Finding a great graphic designer, part 1: Budgeting

by Kelly Hobkirk

Finding a great graphic designer who fits your needs can be a complex equation, but knowing what you need and having a set of important questions to ask prospective graphic designers can shorten the process by leaps and bounds.

Budgeting for graphic design or brand development often draws a question mark for people new to hiring a designer. While frugality is important, your visual identity is the last item to skimp on because it is the most important tool you have for making a great first impression. People often ask, ‘What about me? Aren’t I a great tool for making a great first impression?’ I hope we can agree that you are not a tool!

The first thing you need to do before contacting graphic designers is determine your budget. Designers are masters of crafting solutions to meet budgets, but if you don’t know your budget when you start calling, they will not be able to provide responsible estimates.

Some graphic designers do design only, while others competently offer a full range of services. In my experience, working with one person or office can be of great benefit because it keeps your overall brand message focused. It saves money, energy and time too.

A quick word of warning for those hiring a designer for branding: Many graphic designers have no idea what branding actually is, so be sure to ask some tough questions specifically about branding. I’ve covered this in greater depth in another post.

There are many ways to find a great designer, from referrals to checking samples, to good ole Q & A. Conversation wins out nearly every time, so my vote is Q & A. First, you have to ask yourself some tough questions, then it’s time to start quizzing a short list of designers to find the right one for you.

Budget setting: use the new computer rule
When setting your budget, use the ‘New Computer Rule,’ which states that you should always buy the most expensive computer you can afford. The reason for this is simple. If you buy the cheapest computer, it will have a slower processor, it will become outdated much faster, and it will not serve your purposes very well.

Similarly, if you buy the cheapest logo, identity or web design, it may be lacking in power and longevity, and it probably will not communicate the essence of your unique business. If your goal is to increase sales by making a bigger impact right from the start, a cheap identity or website will not do the trick. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but don’t sell your brand short either.

Budgeting questions to ask yourself:
• What is my annual operating budget?
• What can I budget for brand development?
• Do I want to work with an established professional?
• What are my needs for deliverables? (i.e. brand strategy, brand positioning, logo, business card, tag line, packaging, website, etc.)
• What do I expect from the working relationship?

Questions to ask your prospective graphic designer:

• What are your primary services?
• Can you provide an estimate? (If you know your deliverables, ask for an estimate. Even a ballpark estimate might help you determine if you can afford to work with the designer you like.)
• How many revisions are included in your estimates?
• Can you create a project package to cover all my needs?

Notes on hourly rates
You might be tempted to ask hourly rates. Proceed with caution or at least a very open mind here because all designers work at different speeds, which means that a fast designer will probably have a higher rate, yet you may still be able to afford them. You might be surprised – some designers work 5-10 times faster than others. Also, while a low rate may be hard to resist, it can often be a red flag signaling lack of experience that can cost you bigtime down the road.

Some designers don’t charge by the hour. Seasoned designers estimate jobs based on several factors, and many don’t use an hourly rate.

If you start out with the idea that the work you need is worth only a low hourly rate, you will probably undermine your marketing goals. Similarly, focusing on a low overall dollar amount will limit the depth of the work that is possible. For instance, if you start out by saying, ‘I need a 30-page website with a CMS, e-commerce, plus a logo and a brochure,’ followed by, ‘What can you do for $500?’ Well, you’re going to get politely laughed out of the room. If you put your budget on the table right from the start, however, we can begin aligning your realistic budget with your needs.

Try prioritizing your marketing goal first, and see how the possibilities open up. Starting with your goal first in mind is a smart strategy for getting the designer thinking creatively right from the first meeting.

Read on:
Finding a great graphic designer, an introduction
Finding a great graphic designer, part 2: Goal Setting

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • March 4, 2010 • Tags: ,