I firmly believe that good design can make all the difference for startups, solo entrepreneurs and small businesses—in print, online, in social media, and in person. Professional design signals quality to your consumers and indicates that you’re in it for the long haul, not some fly-by-night scheme with a $5 logo. And an effective design is critical when it comes to creating clear, compelling messaging that moves your audience to action.
But why do you need to hire a professional designer, and how do you find the right one for your project? First, let’s look at the key reasons you need to hire a pro:
Design is a specialty
One of the first needs many small businesses and startups have is brand development and logo design. It’s one of the biggest pitfalls since it’s so critical to the success of your business, yet needs to be addressed before you have any revenue to invest in branding and marketing. Note that logo design and brand strategy are closely related, but two separate things. Be sure to work with a trusted advisor or agency on brand strategy and naming before you spend any money on a logo or domain.
Cheap logo sites and contests have been around nearly as long as the internet. Many designers don’t participate because they devalue the profession, but some emerging designers do join as a way to build their portfolio. As a client, it’s risky: you could get a serviceable logo from an up-and-coming designer, but you could also get a hack job that looks like every other logo and does nothing for your business—or worse, makes your brand look unprofessional. It’s far better to invest in an expert who knows what they’re doing than make a mistake you’ll later regret.
It makes financial sense
We're all for trying to design something yourself. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, startup founder or small business owner, you wear a lot of hats and may be tempted to put on the design hat as well. So go ahead and try! Then, frankly, hire a professional. Because unless you have formal training in design, you likely won’t have the experience, talent or tools necessary to quickly and expertly design a website, brochure, or advertisement. Those kinds of components are crucial to the success of your business, and a DIY approach will look unsophisticated, may be confusing, and could take weeks. That time would be better spent serving your customers rather than dabbling in design, and if you've already attempted it yourself you'll have a better appreciation for what a professional can do.
Look at it this way: You wouldn’t hire your cousin to represent your business in court for $20, right? Similarly, you get what you pay for in design; what you’re paying for is expertise, talent and professional experience. While it’s a larger investment up front, it pays in the long term to hire qualified designers so that your logo, site and materials don’t need to be redone six monhts later.
So how do you go about hiring a designer? Marketers and agencies provide design services like we do, but you can also hire a designer on your own if you have a clear idea of what you want. Here are several other ways to find a designer that fits your needs:
Acquaint yourself with AIGA
As the nation’s largest professional membership organization for graphic and interactive designers, AIGA provides a directory which includes designers’ bios, information and portfolios. You can contact them directly to inquire about availability, references of past clients or examples of relevant work, or you may want to attend local events to meet them in person.
In addition, AIGA provides helpful resources for business owners, including a job board where you can post projects and positions; a contract template to create agreements with creatives; and Design Business & Ethics which includes a client guide. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked with AIGA in some capacity since 2008.)
Peruse some portfolios
If you’re more interested in finding the right talent by looking at their creative work before you narrow down to specialty, portfolio sites let you skim through creative examples from all kinds of designers. A few of the larger sites are Behance, Coroflot and Dribbble; some provide a curated approach, while others let you search by discipline, keyword or location.
Once you get a sense of the designers’ strengths and capabilities, contact them directly to inquire about availability and references, noting which work you admired or think might be similar to your project. After an initial discussion or two, they’ll be able to provide you with an estimate or proposal to align on budget, goals and timelines.
Post a great gig
The other direction to go is posting a specific job detailing what it is you need and who you’re looking for. This is a great route if you know your way around a creative brief or have worked with designers before. Most of the portfolio sites, like AIGA, also allow you to post a job, so it’s just a matter of which board is the right fit for your project and budget.
A similar option is to go through a staffing agency, which may cost you more on an hourly or project basis but relieves you of the burden of posting a job and reviewing applications. We’ve personally worked with Aquent, Creative Circle and The Creative Group, but there are lots of options in most major cities.
Rely on referrals
Know a startup or small business with a killer website, beautiful logo or compelling social media presence? Ask who did the work! You’ll find most owners are happy to tell you who they worked with, so that you can see their portfolio online or get introduced. Similarly, many marketing firms can connect you to designers who specialize in specific areas. Complimenting and asking about beautiful work is my favorite way to meet new talent in different design disciplines.
Whether it’s UX experts to design the front end of a website, a branding expert to consult on your identity, or a print designer to create your next brochure, it shows your investment in the business and puts you another step ahead of those who didn’t.
Do you have a question about design or another marketing topic? We'd love to help: Ask us!