My back-burner desire to replace my totaled laptop had just erupted into an urgent necessity. A job I had just accepted earlier in the day told me after the fact that they required a laptop. I could have told them I didn’t have one but it seemed like a good excuse to buy something that I secretly really really wanted. Like a checkout gymnast I tried to balance borrowed educational discounts and 24 month financing offers to taper the damage but various checks and balances in the Apple Store experience forced me to put the whole $3,500 lump sum onto my credit card. I was raised in the financial equivalent of a strict Catholic household where “Doth shall not purchase things that one cannot pay for,” but in this case I mentally asked my father for forgiveness and dug myself into a mini debt ditch. After looking up APRs on my credit card (fees I never thought I would end up occurring) I realized that with my usual monthly expenditures and rent I was probably very fucked when this credit card was due. Immediately felt a surge of panic well up in my wallet. I needed to get paid by somebody for something quick.
Inevitably, as a freelancer you will run into a cash flow traffic jam. You just finished a job for thousands of dollars but you aren’t going to see any of it for another 30 days and your rent is due at the end of the week. What can you do to get money in your pocket tomorrow? Auction your bodily fluids? Put your roommates stuff on Craigslist? All good back pocket options, but I have some professional recommendations that you should try first. By the end of this article you’ll know exactly where to look for gigs that can give you a quick cash infusion when you need it most.
SMALL CLIENTS PAY FAST
First off, when we start talking about instant payment we can immediately narrow our search for clients from companies to individuals. In case you’re new to this scene, big – medium-sized companies have more overhead to pay off so for planning purposes they usually pay on a regular schedule. Normally, this is no sooner than 2 weeks after you submit an invoice, but sometimes it can be as long as 6 months. When your credit card bill is due in 4 days you could be owed millions of dollars but it’s not going to be able to save you. These techniques might.
When you’re dealing with one person who’s in control of the entire project, then it’s likely we can get paid ASAP through a service like PayPal/ Venmo. I’ve also been sent transfers directly into my bank account, and even pictures of checks that I could use for mobile deposit. They can be super casual about paying like this because there’s no one they’re reporting to. They either are taking money out of their own bank account or they were given a sum already by their client and are free to spend it as they see fit.
Secondly NO middle men. It might seem like its easiest to go after clients who you know already need work, clients on sites like Fiverr or freelancer.com but this approach won’t suit our needs. Anytime you go through a service you’re waiting on their terms for your money to be released once the job is complete. We want direct access to our client…and their money.
- MANAGEMENT: Someone in control of the company/ project who we can contact DIRECTLY with no intermediaries.
- MOTIVATED: These someones should be highly passionate about the project you’re approaching them about.
- MONEY: They should have access to enough money to make the job worth your while.
- FAST MONEY GIGS: Find gigs that we can complete quickly so we can get paid quickly. (3 days or less)
- HALF NOW GIGS: If we find gigs that are going to take longer than 3 days we want to get paid half up-front immediately to get money into the bank ASAP. Then we can deliver the rest of the project without being under financial duress.
THE WATERING HOLES
Good news! The easiest way to work with individuals on this basis is to reach out to people you already know. Someone who is working on a startup, on a film, on app, they all potentially need your services. If you offer to help fill genuine needs they already have, they’ll thank you for reaching out and providing services they didn’t know where to look for. You’re not trying to convince them they need a project they don’t, you’re asking if you can solve the problems they already have.
Ex: Hey Boris,
Hey buddy how’s it going? I heard through _______ that you’re working on an app. The project sounded excited and was wondering if you’d like me to help make an explainer video for it to help get the word out to everyone else. I would be willing to help you put something together for a reasonable fee, just let me know if you’re interested!
If you don’t know anyone who is working on something currently then check your extended circle of friends and ask if they know anyone who does. These interpersonal relationships and mutual connections are by far the easiest and most effective way to get the kind of jobs that we’re after. If they recommend you then congratulations, you just got a REFERRAL! I asked one of my film colleagues Danielle Ellen where they would look if they needed motion design and her answer summed up perfectly why you want a referral. If not, then the guide below will educate you on how to easily find people who could use your skills out there in the wild.
“The first thing I would do would be to ask a colleague for a referral to someone they’ve already worked with. That feels the safest. If no one had a good recommendation or schedules/budget didn’t work out, I’d look on a private networking site like we have with Blueprint or to a film networking group like the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, etc.–and again, I’d be asking for a referral. Another option would be to search at a local college for a student animator if money were tight. Worst case scenario would be to go to a public jobs site because it just seems like a hassle and of course there’s all sorts of people who claim to be pros who don’t know the first thing about design/animation. Not saying the sites are bad, just that it’s an open market. I’m referring to sites like stage32 or Craigslist, which just seems crazy to me. My advice to a young animator would be to network with writers, directors, and producers at film and TV events. Seek out networking opportunities and go. We want to meet you guys because trying to find you when we have a project can be overwhelming.”
