How to Find the Professional Graphic Designer of Your Dreams, Part 1

How to Hire a Graphic Designer

There will come a time in your business when you grow beyond the DIY stage. Maybe you’re there now.

This is usually a good sign. It means your business is successful enough that you simply don’t have time for do-it-yourself bookkeeping, website updates, or design.

When you reach this point, you’re often earning more, too.

In the beginning, you had no money to spend, but you had time, so you learned how to do it yourself.

Now, you have no time to do it yourself, but you do have money to spend.

If your business is at this stage, you might be thinking about hiring a professional graphic designer. But this brings up a boatload of questions:

  • Is the timing right?
  • What can you do to prepare?
  • Where should you look? (Are those crowd-sourced design sites any good?)

Today’s post will address these questions and more. And next week’s post will go into detail about why I prefer you form a long-term relationship with a professional designer rather than heading to crowd-sourced sites for your design solutions. I’ll also cover what to look for in a design portfolio, and what your ultimate goals should be for the designer/client relationship.

There’s a lot of information between these two posts, but despite that,  I may not cover your specific question.

That’s what the comments section is for: if you don’t see your question answered in this post, page down and add it below. I’ll be happy to answer your question there.

How You’ll Know It’s Time to Hire a Designer

The main reason to hire a graphic designer? You’re not 100% happy with your visual brand. This may be because:

  • You didn’t have the skills needed to create a polished visual brand at first, and have been using something as a “placeholder” over the years. Your intention was to update it, and you never got around to it.
  • You can afford to hire help, and you’re ready to hand it over to a professional graphic designer who will devote time and skill to the job.
  • You never really developed a visual brand, and now that your business has grown, you know that having one will make it appear more professional, help you compete in your industry, and even motivate your employees and your sales force.
  • Your business has evolved and your current brand doesn’t reflect what you offer now. You’re ready for an update, and this time you want a professional to do the work.

Whatever the reason, when you’re ready to move from amateur to pro level when it comes to your visual brand, a seasoned graphic designer will help you get there.

Steps to Take Before You Begin Searching for a Designer

Start with a deep understanding of your ideal customer. All things marketing-related start here! When you know who you want to reach, you’ll be better equipped to choose a designer who will help you craft pieces that appeal to this group.

Before you begin searching for a graphic designer, think about what kind of visual brand your business needs. Get to know your brand personality.

When you know who you want to reach, and how you’d like to communicate with them, you can easily sort through the portfolios of the designers you meet and decide if they’ll be a good match. (We’ll talk more about what to look for in a portfolio next week.)

Should you hire a freelance web designer, or a print designer? In a perfect world, your designer will be comfortable with both print and the web.

But in reality, both print design and web design are highly specialized fields. It’s difficult (maybe impossible) to find one person who’s proficient in both.

Instead, think about what kind of work you’ll need most: are you marketing your business primarily online? Or are you using print extensively?

How you answer these questions will influence who you hire. And you can then hire someone else to fill in on an as-needed basis for the kind of design work you don’t use as much.

A Word About Crowd-Sourced Design Sites

There are several “crowd-sourced” design sites out there, and I’m asked on a regular basis to share my opinion on them.

Here’s what I think:

If you truly have a “one-off” project, crowd-sourced design sites might be a good option. Submit a detailed description of what you’re looking for (and what you’re NOT looking for), and give ample feedback on the submissions so that designers can hone what they present. But here’s the thing:

There are very few projects that are truly “one-offs,” which you do once and never again. If you’re marketing your business carefully, you’re creating a “net” of marketing pieces that span the web and print. They look visually related, and present your business as a cohesive brand.

What you get from a crowd-sourced site may look great on that one piece, but it may look nothing like the rest of your marketing.

I know there are some good designers on these sites, but I want you to think about something:

Talented designers whose skills are in demand don’t have time to waste creating work they may never get paid for.

Read next week’s post about “spec” work and competitions for more on this topic.

I recommend you spend the extra time and effort to develop a relationship with a real, live designer who you’ll work with over time.

Where will you find this person? Read on. But first …

To get all thoughts of crowd-sourcing your design out of your head, read what Milton Glaser — designer of the indelible “I ❤ NY” logo — thinks about crowd-sourcing logo design. Read Glaser’s comments in this piece about Florence, Italy’s logo design contest.

And here’s James Archer, founder of Forty, on why crowd-sourcing just doesn’t work when you run the numbers.

On to where you’ll find this mythical designer, and how you can establish a healthy, productive working relationship.

