7.5 Hot Tips for Finding the Right Brand or Website Designer

How do you find a great designer? Most people start out by looking at designer websites and finding work examples they like. Others find messages or philosophies with which they feel a great connection. But what happens after that? The most common thing that happens after you find a list of designers you would like to learn more about is that one by one they all sound too expensive. Or you end your no-charge Q&A with more questions than answers.

A very common set of statements I hear from prospective clients is:

1. We want to increase sales.
2. We want a really strong logo, brand or website.
3. We don’t want to spend much, or we have a very small budget.

If you can relate with these statements, this article was written just for you.

1. 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 If you buy the cheapest computer, it will have a slower processor, it will become outdated much faster, and it will not serve your purposes very well. Similarly, if you buy the cheapest logo, identity design or website, it will not transform your brand, it will become outdated much faster, and it will very likely not communicate the essence of who you are. If your goal is to increase sales by making a bigger impact right from the start, a cheap identity or website design will not do that. This is not a license to go out and break your budget. It is a great rule of thumb, however, and it’s a smart way to start setting realistic goals for your brand or website design.

2. Break the Cycle!
If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got. If you have always been dissatisfied with the work your designer has done, you probably do not know how amazing it feels to experience outstanding design when it is created just for your business. If you want a big change in the perception of your business, or a boost in sales, or you have some other big goal, stop doing what you have always done. If you have always hired the cheapest design firm, but you are unsatisfied with the results, set a higher budget and get a better design firm. If you hire the cheapest, you get the cheapest. Don’t have a higher budget? Ask about options. Some designers do not offer options, while others can get pretty darn creative with options. Ask yourself: Does the cheapest looking logo represent your business the way you want it to? Does the $300 template website do everything we need it to do? Probably not. Then break the vicious cycle by setting a higher budget, hiring a better designer, and getting better results.

3. Ask Questions
Do you buy a new car without asking questions about it? If you do, you have probably bought a lemon or two in your day. Do you change accounting systems without studying the features? If so, your bank account or books probably suffered heavily until you figured out how to use it, or worse, figured out it wasn’t the right system for you. The same goes for graphic designers. As sad as it is, there are graphic designers out there who don’t know the first thing about branding and can’t map out an effective website to save their lives. Owning a computer and some design software does not make a great designer. If I bought a dentist chair and some dental tools, would you trust me to be your dentist? I sure hope not! Experience and knowledge count for everything in design. Make sure your designer is using solid strategic planning and research as well. How do you find out if they are knowledgeable? Look at their work and ask questions!

4. Find a Designer Who is Also a Writer
If you can find a designer who also is a writer, you’ve hit the jackpot! Designers who can write well tend to read a lot, and because of this, they can gain a thorough understanding of all of the many aspects of brand development. Exceptional brands are not made in a day or a week. It takes time, research, experience and tons of know-how. A brand is made of three primary components: 1) the visual, 2) the verbal, and 3) the experience. If you can find a designer who is experienced at creating all three, and you communicate well together, you have found your designer! Make sure to review samples of their design and writing. What is the value in this? Your brand will be more fully integrated, which means it will be a more powerful marketing tool, and it work better all the way around.

4.5 Avoid the Writer Who is Also a Designer
What? Didn’t I just say to find a designer who is also a writer? Yes, but not the other way around. Writers usually do not make great designers. If your designer is primarily a writer, they probably are not a great designer. Sound confusing? Don’t worry, it’s really easy. Start your search by looking for a designer. When you find one who also writes tag lines and website text, you will have found a designer who is also a writer. Be sure to see their design work and read their text! If they are both to your liking, you’ve hit a home run. If you can’t find one person who is both a great designer and writer, no problem. Hire a designer who has a great relationship with a copywriter. Don’t get me wrong — great copywriters do exist! If you find a great copywriter first, continue your search for your designer. When you need a brand or website design, the simple rule is: Designer first, writer second.

5. Match Your Budget With Your Goals.
The most common goal for businesses seeking a new identity, brand or website design is increased sales. As mentioned above, the three most common statements I hear from prospective clients are:

1. We want to increase sales.
2. We want a really strong logo, brand or website.
3. We don’t want to spend much, or we have a very small budget.

These statements are completely incompatible with each other, which sets you up to fail in your attempts to increase your sales and reach your goals. This is that vicious cycle I referred to in tip #2 above. If you can’t increase your budget, you need to adjust your goals downward. This is one of the hardest lessons for businesspeople to learn and accept. If you are looking for a big change, it’s high time to match your budget with your goals. The return on investment will surprise and please you.

