Blender Freelancers on Finding New Clients

Introduction:

I often had questions about freelancing. Regular articles didn’t satisfy me as we blender users have our own share of problems too. (Not industry standard, Lack of knowledge about blender among clients etc.)

I was wondering how many people were freelancing with only free software. I asked on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter and received more response than I anticipated.

I wanted to ask a ton of questions but these are busy professionals. So I just focused on one topic (Finding New Clients). This is something both new and experienced Freelancers struggle. I made a questionnaire of 5 questions. Some more questions were added according to the person interviewed.

How to read this article:

These are freelancers at different stages in their lives. Some are established, some have recently started out.

Some answers between two interviewee may not even match. Because these are real people sharing their methods that they tried and worked for them. The techniques that work for one may not work for the other.

I want you to read their experiences and try the techniques they used to find new clients. Notice the principle behind their methods, see how you can apply those principle in your line of work.

Take small risks you can afford to lose and keep learning. See which one of these methods works for you the best.

Simply because there is no one method which suits all. Everyone here has fought on their strong points. Notice what advantages you have over others and try to make the best of it.

Sean Kennedy:

Sean Kennedy is a visual effects artist living and working in Los Angeles, California. He had spent seven and a half years at Rhythm & Hues Studios, where he composited on two Academy Award winning films – The Golden Compass and Life of Pi.

He has 75 Visual credits on his IMDB page (Work ranging from Agents of SHIELD, Westworld, Stranger things and many more). If you ever have the time, check out the speeches he gave at the Blender conferences. He shows how he had sneaked Blender work in mainstream Hollywood.

He also has a visual effects blog www.openvisualfx.com, where he share tools, tips, and techniques utilizing free and open-source tools.

Sean Kennedy during the Blender conference 2017, explaining Television VFX. The full video can be found here.

How did you get your first client?

I’ve generally gotten clients through other people I know in the FX industry. People recommending me, or supervisors I know who need a generalist, or other artists who need to crew up for a project, things like that.

My very first freelance digital project ever was doing some Photoshop work for a book called “Worlds” that was conceived and written by Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. I was working there doing practical special effects when the lead artist on that project, Steve Koch, heard I was dabbling with digital work.

They gave me a few shots to do for the book in my free time, and it was a great learning experience and a lot of fun.

Later, when a small VFX studio Steve worked at occasionally was hiring for artists to work on Austin Powers in Goldmember, he asked me if I wanted to be part of it, and I jumped at the chance. So that freelance after-hours book project basically kick started my entire digital VFX career.

Apart from referrals, how do you gain new clients?

I have gotten a few projects through the Blender Network, which has been a pleasant surprise.

I really don’t go out of my way to look for side projects, since if I had my own choice, I’d spend most of my free time creating projects for my blog, openvisualfx.com. So I don’t post on freelance websites and don’t go looking for freelance work.

Do you have a college degree in VFX? If yes, did it helped you gain a network of clients?

I do not. I have an Associate’s degree in Industrial Design, focusing on practical special effects. Digital visual effects (is something) I learned on my own free time while working day jobs doing practical special effects.

It is hard to get VFX jobs in blender, people expect the project files too and blender is not mainstream compared to Premiere Pro / After effects. How can one get blender VFX freelance jobs?

I’ve been lucky enough to not have to deal with that very much. The people that have hired me, have hired me specifically because they’ve seen my 3D and VFX work and didn’t care what program it came from.

In VFX work, all that really matters is the final delivered footage. So I don’t have to deliver project files very often.

And obviously the jobs I’ve gotten through the Blender Network know I’m using Blender and either specifically want that or don’t care.

I have worked on a few small modeling jobs where the program didn’t matter too much, as long as I could deliver an OBJ file or something that could be used in Element 3D inside of After Effects. Again, in those instances, the program the model is created in doesn’t matter.

What are some bad advice that you got about freelancing? That is, What would you tell a new freelancer to avoid doing?

