Lessons in offshore outsourcing

A case study in getting an animation explainer video made

Animation explainer videos are an effective way of telling your business story, and connecting with potential customers, in an engaging and visual way. I wanted to get videos made to embed into my business website. I wanted it done cheap but of course, still be of good quality. Just like a typical client!  

Project Management Triangle

Project Management Triangle.png

You may have heard of the project management triangle. Quality of work is constrained by a project’s:

  1. Scope

  2. Cost

  3. Time

You can only pick two. You can reduce cost by reducing scope and/or increasing timeframes, otherwise quality will suffer. You can increase scope and maintain quality, but that would result in an increase in budget and/or schedule.

“But I want a low-cost, high-quality solution!” What does that mean for me?

Outsourcing options

I recognised that I only had a few price point options if I wanted to get an animation explainer video made.

  • $4000-$7000: delivered by an Australian agency

  • $1000: Australian project managers who send projects offshore

  • $300-$400: delivered by offshore freelancers

With these three price points and knowing my tiny budget, I felt I only had access to one option: offshore freelancers.


Cheap (and cheerful?)

I wanted the lowest cost option. Theoretically, it meant that I could still achieve sufficient quality but it would take time and I would have to keep scope to a minimum. I’m an effective project manager, I can push to achieve my time requirements and manage scope, I naively thought.

The first video project I managed cost US$260, promised 4 weeks to deliver, took 10 weeks to complete, and quality was ok. I also had to make a formal complaint to the online platform regarding this freelancer. Here is the finished video.

The second video project, which was delivered by a different freelancer, cost US$260, promised to deliver in 2 weeks, but took 6 and a half weeks to complete and quality was slightly better. Here is the finished video.

From these two experiences, here are my lessons learnt.

Project parts

This animation explainer video project can be broken down into four parts:

  1. Voiceover script - delivered in-house ie my team and I

  2. Script & screen actions - delivered in-house

  3. Voiceover audio .wav file - Australian freelancer US$60

  4. Animation explainer video - offshore freelancer US$200

Budget

I set a budget for myself of about AU$350 or about US$250, but ultimately you do get what you pay for.

To understand what this budget means in terms of a freelancer building an animation video for you, we first need to understand the difference between off-the-shelf images versus custom-built images. This also gives us a better understanding of how to manage scope and freelancer expectations.

Off-the-shelf vs custom-built

Let’s consider how animation videos are made and the time and cost to build it.

  • This is a scope vs time/budget question

  • The more customisation that an image requires, the more time it takes for the freelancer to build it ie it will cost more.

  • If you are ok with off-the-shelf images, the cheaper that you can get the video made. The video can still be of high quality with off-the-shelf images.

Let’s look at what this means to have either off-the-shelf images or custom-built images. For example, when discussing with my freelancer what the characters in the video would look like, we often had to discuss what clothes these characters were wearing.

Here is an off-the-shelf character. The animation of this character looks great. However, if you want your character to be wearing your business uniform, this will need to be custom built.

It is important to think about what images are required in your video for you to get an understanding of what budget is realistic. Are there many characters and objects e.g. cars, machinery or background scenery, that need to be custom-built? Or would off-the-shelf generic images be sufficient, e.g. just ‘average’ people and animals, ‘average’ houses, ‘average’ cars, and ‘average’ trees and grass.

Script

My team and I wrote a script for the video voiceover. We had a go at reading the script out loud. We wanted to make a 60 second video so we aimed for a 55 second voiceover reading.

Our recipe for the script was:

  • From the point of view of the customer, what is the problem we are solving

  • What might they already have tried as options to solve the problem

  • Who are we

  • How can we help to solve this exact problem

  • Call to action - contact us online

  • Because solving this problem means ‘x’ for you

Script & screen actions

Script actions is a table that breaks up the voiceover script and explains what each scene in the video should look like.

  • This helps the voice over reader to imagine what the video images will look like

  • This helps the video animator to create the right scenes for each segment of voiceover

Questions to check for yourself if screen action description is sufficient:

  • Are all characters and objects in the video ok to be off-shelf? People, animals, equipment, scene backdrop?

  • Which characters or objects need to be custom-built? How should these look exactly? Are they carrying the company brand? Do you have sample images or photos of what this should look like? How can you minimise the video animator freelancer from misunderstanding your explanation.

  • What is the tone and audience for your video? Should it be family-friendly? Is it corporate and professional?

Sample Script & Screen Actions table.

Sample Script & Screen Actions table.

Voiceover

If you are confident, you can record your own voice to use as a video voiceover. Otherwise, I went to an online freelancer marketplace ie Upwork, to find an Australian freelancer to create my voiceover audio file.

I found a lovely Australian lady from Mackay to do the work. I provided her with both the script and the screen actions. I explained to her that I wanted the tone of the voiceover to be that of a teaching sharing with their colleague a really useful tool. Rather than say, a ‘salesy’ tone a la radio advertising. She delivered both a .wav and a .mp3 file of the voiceover. This task cost US$60, because this is an American-based company, all transactions are in US dollars.

Animation explainer video

This is the trickiest step. The project description needs to be comprehensive with timeframes, deliverables, milestones, milestone payments.

This is what I gave my video freelancer:

  • Voiceover file

  • Company logos

  • Montage of animator explainer videos that you would like your video to be similar to in terms of colour palette, style, and aesthetics.

  • Script & Screen actions

  • Project description

  • Milestone plan

  • Budget

I uploaded my project description to Upwork, an online freelancer marketplace, to receive quotes and portfolios from interested freelancers.

A milestone plan should include:

  • Milestone deliverable e.g. 60 second draft video file

  • Purpose of milestone

  • Date to be delivered

  • Date to give freelancer review comments and feedback on their deliverable

  • Date to provide the updated deliverable

  • Deliverable requirements to achieve to make milestone payment

  • Milestone payment in $

Milestone plan example

Contract accepted by both parties, t = 0 (time equals zero).

Note: t = 3 days means 3 days after contract accepted and signed by both parties. This terminology allows for a generic explanation of timeframe expectations.

Note: t = 3 days means 3 days after contract accepted and signed by both parties. This terminology allows for a generic explanation of timeframe expectations.

Warning: Do not release milestone payments from escrow unless you are happy with the deliverable. You will not be able to get your money back.

Milestone payments: Although you have only received a 10s video that is useless to you, the $10 payment is in good faith for your freelancer. For the work they have done to date.

From draft to final: There are normally a number of iterations of review and updates to get through from a draft version to a final version. Be clear with your requests and take screenshots to minimise risk of misunderstanding written explanations. This is the trickiest step in project managing delivery of an animation explainer video.

Review comments: If you are using Upwork, make sure you add your review comments into the change request section of the deliverable submission. You may instead type your review comments into the Messages section of Upwork, however if you do this, the system will automatically release payment from escrow if there is no change request submitted as part of the freelancer’s deliverable submission.
Time sensitive: It is easy for the schedule to blow out in the process of iterating through review comments and receiving updates on the deliverable. If you are time sensitive, I would recommend placing a $50-$100 bonus for achieving a specific deadline.

Your decision

Now that you have seen the process of what I went through, it is your turn to make the decision for yourself. Which price point suits your budget? Which constraints are you willing to manage? Which constraints have a hard limit and which have a soft limit? Cost, time, or scope? How do you define a quality deliverable?

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