Looking for a hungry client with money who is small enough to deal with one on face to face level? Startups are a great place to start. Explainer videos are a staple crop of motion graphics work across the industry and most startups with little brand awareness could use one to blast their presence out to the world. Despite the fact that they might have filed for a C Corporation or rounded up a few hundred Instagram followers, these companies are still very much scrambling to become sustainable. They will need as much momentum as possible to make it to the point of becoming a fully functioning company and usually this creates a good business opportunity. They recognize the costs involved in business well enough that should have the means to pay you and almost all of them need marketing. They are also usually run by an individual or a small group, so it’s perfect.
I did work for a company called Bipsync that was starting out. They hadn’t launched their product yet which should tell you where they were at in terms of their lifecycle. I worked on their explainer video (posted below in case you’re curious) and was paid as soon as I wrapped up. The project was done through a middleman who became a good friend of mine throughout the process. He was basically given a sum of money by them to director the video as he wanted and hired me to do the animation work. This kind of setup is great because you have someone who was already given the funds, the approval process for that has happened before you’re even on the scene so you can then negotiate with that person to do the job. This one turned out to be a nail biter as another project I had accepted months before had decided to flare up like a bad case of venereal disease in the exact same week. I had to meet two deadlines at once, because I was leaving for a 2 week trip to Europe at the end of the week. This was one of the MOST STRESSFUL times of my life. Not sure why work always has to be a nightmare the week before a vacation but it seems to be one of the rules that’s hard coded into the universe.
TYPES OF WORK
*I think its impossible to generalize pricing on creative work since there’s a million variables at play but the bottom line is you need to make it worth your while. That said, when possible I will try to supply you with my personal experience if it helps give you a frame of reference for what’s possible
- Logo Animations – I’ve made between $200-$1500 each depending on the complexity
- Social Media Marketing GIFs/ Cinemagraphs- I’ve made between $50-$200 each
- Explainer Videos – I’ve made between $1,000-$10,000 each. Prime examples of HALF UP FRONT project opportunities.
- Pitch Videos to Investors – No personal experience, but would charge similar to Explainer videos
I’ve attended quite a few classes for 20$ or less through vendors such as Coursehorse and General Assembly. By taking a class that entrepreneurs would be interested in you are you’re literally putting yourself in the room with the your potential customers (and not a bad way to learn from freelance business expertise). Your GUARANTEED to be putting yourself in direct contact with our demographic which makes the low-cost worth it. I took a class once for $35 called “Bootstrapping Your First Year” from General Assembly * and got at least 3 business cards from entrepreneurs that were interested in creating an explainer video or marketing video for their company. This is a case of spending (a little) money to make (a lot more) money but there are also free meet ups and classes as well if you look around.
While people grow increasingly unwilling to leave the comfort of their home to network, simply showing up at a local Startup event/ meet up is GUARANTEED to get you in contact with dozens of the kind of clients you need. Unlike the hoards who are there for a piece of ownership equity in the companies, you’re just looking to provide a much needed service for a fee. Don’t be afraid to talk to people. Tell them what you do and ask them if they’d like to introduce their company to the world in an impressive way. Most companies love that shit because it makes their business look sexy to the public, letting them in turn feel a sense of validation when they share it with other people. https://www.meetup.com/ is always a good place to start for these sorts of events but your local city probably has dozens of alternatives depending on where you live.
*CAVEAT: Both of these are obviously dependent on your needs. if you have a bill coming up tomorrow, there might not be a class or a meet-up taking place the night of. So these are for people with at least a few days to look and potentially a few bucks for admission to the networking opportunities where these clients hang out.
I reached out to my most entrepreneurial friends and asked them where they would go for animation needs and this is the response I got. Keep in mind that online, you can find hundreds of other startups in about 30 seconds by using search for Twitter and typing in something related terms; #startups, #entrepreneurs, #smallbiz, etc…
VIDEO / FILMMAKERS
Filmmakers constantly need beautiful title sequences, special effects work, and lower thirds depending on the type of video they’re creating. These ventures are often self-financed, and near and dear to the owners heart. This means they are often excited about working with someone who is going to help them make their vision what they dream it can become. It can also mean they have no money BUT in today’s age of crowdsourcing, most decently ambitious projects can get funding, part of which will be allocated to people like you. I took a screenwriting class with the excellent Tim Cooper several times and asked him if any of his students needed special effects work for the films they’re working on. He said that the demand was overwhelming. Going to a gatekeeper like a film teacher/ director / etc is a great strategy because they know bunches of people who need help.