I’ve had a ton of screw ups with bidding, and also with receiving payments. When bidding, I’d definitely advise bidding a bit more than you first calculate, because in my experience, things always take longer and the client always has more change requests.

Almost every single time a project has ended, I realize I should have bid higher. Also, if you’re in the US, be sure to put away a good portion of that pay for taxes at the end of the year.

Another thing I would recommend strongly is to receive final payment before delivering the final shots. For approvals, either send lower resolution shots or watermarked full resolution. Do not give them something they can use in the movie until you’ve received final payment.

More times than I care to admit producers have tried to not pay me the final 50% of what I’m owed, even after they’ve insisted on getting the final shots in a rush because of a color grading session or some other excuse.

If you’ve delivered the final shots, and they still owe you money, you may as well kiss that money goodbye. Hollywood is horrible like that. I’ve even had to threaten legal action to receive payment once. And not just by saying “I’m going to get a lawyer”. I had to actually research what a lawyer could do to stop the project from being released, and then I used that legal speak directly with producers. Don’t let yourself get into that kind of jam.

I never knew legal action needed to be taken that far to receive the final payment.

Having to threaten legal action is rare. And to be honest, most artists won’t bother. They’ll just accept that they are not getting paid. I refuse to do that.

How do you convince / persuade a client to give you the job? How do you get a prospect to trust you?

In the world of VFX, the demo reel speaks volumes. Hopefully it’s good enough that the client doesn’t care what program you created the work in. They just want your awesome skills as part of their project.

When people have mentioned specific programs to me in the past, I’ve asked what it was specifically that they need that program for. Sometimes they’ve answered “We saw a project online that was similar that we liked, and saw it was done in Maya”. To that I always say I can create effects of the same quality, regardless of program.

As for building trust, the only thing that can do that is experience.

Experience of working together, or of seeing a consistent body of work that you delivered quality VFX for. that’s why most of my freelance work comes from referrals. that trust is already there from having worked with someone.

Building that trust is definitely hard and takes time. My advice for people that want to get started is always to look around your town or city and find independent filmmakers, then offer your services.

You may have to do quite a few projects for free, but it will help build your reel while also making great connections and building that trust with people who will hopefully grow along with you.


Sam Brubaker

Sam Brubaker aka Worldsday is a Blender generalist currently stationed in Portland, Oregon. He has a bachelor’s degree in Art and Design from NC State University. His current line of work lies mainly in 2D and 3D motion graphics for advertising.

The one thing unique about Sam is his complete open source production pipeline. He uses Blender on Linux Mint coupled with GIMP and Inkscape.

I noted that he also offer extended services through his network of artists, video producers and videographers. If he can’t do it, he know someone who can. [Creating long term relations is always beneficial for both parties.]

He also makes his own music for his videos using Ardour. You can find his portfolio on his website named Worldsday.org.

How did you get your first client?

When I was in college, I had a webcomic made in Blender that I updated once a week. A guy emailed me to say he liked my work, and asked me to do the cover art for his video game.

It was a small job that didn’t explode into more work, but it was still a fun task and I learned a lot. I did a lot of small jobs for a year or two before the big jobs started coming in.

Apart from referrals, how do you gain new clients?

That’s hard to answer because almost all of my current clients are referrals from other clients! Other than that, I get new clients from putting my work online and networking with people who are NOT 3D artists.

That last part is important. If you want clients, but only speak to other freelancers in your field, that’s like trying to get mangoes from monkeys!

My jobs all come from people in fields adjacent to mine, such as video producers, game developers, advertisers, startup company owners, architects, etc. Find the people who *need* someone like you, not the people who already do what you do.

What book or resource helped you the most in freelancing?

I don’t have many books on freelancing. The most helpful resource for me has been the time I spent working alongside other self-employed artists and producers in a shared studio space.

What are some bad advice that you got about freelancing? That is, What would you tell a new freelancer to avoid doing?

