Brisbane Illustrator Kat Potter smiling and standing infront of a yellow wall

So, you’re looking at working with a graphic designer for the first time?

As a small business owner myself, I know how confusing (or even intimidating) outsourcing can feel.

You might ask friends for referrals, find some options through a quick Google search, or spot someone who’s work you love on Instagram, but then you still need to narrow it down and find  the best fit before going ahead. Even then, how do you know what to expect once you’re working together? You’ve never done this before!

In my time working with other small business owners on their illustrations, branding and other design work, I’ve picked up on quite a few questions, concerns or challenges that most people face when working with a graphic artist for the first time. 

The first thing I want you all to know is that a good designer will always be patient and never judge you for asking questions. (we encourage it!) Having this knowledge beforehand will help you know what to expect and make your first experience as smooth and stress-free as possible.

So if I could tell any business owner what to know before working with a designer, these would be my top five pieces of advice!

1. Not all graphic designers are the same

In any industry, there’s different businesses who specialise in different areas, and design is no exception!

There are a lot of specialty areas when it comes to design, but these are some common ones you may come across:

  • Branding and logo design

  • Illustration

  • Web and mobile design

  • Print and packaging

Not every graphic designer will be a whiz at web design – and chances are a web designer may not know how to properly prepare a file for print.
Asking a web designer to create your new packaging would be kind of like walking into a sushi restaurant and ordering a pizza – it takes totally different skills and ingredients (or software, in our case).
An illustration of 2 sheep, representing that not all graphic designers are the same.
So when you’re on the hunt for your dream designer, be sure to specify exactly what it is that you need help designing, so you can find someone who’s experienced in that area. The easiest way to check is by taking a look at the designer’s portfolio on their website to see what kind of projects they normally work on.

And if you’re looking for one business to handle all your design? You might want to look into hiring a design agency to help, as they will have different designers with different skills all under the one roof. This option does normally come with a higher price tag compared to a solo designer, however.

2. Find a designer who’s the right fit for you and your business

This brings me to my next tip; every designer has a different style, not just in their work, but also in the way they work. You’ll want to look for someone who aligns with your values as a business owner, and whose work will suit the nature of your business.

It’s great to get recommendations from friends or peers, but be sure to take the time to get to know your designer and their portfolio before moving ahead. For example, if you own an equipment hire business, with tradies as your target market, then you might not want to go with a graphic designer who specialises in soft, feminine designs.

It’s also important to note here that you should never feel disheartened if you enquire with a designer and they have to turn down your project. A good designer won’t just book any old job that comes their way if they don’t feel they’re the right fit for what you need, but they might be able to suggest someone in the industry who would be able to help you better!

3. Don’t hire purely based on price

With other service providers you’ve selected in the past, you might have simply requested a handful of quotes, and gone ahead with whichever one was most competitive on price. And most of the time? That is completely fine! With a designer though, it’s a little more complex than this, and from experience I can say that you do get what you pay for. Outside of whether or not the designer is in your budget, you’ll want to make your ultimate decision based on these factors:

Out of all the designers I have enquired with….

  • Which one had the best customer service?

  • Which one aligned with my business values the most?

  • Which portfolio best reflected the style of design I want for my brand?

If you’re on a tight budget, you might reach a better outcome by pulling back on the scope of your project to save money rather than trying to have everything you want completed by a lower cost designer who doesn’t meet these other considerations.

It’s also important to remember that design is not just a cost to your business, it’s actually an investment, and quality, effective design should make you money in the long-term.

If you answer yes to any of the following, then your project is a long-term investment, and you need to think about the potential revenue it could help you generate – not just the cost you’ll pay in the near future:

  • Is this design going to be used in advertising? (Great design will help you sell more!)

  • Am I going to be using this work for years to come?

  • Do I want to maintain a high quality image for my brand?

Finally, remember you’re not only paying for the time it takes your designer to do the job, but for the years of experience they have. For example, an experienced designer might be able to pump out amazing work quickly, but only because they’ve spent years honing their skills.

This is another reason not to compare designers based on their hourly rate. A less-experienced designer might have a low hourly rate, appearing cheaper, but if they need three times as long to complete the project, and more rounds of changes to get it perfect for you, the experienced designer may be more economical (and efficient) after all!

4. Ask about cost, inclusions and timeframes before you begin

Before you lock in your project, your designer should be able to give you a clear idea of how much the project is going to cost, what is included for that price and how long it will take.

Individual designers may work their pricing differently depending on the type of work they do and the complexity of your project. In most cases, they’ll either have a price guide (like mine) that you can refer to, or they may quote on a case-by-case basis for more custom work.

If your designer hasn’t already explained the full process to you, don’t be afraid to ask questions! They should be happy to answer them for you. Some of the basics you’ll want to know before committing are:

  • How will I receive the final files (your deliverables)?

  • How many rounds of changes are included in the price?

  • What will I need to supply?

If your designer has supplied a contract or service agreement then you can usually find this information there as well. Again, don’t hesitate to ask them to clarify any of the terms if you’re not sure what they mean. We all know contracts are never the most fun documents to read…

Once you know these key details, the whole process will be smoother and stress-free as you’ll know what to expect and when.

5. The better your brief, the better the finished product

My last name might match that of a certain famous wizard (if only I had a dollar for every time someone has brought that up), but sadly, myself and other designers usually don’t have magic, mind reading skills.

Okay, obviously, Kat. Why do we need to know this? Well it means that when we work on a project with you for the first time, we need you to share all that knowledge you have about your business with us.

This is where the brief comes in.

Your designer will give you a brief to complete before getting started. They might even ask for this prior to completing your quote to get an idea of the project scope (what is involved). The completed brief will tell your designer all the background information they need to understand about your brand, as well as what your goals are for the project.

Illustrated underwear (or briefs) to represent "the better your brief, the better the finished design project)

The more detailed your brief is, and the more insight you can share with your designer, the better they’ll be able to nail the work, and the less changes you’ll need to make! It may feel a little tedious at first, but the more effort and detail you can put into your brief, the more time and effort it will save you throughout the project (and your designer will love you for it).

Psst… Feeling a little stuck on how to explain your brand? I have a Brand Clarity Workbook you can use to nut it out. This will make the briefing process a piece of cake!

So those are my top five pieces of advice I would give to anyone hiring a graphic designer for the first time. I know the whole process may seem daunting at first, but I really hope these tips have given you a little more confidence in getting started and finding your perfect partnership. With these tips in mind, I’m sure you’ll be enjoying your dream design work in no time.


Good luck!
Kat Potter xx

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