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14 Common Freelance Animation Mistakes to Avoid

ben marvazi 2020

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So, you finally decided to take the leap and become a freelance animator. You’ve got big dreams and high aspirations, and you’re looking forward to being your own boss and running your own small animation studio where you get to choose your own work hours and the clients you want to work with. 

It’s a dream come true, but you quickly realize that being a freelance animator comes with a steep learning curve and that there are common freelance animation mistakes you need to avoid. 

This blog post takes a look at common freelance animation mistakes and how to avoid them. 

The Biggest Freelance Animation Mistakes You Want to Avoid

Not Setting High Enough Rates

You most definitely will be spending a lot of time making sure that your animation is the best on the block while trying to acquire new clients with reasonable rates, but you shouldn’t set your rates too low

As a first-time freelance animator, asking for a higher rate might feel scary, and you might even be afraid that your rate might scare off prospective clients. This is a common freelance animation mistake and one you should most definitely avoid at all costs. 

Setting rates that are too low won’t only cause you to become frustrated and broke, but you also won’t attract the quality animation clients you’re aiming for. You eventually want to be making just as much (or more) money than you did at your 9-5 job, and that means taking into account all the extra work that goes into acquiring clients in the first place. 

a freelance animation mistake would be setting the wrong rates

GIF by The Lonely Island via Giphy

A common freelance animation mistake is to forget about all the unbillable hours you’ll be working. This includes taking time to do your marketing, discovery calls, and accounting. Make sure your hourly rate is high enough to cover those costs as well. 

For example, if you used to work for $35 an hour, you would need to ask for more or less $70 an hour if you want to make the same amount you did while at your regular job. 

This doesn’t mean that you should ask for $70 an hour off the bat. You can work up to that. Setting your rates way too high can also be detrimental to your animation business. The secret is to start with a rate that can help you stay afloat that’s also not too high. 

Realistically, it’ll take a while before you earn what you did at your regular 9-5 job, and that’s okay. You will work your way up to it and adjust your rates accordingly as you gain more experience and clients. 

Not Drawing Up a Contract

A very common freelance animation mistake is to forget all about contracts when you start working with clients. Contracts will ensure that you get paid for your work and that the client will get what they are paying for – it benefits both parties. 

You don’t even have to hire a lawyer to draw up a contract – search the internet for some boilerplate contracts you can adapt to your own freelance animation business. If you can afford it, do get a lawyer to at least look over the contract for any loopholes, but just having something in writing is already a great leap forward.

freelance animators often forget to draw up a contract

GIF by via Giphy

Another option is to include your contract with your proposal, hitting two birds with one stone. Your contract will spell out the exact terms of the project for your customer, including your payment terms and turnaround times. The proposal will provide the client with the scope of the project. 

The client will need to sign off on it before you start doing any work. This way, the client can compare the prospective project and your rates all in one go, and you’ll have fewer emails to send. Once everything is signed, you can get started on the project with confidence, knowing that you will get paid for your hard work. 

You’re Not Asking For a Deposit

As a freelance animator, you need some sort of assurance that your client will pay you for your work, and the best way to do that is to have them pay a deposit before you start working on a project. 

A common freelance animation mistake is to dive head-first into a project only to realize that the client ghosted you or disappeared without paying you a cent. This is where requiring a deposit comes in. How much you ask depends entirely on you, but you can use the length and scope of the project to gauge how much the deposit should be. 

animators need to start with a deposit

GIF by Marissa K via Giphy

It can end up being anywhere between 25 to 20 percent of the project’s total amount. When you’re working on a big project, it’s usually fair to ask around 50 percent, while 25 percent should be fine for smaller projects. 

Whichever deposit you decide on, make sure you clearly define your payment terms before presenting them to your clients.

Another freelance animation mistake to avoid in this case is to not just ask for one payment when you work on a really big project. It is wise to ask clients for regular, defined payments when you work on projects that take a long time. You can do this in the form of milestones,  and clients will make a payment for every milestone reached. 

This saves you from the dreadful animation mistake of working really hard on a big project only to have the client cancel on you at the last minute, leaving you without any sort of compensation for all the work you’ve done up to that point. 

You’re Not Taking the Time to Budget

Another common mistake freelance animators make is forgetting to budget properly. You are essentially running your own business, which means budgeting is incredibly important. 

To avoid making this freelance animation mistake, you should make time to sit down and make a list of all the expenses you have on a monthly basis that are directly related to your animation business. 

You probably either buy new software from time to time or are using subscription-based software, so be sure to factor that in. You might also want to add expenses related to marketing and legal fees and don’t forget to add taxes as well. 

freelance animators just starting out should avoid the animation mistake of not taking the time to budget

GIF by Candy Magazine via Giphy

Once you have your business budget all set up, it would be wise to take some time to set up a personal budget that focuses on how you will spend the money you earn on personal expenses, like the rent and other monthly bills. 

This can help you save up enough money so you can still make ends meet even when you experience months where business is slower. 

