Maximize Your Freelance Career

Accelerate your learning and increase your flow of jobs.

Over the past 10 years I freelanced at a lot of amazing studios, working as a designer and motion graphics artist. Most of the freelance work I did was in-house for a couple of weeks/months at a time– I was always booked up. I learned how other people worked, what I liked in different studio cultures, and picked up a lot of new skills at every shop on every job.

It was a great period of my life, before becoming a creative director at Blind. If any of you are planning to go freelance, here’s a few tips to help you maximize your skill growth and build a consistent flow of gigs.

Be Curious. Cross-Pollinate.

I learned everything from the people around me, including how to animate this brain from my former co-worker and good friend Chris Riehl. He taught me so many Mograph techniques, and is a huge reason why I became a successful animator.

When you work with other people, be genuinely curious about what they do. Often I’d lean over to the guys working next to me, even if it was on another project, and asked him “whoa, how’d you do that?”

Usually most people are so flattered that you’re interested in them and and their work, that they feel obliged to share and teach you . I learned A TON from everyone I worked with, because they were so willing to share with me. In return, I’ve openly shared everything I know to anyone who was curious enough to ask.

Every time I taught someone how to do what I did, it forced me to reflect and dissect my own process so that I could teach it to them step by step. This helped me sharpen my own skills, because I became aware of why I did what I did, when I problem solving. This self-awareness helped prepare me for my position now, as a creative director, where I constantly have to teach, manage and mentor young creatives.

Be curious. Cross-Pollinate. Learn, teach and share with others.

Feed Your Network.

I always had work when I wanted it, and I had to turn away so much of it. That’s because I had a robust network of people constantly recommending me, as I did the same for them.

Whenever I went to a new company to freelance at and they were short-staffed, the first thing I did was recommend all of the great freelancers I met at my last job. Or if someone reached out to me, but I was too busy to take on a job, I wouldn’t simply pass, instead I would send a list of recommendations of freelancers I knew, who could fulfill their needs.

Your buddies will appreciate it. The studios/agencies will appreciate it. And it will come back to you in a very positive way. Don’t worry about losing out on future work, there’s plenty to go around for everyone.

Pay it forward. Recommend frequently.

Be Clear About What you Do.

These days as a creative director, I’m now on the hiring-end looking for freelancers for my jobs. You’d be surprised how difficult some people make it for me to understand what they do. When a job comes in, I have very specific roles to fill and have a lot of candidates to go through. If I can’t understand what you do right away, I have to move onto the next potential candidate. I simply don’t have time.

On your portfolio or website, make it clear what you’re great at, so I know where to place you on my team.

Every project is a complex puzzle an employer is trying to solve. Make it easy for them to know where to place you.

For example, on a 3d animated job like Xbox, I’d be looking specifically for: 3d hard surface modelers, lighting/texture artists, an editor, and compositors. I have mental buckets to fill, and if I can’t see examples of those on your portfolio site right away, then I assume you’re not right for the role.

I NEVER hire a “jack-of-all-trades” (master of none). I always hire the best person for the specific role I need to fill for a job. Many portfolios I see try to show too much– every single project they did in school and every odd-job they picked up along the way– It’s a lack of editing.

You may be great at more than one thing, and as you go through your career you’ll definitely pick up new skills. You can show the breadth of your skill set in different ways– through filters/categories on your site, or by having different reels for different areas of expertise.

Make it easy for the person trying to find and hire you. Be amazing at one thing. Then develop more skills along the way.

These key tips have helped me grow exponentially in my career. I accelerated my learning by being a sponge and adopting skills from everyone around me. I’ve built a solid network of people that gave me a steady flow of work, and now I’m on the other end, hiring them constantly for jobs.

For additional freelance tips for motion designers, check out this video from The Futur.

If you found this piece valuable, can you do me a favor by recommending it below? Have thoughts? Leave a comment. I’d love to discuss further. Thanks!

About the Author

Matthew Encina is a creative director at Blind, focusing on brand strategy, design and video content. He also authors content on pitching, design, and animation for The Futur Network.

Follow him everywhere @matthewencina

For those of you who have to pitch creative ideas to win business, but are struggling to land these opportunities, check out The Pitch Kit. I created this for those seeking clarity and structure in their design and pitch process.