TYPES OF WORK
- Documentaries: Lower thirds, title sequence, map sequences, parallaxes photos
- Promotional content: special effects/ lower thirds/ parallaxes photos, logo animations, title cards
- Films: title sequence, special effects, title cards
- Lower thirds – Never been paid solely for this but would charge give or take $200
- Map sequence –Never been paid solely for this but would charge give or take $200-500
- Parallax photos – I’ve made between $100-200 each
- Logo animations – I’ve made between $200-$1500 each
- Title Cards – Never been paid solely for this but would charge give or take $200-500
- Title Sequences- I made $1000 once to create one title sequence
- Special Effects- Obviously a broad category, but I made $4000 for a 4 week project (you should charge more)
“There is tons of need for motion graphics in student films (for low to no pay, except perhaps at NYU/Columbia, where some of the students are loaded and they’re given a certain budget as well)” -Timothy Cooper
This is a huge source of work but not a great source of payment. If you are just eager to work on films, like me, then contact the teachers who work there to see if they need work to essentially contact entire classrooms at once.
Obviously, again a connection to people who are interested in making films. The more prestigious the class, the more likely it is you’ll find people attached to serious projects with budgets. I recommend screenwriting classes because you’re contacting people who have major roles in the productions, whereas contacting actors for instance, puts you in contact with people who probably won’t be the people paying you.
EXAMPLES OF FREELANCE FILM PROJECTS:
Apps aren’t the first thing to come to mind when discussing motion design, app-related work apps has met our criteria on several occasions for me. Their needs are usually handled by the Apple iOS SDK as 95% of developers can handle their simple UX animation needs themselves. But the other 5% of successful app owners are already established names and have some money to spend to make their app even nicer. For these clients we can contribute loading screen animations and logo animations to make their experience truly premium. Truthfully, I’ve made the most money by working on apps where the graphics ARE the content. Any app that sell graphics as the meat of the app experience is gold, such as apps that superimpose special effects over footage the user takes, apps that sell people moving BGs for their phones, etc. These apps all would likely spend money to make their graphics better because ultimately the graphics are the products their customers are paying for.
Reaching out to app owners (successful app owners) gives a good yield on your time and can get you money quick. I also worked on his app that imposes superhero special FX over your crappy iPhone footage and revamping each of those 3-4 second animations netted me $2000 a pop (through Paypal) AND only took me 2-3 days each. The same guy paid me 500$ for a quick loading screen animation. These weren’t boring jobs honestly, they were fun to do and lucrative. I can’t think that I somehow cornered the market and took all the jobs in this sector, they’re definitely out there!
TYPES OF WORK
- Logo animation – I made $1000 for 5 of these
- Loading Screen Animation – I made $200 for 1 of these
- BG Graphics – I made $1000 for 5 of these
- Special Effects – I made $2000 a pop doing Anime Super Power graphics (fun stuff)
In both cases in my experience these were referrals from people who were looking for that type of work and talk to a friend of a friend about it. I got lucky, but the formula for both jobs was the same. These apps were either wildly successful already or severely important to the app I was doing it for.
The types of apps that will pay for animations are limited to what I mentioned above. A) Successful, money-making apps or B) Apps that feature graphics as their product. For this reason I think its easiest if you search the limited categories on the Apple Store (Top Paid Apps (https://www.apple.com/itunes/charts/paid-apps/) and Photo & Video (https://itunes.apple.com/us/genre/ios-photo-video/id6008?mt=8))
From the Apple Store: “To do this, open the App Store app on your iOS device, and then go to the Purchased section. This will show you all of the apps you have purchase, and you can limit the list to those on the current device, if needed. This will reveal the problematic app, which you can tap to view its information page. In this page, tap the Reviews section where you should see an App Support link. Tapping this will open your browser to the developer’s support pages The support options will be different for each developer, so in some cases you may get direct contact information, but at other times you might find yourself at a community support forum.
My hope with this blog post is to show you that there are thousands of clients out there who you might not be aware of. These are a specific kind of client that can get money in your bank account faster than anybody else. I know personally that the delay between doing a job and getting paid can put you in a real bind when you have bills due that won’t wait for your invoices are scheduled to be fulfilled. The Fast Money strategies take that pressure away and save the day when you need rent or CC payments asap. I will personally am counting on these strategies to pay off the laptop I mentioned up top because well, I just came back from Thailand and I left a lot of my savings in Bangkok. I hope I can help others do the same and gain the superpower that freelance offers of being able to make money when you need it, not when your paycheck is due.