How I Started A $7K/Month Freelance Career Designing Explainer Animation Videos

Published: May 16th, 2020
Mike Doyle
Founder, drive80
from Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
started February 2011
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Greetings! My name is Mike Doyle and I own an animation company called Drive 80 Studios. My flagship product is creating custom explainer animations that tell people what your company does in 60-seconds. I also create logo animations that give your youtube videos a professional touch. And recently have gotten involved in creating custom Instagram Stories stickers.

My main customers are a bit of a mix. For explainer animations, it’s usually start-ups (with an actual budget) who have a hard time explaining what their product is. They typically will use this in their marketing and before sales meetings. I also have a ton of marketing companies who bring me on to animate collateral they create for their clients.

Logo animations are for any company that markets with a ton of videos. And the Instagram stickers have been very popular with Realtors because they do a ton of Instagram Stories to educate their customers on new listings, sales, and to build their personal brand.

Explainer animations run between $5,500 and $7,500. Logo animations are between $200 - $500. And Instagram Stickers start at a 5-pack for $350. My hourly rate is $100/hour if you just want a few hours of my time to create some video content.

On average, I pull in $75,000 to $100,000 depending on how hard I hustle.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

So here’s how I got into working for myself:

  • From 17 - 22 I was in a punk band called Lanemeyer. We toured 8 times over 2.5 years. Then we broke up because we were a shit show.

  • When I turned 22 I moved to LA to figure life out. While working at a P.F. Chang’s in Woodland Hills, a buddy of mine had a clothing company called Down Apparel. I decided that I wanted to start a clothing company, bought a Gateway PC for $1,300, and started designing. I got a cracked version of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator not realizing these programs were scary as hell. I moved back to NJ and put myself through a technical school to learn graphic design.

  • I graduated at 25 and started working as a junior art director and quickly hated it. I met a freelancer at the time who was charging $65 - $150/hour and decided that sounded way cooler.

  • At 26 I started working for myself and have never looked back. That was 14 years ago.

I came up with the idea for doing explainer animations in the Fall of 2012 when I had coffee with a friend. I told her that I was trying to just choose one thing to do because I was all over the place with projects. Some weeks I would be designing posters, web banners, and building websites. The next I’d be shooting photography, editing video, and animating.

She asked what animating meant, and I explained that I was working on a video that visually told a company’s story in a minute. She said that I should just do that. So I took her advice and haven’t looked back.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

I developed a 5-Step Process which is airtight. Create a script, come up with the initial design, create the storyboard, get a voice-over, and animate all of the assets. Every step gets 2 rounds of revisions and then I charge $150/hour if they go over that. This keeps clients very focussed.

The first video was based on a script my client came up with. I developed a few screens to get sign off.





Next, I created the full storyboard and walked him through it so we could tweak any parts that didn’t make sense.

For the voice over, I recorded my client because I didn’t know about until later on.

Finally, I animated it, and here is the final product:

I’m not a fan of raising money so I’ve been lean this whole time. I also hire out freelance copywriters, designers, and professional voice overs to work on projects. Lately, I’ve been animating all of the projects but have used freelancers in the past. I just make sure that the budget has a healthy margin before I include freelancers.

Just focus on the party and not how many people you want to attend. If you spend all of your time creating an amazing party and a few people show up. Those people will tell everyone they know and more people will want to come next time.

Describe the process of launching the business.

The first animation I did pretty much launched in the direction I’ve stuck with. My client used his video in his Chamber of Commerce presentation which was in front of a room of 250 people. Once he did that, I had people coming up to me left and right wanting one. That’s when I knew I was onto something.

The thing that helps keep the cost down is knowing how to design, create videos, and do basic web stuff. I’m also really good at knowing how to cut corners to keep costs down.

I designed my current website in Photoshop and just gave the files to a WordPress wiz and she set it up with a theme called Divi. Now I just clone pages and tweak them myself when I need to add new content.

When I need to post content I just do it myself. My goal has always been to make my company match my voice which is very casual, sarcastic,l, and honest. I make my marketing reflect that when I post anything. You’ll see what I mean if you follow me on Linkedin.

I use the free version of Mailchimp to showcase new projects I’ve created, advertising deals, and educate people on new products.