Freelance Animation Mistakes that Are Detrimental to Your Business

Not Treating Your Freelance Animation Career as a Business

One of the biggest freelance animation mistakes you could make is failing to see your freelance animation career as an actual business. Even though you are working by yourself for yourself, you are, in essence, running a business, and there are certain responsibilities that go along with that. 

animators need to know animation mistakes affect business deals

GIF by Hey Arnold via Giphy

Changing your mindset from “I’m an employee” to “I’m a business owner” will do wonders for your mindset and success rate. You might be wondering why a simple mindset switch can make such a big difference. 

The simple reason is that, if you still feel like an employee, chances are you’ll still act like one, and your clients will be in control of you and your business instead of the other way around. 

It’s easy to avoid this freelance animation mistake: First of all, make your daily job feel more like you’re running a business by creating a routine and schedule you can follow every day so you know exactly what’s on the agenda. 

Spend time marketing yourself – whether that be through cold calling or paid ads, the power is in your hands to make your freelance animation business thrive. Finally, make sure you create a very clear and efficient animation process you can follow when you take on new work. 

You Only Work For One Client and are Not Working to Acquire More Clients

This is a very common freelance animation mistake. You land your first client, they happen to pay really well, and you end up spending all your time working for them. 

The sad truth is that you probably won’t have that client around forever, and once they no longer need your services, you will find yourself with no income and no other clients to replace the one you lost. 

Preventing this common freelance animation mistake is fairly simple. Yes, you have to ensure that you acquire enough clients to pay the bills and make a decent living, but first, you need to figure out how many clients you can take on at once to ensure you can give all of them your undivided attention while also having multiple streams of income. 

marketing your animation business is a lifestyle, not a diet

GIF by Rachael Kay Alberts via Giphy

The best way to do this is to sit down and figure out how long a typical animation project takes you to complete and how many hours you spend on those projects daily. 

Then figure out how many hours you have at your disposal every week and how many projects you can fit into that time, then get to work on acquiring more clients until you have filled all the time you have available. 

This means you’ll be using your time optimally to cater to various clients all at once and get various streams of income. Once one client drops off, you can replace them with another. This system will ensure that you always have work lined up and have enough time to complete it. 

In order to ensure a constant, steady stream of clients, you should also spend adequate time marketing your animation business, whether that be by regularly posting on social media or running paid ads, marketing is an incredibly important part of running your own animation studio. 

Many freelance animators make the mistake of neglecting to market their studio. If you want to grow your client base, you need to set aside time and money for marketing. 

You’re Taking On More Work Than You Can Handle

An incredibly common freelance animation mistake is taking on too many clients at once. Suddenly you find yourself short on time and having to pull all-nighters to get all the work done. This is a freelancer mistake you want to avoid at all costs. You will end up feeling burned out and your business will suffer. 

some animators make the animation mistake of being too busy by taking too much work

GIF by The Animal Crackers Movie via Giphy

While constantly acquiring new clients is vital to your animation business’ survival, you should avoid taking on more than you can handle, even when it might be tempting to do so. 

To prevent ending up with too much to do and too little time, set limits for yourself when it comes to the number of clients you take on at a time as well as the number of hours you work per day. 

Society might encourage people to work ridiculous hours, but it is not sustainable, and your work quality will suffer. The last thing you want to do is send crappy work to your biggest client. 

Limiting yourself to a specific number of clients at a given time will ensure that you deliver quality work, which, in turn, will ensure happy clients that will continue to use your services, which means you won’t have to work so hard at acquiring new ones all the time. This will be great for your business’ profits and reputation.

Accepting a Job that Is Not What You Expected

Most freelance animators have been here before: Taking on a project they end up hating. This is another common freelance animation mistake to avoid if you want to stay excited and passionate about your freelance animation business. 

If you’re working on a project and asking yourself why on earth you ever agreed to do it, use it as an opportunity to learn what kind of projects you don’t like to do, then refrain from accepting similar ones in the future. 

its a common animation mistake to take up tasks we don't expect

GIF by YoungerTV via Giphy

Working on projects you’re not passionate about will drain your creative energy and make you lose motivation. So, how do you avoid making this common freelance animation mistake? You should ask the client the right questions before you accept a job. 

Make sure you know exactly what the animation project will entail before you accept it. Make a list of questions to ask prospective clients. Be smart with your questions – ensure that they will give you a crystal clear picture of all the project will require of you and then make a decision based on the client’s answers. 

Holding on to the Mindset that the Client Is Always Right

If you worked at an animation studio or any other company, for that matter, you’ve probably heard the famous phrase “the client is always right.” 

While that could be true in some instances, the client is never always right, and holding on to this mindset when you start your own animation business is one of the most common freelance animation mistakes animators make. 

animators make the animation mistake for always thinking that the client is right no matter what

GIF by CBC via Giphy

As a freelance animator, it is important to remember that the client hired you for your expertise. While they may know a thing or two, they rarely have your knowledge and capabilities when it comes to animation. This means that, in most cases, you will be right because you know the industry better than they do. 

