Are you an established business, or a start-up? Either way at some point you already have or will require the services of a professional designer. This is commonly one of the early steps in your brand building exercise, and you might not know where to begin.
“I can’t afford something professional” - The common assumption
It is more likely than not, if you do not plan and invest even the smallest amount in getting your visual identity set up correctly, it will cost you even more to rectify it later. Creating materials on an ad-hoc basis will be detrimental to building your brand and will in time drain your pockets. For example, if you try to create a logo in Word yourself, you will eventually need it recreated in a more practical format. That is, if you want it too look professional and polished on anything from your website, to your business card. So, this route is not necessarily going to save you money. Without a plan of attack, expenditure on design services can get out of hand. Think of it like buying a new household appliance. A reliable brand should last 10-20 years. A cheaper model will often break down when you least expect it, and you will regularly have the expense of a technician coming to fix it, each time this happens. Do not assume that from the get go, something professional is out of your league. You have options, plenty of them. Your starting point is to prioritise, plan and seek advice if you are unsure about the process involved. Even global brands can fail to budget effectively when it comes to developing their corporate identity. The practicalities and the costs are often a last-minute thought, regardless of the scale of an enterprise. Therefore, do not be intimidated by a process you are unfamiliar with, before you have even done some fact finding.
As an independent designer and consultant, I have witnessed via social media, an explosion of designers offering their services. Some for pennies, if not for free. This is a massive red flag. A professional solution that is of a high quality and has a long shelf life takes some level of expertise and time to create. So, a very cheap or free offer, may sound appealing, but it speaks volumes about the quality that you should expect, or lack of it. It is entirely possible to get all your design dreams answered and still avoid spending a huge amount of money, so do not make assumptions, just do your research.
Here is a summary of the options out there: Large Branding Agencies - Are for Large brands
They have unrivalled experienced with some of the biggest global brands around, and access to technical expertise at a drop of a hat. However, the cons are, they come with a massive price tag. Their work and processes are also not tailored towards the world of the small business or individual. Plus, they have high-end clients who they are at their beck-and-call for most of the time - so they lack the necessary customer service you may require for a business on a smaller scale.
Medium size Creative Agencies - A great option, if you have the budget
There are plenty to choose from, and the results are usually of a high quality. Often, they are one-stop-shops, which has its pros and cons (That’s a topic for another article!) and if you can find one with clients already in your business sector, you will find they have already done a lot of research at the expense of their previous clients – so you can benefit from this!
On the downside, you do need to have some clear budget in place. They are not cheap, especially here in Switzerland. Therefore, I’d recommend you do some leg work first and get 2-3 quotes from different firms. Find out what they are offering for the money you plan on spending and make sure it is itemised. Finally, take into consideration hidden costs. They have large staff overheads and strictly charge by the hour – this can add up fast, especially during a creative process, where there can be many rounds of changes.
Freelancers - Who do I pick, there are so many to choose from?
With plenty of us to go around, it is almost certain you will find one that is a good fit for you, and that you can afford. Positives, we juggle fewer clients at once, so have less overheads. Instead of being a one-stop-shop we have networks, and have no obligation to any contractors. Therefore, when we have elements of a brief that might require specialist skills, we are likely to know someone who we can collaborate with, who is a best fit for our client, not just who is on payroll.
Downside, there is a small risk. There are many you can choose from who are experienced professionals, but there is at a guess, 3 times as many, claiming to be. Such as those who took it up as a hobby last week and are now making a business out of it. We wary of those with no experience, when you have limited budget. Anything you do spend, needs to be spent wisely. I’d recommend checking them out on LinkedIn, viewing their credentials and testimonials. There are plenty of designers on Fiverr or Upwork for example. Some very good ones, but take it into consideration that designers usually pay fees to be on these sites. They are paying to find your business. It’s a designer’s meat market and consequently comes with risk. A designer may not always be the best fit for the client and vice versa. In addition, be cautious about purely judging designers on their portfolios. Agencies and Designers can be restricted from sharing their work for legal reasons. So, bear that in mind, if you are judging them purely based on their portfolio and their rate card. There is a lot more to consider.
Over the years I have interviewed many designers as well has hired agencies. Your priority, should be their working style and ethics. If you have to chase them - run! If their only answer to your questions are yes – run really fast! Your designer should add value beyond beautiful designs. Which sometimes means providing a solution you need, which wasn’t necessarily what you initially wanted. Once they have listened to you and what you want to achieve, let them guide you. So ultimately the best way to work out if they are a good fit for you, is to talk to them! What a novel thing to do in 2020!
Finally, a mention for the cheapest option of all….
Students or newbies offering free work - Jackpot! or not? If you really have no budget for a freelancer, students aren’t the worst idea. They are often working for free, to build a portfolio and are bursting with enthusiasm and ideas. The big risk that comes with free work of this nature, is that they may create a solution that works better at selling their business, than selling yours. Plus, the other concern is that even though they cost nothing right now, their lack of professional experience, particularly with processes and delivery, could end up costing you a fair penny later! If you get a student, at least choose the one who is top in his or her class, so ask for a reference.
Translating offers - It feels like a foreign language Always ask for quotes to be itemised (a trustworthy designer will do this automatically) so you can clearly see what you will get. Avoid asking for flat quotes without a conversation first, and briefing them. If I was given a franc for every time someone has asked me how much I charge for a logo I would be living the good life on a tropical island. Asking for a flat quote runs the risk of the designer pricing it too high for what you need, or also too low for them to justify taking the job – we have bills to pay too! Tasks and jobs vary significantly. You are not wasting their time discussing your requirements prior to finding out how much it will cost, and making any commitment to hiring them – quite the opposite. This is a mutually beneficial and fundamental part of the process. It also gives you an insight into whether you will enjoy working with them or not.
Designers and agencies tend to charge by the hour or day, plus a rate card for set deliverables. So, you can see why it is vital that you brief a designer before they present an offer, so they can calculate this quite precisely based on exactly the deliverables you require. This is another benefit of working with someone with experience, they have good judgement on the time it takes to deliver tasks as well as the experience to get it done quicker, yet still at the highest quality. You will get more for your money.
After an offer has been agreed and the job proceeds it is vital that the designer raises a red flag if there is a risk of any additional fees. For example, various rounds of changes should be included in an offer, as this is a consequence of any design process. If the client wants to change a significant aspect of the brief and work has to be re-done the designer may ask for additional fees to cover these changes to the designs. As a courtesy they should warn you before costs start increasing, so you have the choice to proceed or not, with the changes you requested.
So now you have some ideas of what your options are and how to approach getting an offer, make sure you have planned ahead to allow time for the process. After all, even if you aren’t investing any significant cash into this exercise, you will certainly be investing time. Talking of which a last word on…
Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted
A corporate identity or even a fairly simple logo, will take more than 5 minutes to construct. A website, perhaps even longer. Avoid rushing these processes, or you will regret it. As my better half always says to me, Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. This couldn’t be truer than when it comes to choosing a designer/agency. Do your research if this is something new. It will end up saving you an awful lot of time, money and heart ache!
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