How To Go From Freelancer To Studio Owner

With Karl Doran

How To Go From Freelancer To Studio Owner

Freelance life can go from feast to famine in an instant. As a Motion Designer, it can be easy to get discouraged when your business is down. Plus, even when you have a project, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have work waiting when it’s done. But if you want to make the jump from freelancer to studio owner, Karl Doran's advice is invaluable. 

About Karl Doran

Karl Doran is a creative director and founder of Flow Creative, an animation studio and branding agency in Manchester. His team of eight illustrators, designers, and project managers has created animated explainer films, brand films, and social content for numerous companies and arts and culture organizations.

Making the Transition From Freelance to Successful Business Owner

Becoming frustrated with instability of freelancing, Karl set out to create his own agency. As a business owner, he finds that he has the creative control that he missed as a freelancer. That’s not to say it has all been easy. The transition took long hours and he missed a lot of time with his family. However, today Karl has more control over his time than he ever did previously.

Finding a steady stream of clients can be a challenge for a small studio. Outreach is an important part of landing clients. Karl found that competing for awards is a great way to get your name out there. Coupling awards with press releases and sharing it on social media did a lot for getting his agency’s name out there.

Using Connections and Setting Expectations

It’s also important to never underestimate the power of human connections. Karl still finds a lot of work simply by being referred by friends and fellow motion designers. No matter how small or large your operation is, maintaining a good reputation, helping others, and putting yourself out there pays you back in a steady stream of projects.

Maybe you have a list of brands that you’d really like to work with. Karl certainly does. Reaching out directly to their marketing managers might seem like a shot in the dark. They probably hear from a lot of people like you every day. You could always create something on spec, but that takes time. A more efficient use of your energy could be creating case studies of your work that you share. It’s easy to get work when clients can see that you’ve done something similar before.

Having worked with a large variety of clients, Karl has learned a thing or two about setting expectations. He finds that being clear about budgets from the very start avoids misunderstandings down the road. This prevents scope creep and keeps everyone on the same page. In fact, being clear from the start of a project reduces the need for revisions later on.

How can you leverage your network to land the next big job? We would love to hear from you. We are @motionhatch on Twitter and Instagram.

Have you transitioned from freelance to studio work? What’s one lesson you learned from the switch? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram.

In this episode


  • Making the transition from freelancer to studio owner [2:50]
  • The pros and cons of branding yourself as a studio rather than as a freelancer [8:39]
  • What it takes to get clients as a small animation studio [11:40]
  • The power of human connections to create work opportunities [22:35]
  • Reaching out to your ideal clients [27:20]
  • When it’s worth sending pitches and when it isn’t [37:55
  • How to approach clients about setting your budget [43:35]
  • Setting clear expectations to prevent scope creep and the need for revisions [51:33]
  • The most important things to look for when hiring motion designers [59:26]



“If you want to start getting bigger projects, working with bigger clients, and taking people on, it feels a bit more professional to do it as an agency.” [10:44]

“These marketing managers of big brands probably get tons of messages all the time. How do you make yours stand out and be interesting to them? It may take doing something on spec.” [34:54]

“Usually if you ask upfront, clients are willing to tell you if they have a budget worked out. If they haven't, it’s a bit of a red flag.” [45:10]

“It’s just good to be clear and transparent and honest with clients. The scope of work document at the start of a project is really important.” [53:09]

“When you’re freelancing or starting out, you forget that agencies want to talk to good motion designers as much as you want to talk to them.” [1:09:13]


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Podcast music licensed by Big Waves

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