Avoid panic: Start looking for a designer before you need one

Published by Nela Dunato on in Business, Graphic design

Every now and then a business owner inquires about my availability, and I have to turn down their project because they want me to start working on it immediately, which just isn’t possible.

From what I’ve seen, many business owners (probably most of them) are very bad at planning, which is why they only think of looking for help (whether it’s freelancers or employees) at the very last minute.

Avoid panic: Start looking for a designer before you need one

If you’re a business owner, it would be wise for you to be actively looking for potential people to hire all the time.

Not just when you need them for a project.

Not just when you can afford them.

Now. Today. Tomorrow.

Even if you’re launching your new project in 6 months. Even if you’re only thinking of re-branding in a year. Even if you’re not planning to bring on another team member for 2 years.

Here’s why.

Your favorite service providers are probably booked way in advance

At the time of writing this post, I have a stable waiting list of about 2 months worth of projects. I expect this number to grow in the future, and I know of freelancers who are booked for up to a year in advance.

Occasionally a potential client will try to push me or plead me to start sooner. I can’t do that, and I always say no. (The times I did said yes, I’ve regretted it.)

Great work requires time and focus. If a freelancer is working on too many projects at once, they’re not giving your project the time and focus it needs, and the results may not be at the highest level.

One of my top core values is excellence, so sacrificing the quality of the work in order to meet some arbitrary deadline is unacceptable – to do so would be out of integrity for me. If a client is pushing for a deadline that I can’t meet and guarantee the highest quality, they’re not the right client for me.

If you want your project to be a top priority for the expert you’re hiring, give them ample notice, and let them propose a deadline that will enable them to do their best work.

And if you have an urgent project that you’re launching next week, good luck.

If you’re in a hurry, you may not have a lot of choice

If the only person available in your desired time-frame is someone who’s #4 or #5 on your list of people you’d like to work with, you’re pressed to settle for them, even if they’re not ideal.

Sure, that may be fine if you’re working on a temporary marketing campaign that will only last one season, but if you’re planning a re-brand that will last for years, settling isn’t something I’d advise.

Keep an eye on the designers you’re interested in working with, and get a feeling what they’re like as a person. Engage with them on social media, comment their posts, or send them an email just to compliment their work, and let the communication evolve naturally from there. Do you feel you would get along with them well? Do you agree with their design philosophy and share their core values? These things are crucial, because working with a service provider that doesn’t resonate with you won’t be a pleasant experience.

And while we’re on the topic of non-ideal fit, we need to talk about money.

Planning ahead enables you to secure the budget

If I asked you whether you could afford a new logo design or a website redesign right this minute, you would probably say “no”, or “it depends”. And “it depends” really means “only if it’s cheap enough.”

This is again an issue of settling. You might want to work with a person whose work you love and whose clients you admire, but they’re out of your budget right now. So you decide to go to Fiverr, or 99designs or some other place where people charge peanuts, have a less-than-remarkable experience with designers who don’t know how to communicate and manage a project, and end up with a design of dubious quality that you’ll need to re-do in a year or two anyway. How’s that for a waste of time and money?

Instead, what you can do is plan that you’re going to get your brand and website professionally designed in a year, and start saving money right now.

Starting today, you can check out various designer portfolios (and make sure to check out mine while you’re at it), find out what their prices are, and set a goal for how much money you need to save up to be able to work with the designer you want to work with.

It’s better to postpone your project until you can afford to do it right, than half-ass it now. (In the meantime, here’s how you can DIY your brand on a budget.)

You’ll have time to prepare and do your part of the work

People vastly underestimate how much effort and commitment design projects take on their part. Most of them come to me thinking I’ll do everything on my own without their input, and I have to explain that business owners need to be involved in the project from day one, not just when it’s time to give feedback to my design proposals.

Depending on the type of project, this is what you’re responsible for as a business owner:

1. Creating every single piece of content that’s going to be used in the publication

If you don’t have the time or the skills to do that, this means you need to hire out more services, like copywriting and photography, which means more budgeting and more looking for the right freelancer. All this needs to be taken care of before the designer takes over.

If you need help with that, I have a free guide on how to write your website content right here.

2. Have a clear brand strategy

It’s a brand designer’s job to help you with that, but there are some things you can do on your own. Here’s a blog post I wrote on this: Struggling with your brand strategy? Start here.

The essential questions your brand strategy should answer are:

  1. What are we doing that is different from others?
  2. Why are we doing it?
  3. How are we doing it?
  4. Who are we doing it for?

Answer these in writing, and you’re already way ahead of most small business owners who don’t even bother thinking about big picture stuff like this.

3. Develop a marketing strategy to make the best out of your new design

A lot of the time, people commission new design, and then they keep it “in the drawer” for months. They don’t do any content marketing or paid promotion. They don’t invest in additional promo material such as brochures or goodies that they can use to impress potential clients on networking events. As a result, they don’t drive any traffic to their website.

Plan how you’ll drive traffic to your new website before it’s done.

  • Will you write blog posts weekly?
  • Will you submit guest posts on relevant websites?
  • Will you create a free ebook, audiobook or ecourse?
  • Will you post YouTube videos every week?
  • Will you host webinars?
  • Will you host good old-fashioned in-person workshops or talks?

The possibilities are endless, and you only have to choose what makes the most sense for your audience and for the type of work that you do. I have a free guide that helps you choose how to promote your work – download it here. It will save you a lot of time and headache.

4 reasons why you need to start looking for a designer before you need one

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Keep your eyes open and start bookmarking those portfolios!

Even if you don’t have a project in mind right now, it’s helpful to keep a list of people whose work you adore readily available, so you can look into more detail when you form your launch plan.

Planning ahead will help you collaborate with professionals who do great work, and who get along with you on multiple levels (worldview, aesthetics and personality), while getting the best service you can afford.

Don’t let rush and panic ruin your project.

Start preparing right now. Your future self will appreciate it.

Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...

Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

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