There comes a time in many organization's life that you need to find a website designer (or brand designer, or even a print designer), you don't want to hire in-house, and your budget isn't a good fit for your local marketing agency. What do you do? The answer is simple- hire a freelance (or contract) designer. The complicated part? Finding said freelancer- one who's experienced enough for the work, skilled in that particular area, and available for taking on new projects.
If you've been in marketing and the corporate world for a while, you may be aware of the multiple "marketplaces" available where companies can list their projects and get matched with pre-vetted designers. Sound like a perfect solution? Not quite.
The truth about designer marketplaces
Not wanting to point fingers, but most of these places represent an absolute race to the bottom in terms of pricing. This is bad for companies for two reasons:
- Lured by the thought of getting the best deal, potential hirers may pick a graphic designer based on their price only, not necessarily on the value they will bring or how good a fit they are for that project. The result can be frustration and potentially, an unsuccessful outcome.
- The best designers tend to avoid these platforms, because of the rock-bottom pricing. So, right away you may be limiting the quality of work you will receive. Are there great designers on these sites? Of course- there's always exceptions to the rule. Generally speaking however, they will be designers with less experience and less skill.
Another reason why these marketplaces aren't great for companies is because of how you are locked into the platform once you find someone. Consider this scenario which came up in a recent conversation:
A busy law practice with an in-house marketing team needed more occasional advanced help with their Wordpress website, but specifically did not want to work with an agency. They found a platform claiming to be a matchmaking service, signed up and found a freelancer that was perfect for the job- knowledgeable about Wordpress and a good fit for the culture. When they read the fine print, they realized they could only work with this freelancer within the platform itself, including all payment transactions, resulting in higher fees for both the freelancer AND the company. They could not approach the freelancer for at least one year without becoming liable to potential (and significant) fees and litigation from the platform. At this point, the company felt disillusioned with the marketplace, failed to get what they needed, AND still needed to find a freelance web professional.
This scenario actually erases one of the main benefits of working with freelance/contract designers- the flexibility to find a new one if it doesn't end up being a good fit, or the opportunity to adjust the terms over time if you find your unicorn.
Instead of a marketplace, try this:
Here's some ideas for how to find a freelance web designer without resorting to a marketplace.
- Directory sites- Directory sites are a great way to find talented freelance graphic designers. You can often browse and search for a specific job title (i.e. brand designer) or skill set (i.e. Wordpress consultations) and view their past work and testimonials. Freelancing Females is an example of one such directory for women freelancers. Working Not Working is another great resources for really experienced designers.
- LinkedIn- Try searching the #freelancegraphicdesigner hashtag on LinkedIn- you can filter the results by a specific geographic area if you're looking for someone local to you, or if you want to work with someone in your timezone, for instance. Heck, you may even have some connections already that work as a freelancer.
- Your Network- Recommendations are an awesome way to find a reliable and skilled freelance designer! Ask your vendors, your clients, your colleagues. Chances are if you don't know someone, they will, and having that personal connection is the first step towards getting a quality designer.
- Look for footer credits on websites- This works best if you're looking for a freelance web designer, but can also work for brand designers or even photographers as well. If another company you know has a great looking website, see if they list who the designer was- often times there will be a link to that freelancer's site. Pro tip- if you like the style of a website, check to see if the web designer if they do branding as well. Many designers are multi-disciplinary these days and may have even done that company's branding. I had a logo client contact me because of a footer link on a website I made.
- Social Media- You're on there anyway, right? Many designers post their work on Instagram, Pinterest, and even TikTok. Just like on LinkedIn, you can search hashtags or browse your follower list. Pro tip: If you've got a designer following your brand already, its probably because they love your work and may be a great fit.
- If all else fails, there's always Google- Depending on how specific your search terms are, google search results can either feel like staring into a stadium with millions of concert fans, or into a near-ghost town with just a few stragglers. Its advantage is that it does give you a chance to search very specific terms (versus social media hash tags, which tend to be more limited). For instance, if you know you love luxury branding and you're a women-led brand, you can search "luxury logo designer for women-led businesses." If your best freelance logo designer is out there (and has an optimized website- but she would, right?), Google will be only too happy to serve it up to you.
But how do I vet them?
Good question!! First off, here's what you should NEVER do- ask or expect that they'll do the work before payment, to see how it goes. This is a major red flag that most designers look out for and will get you a quick "no thanks" from anyone not totally desperate.
Instead, do two things: first, carefully check their portfolio of work and testimonials. Do you see examples of the style they are looking for? Are they able to work outside that style at times (this is important, because you don't want them imposing some pre-defined visual constraints simply because its what they are good at. Each project is different and your designer should work with you to determine the best style for your project before starting). Read all their reviews and testimonials (common places you can look for reviews are on Google Maps, Facebook, LinkedIn and/or on their website). I like to use the external review sources personally, because it seems clearer that they are made by an actual entrepreneur or company.
Second- consider doing a test project, for pay. Pick a small project like a flyer, or social media graphics, or a landing page design, and ask them to complete it for a fixed price. You can let them know that its a test project with the potential to work together more if it works out. More than likely, they'll appreciate the chance to feel the waters, and if the test project isn't a success, you're only out a small amount of money.
Should I search for designers "near me"?
That's up to you- do you like to meet in-person with your designers? If so, you can search by location in LinkedIn results, and in Google by typing in "logo designer near me" for example. Keep in mind, this may limit your available pool if you live in a rural area. Also, thanks to the internet and Zoom, you can absolutely do a great branding and website process remotely. I've had many clients from all over the US, the UK and even in the Caribbean.
Whatever route you take, once you find a great web, graphic, or branding designer you love working with, hold on to them! There's so many advantages to forming long-term relationships with contract designers- they'll understand your business better, you'll get quicker and better results as time goes on, and no one has to waste money on paying the middle man.
And now here's my plug:
Chances are, if you're reading this article, that you are actively looking for a freelance web or graphic designer. Time to put these steps into practice, and why not start right here- on the website of a freelance web (and brand, and print) designer? Take a look at my portfolio of work and read my client testimonials- and when you're ready- let's chat about your design needs!