One Year On
The 19th of October marked the one year anniversary of MW Motion, the brand I set up for my business. I would like to use this milestone as a time to reflect and share with you my experience of entering the world of business.
Before making the leap to freelance I read several business books. Most of them commonly mentioned that the first year of any business will be the hardest. With this embedded in my mind, my expectations for my first year were that of an immense struggle. I had images of failing to pay my rent, not being able to afford food and having to constantly borrow money so that I could keep the freelance dream alive. Thankfully, the reality was quite the opposite.
I understand that a lot of people get uncomfortable when talking numbers but I feel that the animation / motion graphics industry would benefit from transparency. There is a huge diversity in pay scale amongst freelancers and studios for many reasons, one being simply that certain studios and freelancers are the cream of the crop and the higher prices you pay are undoubtedly justified in the quality of the output. In sharing my numbers I am aiming to offer a benchmark for people to consider when calculating their value. Personally I feel that my work is around mid level for a freelancer in our industry. I hope by sharing with you I can help you to make decisions on how you might charge for your work and possibly inspire people who are contemplating freelance to make the bold decision, as it can be very lucrative.
The First Half
The first six months of being freelance were great. I managed to have a few clients on my books from the moment I left my job. These gave me a head start and kept me afloat for long enough to build my local network. In four months I made roughly £7000 which was pretty similar to my usual paycheque, however slightly less as I now have monthly expenses; software and office payments to name a few. I managed to secure some bigger contracts for the remaining two months, earning £6000 in half the amount of time. Totalling to a comfortable £13,000.
*Note the clients mentioned had no association to my old employer, they were discovered from my own networking during my final month of employment. Most contracts will have a six month to one year clause stopping ex-employees from working with their clients. Therefore if your freelance plan is to continue relationships with existing clients you may need to check your contract and be very careful not to break what you have legally signed and agreed to.
The Second Half
The second half of the year is when the business really started to take off. After being on the scene for six months and using social sites such as Twitter, Youtube, Behance and Dribbble to my advantage, I began to build a bigger network and referrals started to come in. It’s truly incredible how powerful a referral is and I am so thankful for everyone who has generously recommended me, I can honestly say I’d be struggling without this kindness. A combination of referrals and self promotion led me to maintain a constant supply of work, so constant that over the course of the year I only had two weeks without client work which gave me time to breathe and work on my brand image.
Over the last six months of the year I earned roughly £27,000 totalling my annual revenue to £43,000.
This year has been incredible, I can honestly say I have loved every minute. I have worked ridiculously hard to make the business work and learnt several valuable lessons along the way. Here are my main take aways:
For me personally control is one of the best parts of being freelance. Like most, I can say that I have experienced my fair share of ‘shitty jobs’ — the ones that we all know are simply to pay the bills. When employed you have no choice but to bite the bullet and get the work done. Now that I’m freelance I can pick and choose which jobs to take and which to turn down. This is very liberating. Now I have options and choice, like only choosing to take a less desirable job if it is very profitable. This means I can reinvest some of this profit into either my next client, charging them less to be able to work on a job that I am passionate about, or to simply take some time for myself to improve my skill set. This year I took a couple of weeks to focus on my brand image, to improve my C4D skills and I’ve even started a personal film project which I’m hoping to release next year. This choice is the main reason why I wanted to go freelance.
Or lack of. This year I have taken 4 days holiday, not exactly making the most of the flexibility that freelance offers. I had to borrow a lot of money to get my business running and I had some existing debt before quitting my job. This made me feel guilty for taking time off and to saying no to jobs that were less desirable but well paid. As a result I’ve experienced total burnout from working so hard. I had heard of burn out but never experienced it before. My whole body began to shut down and I spent the best part of a week in bed as a result. However, by working so hard I managed to make good money, which was used to repay all my debts and to save a decent amount toward buying a house. Looking forward, I hope that now that I’ve paid my debts off and overcome the initial starting costs of beginning a business, I will have the flexibility to take more time out for myself in the future.
I have got several goals in personal development, both in life and work. I am planning to buy a laptop so I can be mobile, opening up opportunities to work at home on personal projects, to restore my Youtube channel and to also open up possibilities of working abroad. I feel it is important to invest time and money into improving my skills as an animator so I am keen to enrol on a few online courses; Lean Squared and School of Motion are two in particular that have taken my interest. Finally, I need to remember to take time for myself, I need to go on holidays next year to explore and broaden my horizons and to also simply take time to relax.
I would like to once again thank all of my clients and friends, I am incredibly grateful for all the referrals and to all clients who have trusted me over this last year to bring to life their ideas. I really hope this helps freelancers to reflect on their personal journeys so far and to help people who are thinking about going freelance make their choice on this bold decision.
Eat that frog By Brian Tracy
Work for money, design for love By David Airey
Rework By David Heinemeier Hansson & Jason Fried
How to be an illustrator By Darrel Rees & Nicholas Blechman
How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul By Adrian Shaughnessy
The essential guide to business for artists and designers By Alison Branagan