A Different Kind Of Busy

Whew! LooseKeys has been running at full-steam the last couple of weeks and I don’t think it’s going to slow down… at least I hope not. To help with the work load I’ve had a couple of freelancers in making sure we’re moving things forward. It’s been nice having the extra help, I don’t think Jake and I could have got it all done without them. At least if we had tried we wouldn’t of been sleeping much.

Having the extra help in the office gave a different vibe and energy to LooseKeys  It was great to be able to go to meetings and take calls and not worry about all the work that still needed to get done. It was all moving forward. Although I wasn’t responsible for the design or animation as much on the last couple projects I was there to be the creative director, answer questions and assign tasks.

It was a good insight into the direction I see LooseKeys going and it gave a taste of what it will be like to have a larger team in the future.

Worry Less About The Next Project

When you’re freelancing or running your own business you can quickly get caught up in trying to get the next project booked and not being focused on what you’re doing now. Getting stuck in this constant state of living for what’s next. Since you’re working for yourself, if you don’t think about what’s coming next, you could find yourself without work; which is something you definitely don’t want. However, you also don’t want to lose focus on what you have now. 

If you’re always worried about the next job, it can create a strain on yourself and the work, you can become less worried about making what your currently working on the best it can be and more worried about lining up the next project. Being fully invested and present in a project is important creatively, so that you put all your effort into it. If you’re not focusing on the present and spending too much time thinking about the future, you risk making yourself never content with what you have now.

I’m constantly guilty of this, there is a high you get as a creative when you get a new job, it’s shiny and new, all you want to do is focus on that one. What’s even better then that new high is the satisfaction you feel when a job is done and you can step back and see what your hard work has created. 

Worry less on the next one and focus on what you have now and make it great. The work will come in. Good work brings in more good work. 

Working With New Freelancers

I bet when I came into a studio as a freelancer when I first started in the industry, I was pretty slow. Sure, I knew what I was doing but I had no idea how much that studio thought I was going to get done. I hope in retrospect that it was enough but you never know how people feel once you leave and your part of the job is finished. I will say I learned a lot from those first jobs I was given, they took a risk on me and I even got paid to learn. It felt pretty cool because I was just coming out of school where it was the total opposite; there you pay to learn.

What a crazy and wonderful thing when you think about it, being paid to learn…

I would never knowingly hire a new or inexperienced plumber to come in and fix my toilet. But I do it all the time when I hire a freelancer to work with LooseKeys. I’m typically hiring them either based off previous work they’ve done with people I know or off a few projects I saw in their portfolio. They aren’t necessarily inexperienced but I’m often aware of just a small portion of their work and can only guess on their skill level.

When you bring someone new in for the first time they probably aren’t going to be able to sit down on day one and knock out an animation like you would, unless it’s something simple like rotoscoping or logging footage… they better be up to speed on that. 

When you hire a freelancer you want people who know what they are doing. Depending on the project, as a freelancer when you first step into a new studio you don’t know how that team handles projects or the way they work unless you’ve worked with them before. So it can take a couple days for a freelancer to get up to speed. However, when you’re on a deadline you often can’t waste those couple days training freelancers, especially when you’re working with a tight budget too. That’s one reason I think the same people end up freelancing at the same studios over and over again. That studio and in-house team trusts them and knows that they will get the work done without having to worry too much. That’s one reason I often work with the same people, I know what they can do and how quickly they can get it done. 

Still, there are many times when I bring in someone new, either because other people are busy or I want to try someone else out. And sometimes these freelancers are new to the industry and still learning. I was given that chance to learn years ago and I know a lot of people were given that same chance too which is why I feel it’s important to try to do the same. They don’t always get done what I need them to get done and sometimes it might feel like I’ve wasted money even having them. It can be difficult in certain situations when you have tight deadlines and if you have an inexperienced freelancer working with you it can add more stress than help on the project. However in the end, I was able to introduce them to LooseKeys and the type of work we do.  Hopefully, I was able to help them get a little better by either giving some advice on their animation or workflow. By no means do I know everything, every day I’m learning. That’s just part of the industry we are in; you’re always having to learn new software or techniques just to keep up. Now that they’ve worked with LooseKeys, hopefully next time I work with them they might be that much better. 