Everyone’s experience of freelancing is unique, and everyone’s path will be different, so don’t trust anyone who tells you “you HAVE to learn this ONE application,” or “you HAVE to sign up for this ONE service/platform.” People used to tell me I would have to use proprietary apps to be a professional. That’s bad advice now, and it was bad advice in 2009 as well!

That said… avoid doing any work for free, or signing up for work through services like Fiverr.

These sites put a whole bunch of artists in one cage and make them fight for a job so that everyone puts in spec work but only one person gets paid. The artists get undervalued and the clients don’t even get good results. Seriously, Fiverr can go to hell.

How do you convince / persuade a client to give you the job? How do you get a prospect to trust you over others?

The best way to earn a client’s trust is to do lots of good work for them and build a long-term relationship over time. For new clients, I simply treat them with courtesy and make them a well-written proposal that clearly describes the project objectives and my estimates.

I strongly advise NOT to put in too many hours on a prospective job. Remember, you don’t know whether they’ll pay you yet! Often a client may ask to “see an example” of what you will make for them, not realizing that making such an example alone requires many hours of work.

Instead, you should educate them honestly about the value of your time and the work that you’re prepared to do. The client will trust you more and will not have unrealistic expectations.

Do you have a college degree in this field? If yes, did it helped you gain a network of clients?

Yes and yes. That’s me most important thing about my degree. No client has ever asked about my degree, but the skills I learned and the contacts I made have been immensely valuable.


Jose Luis Mera Cordoba:

Jose is a Freelance 3D Artist from Spain currently living in Brazil.

Starting out from the Steel industry, he liked working in his spare time on his writing and learning Computer-Aided-Design (CAD) using Blender. Eventually, he started doing professional realism jobs for architects, builders, sales support and services for companies of reforms, etc.

He describes himself as willing to learn new things and nunda desist (Never desist). According to him, this allowed him to get the confidence of his clients.

He can be found on his Linkedin page.

How did you get your first client?

I got it through a friend who works making legal arrangements for several architects. He told me how much they complained about the lack of time and it so happened that one of the tasks that took more time was the 3D representations for sales support.

It happened by chance, I told my friend that I knew how to do those things and she introduced me to several architects. My first paid job was one of those architects, a small urbanization, very simple, but he liked it a lot and I continue to do jobs for them.

Apart from referrals, how do you gain new clients?

The last job I got was for a manufacturer of porcelain materials in Brazil. I simply went into his collection, saw his porcelain and downloaded the technical image of several (Porcelains).

I applied them one by one in one scene of my creation, then in another … I made about 20 renders at low resolution and sent them to them. He asked me in high resolution and he asked me for more scenes with his products. Especially flooring.

What book or resource helped you the most in freelancing?

The most valuable resource for me, tutorials on social networks, youtube, exchange of impressions with other characters involved in 3D … But above all, youtube tutorials.

What are some bad advice that you got about freelancing? That is, What would you tell a new freelancer to avoid doing?

There are two bad tips, both equally bad and both are the worst thing you can do. The first is to desist (Stop trying). The second is to be an elephant in a glassware. You have to plan, you have to study the customer, look for their products, see them and think how to improve their presentation, what is missing.

Going to a potential client without knowing it well and without planning, will not only make you lose that client, it will also damage your reputation.

How do you convince / persuade a client to give you the job? How do you get a prospect to trust you over others?

My method of convincing the client was explained in the second and fourth questions. I make it clear that I am interested in your company, I make it clear that I know them and that I know what they need.

Also, I always do a personalized presentation work for them. I never refer to my page or take a pendrive with a million scenes. Think that your time, like yours, is money. I try to be very specific and direct my request in the most direct way.

Do you have a college degree in this field? If yes, did it helped you gain a network of clients?

No, I do not have university studies. Life did not grant me that privilege, everything learned has been watching tutorials, trial and error, and nunda desist (never desist).


Micah Pendleton:

Micah is a part time VFX Freelancer, YouTuber, Linux User, and Open Source Advocate. He created Film World  , A tutorial channel about all things Filmmaking.

