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How to Find the Professional Graphic Designer of Your Dreams, Part 1 — Essential Questions Answered


When is it time to hire a graphic designer? When your business has grown beyond the DIY stage. Maybe you’re there now.

This is usually a good sign. It means your business is successful enough that you simply don’t have time for do-it-yourself bookkeeping, website updates, or design.

When you reach this point, you’re often earning more, too.

This is the perfect time to work with a coach to help you manage your growth.

In the beginning, you had no money to spend, but you had time, so you learned how to do it yourself.

Now, you have no time to do it yourself, but you do have money to spend.

If your business is at this stage, you might be thinking it’s time to hire a graphic designer. But this brings up a boatload of questions:

  • Is the timing right?
  • What can you do to prepare?
  • Where should you look? (Are those crowd-sourced design sites any good?)

Today’s post will address these questions and more. And next week’s post will go into detail about why I prefer you form a long-term relationship with a professional designer rather than heading to crowd-sourced sites for your design solutions. I’ll also cover what to look for in a design portfolio, and what your ultimate goals should be for the designer/client relationship.

There’s a lot of information between these two posts. Read on!

Hire a graphic designer - photo of laptop with logos on the screen.

How you’ll know it’s time to hire a graphic designer

The main reason to hire a graphic designer? You’re not 100% happy with your visual brand. This may be because:

  • You didn’t have the skills needed to create a polished visual brand at first, and have been using something as a “placeholder” over the years. Your intention was to update it, and you never got around to it.
  • You can afford to hire help, and you’re ready to hand it over to a professional graphic designer who will devote time and skill to the job.
  • You never really developed a visual brand, and now that your business has grown, you know that having one will make it appear more professional, help you compete in your industry, and even motivate your employees and your sales force.
  • Your business has evolved and your current brand doesn’t reflect what you offer now. You’re ready for an update, and this time you want a professional to do the work.

Whatever the reason, when you’re ready to move from amateur to pro level when it comes to your visual brand, a seasoned graphic designer will help you get there.

Steps to take before you hire a graphic designer

Start with a deep understanding of your ideal customer. All things marketing-related start here! When you know who you want to reach, you’ll be better equipped to hire a graphic designer who will help you craft pieces that appeal to this group.

Before you begin searching for a graphic designer, think about what kind of visual brand your business needs. Get to know your brand personality.

When you know who you want to reach, and how you’d like to communicate with them, you can easily sort through the portfolios of the designers you meet and decide if they’ll be a good match. (We’ll talk more about what to look for in a portfolio next week.)

Should you hire a freelance web designer, or a print designer? In a perfect world, you’ll hire a graphic designer will be comfortable with both print and the web.

But in reality, both print design and web design are highly specialized fields. It’s difficult (maybe impossible) to find one person who’s proficient in both.

Instead, think about what kind of work you’ll need most: are you marketing your business primarily online? Or are you using print extensively?

How you answer these questions will influence who you hire. And you can then hire someone else to fill in on an as-needed basis for the kind of design work you don’t use as much.

A word (or three) about crowd-sourced design sites

There are several “crowd-sourced” design sites out there, and I’m asked on a regular basis to share my opinion on them.

Here’s what I think:

If you truly have a “one-off” project, crowd-sourced design sites might be a good option. Submit a detailed description of what you’re looking for (and what you’re NOT looking for), and give ample feedback on the submissions so that designers can hone what they present. But here’s the thing:

There are very few projects that are truly “one-offs,” which you do once and never again. If you’re marketing your business carefully, you’re creating a “net” of marketing pieces that span the web and print. They look visually related, and present your business as a cohesive brand.

What you get from a crowd-sourced site may look great on that one piece, but it may look nothing like the rest of your marketing.

I know there are some good designers on these sites, but I want you to think about something:

Talented designers whose skills are in demand don’t have time to waste creating work they may never get paid for.

Read next week’s post about “spec” work and competitions for more on this topic.

I recommend you spend the extra time and effort to develop a relationship with a real, live designer who you’ll work with over time.

Where will you find this person? Read on. But first …

To get all thoughts of crowd-sourcing your design out of your head, read what Milton Glaser — designer of the indelible “I ❤ NY” logo — thinks about crowd-sourcing logo design. Read Glaser’s comments in this piece about Florence, Italy’s logo design contest.

And here’s James Archer, founder of Forty, on why crowd-sourcing just doesn’t work when you run the numbers.

On to where you’ll find this mythical designer, and how you can establish a healthy, productive working relationship.

Where to look for a designer

I recommend you start your search offline.

Ask your business colleagues who they’ve used for design, and whether they’d recommend that person. There’s nothing like hearing the opinion of someone you respect, and having the ability to ask pointed questions about the designer before you even contact them.

Follow up with these prospective designers the old-fashioned way. Send an email and let them know who recommended them, and what you’re looking for. Arrange either an in-person meeting or a phone call.

If asking your offline colleagues isn’t an option, or doesn’t yield any names, you’ll need to head to the Wild West of online designer searches.

A caveat: I haven’t used any of these sites directly (why would a designer use them?). If you’ve used any of them, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. Start here:

  • The American Institute of Graphic Artists, or AIGA. This is a professional organization for graphic designers in the US. The link will take you directly to their designer search page.
  • Upwork is a marketplace for freelancers. You post a job, interview prospects, and choose one person to work with.
  • CarbonMade is an online portfolio site. Search under “Graphic Designers” and you can see examples of work and contact them directly through their “About” page information.
  • Behance is another excellent portfolio site. Use the “All Creative Fields” drop-down menu to specific the kind of designer you need

Whether you search online or off, pay attention to the details. Do you need to hire a graphic designer who has a good grasp of proper English? Do they communicate clearly and completely?

Their communication style and attention to detail are direct reflections of what they’ll be like to work with, so make note of every clue you see.

Try a small project before you make a big commitment

Most designer/client relationships begin as a project-based freelance contract. This is ideal for both you and the designer: it gives you the opportunity to try out working together in a low-commitment environment. If you enjoy collaborating, you can expand the relationship and hand over more responsibility.

I recommend starting with a small project to see what it’s like to work together. Ask the designer to re-design an existing marketing piece, or design a small new project for you. Consider it a test case.

This way you can try out the relationship before you get in too deep.

More here …

In the second part of this post, I cover:

  • How to not be an evil client: avoiding “spec” work and competitions
  • What to look for in a design portfolio
  • How to pay a designer so you’re both happy
  • What to aim for as you begin the client/designer relationship

If you enjoyed this post, take a moment to share it with your networks using the buttons below.

And remember, if you have specific questions, let me know in the comments section.

Read Part 2 of this series, How to Hire the Graphic Designer of Your Dreams, and Avoid Becoming a Nightmare Client

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is the Chief Marketing Officer at DCS. She’s the creator of the Offer Accelerator Program. Learn more about Pamela’s content marketing books, and read reviews of the tools used to run this site.
Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility — and consistent revenue.


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