Sunday, 18 May 2014

How to pull off your first freelance job

Lots of animators do freelance jobs. Even if you are working at a studio, you still have your evenings and weekends free, so why not expand your skillset by taking on freelance work? This blog post is all about how to handle your first job. Working with clients is not like working for an employer. Things are much less clearly defined, and you have to be much more proactive about giving the client what they want. Often, clients don't know themselves. You have to lead, and also be led, a tricky balance to strike.

But let's assume you've pitched the idea to the client, they like it, and you've agreed a price for the job. The client is excited about the amazing work you're going to do for them. Now all you have to do is deliver what you promised. What can possibly go wrong?  Plenty!

Below is our simple guide to getting it right and making sure that your first client is not only so happy that he or she comes back for more, but also tells everyone they know what a great job you did. Over the course of your media career, almost every job you get will come to you on the strength of a recommendation - it's how the business works.

Rule 1 - Agree a schedule, and stick to it.
Clients want to know what is going to happen, and when. Set out the main milestones in advance, such as Script, Storyboard & Design, Animatic, Animation and Final render. Explain to the client that meeting deadlines will depend on getting their timely approval at every stage, but that whatever happens you will do your level best to deliver on time.

Rule 2 - Get the script/story approved as early as possible. 
Your client may have a script already, or they may want you to write one. Often they will never have done this before and will need a lot of help to get the story right. What is the story they want to tell? Who is it for? Part of your job is to help guide them through this maze early, so you can get to work.

Rule 3 - Keep the client informed regularly about your progress.
Clients don't like to be kept in the dark. Don't make them chase you. Keep them informed, especially if there are delays. No-one likes nasty surprises.

Rule 4 - Don't make excuses for not delivering on time.
Clients don't care how busy you are with other things - they just want the work done on time, when you promised it. They don't care if other clients are keeping you busy, or your dog is ill, or your broadband went down, or your hard drive died. Make sure you back up your work, and if you run out of time, work through the night to get it done. Do what it takes to deliver on time and be reliable.

Rule 5 - Take client notes with good grace
On every job, clients will give you notes which you do not agree with. Try not to disagree openly with the client. The best response to a dumb idea is to say "that's a great idea, why don't we try this..." and try to steer them in a less silly direction. Sometimes though you just have to do what you are told and make the best of it. Make it look as good as you can. Contrary to popular belief, you can polish a turd.

Rule 6 - Be positive
Clients want to feel that you are as excited about the project as they are. Even if you've just done an all-nighter and you feel like screaming, be upbeat and optimistic. Make them feel good about working with you - remember that they are taking a risk using your services for the first time.

Rule 7 -  Ask not what your client can do for you, ask what you can do for your client.

Clients like problem-solvers. Be the person who says "yes, I can do that". If you don't know the answer to something, say "I'll get back to you on that". Try not to say "no", or "I don't know".

Rule 8 - Double check your invoices.
No-one likes being invoiced incorrectly, or for the wrong amount. Always double-check every invoice you send out. And don't chase up your invoices too early. Try not to chase up payment less than two weeks after you have issued an invoice. And remember that lots of clients pay at the end of the month. Remember also that your financial problems are not your client's concern.

(Editor's note: for more information on finding work in the animation business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, learn how to create an invoice, and see how we are helping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films.  Download the free Escape Studios Careers in VFX Handbook. Take a look at how can help you find a job, and read our piece about how to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel, and read our post on setting up your own animation business.)

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