There are tutorials about using free software in filmmaking, from Blender to Natron. You can also check out his website http://filmworldchannel.com/

How did you get your first client?

The brother of my Sister’s boyfriend (Now husband) owned a local advertising company. I did some 3D work in Blender, I think it was version 2.58 at the time, in exchange for my first capable workstation.

Apart from referrals, how do you gain new clients?

I’m part of a local networking group that is almost like a “Freelance overhead” if you will. It’s a local group that meet in real life. It does run online, but it’s actual interaction between clients and members is done physically for the majority of it. I get most of my work through them.

It is hard to get VFX jobs in blender, people expect the project files too and blender is not mainstream compared to Premiere Pro / After effects. How can one get blender VFX freelance jobs?

I don’t usually worry about explaining the software I use to the clients. They usually don’t care. If they ask I tell them, but it honestly hasn’t been a problem… especially when I tell them Blender is better than After Effects LOL!

What are some bad advice that you got about freelancing? That is, What would you tell a new freelancer to avoid doing?

I would warn them that you can’t view freelancing as easier or a more “freeing” way to work! It definitely can be more freeing than working for a company, however, if you go in with that mindset you could doom yourself to fail. Go in expecting a lot of late nights and dealing directly with clients that are a pain in the butt. Basically, be ready to work! It takes a lot of self discipline to make it work.

How do you convince / persuade a client to give you the job? How do you get a prospect to trust you over others?

Most of my work has come through sources away from me. I don’t usually have to convince. But this is mostly because of the fact that I’m part of that networking system. The work usually comes to me, but this won’t be the case for most freelancers.


Mieren “Tom” Taylor:

Mieren is a Freelance general animator. She describes herself as specializing in “Problem solving” as she has experience as an animator, modeler/ 3Dsculptor, 3D character rigger, general 3D rigger, CG lighting and texture artist, storyboard artist, concept artist, digital artist, and Project manager.

She has over 5 years of industry experience working with organizations like Kairma, Real Illusions Gaming, ZaZub Entertainment, Gnosis Web Development, and many others.

She also runs the Linkedin group “Blender Artist Open Group”.

You can find here portfolio on her website here at http://www.tomations.com/

How did you get your first client?

I got my first client on the Blender Artist open forum.

I spent about a week watching the paid jobs forum for something I could apply my skills toward and it ended up being a great guy by the name of Brent Nicholas. He was a coder working on creating a video game, and he needed some basic scenes and props to test with.

I find new clients most often by going to sites that post jobs (like Blender Artists, CG Trader, guru, etc.) and talking with the people who are looking for people to help them.

Apart from referrals, how do you gain new clients?

I think it’s an obvious thing to do, and aside from referrals, people who want your work tend to go looking for you in places like these sites.

I do understand first hand though that some of these sites like guru.com can more easily put you in a bad situation; be it a client who holds a good review of your work for ransom, or fees being taken out of your paycheck by the sites, and many others.

They can also be intrusive in your workflow and I personally have found that my work suffers when I strive to improve my portfolio on the sites instead of focus on the individual projects and the clients themselves.

That’s why I don’t just go apply to projects on the sites. I talk to the clients and when we are both in agreement that I’m going to be able to help them then we decide if we want to stay on the site or if we’d prefer to work directly. After 5 years of doing this I’ve had something like 4 clients want to stick to the site we met on.

What book or resource helped you the most in freelancing?

The most helpful advice I’ve gotten over the years is from blogs like yours written by other freelancers.

They don’t have to be animators like myself, because so many of the trials we face are identical. The articles that make the biggest difference are explanations of how other freelancers deal with particular circumstances.

For instance if I’m asking myself how I should deal with a client that is late on their payment, but they have a great track record; I can find other freelancers who explain what they’ve done in the past and how it turned out.

What are some bad advice that you got about freelancing? That is, What would you tell a new freelancer to avoid doing?

I would tell any freelancer two pieces of advice that I wish I had been given sooner. First, keep track of the time, tasks, and changes you are working on for that person or company. It comes in handy with the next piece of advice.