The best way to improve is by working with people who have been doing design and animation for years, you often pick up a lot just by listening and watching.  

Where Is My Time Most Valuable?

Over the last couple months I’ve had a handful of freelancers in to help out on a number of projects. 

There are a couple reasons to bring freelancers in, maybe it’s a project you can’t do yourself; whether it’s beyond your skills or you just need an extra set of hands with the amount of work that needs to get done. Either way, it’s more than you can handle and you need help. We’ve been in the too much work to do camp at LooseKeys for a while now and it’s awesome. I have to say it’s a pretty good feeling when everyone is liking the work you’re doing and they want something similar for their business. 

Even with all that extra help, it doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily working faster. The new people who come in don’t always know our work flow or style, so it takes time to get them up to speed. Then I have to take a step back from doing the work and become more of a “Mr. Manager”. Now my time is split between handling clients, making sure these freelancers are doing what I needed and trying to find time to get some design or animation done myself. On paper this sounds fine, other people are picking up some slack and you can focus on something else. But here’s where I’m still learning and growing; in being able to give up control. No matter what was getting done by someone else, I had things that I wanted to do on projects so I ended up re-doing or changing what they had done. I could of just articulated to them what I wanted to see happen but I felt like I was going to be faster at it then them. Which added a lot of extra stress to my plate. The reason they were there was to help, so I didn’t have to worry as much about that job. 

So, did the freelancers really help relieve some of the work load? First, I have to think about where is my time better spent? Is it animating and designing? Or is it being the manager, project coordinator and creative director?

In most cases, with the right people helping on a project, it’s the creative director. The right people, that’s the answer. Making sure you bring people on who can do the work is key but that takes time. It takes time to work with people and learn about them and find out where their skills are best applied.

I learned a lot from the last crazy month or so. Everyone works at their own pace and what I get done in a day doesn’t mean someone else is going to be able to do the same. I also learned that I need to let go of some of the responsibility and trust the people that come in to help out that they are skilled enough to handle the task. Heck, we’re not doing anything all that complicated over here. At this point at LooseKeys I do have to micro-manage all the projects but in order to move forward in the future I’ll have to take more of the creative director role and guide projects in the direction I want them to go. The right team of people can make some great work but someone has to have the map and the leadership to move it all forward.  

Keep The Cash Flowing

Money is often one of the hardest things to deal with when you’re working for yourself or running a business. Whether it’s trying to get paid by clients, or its dealing with paying your subcontractors; I’ve been on both sides of this and it sucks, from whatever position you are in.

Being a freelancer or subcontractor and trying to get paid from a client is one of the least fun things to deal with, especially when invoices are overdue and you are constantly trying to get a hold of them. You did the work and all you want is for them to pay you. Its frustrating. You think, Why’d they hire me if they couldn’t pay, and don’t give me that crap about waiting for your client to pay you first. Really are you running your business on the edge like that? Is that extra couple thousand dollars really going to sink your business? 

Yes, all valid points and all too true…

I said to myself from day one that I didn’t want LooseKeys to be the business that says I can’t pay you till I get paid. I’d say I’ve done my best to live up to that… don’t think I’ve used that line on any freelancers yet. But holy crap does it take a long time to get paid especially from some larger companies. After working with some of these larger places you realize that sometimes checks are only written once a month and if your invoice wasn’t in at the right time you’re going to wait another 30 days. And sometimes projects linger on way longer than initially budgeted, with small changes happening for months before they are finished which means you don’t get paid on that project fully until a lot later than you had planned. Sometimes projects get killed or delayed part way though the process and you get left on the hook paying out of pocket for subcontractors. 

When those sort of hiccups happen it can put a strain on paying your sub-contractors, no matter how well you planned. And you find yourself, using the I’ll pay you when I get paid line because the bank account is low, you have to make payroll and those subcontractors get pushed to the side, even though they were critical in getting the job done. When this happens you’ll have the freelancer asking you where their money is while you’re trying to get the money from the company you were hired by so you can pay yourself and them. I’m sure your client is trying to get money from their clients too. It’s this big stress issue and when you’re stuck in the middle, it’s awful. 

