Sunday, 17 August 2014

What questions should you ask a client when you start work on your first freelance job?

What questions should you ask a client when you start work on your first freelance job - or indeed any freelance job? It's your job as a professional to keep everything on track and deliver what you promised. All projects start off full of optimism and excitement, but the scope for misunderstanding is great, and the risk of things going wrong is considerable. So it's worth asking the right questions up front, to ensure that the job goes well and your happy client comes back for more. Below is a list of useful questions to get you started.

What does the client have to spend? Image: Wikipedia

What is your budget?
All clients have some kind of idea in their head of what they can afford to spend. A couple of hundred? A few thousand? A million? The answer to this question is the single most important factor in what you can deliver. After all, with animation you get nothing for free. Everything must be made from scratch.

How long should it be?
Many clients, especially those who have never done animation before, struggle to understand just how long it takes to create. Finding out what the client's expectations are of the length of their project is vital. A minute? Two minutes? Half an hour? Find this out as early as possible.

A screenplay. You need one of these

Does the client have a script?
Many clients have no idea what story they want to tell. In this case, part of your job will be to write a script based on their needs. This can be fun, but also frustrating if the client has no idea what they want. But, you must have a script (also known as a screenplay) before you begin, else you are groping in the dark.

What style of animation does the client want?
Does the client have any animation or images in a style that they like? If they don't know, show them some clips from YouTube in styles that you like, or think you can reasonably achieve given the budget you have. Everyone likes Toy Story, but few clients can afford Pixar quality animation. Part of your challenge is to find a style that the client likes and that they can afford.

What is the deadline?
Next week? Next month? By Christmas? And is the deadline in any way flexible? Unrealistic deadlines are often a deal-breaker.

What is the target audience?
Who is it for? Kids? Businessmen? Adults? Teenage boys? This will affect the style of your storytelling and the tone of the film.

Is there a message the client wants to get across? 
What feeling should the audience have after they have finished watching?

Who is directing? Photo: Wikipedia

Who will approve the work?

Ideally, you want to get notes from one person only. It's a common problem to find that the client that you thought was making decisions has a number of bosses that they answer to, and you end up getting notes from multiple people you have never heard of. These notes are often contradictory and tie you up in knots. Try to make sure that one person is in charge, and that person gives you one set of notes.

What is the final output?
What does the client want at the end? A digital file? Film? A DVD? HD? 4K? What aspect ratio? Agree up front exactly what you will deliver. Sometimes clients want editable files so they can tinker with the edit, which can cause all kinds of problems with incompatible software and non-transferable files.

Payment schedule and contract
It's a good idea to agree terms in advance. Money up front? On completion? Half and half? Big clients will have a standard contract, smaller ones may look to you to draft a basic agreement.

Below is a video made for especially for illustrators, presumably by a freelancer who has been burned one too many times.

The basic lesson of course is to agree as much up front as possible, to avoid confusion, misunderstanding and disappointment later on. Problems thrive in dark corners where both parties make assumptions about what will happen in the future.

For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days,  take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK. Find out why we're giving free laptops to all our students, and why we give all our students free access to videos at Also, see what financial assistance might be available to you. Learn which is better for animation, a PC or a Mac? Get hold of a copy of a map so you can find your way around campus, and learn about motion capture at Bucks. And find out about how our online video tutorials work.


  1. Awesome post! There are many things that can go wrong if you don't talk things through with your clients up-front.

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