

Finding clients takes a lot of time and effort. They won’t just fall on your lap and give you animation projects to work on. You have to spend time and effort building a client base and promoting yourself.

If you leave a good impression on your clients by submitting high-quality animation projects on time, they will be encouraged to keep working with you and may even refer you to other colleagues.

On the other hand, if your animation clients feel unsatisfied with your work, they can easily ruin your reputation. This will make it even harder to get clients.

While creating your client base, make a spreadsheet of all the contact information you have for your clients. List down their names, contact numbers, email addresses, and your pay rates. Doing this will provide you with a valuable reference in the future.

When you’re first starting to build a client base, you can offer promotions to attract clients. For example, you can offer something in return for them signing you, like an additional free video for two purchased videos.

Managing Your Projects

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Remembering and meeting deadlines may be more challenging for you once you have established yourself as an animator in the industry. Often, you’ll have to juggle multiple clients and projects at once! One way to keep track of important dates and reminders is to use a calendar app and/or project management software.

By using a calendar, you will know when you can accept more projects. You can color-code your projects and group them as potential projects, bookings, and canceled jobs. 

When a studio or an animation client reaches out to you, asking for your animation services, you can easily look back at your calendar or project management software to check your availability. This will help make sure you don’t overschedule yourself and will help you give your clients realistic timelines.

Budgeting Your Income

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Image by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

As a freelance animator, it’s normal to have weeks and months when you have little to no clients and projects to work on. Your income from freelancing won’t be as steady as income from an animation studio.

Knowing that, you should learn how to budget your income. When you get paid a big amount for an animation project, don’t spend all your money on vacations or buying the latest gadgets and clothes.

Spend your money wisely and allot money for each of your needs such as utility bills, groceries, insurance, and housing costs. Don’t forget to also save money or to invest, so you’ll have funds in case of emergency and enough money to cover your expenses when you don’t have enough work. 

Some ways to keep track of your income and expenses are to use a spreadsheet or other mobile applications. Not knowing where your money goes can make you very anxious, and knowing where it goes can help you budget better. You may hate math and spreadsheets, but learning how to use them to budget your income can make you feel more at peace.

Managing Time

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Image by NeONBRAND via Unsplash

When working as a freelance animator, it’s easy to feel like you’re always running out of time to work on your animation projects. As a freelancer, you might get distracted with social media, TV, family time, house chores, etc. during your working hours. Sometimes, this can lead to you not submitting your deliverables on time.

Before starting an animation project, make a list of what you have to do. Take note of what shots you should work on and when. Each day, write down what you want to accomplish for that day. 

Your clients always expect to receive their finished animation videos from you on your agreed deadline. Some clients can be forgiving and understanding if you tell them you have several projects you’re currently working on. Of course, if you want to please your clients, you won’t let a 2-week project last a month.

Even if you’re self-employed, you should respect the time of your animation clients, have a sense of urgency, and have a lot of discipline. Be a good steward of your time and learn to find a balance between work and play. Treat deadlines as deadlines.

Learning How to Negotiate Well

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GIF by ABC Network via GIPHY

When you negotiate prices with a client, remember to know what you’re worth. If you are just starting out as a freelance animator, you may have to do jobs that pay you at a lower price than you expect.

As you promote yourself and gain experience, you can definitely raise your pricing.

Sometimes, your clients cannot pay you at the rate you want or they will ask for discounts. Try to avoid lowering your rate. But if you must, find other ways to compensate for the lower fee. For example, you can ask clients to refer you to their networks, to provide a thorough review for your website, etc.

Some clients may be unfair or unreasonable with the amount that they can pay you. It would be unfair for you to work for $50 when you should be paid 4 or 5 times more than that amount

It’s better to work for one animation client who understands and pays you your rate, rather than several clients who are inconsiderate and pay you at lower rates than you deserve. You should know when to walk away and when not to.

Creating Contracts

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Image by Gabrielle Henderson via Unsplash

Before starting an animation project, you should always put your work agreements in writing. There should be a written document that clearly includes an agreement between you and your client. It must cover what you are required to do, what you are expected to deliver, how much you will be paid, and other necessary information.

Both you and your animation client should have a copy of the document in case any disagreements arise or if contract revisitation is needed. If you have any concerns or legal issues, you can always reference this document.

Having a written agreement will also show your professionalism and will give both you and your client guidelines for the duration of your animation project.

Insurances and Benefits

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Image by Simpsons World via GIPHY

When you are self-employed, it is your responsibility to pay for your own insurance. Unlike when you work for an employer, there won’t be any automatic deductions made from your salary to cover insurance, and you don’t have an employer to pay for part of your plan’s costs. You must look for a health insurance policy for yourself and/or your family that fits your needs and budget.

As a freelancer, you don’t get benefits like paid vacation or paid sick leaves or a 401(k). The benefit in working freelance is being able to work at home or anywhere, anytime you like.

Creating a Portfolio and a Demo Reel

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Image by Jakob Owens via Unsplash

Every animator should always be prepared to show their portfolio to potential animation clients. Having a portfolio that stands out will help you attract more clients.

Only share your best work, keep your portfolio up-to-date, and continue to make better animations. In your portfolio, don’t forget to add important information such as your email address, contact number, and resume. 

Is Freelance Animation Worth It?

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If you are ready to navigate the challenges of being a freelancer, it is definitely worth it. If you prepare and work hard, you can find yourself enjoying freelance animation despite those times when you don’t have a steady source of income.

With freelance animation, you have more responsibility, but you also have control of your working hours and rest days. No need for you to go through traffic to get to the office from 9 am to 5 pm. No need to feel guilty for staying at home on a sick day. You will no longer miss your family vacations or have to always wear makeup or have to keep up with the latest office fashion.

Choosing freelance animation over studio animation is never right or wrong. It’s up to you to decide if the freelance animation lifestyle suits your personality and current situation. The unstable income may make you worry a lot and that may outweigh the freedoms.

If you believe you have the discipline, skills, software, and motivation, try out freelancing; you just might enjoy it!

To get more tips about animation and its business side, make sure to join our free masterclass and get your copy of our marketing handbook.

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