Second, keep in mind that your time is a valuable commodity in freelancing. You will meet a client that calls you every other hour for updates and you’ll have clients who are indecisive or unprepared that end up making a lot of changes. These things take your time and if you should be compensated for it.

It can seem in the beginning that you are doing the client a favor or garnering good will by being available for every call and responding immediately to emails, but good will won’t produce a great result or get the project done.

If the client is taking your time then they should understand that you spent that time with them and not on work that you would be payed for. Keep track of and bill for your time, it’s valuable.

I get jobs over other candidates because I strive to understand what the client is looking for.

How do you convince / persuade a client to give you the job? How do you get a prospect to trust you over others?

In a way I answered this question in how I find clients, but I’ll elaborate on what I look for when talking with clients. It’s important to know whether or not you’ll be the right person to complete a job.

Now this is far less about what skills you have, the vast majority of skills can be acquired to meet the goal as long as your client know up front that you are going to need to do research and that is going to increase the time and cost to complete the project.

  • Why would a client not just go somewhere else though?
  • Why would I be asked to do a task I’m not proficient with?

That comes down to being the person who understood what the project needs. I can acquire the skills that they lack and then I can give them what they need. Now most people don’t have the time or are nervous about disclosing all the details of their project, so I advise that you start by simply boiling down whatever information they provided in the description of the job posting.

Think about how you’d go about creating what they are asking for. Then to start the conversation provide the information about yourself that fits what they are looking for. As an example if I came across a description of “need a 3D animator to create a model of a woman and then map a dress around the woman model.” I know that this will require modeling and texturing skills.

So I would reply that I’ve been modeling and texturing for X number of years and that I use Blender and would like to help them get this project done. Then I leave further contact information and a link to somewhere they can see the skills I’ve mentioned.

If a skill is present I don’t have experience with then I state that I haven’t worked with that, but I’d be happy to pick it up. You may find yourself surprised at how often people say yes to that, I know I was.

Do you have a college degree in this field? If yes, did it helped you gain a network of clients?

As for my education, I do not have a degree for animation, but In 5 years of freelancing I have been asked about it once and it was only in passing conversation while waiting for someone else to join a conference call.

For our industry I think an education in animation would actually set you back. This tech moves so fast and if you aren’t out here working with it every day then you can easily fall behind. A career of freelance doesn’t really lend itself well to that environment.

Of course that is only a hypothesis, I haven’t been to any of the colleges and I’ve never received that education it might put you a step above the rest.

My inclination though is that I’ve made it in this field without that education and I’ve seen people with it that aren’t prepared and don’t adapt to the pace of change. It’s different if you are going for a particular job though.

Studio work is far different from freelancing and there the education might make a difference.


Devansh Atray:

Devansh is a 3D artist and freelancer currently living in New Delhi, India. He focuses on surrealistic 3D illustrations made in blender.

The one thing unique about him is his leveraging Instagram as a method of gaining new clients. You can check out his instagram here at https://www.instagram.com/devanshatray/

One more thing about him is that he found a unique niche in Album illustrations. Something I have never seen any other blender freelancer doing.

How did you get your first client?

My first official client came through Instagram, (almost after 3/4 months i made my account there), which would be November of 2017. It was fairly a low paying project, but at that moment I didn’t even knew what was the use of the stuff i was creating.

Anyways, he was impressed with my previous posts and was looking for an album artwork for his upcoming track, he showed me a couple of my works, that he wanted the artwork to be like and i did the job for $10.

Funny though, a couple of months after, the guy had some trouble with the collaborating artist and the song never happened (as far as i know).

My next client came through Facebook, again a low paying job but i am still in touch with the guy and have done like 3 projects for him.

Apart from referrals, how do you gain new clients?

Apart from referrals, I’d say social media plays a huge role in providing me with clients. A couple of weeks after i did my first album artwork project(my first client), I wanted to explore the area of album artworks, stage visuals and such stuff, so I joined some EDM communities and groups and started posting my stuff there as well.

i also started connecting with people through Facebook DMs (this is how i got my second client), I also continued posting daily renders on Instagram.

