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Being a freelance animator, I often take on independent projects where I work with clients directly. There are definitely perks: you can have a more flexible schedule while working on your own time (nights, weekends, or from your laptop in some remote tropical climate), a more creative role in the project, and it can be just as or even more lucrative than studio work if you are able to manage it correctly. That is why today I would like to share with you some advice on the best ways I have found to manage clients.

The Importance of a Contract

It is extremely important to have some sort of written agreement with outlined deliverables and an understanding of the timeline. Even if it is only an informal email, at least you have something in writing.  While this may feel unnecessarily formal in the beginning, it is important to protect yourself for any worst case scenarios of excessive revisions. Even if everything from day one goes perfectly smooth, setting some sort of contract will actually make the client take you more seriously and ensure there is a good understanding of the project all around.

Timeline

From the beginning, ask the client what their deadline is for the project. Make sure that you can allot for enough time for the production as well as the back and forth of client feedback.

When Do I Bring Up Payment?

As early as possible. Once the client gives you the scope of the project, it is time for you to propose what it will cost. If the client doesn’t have the budget required, it is best to find this out as soon as possible so you don’t waste your time. Money is always an awkward issue, but by being upfront from the beginning there is little room for surprises.

How Do I Breakdown A Contract?

You can find various resources online, such as this excellent breakdown on Smashing Magazine, that will guide you to make your own custom contract. This article on TheNextWeb.com is great as well.

Definitely be as thorough, but even something simple will make sure both you and the client have a good understanding of each other. I actually found Dann Petty’s take on it very interesting, encouraging freelancers to be flexible and friendly with their clients, and not to make a contract too intimidating such that it pushes the clients away. I think what it comes down to is whatever it takes to make sure everyone is on the same page, as simply and pleasant as possible.

How do I do it? For animation projects, I usually first do a design phase, which includes a few styleframes (or whatever necessary) in order for the client to commit to a look. Once the client chooses a design, there are a couple rounds of animation deliverables in which the client can give feedback.  Here is an example:

PHASE 1 (DESIGN)
3 styleframe design options

PHASE 2 (1st VERSION OF ANIMATION)
based off the styleframe client chooses

PHASE 3 (2nd VERSION OF ANIMATION)
implement client feedback

*If additional animation revisions are needed, they can be added at an hourly rate.

Even listing out something as simple as this gives the client a clear understanding of the deliverables they will be receiving and how their feedback will be implemented.

Still not easy enough for you? Try looking into Shake, a mobile app that allows users to create, sign, and send legally binding agreements. However, if even after all this you’re in a situation where you really need that traditional form with some serious legal phrasing, give this Freelancers Union Contract Creator a try.

How to Charge

My preferred way to charge for independent freelance projects like this is a flat fee, which is based off of my hourly/day rate. However, it is totally okay to also charge hourly or day rates if that makes more sense or is more comfortable to you. Mograph Mama will further discuss the advantages of the various types of rates on a future post.

Now go email your clients, and make something beautiful.

Your Mograph Mama, NYC