Your brand is your image. It’s an integral part of the success of your business and how people view you, day in and day out. Your brand is a large deciding factor in whether someone hires you or your competitor. Your brand can be the difference between getting a little bit of business or a lot of business and great clients or just okay clients. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, or next year—you should already be budgeting to hire a professional designer.
So! How do you find the perfect designer to brand you? Someone who will listen to you, teach you, mesh with your personality, and create something beautifully you? It may sound like a tall order, but searching for the right designer doesn’t have to be a difficult or stressful process. With some practical advice and quick tips, you will find your design soulmate in no time! (And who knows, maybe it’ll even be me!)
Starting Your Search
Many photographers and creatives find designers through word of mouth or by simply asking around. Others happen upon designers through their niche or a particular community. When you find a designer whose work resonates with you, it can be easy to get carried away and hire them right away. No matter how excited you are about someone’s work, try to suppress the urge to jump into a project immediately.
Truth be told, there is much more to hiring a designer than just loving their work. In order to hire the right designer for you, you must first be confident in what you want. For starters, you should be comfortable and aware of what your style is as a person and as an artist. Along with having a firm grasp on who you are stylistically, the success of your brand-to-be is also largely dependent upon on how well you know your business. Who is your target market? What are your clients like? How do they find you? What type of clients do you want? What problems does your business currently possess? What things are you really excelling at?
No matter how talented a designer may be, if you do not understand your style, what you like, and the true internal state of your business—your designer will not be able to create you a brand that represents your business, helps grow your business, or attracts the type of clientele you want. A little preparation and soul searching can be the difference between a successful design project and a failed one.
Finding and Researching Designers
Just like beautiful photography, great design can be an investment. For the sake of your business (and your sanity) you always want to make sure you are investing wisely. When you hire a designer, you’re not just investing in beautiful artwork; you are also investing in the opportunity to add value to your business. Great branding can open many doors of opportunity. It can attract better clients, help you earn more money, get you noticed or heard—and that’s just the start.
There are specific things to look for before hiring a designer, and following these simple steps will aid you in finding the perfect designer for you and your project.
Step #1: Research A Designer’s Work
Finding someone whose work you love is important in any hiring process. But before you hire a designer, take a step back and try to understand what it is you love about their work. Do you love the work because you think it’s beautiful or cool? Or do you love the work because you imagine your future brand to look similar? It can be hard to distinguish one from the other, and a lot of people mistakenly hire someone they admire instead of someone whose style is the best fit for their business. For example, if you are after a style that is simple and modern—scour a designer’s portfolio for examples that match what you’re looking for. Designers tend to showcase their favorite work and the work they prefer to do. If you love a designer’s work, but they do not have any design examples that match what you’re looking for, email and ask for some samples. If they can’t provide any, it’s truly best to move on.
Step #2: Get To Know The Designer
Do not make the mistake of hiring a designer based on a recommendation alone. Just because your friend loved a particular designer, doesn’t mean you will. Everyone is different, and every project is different. Look beyond a designer’s work to gauge their personality. You can learn a lot about a designer by simply taking the time to read through their site. Instagram is also a great way to get to know an artist. Do you think your personalities will mesh well? Is the designer truly passionate about bettering your business through design or are they just in the business of making trendy artwork?
Step #3: Reach Out To The Designer
Ask questions! In just a few emails, it’s easy to gauge whether you have a connection with a designer or not. You can also learn a lot too! When you email a designer for the first time, take note of how long it takes them to reply. Designers who are excited to work with you will often reply very quickly. Did the designer reply within 24 hours or did you have to wait several days/weeks? Does the designer seem excited about your project or did you receive what appears to be a quickly pasted, canned reply for everyone? Look for eagerness, excitement, and personality. Design projects often last for months, so it’s important to choose someone you can be yourself around, trust fully, and want to be in the trenches with. These are some quick questions you’ll want to ask or at the very least, think through:
1. Is the designer full-time or part-time?
Full-time designers are readily available during normal business hours and always make your project a priority. After all, designing is their livelihood. While part-time designers can cost less, your project will typically take much longer to complete. Part-time designers tend to be inexperienced and are usually available at odd hours. You need to decide what level of expertise you want to work with and at what cost.
2. Has the designer worked with your niche before?
There is extraordinary value in working with a designer who specializes in your industry. If a designer has worked with photographers before or specializes in the niche, they can better position your photography brand and business. Hiring a designer who has not worked with photographers before (or your particular creative niche) is okay, but please understand that they will not be that knowledgeable in your industry.
3. How are payments broken up? How can you pay?
Look for a designer that accepts multiple methods of payment and has a payment plan in place. If your investment is minimal, you may be asked to pay in full. (Smaller investments mean shorter projects.) However, if you are investing thousands of dollars into your brand, a trustworthy designer should break up your payments. Regardless of the excuse, be cautious of anyone who wants thousands of dollars paid up front, in full for long-term projects.
4. How long does a project typically take? What is the design process like?
Design projects can take weeks or months to complete. Rather than assuming that your project will be a quick one, make sure you ask how long a project like yours will take. Make sure your designer plans to spend a fair amount of time with you. It takes time for a designer to get to know you, your business, and where you aspire to be in the future. Someone who rushes through a project will not have your best interests at heart. The design process is the heart and soul of a project. This is where a designer gets to know you inside and out. When asking about the design process, your designer should have no problem clearly describing how the project will flow and how they intend to get to know you. Be weary of anyone who offers turn-and-burn design—brands done within 24-48 hours, a weekend, or even a week. While you might get something pretty and pretty quick, it won’t last you a pretty long time. Get a brand that’s built to last, not a rush job. Designing a brand is a strategic, marketing process that shouldn’t be hurried.
5. Is there a wait list?
Due to the length of most branding projects, reputable designers often have a waiting list. If there is a waiting list present, determine if the designer is worth waiting for. Do not throw away a good opportunity or design match just because you’re too impatient to wait. Branding is not a race. To be blunt, if you haven’t had a professional brand up until this point, waiting a few additional weeks or months will not hurt you. While you wait, ask the designer if there’s anything you can be working on in the meantime. Chances are, there will be! (I always let my clients start collecting inspiration and filling out some design questionnaires ahead of time. That way, my clients can relax into our project together, rather than feel pressured or rushed!)
6. Will you be entering into a formal design contract together?
Never hire a designer who does not use a contract. This legally binding agreement sets the rules for a project and protects both you and the designer. At minimum, a design contract should clearly state the work being performed, the total cost of the project, an estimated timeline, refund terms, and termination guidelines. Contracts are not meant to trap you or your designer; their purpose is to make sure the project has no surprises later and everyone is on the same page. Read through your contract, and if you do not understand something—ask! Jumping into a design project without a contract is not safe. If you are not under a design contract, your designer could choose to quit, take your money, or charge you more without any repercussions. Be smart and protect your investment.
Hiring Your Designer
Once you’ve fallen in love with a designer’s work, feel drawn to their personality, and have done your research—you’re ready to hire your design soulmate!
One last piece of advice, never hire a designer based solely on price. While budget is always an important factor for anyone, searching for the cheapest designer will always leave you disappointed. If you deem a quote to be rather low, it may indicate that the designer is not very experienced or may be cutting corners. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Shop around and always compare price with quality.
This is a big step for your creative business. Treat it as such! With a little research and patience, you will find someone you mesh with, has talent, and believes in you. And once you have built an amazing brand together, there’s no limit to what you can do with your business through beautiful, smart design!