Awesome advice from Ron Doucet: Setting Your Rates For Freelance Work

Setting Your Rates for Freelance Work

As I have been doing many freelance jobs from storyboards to design and animation over the past year for many clients both big and small. I’ve realized how difficult it can become to figure out what to charge clients for your services.  Here’s a small guide based upon by dealings.

Usually animation artists are paid in a variety of different ways. Some studios have flat rate that pay you a weekly salary. Others pay you by the amount of hours you work, or character animation footage you produce (the number of seconds or frames of rendered shots you’ve completed), or by the number of actual scenes you’ve finished.

You could be a 2D background painter, a 3D sets modeler, a prop designer, a 3D layout artist, or a Flash character animator, the list is endless.

I’ve found the best way to figure out how much to charge a client for a project when working freelance, is to work out a daily rate.

If the client wants to know what the final total would be, decide your flat rate based upon how many hours or days you think the job will take to complete.

If you are only moderately confident in your skills as a designer or animator, you may want to begin charging a daily rate of $70 per day. If you are extremely confident in your abilities and that you are competitive with other freelancers out there, charge $100+ per day for your services. Find a base number and go from there.

Lets’ put some scenarios to work…

Job: Design a 3D model of a 1965 Harley Davidson Panhead Motorcycle.

Questions to ask –
Do I also do the shading / texturing / lighting?
How much detail / low or high poly count?
Turntable animation or a series of still image renders?
Do they want hi-res JPGs or the original Maya file delivered?

Based upon the answers, visualize and determine the length of time you can dedicate to the job. If you estimate 3 days of work at 10 hours per day at $70/day (you don’t want to charge too much, you just graduated), then the total becomes $210 dollars. E-mail that client your price with a link to your online demo that showcases your mad skills (if the client hasn’t seen it already), and wait for the reply.

You may want to shave it down if you believe your skills are still not quite up to professional grade yet, maybe $180 or $160, just to get the gig and give your self some experience.

You may be confident that you can nail this project and do a sweet job, so bump it up to $100 per day (especially if you plan on working on it for 10 or 12 hours per day) then you would charge a total of $300.

The client may want it the very next day.
So you’ll be up all night sculpting and building that 3D model to the clients specifications, spend an hour or so just researching dozens of references photos for accuracy. Even though it will only take you a day (perhaps 20 hours of non-stop work) you may still charge $300.  But if you don’t want to scare the client off and the rent money is due this week, you may want to charge $200 to make sure YOU get the job. It’s often difficult to determine if a client (especially one you don’t know personally) is trying to get the better of you.

Don’t sell yourself too short. The more experience you get the better and faster you will become, the bigger your clientele becomes – the more you can charge for your services.

Job: Animate an e-card in Flash.

Questions to ask –
Do I design the characters myself?
Do I have a detailed script or a loose idea?
Do I have to run the storyboards / rough poses/ & timing by the client first?
Are there stages of deliverables?
Or just a hard deadline that I need to submit the final product by?

Once you know the answers to these you can formulate a strategy.
Let’s say you get a script and rough sketches of what they want the animal characters to look like in this Flash online e-card animation. You determine from the script notes that it is 15 seconds of fairly simple character animation. You will have to design, color, build, and animate the Flash character and create the one background art yourself, and they’ve given you 3 weeks to do it.

You determine that if you had nothing else to do that you could start and finish this whole thing in 3 days. However you said “yes” to some other project as well that will be taking up most of your time over the next month. So you cannot dedicate your full attention to this project, you estimate you can put 2 hours of your time every night over the course of several days to finish it.

So here’s where you have to break things down into hours.
Let’s go back to our formula, assuming you want to charge $100 / day (you’ve
been doing steady Flash work for a year, you’re confident in your skills).  You can’t charge a daily rate, you will only be picking away at this project over the few weeks. So if you estimate that if you were working 12 hours per day you could storyboard, design, animate, paint all this Flash character animation and backgrounds in 3 days. That means 12×3= 36 total hours. If you only have the time to put in 2 hours per day on this project, then 36 / 2 = 18 days. You have 3 weeks (21 days) to complete the project. That leaves you a little bit of a buffer incase it becomes more difficult to animate than you had realized.

$100 x 3 total days = $300
Now charging only $300 dollars  for nearly 3 week of work sounds crazy. But you are not working on it full time, only a bit every night.  There is always the factor of how difficult a project is, the more difficult the more skills you need to have in order to pull it off at the right quality, that is something more objective and abstract.

Factor in to your time management the overall difficulty of the project. Less challenging projects require less thinking and pre-planning.  The more challenging and difficult the project is the more you push your knowledge and experience both creatively and technically , therefore you must devise a buffer so you have to give yourself more room for error.

I usually underestimate projects.  As a rule I add 25{f2e86ea6af82e2bb048871abf045622abf0ed27fb513932dc1ee8c05a54cbefd} for time.
Example: Storyboarding a 30 sec. live action commercial.
The client wants rough poses, basic blocking, camera instructions and stage direction only. I read the very detailed script, there’s lots of action, very fast paced, I estimate 4 days to complete the storyboard. Then I add a buffer (4 days plus 25{f2e86ea6af82e2bb048871abf045622abf0ed27fb513932dc1ee8c05a54cbefd} = 5 days total) So I might charge $120/day, which comes to 120 x 5 days = $600.
It may only take 4 days, but it ALWAYS seems to take longer to do than predicted. Sometime you have a bad drawing day, the next day you might be caught up working that other job later than you thought you would, life itself always seems to get in the way when you work from home.

So find a daily rate for your services. Whether it’s design or animation, 2D or 3D, and then go fro there. Adjust your daily rate according to the deadline, the difficulty of the task at hand, and add in a small buffer for revision time or unforeseen obstacles that always tend to pop up.

Ron Doucet

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