I started freelancing in 2013, My first online gig was right from blenderartists’ paid section. Without knowing anything about freelancing in general, I started accepting all kinds of jobs.
In the process, I got ripped off, I earned money and I learned a lot of things too. Looking back, I wish I knew some things about freelancing in general.
Freelancing is a skill like learning how to paint or how to sing. The principle is communication and helping where there is a need of help. Asking people what they need and providing them the required help.
Projections show that by 2020, 43% of the U.S workforce will be freelancers. So the earlier we start the better. You do not need to be extremely proficient in blender. Most people’s needs are not complicated. You’ll be surprised at the quality of work people get satisfied with.
Lack of Blender specific freelance jobs
The one thing to remember is that the usage of blender in professional environment is far less compared to industrial standard of Maya or Cinema 4D.
So if you are specifically searching for blender freelance jobs, you are either going to be out of luck or face some extreme competition.
What are your strong points?
Since you are a single person, you cannot single handedly create a pixar styled movie (atleast within the client’s deadline.) You will have to set boundaries about what you are and aren’t going to do.
You will have to figure out what you can do effortlessly and what you can do while enjoying the work. I focus on Motion graphics as I enjoy the work and love to learn about it. Because of that, I do not take jobs for archviz even though I can do those kinds of job too.
What kind of jobs can one expect?
As blender users, the ideal job for us is where the client only cares about the final product (video file, 3D model etc.) and nothing else. (No project files etc.)
Examples include but are not limited to,
Advertisements for products
2D and 3D Motion graphics
Greeting card animations (Birthdays, wedding etc.)
VFX/Compositing jobs are rare for blender users
Edit: I interviewed people who had varying success in the VFX field using blender, you can see their response here.
Despite the great achievements of blender in the VFX field, it is nearly impossible to get a VFX job in blender.
Most people who put out VFX / Compositing jobs are film directors or freelancers themselves outsourcing their own jobs.
But most importantly, People here also expect the project files along with the finished projects. People in this field use Nuke/ Premiere Pro or Maya. They want the project files to integrate with their workflow, which blender stands out as it is not an industrial standard.
Having the project files gives them an extra layer of freedom to put the final touches on the finished project. Sadly blender isn’t at that stage yet.
Logo Animation is over saturated
This is the norm on freelancer.com’s contest section.
The supply of people want to make logo animations is far more than the actual freelance jobs. Supply outstrips the demand. The only chance you may have is locally in your vicinity. Online, this field is extremely competitive.
Whatever price you put out, there are going to be people who are willing to do the same job for half the price.
Go to any competition based websites and see how many entries one get for logo animation jobs. How you are going to compete with that? These competitions are weird in the sense that an absolute bad design will be chosen as the winner and you will have no idea why. (I smell a conspiracy.)
When you start out, most likely, you are not going to use contracts and do jobs by keeping trust in the client. This is OK for small jobs.
However when you start taking corporate jobs, Remember that those people will find a way to shortchange you if they can. Not all clients are bad, But the bad ones will make your life miserable.
Here are the list of things I specify in the contract. Rarely will there ever be a chance that you are going to use all clauses in your first contract, but are good to know.
I didn’t got to use all these clauses too in one contract.
Project scope: Explaining what the client needs in simple words. Don’t assume anything, write everything that the client wants you to do.
Fee: Flat fee is usually preferred than per hour charges as this frees the client and helps him learn about the final cost in advance. Most people have different payment terms, I use 50% advanced and 50% after delivering the final product. Copyright remains with the designer till the final payment.
Revisions: The Designer and the Client shall agree upon the specified details of the project before starting the project. Any changes after starting a project is defined as a revision. People usually keep at 2.
Scope Creep: Usually what people do is that after deciding on the scope of the project. They will ask for “one more thing to add” and will try to add (not change) more stuff in the project within the same fee and deadline. More work= revised payment terms.
Kill fee: Sometimes jobs do not end on good terms. That doesn’t mean your work should go into waste. Kill fee is usually the advance fee. You put that it is non refundable in case the project ends midway.
Ownership: the designer owns all the copyright until the final payment is made.
Confidentiality: Designer assures client that the work will be kept confidential and will not release it to the public without Client’s approval.
Single point of contact: The client assures the designer that all communications is routed through one person appointed by the client. Otherwise, you might have 5 people giving you different directions on achieving the project.
Code of fair practice: That the work in the project is original and does not infringe anyone’s copyrights.
Dispute resolution: Any dispute will be subjected to the courts of that country.
Acceptance of terms: This is where you signed the form.
Package of services
This is taken from my product description, I’ll reproduce it here.
When I was freelancing, I realized that the client used to ask me to look for the music track, voice-over and sound-effects. This is in addition to the animation.
Each client expected a “package” of services, which minimized their efforts.
They do not want to contact each person separately, They usually go to the person where they can get all of the services at one place.
