More than one in three workers—53 million Americans—are now freelancing. (Nope, that’s not a misprint.) You may be wondering, “What exactly is a freelancer?” Well, think of it like this. A freelancer is an employee who isn’t “married” to just one employer. Instead, they “date” multiple businesses throughout the year as a contract employee. Everyone from designers, writers, and photographers to consultants, web developers, and even dog walkers are drawn to the freedom and flexibility a freelance career can provide.

Cover_Freelancers

In addition to a flexible schedule, freelancers can earn great money too. In fact, 45% of freelancers make more than staffers at traditional jobs. Which raises the question…if they aren’t working for “free,” where did the word “freelancer” come from?

“Freelancer” dates back to lance-wielding knights and warriors of the Middle Ages. Rather than work for one king, a “Free-Lancer” was free to work for anyone who would pay them. So, if they wanted to, they could travel from here to Timbuktu, providing their services to different employers along the way. Which is pretty much what a freelancer does today. Minus the 10-foot deadly spear, of course.

Speaking of the Middle Ages, the concept of wearing a coat of arms also originated in this time period—when armor emblazoned with symbols identified allies from enemies. We named our business Coat of Arms to reveal our alliance with clients as we wield creative that engages audiences. With a team of empowered “freelance” artists, Coat of Arms maintains a low overhead and a can-do mentality by putting all project funds into the people we work with and into the art we create.

At Coat of Arms, we are proud of our experience as both a client and a freelancer. Owners Lacocque and Lehmann worked as freelance producers, writers, and editors for years before they founded Coat of Arms in 2010. As a result, we feel we have a unique perspective. Perhaps the most important piece of advice we can give freelancers is—protect yourself. (No, don’t go out and buy some shiny new armor.) We’re talking legal protection. Do the little things including: make sure deliverables are explicitly specified in the contract terms; carefully study the payment terms; and use written forms of communication as often as possible when working with a client. Hey, it’s always better to be safe, than to be sorry. Learn more about safeguarding your work in our interview with Attorney Travis Life, who was recently named a leading lawyer in Entertainment & Sports Law and in Data Privacy and Intellectual Property Law by the Leading Lawyer Advisory Board.

Here Are 8 Qualities We Consider When Hiring A Freelancer.

1. Communication – Open communication is key. Freelancers must communicate and respond promptly to emails, contracts, feedback and client deadlines. Stefan Draht, a freelance designer/animator that we work with quite often, makes an extra effort to communicate clearly and frequently. All of his emails are succinct and purposeful. Illustrator/Animator Amy Schmitt, like Draht, is an exceptional communicator. For instances, upon reviewing our contract, she asked some great questions about the non-compete terms. Her feedback encouraged us to review and edit our contract’s verbiage to make it fairer to all of our freelancers.

2. Organized – Even though it goes against the grain for many creative-types, organizational skills are a must. The creative process is often chaotic, but the chaos can be controlled with good organization. Our inner obsessive-compulsive disorder is completely fulfilled when Editor, Designer, Animator, Charles R. A. Newberry sends us his invoices clearly and accurately outlined via Invoice by Wave. Also, he neatly compiles his receipts with Expensify, making it far easier to complete the bookkeeping on our end.

Newberry's very organized and clear delivery of receipts.

Newberry’s very organized and clear delivery of receipts.

Charles Invoice

Meanwhile, Illustrator/Animator Ricardo Nilsson and Illustrator Manuel Santos always name their project files properly and meticulously. Their folder structures within AfterEffects, Cinem4D, Illustrator, and Photoshop are easy to navigate. Projects can very quickly expand or contract, so being organized is a key way to ensure success no matter what comes up.

Folder Structure

3. Can-Do Mentality – We ask a lot of our freelancers. They need to be able to work through and solve complex problems, get the job done under tight timelines, and persevere through rounds of edits. All of our freelancers have been through some form of revision process. Voiceover Artist Jodi Krangle once turned around revisions to a voiceover read in thirty minutes and far after regular business hours. While we don’t condone abusing evening and weekend hours, we appreciate her and many of our freelancer’s commitment to go through winding agency revisions, complex feedback, and timeline snafus – handling each with patience, grace and honesty.

Jodi Krangle

An example of Jodi’s typical email response time.

4. Kind/Honest – Nobody wants to work with a jerk. ‘nuff said.

5. Experienced – Practice makes perfect. We’re very proud to have worked with folks all over the world who have clients and projects on their reels that are artistically enviable. For example, we recently worked with Cinematographer John Pope on a documentary we’re directing. While Pope is modest, his resume is impressive and includes work that has won awards at the Sundance Film Festival (Blood Brother) and boasts superior brands like Google, Red Bull, Kellogg’s, American Eagle Outfitters, Nationwide, among others.

Blood Brother

6. Unique Artistic Perspective – We don’t just hire a “freelancer.” We hire a “person”— and all the unique life experiences and perspectives they bring to the table. Art Director John Long is a true artist. His perspective and sensibilities are unique as he integrates organic and non-organic visuals in moments you may not expect it. In fact, you could take a frame from nearly any of Long’s work and put it on your wall.

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7. Collaborative Spirit – Everyone learns about teamwork as a kid. Hopefully, future freelancers were paying attention. Because a freelancer needs to work well with others, respond favorably to feedback, and be willing to push themselves and others to help the project improve. Motion Designer Ryan Butterworth yearns for collaboration. He isn’t afraid to push the creative envelope by scrapping and redirecting his efforts or even pitching a different style to our client that ultimately enhances the story. In the same vein, it’s not always easy to pass project files back and forth while maintaining a consistent and inspired edit. Jeff McHale and Jonathan Lacocque have collaborated on many edits and with each pass the work improves tremendously. In fact, McHale’s editing technique advances each cut without derailing the flow and story. Butterworth and McHale must have been the good kids on the playground.

8. Fairly Priced – Know your market value and set your rate accordingly. It’s one of the more difficult jobs of a freelancer, but also one of the most important. The key point here is to be fair. That includes being fair to yourself.

And Here Are 8 Things Freelancers Should Look For In A Client.

1. Trustworthy – A trustworthy client has clear expectations, a written contract, a payment schedule, and a firm handshake.

2. Good Reputation – Thanks to the Internet, a good or a bad reputation is usually front and center for all to see. Do a little research, or ask around, to see whether your potential client falls under the naughty or nice list.

3. Timely – Nobody likes waiting. Your client should keep their word when it comes to the agreed upon feedback and payment timeline.

4. Collaborative – A good client gives creative input but knows when to trust the artist. They have good instincts and push the work to be better, and are willing collaborators.

5. Flexible – A healthy client relationship is flexible. If creative direction or project scope changes, a discussion and negotiations should follow.

6. Protective – A client should look out for your interests too. They should compensate you for overages, pay timely and fairly, and prepare and present a contract.

7. Professional Online Presence – Just as it’s important for the freelancer to be professional, it’s important for the client as well. Professionalism says a lot about their brand and their culture.

8. An Openness to Learn – Many of your clients may not understand the filmmaking process at the forefront. But, if your client is open to learning, you may very well keep that client on your roster for a lifetime. Or at the very least, you’re setting up that client and his/her future freelancers for success. Regardless, a great client is willing to learn and will defer to your expertise when necessary.

All in all, it’s a great time to be a freelancer. And to work with freelancers, too! That’s why we hired a freelancer to help us write this blog post. Many thanks, Mike Irvine!