It’s 2016, and I’m super excited to open the doors to my very own animation agency.
I still needed to write my master thesis, but then I’d be off to the races.
Leading up to this day, I had been freelancing for about a year, and I was ready to make the transition from freelance to agency.
This transition turned out to be.. quite something, and I see a lot of doubt and confusion around this topic around the internet.
That’s why I want to tell you my own story and share the learnings from my journey from animating videos alone - to having 8 employees (not animating myself at all).
Get yourself a cup of tea - it’s storytime.
Imagine this; you’re close to graduation, there are just a couple of weeks left, before you drive off the cliff of Mountain Student Life..
Hoping.. that some kind of “net of employment” will catch you and carry you safely into adult life.
What went through my head during that time were questions like:
Should I bet on working for myself?
Can I make enough money to live?
Wouldn’t it be better to apply for real jobs, real soon?
Well, as you know, I did take a chance to bet on my fragile freelance setup to be my first real job. To NOT only do it evenings and weekends, but do it full-time.
Eventually, I did graduate, and I did manage to get enough clients to sustain my cheap lifestyle.
(You just continue to live like a student, right? Don’t think I ever really ramped up my expenses).
My freelance business was going okay; I managed to get enough clients, through friends and family, word of mouth, Facebook, Linkedin— and I actually managed to say yes to more projects than I could handle myself.
So what do you do? You try to think of a way to level up your setup.
Because I got too busy, I chose to look for help. What I did was to put a job ad on a local job site for startup jobs in Copenhagen, and I quickly got a lot of applicants.
The role I had listed was a “per project” animator that I would pay $150 per video. The idea behind that was that if I didn’t have any projects to work on one day, I wouldn’t have any fixed costs to cover.
So, that’s what happened; I found a freelance helping hand, so now we were two freelancers, working together from a coworking space.
After a year of working hard on making cool videos for restaurants, carpenters and early stage startups, I realized that I couldn’t scale this business with this client segment.
I charged too little from people who didn’t have much to spend. I wanted better clients, so I needed a better product.
The time had come to broaden our bandwidth even more - and bring on someone who could raise our standard and take our videos to the next level.
We wanted to go from 2 freelancers—to 1 agency.
It felt like a turning point; to put that job on Facebook—and then wait for my first. employee. ever. to react to the job post.
He eventually did, we had a talk, signed a contract — and now, I felt like the owner of a real agency.
With an employee
who was better than me
and now I was all free
to bring in the money.
In all seriousness, this setup was probably the most efficient and successful in terms of profitability that I ever had in my agency career.
I was doing marketing, calling the people who showed interest, meeting with them and selling them videos.
And my animator back at the headquarter was producing beautiful videos faster than a “squirrel peals a pine cone”.
But after a while, it wasn’t fast enough.
And he was getting exhausted by trying to keep up. Because some of these larger projects we were closing now wasn’t just one 60 second explainer video.
Our new kind of clients wanted us to make one primary video, then a couple of versions of that for different channels, and all of that in 2-3 languages.
This was turning into more than one man’s job. We needed extra capacity, again. But in a flexible way.
My solution to our bottle-neck situation was not to hire more full-time animators. That still felt a little too heavy for us at the time.
What I did instead was to see if I could find people like myself - a couple of years ago. Students of some sort, who liked to make videos.
I was convinced that they could get up to speed quickly, if my full-time animator showed them how things were done.
They’d then take some of the less creative work off of his table. And free him up for thinking creative thoughts and making the first versions of our animations.
I did manage to find a couple of design-savvy students (some got hired as part-timers, some as freelancers). These new-comers worked as a capacity dial that we could turn up and down—depending on how busy we were.
My inbox was getting fuller and fuller—as I functioned as project manager of all ongoing video projects -- on top of being the salesman.
So one last thing I did, before locking our setup for a while, was to hire a Project Manager, who was great at following up, keeping clients informed and moving all projects forward.
And now, for the first time since I embarked on this journey, I felt able to remove myself a little bit from the operation.
Sure, I still needed to fill the funnel with new potential clients, but I also managed to outsource a large part of our marketing to a freelancer. And my Project Manager started to take more and more client meetings himself.
From animating alone in my room - to an animation agency of full-timers, part-timers and freelancers. With all the different challenges that called for different solutions at different stages of the journey - behind me.
To celebrate that journey, I told the guys that I was going to take some time off.
I bought a one-way ticket to Thailand, packed my backpack and went to the airport.
I then spent a little over 1 month traveling around Thailand, and it was an amazing experience - an experience that didn’t get any worse from the fact that our agency had the best month ever—while I was away.
The transition from freelancer to agency is an interesting one, a tough one, and probably also one that differs a lot from person to person.
One of my best memories from that time is walking home the day after my first hire started working - almost bursting at the seams from the energy that this brought to my small company.
New people around me, who were great at what they did, enabled us to grow and evolve — and to have such a good time while doing it.
It’s probably not for all - freelancing is much more independent and free, in a sense - but for you who want to make the transition, I hope my story has inspired you and given you some insights on how it can be done.
Thanks for watching—remember to take care of yourself, and those around you.
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