Hiring the Right Graphic Designer for Your Small Business

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Every small business needs it, but not many have it. I am not talking about cash flow, clients or even your product or services to sell. Yes, all of these things are absolutely necessary. But, what I am talking about is something most small business owners overlook. It is the need to hire an expert graphic designer.

In a highly competitive marketplace, hiring an expert graphic designer can mean the difference in whether your product or service stands out and gets noticed or in having it lost in the fanfare generated by your business rivals.

Now, more than ever, hiring an expert to create your marketing and communication materials (also called collateral materials) is one of the most vital ingredients in the success of your small business.

Hiring the right graphic designer -- a true expert -- is a bit more involved than just randomly choosing someone from the Yellow Pages or hiring your third cousin because he is creative and owns a new computer.

If you are not careful, you may find yourself hiring the wrong person for the wrong reasons, which may cause more harm than good to your small business.

This is a big deal. After all, this person will be creating the look and identity of your small business seen by all of your prospects and customers. It is essential that you don't just hire anyone.

Here are five things you need to do in hiring the RIGHT graphic designer for your small business.

Number 1: Understand that graphic design is an investment, not an expense. This investment will pay huge dividends for the image of your business and in determining its future success. You need to be willing to invest in hiring a qualified, experienced professional, rather than hiring the cheapest person you can find. The old adage get what you pay genuinely true.

Naturally, your budget is an important issue in choosing a designer. I am not saying you need to fork over thousands upon thousands of dollars to the person you hire. But, if you hire the cheapest you can find and shop on price alone, I promise, you will get exactly what you pay for.

Number 2: Not all graphic designers are created equal. Just because someone says that he/she is a graphic designer doesn't mean that the person is necessarily worth his/her salt. The key here is to examine that person's portfolio of work.

Graphic design is more than pretty pictures or cool graphics. It is a visual means of solving complex business problems by communicating the essence of your business message and personality. Therefore, when you are looking at the designer's portfolio don't just take a quick look. Dig in and ask many questions about the work.

What was the design problem? How was it solved? What was the concept behind the design solution? Why were the colors chosen? Why was the format chosen? What were the results? Was the client satisfied?

If the designer can't answer these questions or answers with "I did it this way because it looks cool..." or "I used yellow because it is my favorite color..." move on.

Number 3: Hire a designer with experience. Someone fresh out of design school may be enthusiastic about working for you, but may not be the best investment you can make.

You should hire a designer who has, at the very least, three or more years of real world experience under his/her belt.

The more experience a designer offers, the better he/she will be able to steer you away from potential headaches and pitfalls. An experienced designer can suggest ways to handle your project that you may never have thought of before.

A seasoned designer will also have a good idea of what works and what doesn't work, such as the best way to format a direct mail piece or which colors and fonts work best in conveying the message and feeling you are trying to communicate.

Experience relates back to the first point I made. Hiring an experienced designer is a better investment of your marketing dollars.

You probably wouldn't feel comfortable hiring someone with little experience in medicine to perform surgery on you...the same can be said for hiring a designer. Essentially a designer is performing surgery on your business by constructing the look and feel of your design project.

Bottom line: real world experience is priceless.

Number 4: Check references. If the designer you are considering has done a stellar job for previous and/or current clients, that professional should not hesitate in giving you names of people that attest to that fact. No references should be taken as a big red flag.

When contacting references, which you should, ask questions about the overall experience with the designer.

Is the designer a professional? Would you use the designer again? Do you feel you got your money's worth? Did he/she deliver the project within the timeframe and the budget upon which was originally agreed? Does the finished piece solve your problem? Ask, as many questions as you think will apply to your particular situation.

Number 5: Honestly discuss your budget. Budget is usually the proverbial 800-lb gorilla in the middle of the room. Most everyone has a budget in mind, but not many want to discuss it.

If you have done steps one through four, you will be close to hiring someone that is not a trained sales killer and is not just interested in taking all of your money, so you can be open and honest with them.

Having a candid discussion with the designer about what you can practically afford is vital, because:

First: It lets both of you know, right off the bat, whether you can work together. You won't waste time much is this going to cost me or do I have the money to hire this person?

Second: It will allow for a discussion of what you can expect in exchange for the money you will spend.

Obviously, the key is to hire a designer that can work within your budget.

To do that, you MUST have an honest and open discussion about money. No one wants a last minute surprise about what it will cost to work together.

One last thing...

You should view the graphic designer you hire as your strategic business partner and an invaluable member of your team. Sure, you can hire a pro just once to create only one specific design solution, but hiring a graphic designer with a rich breadth of capabilities and experience that you can tap into repeatedly is a much wiser investment.

As a small business owner, you have a vision, opportunity and direction for your business. The designer's job is to come along side you and develop the best visual solution to fulfill that vision, opportunity and direction.

It is your brand. It is your image. It is your business message that the designer will be communicating visually. Make sure whomever you hire aligns with these key points discussed.

Hiring the RIGHT graphic designer really is THAT important.

Jeanna Pool is President of CATALYST creative, inc., located in Denver, Colorado. She helps small business owners who are really good at what they do, but struggle to market their services effectively to attract more clients on a consistent basis. She can be contacted at or call 303.380.9100.

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