Is it ok to have a small budget? You bet! It’s absolutely fine. You just need to be realistic about what it is going to take for you to reach your goals. Instead of getting a great design that will last you for many years, you need to think about getting a design that will make do until you can afford what you really envision for your business.

6. Resist Negotiating on Price
Warning: You will not want to accept this tip, but you should read it and practice it. I’ll bet my dog’s first born puppy that it will serve you well.

Resist negotiating on price. What did I just say? That’s right, resist the temptation to negotiate on the price of your brand or website design. It seems to have become human nature to dicker, but the fact is that in brand and website design, there are only a few things that can result from negotiating the price downward, and none of them are positives for you, the client. In fact, every single one of them results in you getting less for your money, and not reaching your goals.

You may be thinking, ‘How can this be? If I get a lower price, I save money and I get what I want.’ The simple reality is that it just does not work that way. You may pay less, but you will not get what you want. Instead, you will get what you bargained for. In my many years of working as a designer and writer, the results of dickering have been completely consistent. Oh, and by the way, this is not limited to me or my agency. Graphic designers like to get together in groups and talk, just like housewives, sewing clubs, and drinking buddies. Every single designer I have met during the past 25 years, from the struggling to the most successful, has whined at some point about clients who negotiate for lower prices. (Don’t worry, they don’t name names unless you do something really bad!) I don’t know about you, but I always want to get the most for my money. I work hard to earn it, and I want the people who work for me to work equally hard. If I am not paying them what they are worth, I can’t expect to get their best efforts.

Here are the standard results of negotiating the price down:
1. You get less work from the designer.
2. You get less passion in the work from the designer.
3. You get less resources dedicated to your project.
4. You get less time spent on your project.
5. You get lower quality design.
6. Your project will be lower on the priority list.
7. You get less longevity. Your logo or website will quickly become outdated.
8. You get less satisfaction for your time and money.
9. You get less effectiveness.
10. You walk away less happy.

Do I still put in my best efforts on lower-priced projects? I sure try. But the reality is that lower-priced or discounted projects simply can not take precedence over normal-priced projects.

Let’s face it, you hire a designer for their expertise and their ability to deliver a high quality design that really connects with your customers, makes them think about you, creates desire, and stimulates action. Most experienced designers share those goals with you. When you negotiate the price down, you are telling the designer that you value their work less, yet at the same time, you are telling them that you want great work. It just does not add up.

Designers are a lot like you. They have a mouth or mouths to feed, a business to run, and they need to make sure that the work coming through the door is profitable. Designers tend to be passionate about their work, and they truly want it to succeed and last for a long time.

Good designers understand the value of their work, and they price it accordingly. If you have dickered the price down, what do you think the designer is thinking about while working on your project? Instead of focusing their attention solely on making your design great, they will be thinking about how they are going to make up the difference, wondering to whom they will try to sell the next project, and lamenting about why they accepted the job at a lower rate in the first place. When they are thinking about all of these things, what do you think will suffer? Your project will suffer. You can’t afford to have a weakened brand or website. You will end up with a design that could have been great, or might have been better, but rarely will the best designs come out when a designer is worried about making ends meet as a result of accepting a lower priced project. If the firm has junior staff, those less experienced designers, whose time costs the firm less money, will be the ones working on your design. Perhaps worst of all, the design itself will very likely not meet or exceed your goals.

Do you ask your doctor to reduce his rates? How about your accountant? Your yoga instructor? I’m guessing not.

Ultimately, dickering is a waste of time and an investment in your own unhappiness. When a designer gives you a fair price, accept it, sign the estimate, and get to work on a great design. You know what you want. All you need do is align your budget with your goals. If you hear that little voice creeping up in the back of your brain, ignore it. Beat it back with a dose of logic, and resist negotiating on price.

7. Don’t Settle, Discover!
If you settle for less than you deserve, you deserve the less that you get. Most people settle for less than they deserve, and as a direct result, they lose their vision and give up on reaching their goals. You don’t have to be like most people.

When you are hiring anyone for anything, you should always hire the best people that you can afford. That does not mean that you should hire the most expensive people. It means that you should set some goals just beyond what you think you can reach, write them down, and examine your budget. Then, make some calls, and find the right people to help you reach those goals.

Many branding agencies can help you objectively set a realistic budget. Designers who use strategy can help you set and understand your goals as well. Most good designers will answer your questions for 30 or more minutes free of charge, which is plenty of time for both of you to see if there is a good fit for working together. Don’t settle for a designer who doesn’t feel like just the right fit. Discover the right designer for you!

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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