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How to Hire Your Dream Graphic Designer, and Avoid Becoming a Nightmare Client, Part 2


This is the second — and final — part of my How to Hire a Graphic Designer series. Read the first part here.

We’re going to start with a tendency that takes over otherwise logical business people when hiring a graphic designer.

Something inside them whispers, “I know a fast (and cheap) way to get great design. Don’t bother thinking through what you need. Don’t search for a graphic designer to build an ongoing relationship with. Just run a competition!”

Related: Is It Time to Rebrand? 3 Red Flags That Mean Yes

“Spec” work and competitions

For some reason, people seem to think it’s acceptable to ask a graphic designer to work “on spec.”

You give them specifications for a project, and you ask them to provide a solution before you commit to paying them for their work.

Or, your business or organization advertises a competition and vets the entries. Or you run a design competition using one of the crowd-sourcing sites.

People think that graphic design is “fun,” and they don’t need to pay for the work. No other professional would agree to these conditions.

Would you:

  • Ask a business consultant to draft a multi-page business plan without agreeing to pay them?
  • Ask a physician to examine and diagnose you without paying them for their time and experience?
  • Ask a lawyer to research your case and recommend a plan of action for no pay?
  • Ask a respected musician to write a piece of music for you for free?

Of course not. And here’s something else to keep in mind:

Any time a professional agrees to work for free, you should question just how “professional” they are.

Even if you decide to run a competition with a monetary prize, the majority of the people who enter won’t be paid.

This is not OK.

You respect your business and take it seriously. So invest either your time in learning how to do it yourself, or your money in paying a graphic designer.

Don’t expect someone else to do it for you for free.

What to look for in a design portfolio

If you read last week’s post, I’m hoping you’re convinced it’s worth the effort to develop a relationship with a professional graphic designer.

But if you’ve never done it before, you may feel a little unsure about how it works.

You might be wondering how you’ll ever feel comfortable paying a designer without seeing what they’ll do for you. These next two sections will help.

The first step is to look at the portfolios of the designers you’re considering.

We talked about how it’s important to know your ideal customer and your brand personality before hiring a designer.

As you page through graphic designer’s portfolios you’ll begin to see that each one has a visual style.

Some look polished and corporate, others are young and upbeat, while others look kind of hipster, or even grunge. You want to look for designers who already design using a style that’s similar to the one you want to communicate.

You should also use everything you’ve learned about design on these pages to judge the quality of their work.

Then take the pulse of the designer personally. Do they seem knowledgeable? Friendly? Easy to work with? Enthusiastic about your project or your business?

In a perfect world, this person will become a long-term member of your team. Do they seem like someone you’d want to spend time with?

How to hire and pay a graphic designer

The other part of this process is how to pay the designer. Most professional designers expect a payment upfront before they begin your project. This is especially true if you’re a brand-new client.

Once you have a history with them, this may not be necessary. But when you’re just starting out, they will often ask for:

  • A down payment to begin
  • A second payment at a mid-project milestone
  • The final payment when the job is complete

The definition of “complete” will vary, and should be spelled out. It may mean your web-based design is online and functional, or your artwork is delivered to a printer.

It may seem strange to pay someone before they start your job. But breaking up payments like this offers good protection for both the client and the graphic designer. The designer is paid for their work, and you pay only as things are handed over.

These terms should defined in a simple contract or letter of agreement. Both parties need to be clear about:

  • Expectations around materials that are due to the designer
  • Deadlines for first drafts and final art from the designer
  • Who owns the final artwork
  • How many sets of revisions are included

Another option for paying a graphic designer is to put them on retainer. If you have a steady amount of work and have developed a good working relationship, this is an alternative to paying by project.

Retainers work well for both parties: you to control your cash flow by accounting for a specific payment toward design expenses each month, and your designer can count on consistent cash inflow each month (which freelance designers usually love).

You’ll also be reserving your designer’s time in advance, so you’ll know you can count on it. And once you know you have that time, you’ll find all sorts of ways to use it, believe me!

Your goals in the designer/client relationship

When searching for a professional graphic designer, your goal is to find someone who understands:

  • Who you are trying to reach with your marketing materials
  • What you want to communicate visually
  • What your overall business goals are

Your ideal graphic designer uses a style that’s a good fit for your needs. They’re easy to work with, responsive to your emails or calls, and know how to meet the deadlines you set.

As a client, you must communicate your needs clearly to your designer. Give them enough information to do their job well, and set realistic deadlines so they have enough time to give you their best work.

It’s not easy to find this “dream” designer and build a productive relationship.

Once you’ve found a designer who’s a good match, you’ll have a strong ally on your team. This person will guide the visual presentation of your business and your brand for years to come.

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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