So,all in all as far as getting new clients goes,apart from referrals I get my clients from Facebook groups or through Instagram.

I have tried blenderartists forums, but they mostly involve character animations and stuff like that (talking about the last time I was there, haven’t opened up my BA forum profile in like 6 months) and I was never interested in such stuff.

Although I have done a couple of projects through there but it was all unpaid work and way back when I first started learning the software.

What book or resource helped you the most in freelancing?

I’d say Youtube is the best resource out there.

A lot of people starting out with blender ask me the same question,and according to me (and the way i did) is Start off with Andrew Price’s Blender Guru (Doughnut and Anvil tutorial especially), then there is Remington Graphics and Gleb Alexandrov for cool tips and tricks and at last,my favorite Midge Sinnaeve (really amazed and inspired by the stuff he does) for the advanced stuff.

Although there were other tutorials like Sardi pax, CG cookie etc. but they were inclined more towards a specific problem rather than a software as a whole (according to me).

Initially i used blender compositor for the post processing work but then i switched to GIMP which I learned more by messing around with it.and again there were tutorials if i stuck somewhere.

Was never really into books though, TBH.

What are some bad advice that you got about freelancing? That is, What would you tell a new freelancer to avoid doing?

When i first started out and was looking for projects involving album arts and such, I was advised to not be choosy and even work for free if they ask me to, “It provides exposure”.

Now I’m not saying that its a bad advice, might even make me sound dumb. But always crosscheck who you are working for because sometimes it were people who took your designs and sold it to somebody else with their name on it and other times they were nobody.

How do you convince / persuade a client to give you the job? How do you get a prospect to trust you over others?

As far as the convincing goes, As you know, I use an open source program to work, this tends to make my rates lower then the guy using Cinema 4D or any other expensive software.

Other than that i have almost 3k followers and 255 artworks on my Instagram account (which i use as a portfolio account) plus a couple of known artists that i have worked for, this provides a kinda assurance to the client that I am legit.

Do you have a college degree in this field? If yes, did it helped you gain a network of clients?

No, I don’t have a college degree in this field and TBH, as a freelancer, i don’t think it even matters.


Alexander Schmid

Alexander is a 3D Artist and a part time freelancer from Ottensheim, Austria. He is working as a professional 3D artist since 2015. Before that he had studied Digital Film and Animation.

You can check his work at Youtube, Vimeo and Artstation.

How did you get your first client?

One day I decided to register at Upwork. A site for freelancers. Then I wrote some proposals and only one of around 20 answered and gave me the job. And it was a big luck. sometimes you get no answer back from 50.

Apart from referrals, how do you gain new clients?

It´s the same today. I spend hours, reading job descriptions and writing proposals – and then with luck, you get a job. Its not only a good showreel. Sometimes 30 freelancers write within the first 10 minutes a job is online. How many does the client read? If you are too late, you´re lost.

What book or resource helped you the most in freelancing?

My knowledge and my show-reel are the only things. Practice, Practice, Practice – show, what you can do and do it.

What are some bad advice that you got about freelancing? That is, What would you tell a new freelancer to avoid doing?

A new freelancer should avoid start working on jobs for no money, but for the showreel. It is work – it needs to get paid. My first showreel was full of private projects.

How do you convince / persuade a client to give you the job? How do you get a prospect to trust you over others?

Well, I think my show-reel does mostly the big part. If the client sees it.

The thing is… if the clients need to have a watch animated. You better have a watch in your reel. No watch, No job. Also, I mostly have some strong visions how to present the clients’ idea / product – and I tell him about that.

Do you have a college degree in this field? If yes, did it helped you gain a network of clients?

Yes. I’ve studied Digital Film and Animation. But none of my clients ever wanted to see it. And I think it’s no matter – if you have learned it on your own from online tutorials and you are really good, then you can have a good reel. And that’s it, what it’s about.


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