With that being said, you shouldn’t have a cocky “I know it all” attitude. Instead, if your client asks you to make adjustments to a project that you don’t agree with, tell them and give them the reason why you disagree with them while staying respectful of their opinion. 

More often than not, clients will be thankful for your feedback and honesty, and they’ll recognize that you are, indeed, an expert in your field. 

Not Setting Any Boundaries

A freelance animation mistake many animators make is not setting clear boundaries when they take on clients. Since you determine your business hours, you should make it clear to clients from the start that you won’t be available 24/7. 

While most clients obviously won’t expect that from you, some might start to if you always answer emails and messages at all times of the day and night. 

an animator must always set their boundaries

GIF by Yellowstone via Giphy

The best way to avoid this freelance animation mistake is to make sure you set clear boundaries from the get-go so there is no confusion as to when you are available for queries and calls. 

You can do this by setting out office hours, providing clients with communication guidelines and turnaround times, and charging a rush fee to clients who want you to get a project done very quickly. 

This way, clients will know exactly when you are available and when to expect answers to their emails, which means you’ll avoid unwelcome emails over weekends requesting you to make last-minute changes to projects. This avoids any confusion and miscommunication that might arise if you don’t set clear boundaries. 

Not Following Up with Clients

When you run a freelance animation business, communication is key. One freelance animation mistake many makes is to neglect continuous communication with clients

While it’s vital to reply to a client’s emails, you should also make sure to follow up with them if they don’t answer your emails. Sometimes, clients have a lot on their plate and open your emails without replying because they simply forgot. 

its a common animation mistake to never follow up with clients "as per my last email"

GIF by Rooster Teeth via Giphy

To ensure you keep the steady stream of communication going, send follow-up emails to remind clients about your proposal or sales pitch. Taking the time to do this will ensure you don’t lose any clients simply because they were forgetful, and it shows that you are eager to work with them. 

Missing Deadlines

A freelance animation mistake that can happen more easily than you think is missing a deadline. There are certainly times that life happens and you have to deal with unforeseen circumstances, but missing deadlines will give your animation business a very bad rap. 

animators often find themselves fueling the flame trying to catch the next deadline

GIF by Namussah via Giphy

When you work as a freelance animator, you have to make it a priority to complete projects on or before the deadline. If you constantly miss deadlines, you will come across as incredibly unprofessional, and you will lose clients in the process. 

When you don’t deliver the work on time, the company has to delay all their plans as well. This is not a situation you want to find yourself in. 

If the unforeseen happens and you can’t meet a deadline, make sure you give your animation clients notice as early as possible. If you are professional and let them know ahead of time that you won’t be able to meet the deadline, they are more likely to be understanding of your situation. 

Whatever you do, don’t allow this common animation mistake to ruin your business and reputation as a freelance animator. 

Freelance Animation Mistakes that Will Affect You Personally

Not Regularly Updating Your Animation Portfolio

A very common freelance animation mistake many animators make is to neglect their animation portfolio. You should ensure that you keep it up to date with your latest work as often as possible. This will help provide prospective clients with your latest work and reflect your current skillset. 

You might lose out on some very valuable clients if your animation portfolio only showcases work from a couple of years ago. Clients won’t have any idea about the new skills you might have acquired in the meantime and it might even look like you’re not actively animating anymore if all your portfolio’s content is dated. 

you have to regularly update your portfolio as a freelance animator

GIF by Saturday Night Live via Giphy

An updated animation portfolio will show that you are a professional animator who is serious about your work. It will also showcase your reputation with former clients and that you deliver on projects. 

Make sure you avoid this freelance animation mistake by regularly updating your animation portfolio. It’s one of the best ways to market your freelance animation business. 

Not Asking for Referrals

Making this freelance animation mistake could cost you many prospective clients. One of the most important things you can do as a freelance animator is to network with other professionals in your field. You can do this at events or via social media. 

animators should ask for rereferrals

GIF by Bernardson via Giphy

Connect with other animators and get to know them and their work better. Once you are acquainted, you can ask them if they’d be so kind as to refer clients that aren’t a great fit for them to you, and you will do the same. 

This builds great networking relationships and leads to plenty of job opportunities. In fact, according to Twine, referrals are one of the easiest ways freelancers can land jobs, so if you’re not already working to build those connections with your fellow freelance animators, now is a great time to start. 

Avoiding Common Freelance Animation Mistakes Will Help Your Business Grow Faster

There’s no such thing as a perfect freelance animator. You will make mistakes, but learning from them will help you grow your business. 

While mistakes definitely aren’t the end of the world, avoiding common freelance animator mistakes will ensure a learning curve that is less steep and will allow your animation business to progress a lot faster.

The best thing any freelance animator can do is to learn from other animators’ mistakes. They’ve been where you are and can be a great help when it comes to avoiding the common traps new freelance animators tend to fall into. 

If you’re ready to take your animation business to the next level, you will find a lot of value in our free masterclass and marketing handbook. You can also check out our blog post on how to start your own animation studio

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