For instance, lately, I’ve been creating a ton of software and app demos like these:



So I take every opportunity I create posts like this on social media and blog interviews like this :)

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I use the hell out of Linkedin to gain new customers and stay in front of current/old ones. I try to post on there 2 - 4 times a day because NO ONE is doing that. It blows my mind because I’ve got soooo much new business from it.

All I hear from people is, “Dude, you’re all over Linkedin!”

I’ll post projects I’ve completed, a behind the scenes look on what it’s like to animate, deals on logo animations, how to videos, random thoughts on business, and anything I find funny that has a business tone.

For instance, the other day I posted this:


It got a ton of reactions and it was still showing up in people’s feed a week later.

I also have a really good report with my clients so I’ll just follow up with them randomly to say hello through email or see if they want to get on a call to catch up.

I just find ways to market that feel right. If it feels heavy or like a burden then I pass on it.

I learned was to 100% use my own voice and be authentic. I can’t stand these “marketing gurus” and “influencers” that are so fake it makes me want to jump into traffic.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Right now I’m surprisingly crushing it. I’ve been so busy since this lockdown and loving it. I have soooo many ideas for future products and ways to market that I don’t have enough hours in the day to create them. Which has been a good and bad problem?

The biggest chunk of my income comes from explainer animations but I’m working on making stock videos that target specific industries. I have a few friends who are crushing it with the recurring revenue model and I need to get there. I think this new idea could be gigantic but I need to identify who to target and just test it.

Other than that, I try to keep my day to day easy and not oversaturate myself with too many tools. I use a physical whiteboard to keep track of current projects. Trello as a CRM. YAMM and Mailshake for cold emails and to send mass “personalized” emails to clients.

I need to get better at understanding Google Analytics. I think I need to make my website a lot simpler so I can track what the hell people are clicking on.

As for the long term goal of my business, I just never want to work for anyone unless they’re clients. Oh, and I just want to make a shit ton of money and live very simply.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Number 1 would be Taxes. I got really behind on taxes for a while and couldn’t catch up until one day I had to sit down and get them figured out. You don’t want the fear of the government looming over your head if you’re behind. And honestly, the IRS is very nice when you call them to set up a payment plan. Granted, you’ll have to wait on hold for an hour but it’s worth it.

Other than that, the main thing I learned was to 100% use my own voice and be authentic. I can’t stand these “marketing gurus” and “influencers” that are so fake it makes me want to jump into traffic. They’re trying so hard to be something they’re not and it radiates off of them like cheap cologne.

Find your voice and make it match exactly what your business is. If not, it’s going to drain your to keep up that much of a facade.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I pretty much went over this in the other question but I can advance on it a bit for my web comic and podcast about the late 90s punk scene.

For those, I use Libsyn, WooCommerce, Instagram, and Printful.

I found Libsyn because Tim Ferriss and Noah Kagan use it for their podcasts. I like the interface and the stats it gives me so I can see how many downloads I’ve got and where they’re coming from. This helps in gaining sponsors.

WooCommerce is a free e-commerce platform that connects with Printful and WordPress. Everytime I get a new idea for merch, I upload the designs to Printful and it pushes them right to my webstores. From there I can post links on my social media and send out emails.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The book that helped me figure out how to niche down my service was Built To Sell. Super easy read and the takeaway is to do one thing really well. I also love The War Of Art. That’s a great listen/read for creatives who are stuck.

The podcasts I have on rotation for business inspiration are Noah Kagan, How I Built This, and Side Hustle School. Noah’s is fun and he gives specific things you can do to grow your business.

How I Built This gives an inside look at how gigantic companies started and the things they did to get off the ground. It’s super honest and inspirational.

Every episode of Side Hustle School is around 10 to 15 minutes long and they showcase the most random ideas that people have turned into a business. You just have to get used to the amount of time Chris Guillebeau spends on sponsors.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Just focus on the party and not how many people you want to attend.

What I mean is, let’s say you throw a party and spend all of your energy getting a ton of people to show up and no time on the party itself. The people who show up will have a crap time, never want to come to another party, and tell their friends to never go to a party you throw.

But, if you spend all of your time creating an amazing party and a few people show up. Those people will tell everyone they know and more people will want to come next time.

Just make your product kick ass and you won’t need all of these stupid gimmicks that people keep using online.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I need kick-ass freelance designers who have about 5 years of experience specifically designing explainer animations and work in Adobe Illustrator. If you have not designed an explainer video or have no experience in Adobe Illustrator then please do not contact me. :)

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!