If you’re an entrepreneur in need of professional-looking graphics, you have more options than ever. Over the last seven-ish years, I’ve watched the rise of online businesses selling graphic design. Some sites promise logos for $5 each, outsourcing projects to designers all over the world. On other websites, designers will pitch concepts to you for free, and you only have to pay if you like the concept. Still other businesses offer pre-made logos and design templates for you to download and use as you wish; because the designs are being recycled and resold, more effort is put into them and they can actually look really nice.
My opinions on these business models….maybe I’ll save for another post. My point is that there are many ways get cheap and okay-looking graphic designs — good enough for you to get your business up and running. So why hire a freelance designer at all?
Below is a breakdown, complete with colourful pie chart, of what a freelancer brings to the table. This pie doesn’t represent the proportion of time or energy designers put into each category. It represents what you’re getting when you hire a good freelance designer vs. buying a graphic design “off the shelf” — what you’re getting when you hire any creative contractor, really.
Strategy — You are hiring someone to think critically about your business, what you asked for, and your budget — to roll all those things together and produce a design that best engages your customers. Not only does the design look nice, but it has utility. The designer learns what you need the design to do and tailors every choice to expressing that purpose. Also known as Consultation. Much of what you are buying is brain power, and which is what takes a design from eye-candy to inspiring.
Your Own Voice — The work is entirely customized to your business and needs, the design reflecting your unique self and no one else. Customization is extremely limited when you get your graphic design from a store — and so is any kind of back-and-forth. Working with a freelancer guarantees your ability to communicate and collaborate and have direct influence on the product.
Technical and Artistic Skill — Or another way to put it, Quality. The designer’s ability to use specialty software and tools to make aesthetically pleasing graphics. It’s important, but you’ll notice it’s only the third-biggest slice of the pie. You’d think it would be the biggest pie piece, but my years in the biz have revealed a couple things: 1) Talented designers can come from anywhere, and not all designers are equally talented, freelancer or otherwise. At the end of the day you have to judge quality for yourself based on their portfolio. 2) I’ve noticed that lots of people are fine with “good enough”, especially if the price is right. That’s why you can buy a logo online for $5. Some folks will settle for nothing less than the best…but not everyone is looking for top-notch skill.
Flexibility — The reason contractors exist: custom quotes and timelines to fit your particular situation. The ability to adapt when the situation changes. You need a business card and a t-shirt? An unlikely pair, but sure! Your brochure needs to be an infographic now? Also sure.
Convenience — Sure you could hit up YouTube and teach yourself Photoshop, but who has the time?? Bonus points if your designer can guide you through the design process and make daunting projects painless. I’ve made this the smallest wedge because you wouldn’t believe people’s capacity to endure long hours of teeth-gritting pain for the sake of saving money. Just ask anyone who’s tried to teach themselves Adobe Illustrator.