As a result of being on both sides of this now I’ve learned to be a little more polite and forgiving when I’m waiting on payment. I hate getting those emails so I’m sure the client hates them too. I now understand that every company struggles every once in a while to get paid by clients. There are times when something goes wrong or they just forgot, so it’s good to check-in on an invoice but don’t hound people, it makes them not want to work with you down the line. 

From Freelance To A Business

You can label yourself any way you want, whether it’s self-employed, a freelancer, an entrepreneur or a business owner. You’re making an independent living by yourself and from the business you’re building. I was a freelancer for awhile as I was getting LooseKeys rolling. I knew when I left Daily Planet ltd. that I didn’t want to just be a freelancer; I had already done that for a few years and knew the challenges I was going to run into.

One challenge you face as a freelancer is that you’re going to reach a point where you can’t earn any more income. You can always be working harder but there are only so many hours in the day and your rate can only be so high. Instead, I wanted to build something and to work at starting a business that one day could run itself.

Over the last couple years at LooseKeys  things have been going well and I’m very happy with the people I’m working with, the work we’re doing and the direction we’re headed.

Maybe one day you’ll decide that you too want to go beyond freelancing at a new company every week and decide to go out on your own and start a business. There are many challenges you’ll confront when making that move. 

The difficulty I faced was in that transition from a single freelancer to a business or a brand I was selling to clients. As a freelancer you may be lucky and have a dedicated number of clients who continue to call on you because they are happy with your work. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to explain to clients that it’s not just me doing the work, that I run a business now. These previous clients who have hired you for freelance in the past know you and trust you. So they contact you for a freelance job but you have to let them know that you would be taking the job on with your team. It took at least a year to shake that freelancer idea from my past clients; you have to educate and promote your business. Work on it everyday. 

Most of the questions I got were “Now you’re working with other people?” “Can your old clients trust these people?” “Can they do the same work that they see in your portfolio?” 

Speaking of a portfolio; when you do transition to running your own business, you have to build your new businesses portfolio from scratch. More than likely you can’t show any work you did at your previous employment because that’s not your new businesses work, that’s work you did at another company. Depending on where the work was done, you might be a able to work out a deal but usually company X isn’t going to like to see that your new company is saying they did that work. It’s a Catch-22; you can’t get clients without a portfolio and you can’t build a portfolio if you don’t have any clients. 

I’m sure the same thing happened when you first entered the working world. What did you do to build your name and promote yourself before? You sold your skills and created your own projects. You have to do the same for this new business with your team of people. You need to be getting these jobs and then have your team work on them. Sell, then delegate the work that comes in. Jump in when you can but you’re not a freelancer anymore, you have people working for you who want to do the work. Give them work to do. If you love doing the work too, then hire someone to sell. You have to be delegating the work in order to grow and build a business. 

These are different challenges than being a freelancer but nothing that’s too complicated to overcome. It takes time and I still get emails and calls asking me to freelance on jobs. I make it clear that me and my team at LooseKeys can do this yes, but it’s a team, it’s a WE not an I anymore.

If you’re interested or thinking about making the move from the freelancing life then start by getting a few bigger projects and out-sourcing some of work. See how you like managing a project rather than just being the one doing the entire project. 

Figuring Out How To Price Your Business

Pricing is always a struggle and everyone is also trying to figuring out where to price their work. I feel like after most of my time freelancing I found a spot that works for me. 

What I’m trying to figure out now is where to price the business. It’s a little different than just figuring out how much you need to pay bills and your employees. Which is the most important piece. You also need to figure out where to position you business in the marketplace. 

Do you want your business to be like a McDonalds with lots of customers and lower prices where you do lots of work and grow fast? Or do you want to be an Alinea with less customers and higher prices. Allowing you to focus on a small amount of work but at the higher price. I would think it might be nice just to focus on one project for a long time and get paid a ton. However, when you’re starting out you have to build the name right? You can’t just set up shop and charge a ton. You have to get people in the door, prove your value and make them want to pay more because you’re the best. 

Price is a struggle and is something for me that’s always a moving target. You have to keep an eye on the market and learn how to stay one step ahead otherwise you might end up having to close up shop before you even get started. 