This makes sense, When you go to McDonald’s, you expect them to serve a combo. Imagine buying Burger, Coke and Fries at different restaurants.
Before supermarkets like Walmart existed, people used to roam several mom and pop stores to get groceries. This was inconvenient for most people.
Gabe Newell had said that the person who provides the best service wins. The reason piracy was popular because piracy used to provide better services than the media companies.
Writing a proposal.
Clear communication. Simple words. Keep your sentences concise and use active voice wherever possible. Keep your proposal concise too.
Paragraphs should not extend beyond three lines. Do not add unimportant info.
Ask yourself, if you delete this line, would the proposal still make sense? If it does, then delete it.
Unique way of creating a demo reel.
This is actually a popular copywriting technique which does work most of the time.
Instead of creating random animation for a reel, look for freelance animation job descriptions online or offline.
If there is some clear job description you know you can do it. Then create a proposal and create a 5 second animation on that job description. The animation shouldn’t take you 3-4 hours of work. Attach it to the proposal. This is great for motion graphics projects.
Learn everything about the client, learn what he actually intend to do with the finished product and personalize your proposal keeping those facts in mind. Focus on the customer’s problem and the value you can provide.
If it consists of complicated modeling, then pick the least complicated model, model it and attach image samples of the model on that proposal.
If you get the job, well congrats. If you don’t get the job, then remove all the clients copyrighted logo and branding and use it in your demo reel.
There are two-fold advantages, you will learn what client expects pretty early in your career and you will have a great demo reel based on actual client expectations.
Things freelancers face regularly, while dealing with clients
Randomly stop communication for days at a stretch.
Treat you like an retail employee rather than an equal.
Ask you for more work in the same cost.
Will close a job in the middle without offering any reason.
Ask you unreasonable questions, like supplying 30 seconds of animation within one day.
Will ask you to change things that goes against color theory, composition and design principles.
Definition of a Great Client
Has a clear idea of what he wants (Length of animation, video format, type of animation).
Shows examples of what he want like images and video instead of using cryptic words like “Make it dazzling!”
Quick payment after successful completion of a job.
On that thought, If the project scope is increased, will pay more per added work.
Is respectful in communication and willing to provide helpful feedback on revisions.
Finally, who refers you to other people in need of a freelancer.
In simple terms, you do not want to be the 25th logo designer in your area. You will barely survive.
You’ll have to find people’s needs and provide them value that only you can provide. Then you’ll survive.
The thing is, client only expect work which is better than average, but client usually expects multiple skills to help him in his work.
You’ll have to collect skills. For example, a person having a basic knowledge of blender and basic knowledge of python has a better chance of getting a job than a higher skilled blender user.
You do not have to be best at everything. Having a basic knowledge of any of these skills will make you leagues ahead of other users. The more skills the better.
Skills like Python, Video editing, Storyboarding, Screenwriting, SEO, Content marketing, Copywriting, Voice Acting, Color grading, Music creation, Movie making, Cel Animation, 2D organic animation, UI design, etc.
Even in blender, having a basic idea of Sculpting, Fluid and fire simulation, Archviz, Organic modeling, grease pencil animation, Motion tracking, modeling, texturing, animation timing, node compositing and python scripting will put you leagues ahead of other blender users.
You should have a basic knowledge of all the steps in creating a video. From idea to reality, that is screenwriting, storyboarding, animatic (modeling, animating, rendering) and video editing.
We live in an age where being a jack of all trades is actually beneficial.
Some resources for Freelancers
Pic unrelated (from pixabay)
A freelance animator nowadays is also asked to look for music track, voice-over and sound effects.
Take decision from where to buy based on budget and platform of the video. You can get voice-overs and music track on fiverr for low budget. Remember, you get what you pay for.
People assume cheap price=cheap quality
Never compete with anyone on the basis of money. Eventually everyone loses in the race due to this. Competing on razor thin profit margins is not how you are going to succeed.
Why do people buy 1000$ iphones when higher specs android phone are available for cheap? You have to concede that one of the major reason is branding of the phone. People assume higher price=higher quality. It is wired in our brains.
In my experience, some of the best clients I had were for higher priced projects.
The work you do has immense value, don’t price yourself so low. Eventually you are going to get married and have a family. You will have to think about them too.
Never put a cheap price tag on yourself.
Let’s say a book is available on amazon at 24$ and another website called freecheapdealsonbooks.com sells it at 15$ , The other website has no social media presence and no reviews.
From where would you buy the book? Even if the site is legit, people always will try to minimize risk.
In simple terms, they trust amazon more than a random (perceived) shady site.
In the same way, even if you have higher skills and can provide services at a low cost, why should people trust you?
Having a website (Atleast an artstation portfolio) with a clear photo of yours increase trust. Having testimonials or reviews of your previous clients increase trust. Bonus if the prospect knows the previous client. Having a social media presence is must in todays world.
Doing your job in time and within deadline increase trust and repeat business. It is also an slow process.