Where to Look for a Designer

I recommend you start your search offline.

Ask your business colleagues who they’ve used for design, and whether they’d recommend that person. There’s nothing like hearing the opinion of someone you respect, and having the ability to ask pointed questions about the designer before you even contact them.

Follow up with these prospective designers the old-fashioned way. Send an email and let them know who recommended them, and what you’re looking for. Arrange either an in-person meeting or a phone call.

If asking your offline colleagues isn’t an option, or doesn’t yield any names, you’ll need to head to the Wild West of online designer searches.

A caveat: I haven’t used any of these sites directly (why would a designer use them?). If you’ve used any of them, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. Start here:

  • The American Institute of Graphic Artists, or AIGA. This is a professional organization for graphic designers in the US. The link will take you directly to their designer search page.
  • Elance is a marketplace for freelancers. You’ll post a job, interview prospects, and choose one person to work with. The link takes you directly to the designer search page.
  • Odesk is a marketplace for all types of freelance positions, including designers. Similar to Elance, you’ll post a job, and pick one person to work with.
  • CarbonMade is an online portfolio site. Search under “Graphic Designers” and you can see examples of work and contact them directly through their “About” page information.
  • Behance is another excellent portfolio site. Use the “All Creative Fields” drop-down menu to specific the kind of designer you need

Whether you search online or off, pay attention to the details. Does the prospective graphic designer have a good grasp of proper English? Do they communicate clearly and completely?

Their communication style and attention to detail are direct reflections of what they’ll be like to work with, so make note of every clue you see.

Try Before You Commit

Most designer/client relationships begin as a project-based freelance contract. This is ideal for both you and the designer: it gives you the opportunity to try out working together in a low-commitment environment. If you enjoy collaborating, you can expand the relationship and hand over more responsibility.

I recommend starting with a small project to see what it’s like to work together. Ask the designer to re-design an existing marketing piece, or design a small new project for you. Consider it a test case.

This way you can try out the relationship before you get in too deep.

More Next Week

Next week, in the second part of this post, I’ll cover:

  • How to not be an evil client: avoiding “spec” work and competitions
  • What to look for in a design portfolio
  • How to pay a designer so you’re both happy
  • What to aim for as you begin the client/designer relationship

If you enjoyed this post, take a moment to share it with your networks using the buttons below.

And remember, if you have specific questions, let me know in the comments section.

Read Part 2 of this series, How to Hire the Graphic Designer of Your Dreams, and Avoid Becoming a Nightmare Client

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Pamela, Great post as usual. As a designer I can comment on my own experience. Since 2014 is the year of “delegation” for me, I have hired a few people on Fiverr for a few projects when I’ve been in overwhelm mode. I can say that NOTHING good costs only $5. Almost everything I have used I have had to change to some extent. On the surface the design might look pretty but when you look closely to the details, including fonts and resolution, the quality is nowhere close to print ready. So I end up spending hours of my time fixing and tweaking, and I have to keep upgrading my gig to get the files I need. I guess it’s fine for someone who does not really know what they’re getting and is happy with what they get for $5, but you’re so right about consistency in all your marketing pieces, which you will NOT get unless you build a relationship with a good designer who understands who you are and reflects that in your visual branding. Yes, graphic design is an investment, but, in many cases, it is the first impression potential clients will have of you, and you know what they say about first impressions!

    • says

      I’m glad you weighed in on this, Carol Ann.

      In your case, you know what you’re looking at when someone hands over final art that’s inferior. And having to go back and revise it so it works must be frustrating!

  2. Rachael says

    Hey Pamela!

    Hope you are liking Nashville!

    I agree with this post. A few years ago I hired someone professional to design my logo, business card and letterhead – and have not been disappointed with how visually appealing everything looks and makes me look! Prior to that, I’d have tried it myself…with odd results. Recently, for my candle business, I’ve gone to Etsy and gotten my logo designed. I have met a lovely young woman on there who is now designing my labels and flyers because my DIY system took too much time and didn’t look as polished. I am so very, very pleased and will continue to work with her. She is affordable and I look very professional. WHOO!

    Once-upon-a-time, I’d have balked at cost…now I feel free and mature to say that I am happy to make a good investment!

    • says

      That’s great to hear Rachael. I’m glad your investment paid off, and you’re developing a long-term relationship with someone who’s working well for you.

      And yes … I’m enjoying Nashville! It’s always fun to explore a new city. :-D

Trackbacks