Cash Cushion

If I learned anything from being a freelancer, then starting my own business and now planning a wedding its that there will always be something that can stress the finances. Whether it’s a loss of a client or project, a new competitor or just an unexpected bill. You can’t plan for all of these events but yet you still need to be prepared. A lack of a cash cushion for yourself or your business is scary and if you’re down already, it becomes harder to recover. 

Collaboration Tools At LooseKeys

Since the LooseKeys team is often located in different places, it’s really important to have tools that make working together easier. Especially this week while Jake’s off working in an RV in New Hampshire and I’ve got a couple other people lending a hand from their home offices or wherever they feel most comfortable working. There are a lot of tools that help to make working remotely easy; such as Google Talk, Skype, email and LogMeIn. I thought I’d share a few of the favorites we use and how they help us work better. 

First and foremost, its important to have everyone working out of the same folder and for us, nothing does that better than Dropbox. Many people can access the same assets and project files at the same time, as if we were sitting in the same office together working off a server. With Dropbox we can make changes to files and have those changes update automatically to other people’s computers. Dropbox allows us to work well together while not having to be in the same place. There are other companies that have similar services but we really like Dropbox. We’ve played around with Google Drive and it’s great for sharing folders or files, it just hasn’t worked into the everyday work flow. I was also using dropbox long before Google Drive came out and switching everything over at this point would be a big undertaking.

Second is Basecamp, an excellent project management tool. All of the LooseKeys projects are housed there even if clients refuse to use it. When the clients don’t use it we still keep the calendars updated and post files, just in case someone on the project might need it. When the clients do use Basecamp with us, it just makes the job run so much smoother. They are able to see dates there and we don’t have to be answering emails when they can see it all on Basecamp. We’re also able to keep all the conversations with the clients organized, which is extremely helpful. Dropbox is a must for us but Basecamp just makes life easier. 

Another tool Jake and I have been using a lot is SpringPad. It helps keep track of ideas or if we come across interesting new businesses we’d like to work with we can share them on a list with each other. SpringPad has a lot of uses but for us its sort of a virtual scrapbook and to do list that we both have access to. We’re able to add notes or tasks about internal projects or ideas and then comment on them while keeping track of the status. If Google Wave had taken off or was still around I have a feeling we’d be using that instead of SpringPad. Being able to have folders or notebooks with different subjects allows us to prioritize things and stay up to date on future ideas. It sure beats having a Google Doc we both just keep updating. Believe me we tried that and it gets messy and confusing fast. 

Finally something we use everyday without fail is CloudApp. When you work in an office and you’re sitting right next to the person, it’s easy to have them just walk over and check out your screen. But when you’re miles apart, that just isn’t something that happens. With CloudApp we’re able to take a quick screen shot of our screen and it’s automatically uploaded. Then you just send the link over chat and you can get quick feedback. That way we don’t need to be in the same room with one another just to get a peak at the screen. With the free account you get 10 uploads a day, which depending on what we’re working on, we can hit our limit pretty fast. 

Welcome Jake Williams!

Jake Williams

There’s such a great feeling you get when your hard work pays off and you see your business growing and doing well. Momentum seems to be building and the LooseKeys name is becoming a force in the explainer video space. Today marks a huge step for LooseKeys; Jake Williams joins the team. I couldn’t be more excited to announce this news and I’m happy to have him as part of the team.

Jake recently moved to Chicago from Portland, ME and has had no problem diving into everything Chicago has to offer. Over the last year of being in Chicago he worked with Cars.com and freelanced often with me on LooseKeys projects. By working with him on and off, I knew first-hand that Jake has outstanding ideas and possessed a similar love for the startup space as I do. Having built a working and personal relationship with him over the year I saw that his hustle and drive was going to be a great fit. As a result of this relationship, I’m very pleased to welcome him to LooseKeys.

You can see what Jake gets up to in his spare time by following him on Twitter at @jacobwilliams

Talk As Much As You Walk

I love creating successful work as much as the next person but I always try to remember to share what I’m working on as I’m creating it. Whether its the final product or samples of some works in progress. And I love when I see people take the time to tweet out links to works in progress or share finished projects on Facebook. I feel like not enough people do it though. So many times people I know only share their work when they put together a new reel or are starting to look around for a new job. Maybe its because they don’t want to look too self serving or to seem like they are bragging or being too much of a self promoter. Well I think its important for you to talk as much as you walk. Your talent needs to be shared and you can’t just have your head down pounding away at the keys every day… You have to find time to connect with the right people and share with them what you’re working on. Sharing a work in progress is fun for people to see because it can gather interest, make people feel like they get a sneak peek at a project or even add some suspense for people who follow your work.