Giving free knowledge is a great way to build trust. Why do you think I am writing this blogpost?
How do I get my first freelance job?
Ask your friends and extended family to tell that you are starting freelancing. Tell them to refer any person requiring animation to you. Visit your nearby businesses and see if they require any animation work done. Search on craigslist and other classifieds for animation jobs.
Meeting in person > Calling on phone > Cold emailing. The last one is extremely difficult as it is overused and rarely does anyone gets persuaded by getting an email out of the blue. Think out of the box, sending snail mail can get your message across than email.
Cold emailing only works if the person has already posted for a requirement online or offline. Randomly emailing companies is like lottery, it might work but the success rate is very low.
Search for “require freelancer” “animation job” “archviz/motion graphics job” on twitter and facebook. Sometimes you will find some genuine people through all the spam. It’s worth it though.
Focus on a small segment, a niche where you excel among your competitors. Start from a smallest need and work from there.
Network with your fellow voice actors and musicians in your area. They will usually bring you jobs too.
Initial money earned should be invested in ourselves
Whatever money you earn initially should be spent in increasing your knowledge. Books and Paid tutorials are vastly superior to free tutorials.
I can say for sure that my jump from novice to professional happened after I started buying books and buying paid tutorials (in my case, it was a CGcookie citizen account.)
See, knowledge is available for free on the internet but it is scattered. The one thing professionals care about even more than money is time. It will take you a short amount of time to learn through a paid course than through yourself searching free information on the internet.
Moreover, everyone learns the principles and applies it in his own way. What might happen is that you might also learn a bad habit from the tutor while learning.
To gain mastery, you can buy multiple courses and see the common thing in all of those courses. That is the principle. Give your priority to that and you will master your problems in no time.
Books have author condense their life experience into pages. You can too spend your life, learning bit-by-bit like the author or buy a book.
The only language majority of clients understand is …
Money. The only thing client cares about is how much money he can earn from your finished project. If not money, it usually is fame or to increase popularity.
Think about it. Why do people need explainer videos? Why do people spent money on animation? It is only when they realize that the finished product will help them earn more money.
A person only deploys an ad only when he thinks that the ad will help him earn more sales. He hopes to recuperate the cost of the ad and earn more money on top of that. Profit is a main goal of any company. If not profit, then what’s the use in starting a company?
If you do help your client earn more money than congrats, you have a client for life.
While communicating with an client on a project, always speak in terms of money. Tell him how this specific design decision can help him earn more money.
Experience on Online Freelance Marketplaces
Online freelance marketplaces are not the ideal place to be but are a great way to start learning.
For starters, everything from payment to communication is handled by their website. The website already attracts targeted exposure and client already puts the payment in an escrow, minimizing fraud. They help you set up a profile which helps you learn what you should add in your own website portfolio.
In competition based marketplaces, you can study the job and analyze the winner’s work. See what he focused on and why was he chosen the winner amongst others.
In some cases, there is a competition job which has very low entries due to difficulty barrier. If you can do that job, then you can surpass the competition and get guaranteed money from that job.
Negative points are very high commission fees (Upwork takes 20%) , Low paying jobs, High competition from developing countries. (Average Freelancer.com job gets 100-120 proposals), limited number of proposals for free account.
Upwork doesn’t even accept new applications for freelancing for animation. At upwork, if you do not earn money at a set period of time, they disable your account. Freelancer.com has paid packages for more proposals. I have no experience with fiverr so I can’t give any advice for that.
The best method is to gain trust and gain jobs through your referrals and visitors from your website/portfolio. The clients through this method are also the best to deal with.
People only share stuff which are extra-ordinarily good. Extra-ordinary usually is multiple better than average stuff in one project. No one shares ordinary stuff. Your final goal is to become extra-ordinarily good.
Take small risks you can afford to lose and keep learning.
Try contacting different people in your field and learn about their experiences.
Try different methods of proposal and see which method succeeds the most.
Keep making and posting different types of art and animation, see which one gets the shared most.
De-construct successful people, see what they emphasize on, how their site is designed etc.
Read books on entrepreneurship, slowly but steadily, apply those principles in your business.
Don’t be embarrassed if you ever make a mistake. You will never find a freelancer who has never made a mistake in his life. These are the things no one tells us, we have to figure it out ourselves.
I just received a comment from Mick Hanks on facebook where he gave some of his own points. I have asked for his permission to reproduce it here. I will add the points that I personally do or have experienced it myself.
- Always watermark your content until the client pays!!
- Client’s who says “and if you do a good job, there is more work.” LIE.
- Client’s who never talk about money are the ones who will not pay. I like the client who is concerned about the cost, that means they will pay you.
- Do daily posts of your work to show the client your progress. This way they see how bad the design is and can correct it then.
- Learn when to say NO! I don’t want any part of your half baked, unrealistic deadline, adolescent design of a “JOB”.