Admit it, when you are proud of something you’ve created, you like to show it off to other people. And in showing if off you are actually performing a crucial role. If you are a freelancer, you need to show off your skills so that when someone is looking to hire they remember that project they liked of yours. If you run a company or work fulltime its also vital to get your work seen in order to attract future clients or future employment.

So why not take some time out of your day to talk about and share what you’re working on? Shout it and share it for everyone to hear and see. Become that unabashed self promoter. A true hype man. Use social media networking sites to share what you’re working on and to demonstrate your abilities and aspirations.

Finding work is always one of the biggest challenges with freelancing but what if you needed to hire someone else to help you with a larger project? In this video Brad Chmielewski and Erik Jensen talk about where they turn to when looking to hire someone. The way Brad and Erik go about finding talent to help with work is most likely very similar to how most businesses look for talent when they need a freelancer or even a new full-time hire. So don’t just think these ideas are only used by the small one or two people teams. Hopefully getting the insight of where Brad and Erik find talent will help you on your quest to find more freelance work.

You’re Not That Crazy If Your Find Yourself Talking To Your Pet

If you’ve been working with a team of people for a long period of time and then you find yourself suddenly thrown into working alone at home, you can find yourself in need of someone to talk to. Now working from home may have its perks but great conversations isn’t one of them. And it’s not the important things you really end up missing the most, often its those lunches out and early friday drinks with coworkers. Just the common chit chat like “did you see that YouTube video,” or “I can’t believe that person just shared that photo.” The sort of stuff you might say to the person sitting next to you or in passing at the water cooler. When you’re at home there isn’t anyone there to chit chat with during the day. That’s when I find myself talking to my cats. Before you put me in the crazy category, I know that they don’t really understand what I’m saying. It’s just nice to say something out loud to something living when you’re working alone. At times I find myself telling the cats when I’m running out for coffee or for lunch, to “hold my calls”. If you do something similar with your cat or dog, there isn’t anything wrong with it. I’ve heard similar stories from a number of people. At least it’s a little less creepy then talking to yourself all the time. When you go from a large group to a solo operation it’s great to have someone there, even if they aren’t going to respond verbally.

10 Twitter Accounts to Follow For Freelance Work

Twitter is becoming a great place to search for a job on the internet. If you have yet to utilize social media for your job searching needs, especially Twitter, it’s about time that you did. I have compiled a list of my 10 favorite Twitter accounts to follow to help you find freelance work.

@freelance_jobs

@work_freelance

@joblance_jobs

@allfreelance

@getgradesigjobs

@odesk

@elance

@webbyslist

@thejobsguy

@jobshouts

@JobHuntOrg

Building A Better Portfolio

If you’re a freelancer you should have a portfolio website and if you don’t for whatever reason you should be making that one of your most important projects to get done. You should have a place to show off how great you are. Over the weekend I came across a couple blogs that talked about some great steps for creating a better portfolio. I figured I would link them on here and just spread the word about making a better portfolio.

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/02/26/10-steps-to-the-perfect-portfolio-website/

http://www.youthedesigner.com/2009/02/13/7-tips-for-improving-graphic-design-portfolios/

A couple of my favorite tips from these two posts are, keep the portfolio up to date and to use social networking websites. I try and make sure this website is updated at least once a month with new work and I always post a news update when this happens. I hope to update that more often soon, ideas are in the works. As for social networks they only help promote yourself more and allow you to meet interesting folks who do what you do. So those are just a couple of my favorite tips but they are all excellent steps that should be taken when building your portfolio. I for one know I need to think about these as well. One of the tips that I feel like I need take to heart is making the contact information easy to find. I have links at the bottom of my page to see all the social networks I am apart of, but a button to get to my contact information is below that. Personally I think I may have to re-work my navigation area and include a button. As both of these sites say your contact information should be “obvious and easy to access.”

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