How to find and hire a graphic designer
No matter what kind of business you’re running, there’s going to come a time when you need to hire a designer. But unless you moonlight as a recruiter, this is probably one of those tasks you’ve been putting off, thinking “well… where do I find the time? And how do I go about hiring a graphic designer?”
Never fear, here’s everything you need to know to find and hire a designer that’s right for you, your business and your design aesthetic.
Hiring a freelance graphic designer vs. an in-house graphic designer
Before we really jump into how to hire a graphic designer, let’s talk about what type of graphic designer you want to hire—freelance or in-house.
There are pros and cons for each, so you’ll have to decide what’s right for you. Here are some things to consider:
- Works for your brand only
- Is always available to you
- Knows your brand’s style inside and out
- Needs to be paid even when you don’t have any design needs
- Will have an area of expertise they specialize in
- Has a set capacity if workload gets high
- Paid on a project-to-project basis
- Can be hired for each project according to their specialization
- Can be hired flexibly whenever you have design needs
- Won’t be as familiar with your brand, so you’ll need to brief them well
- Won’t always be available to join meetings or do last-minute tasks
- It takes effort to find and evaluate the right freelancers
If you decide to hire an in-house designer, you might still want to consider working with additional freelance designers; managing the design for an entire company can be overwhelming, so hiring freelance designers to supplement your in-house designer is a great way to spread out the work and make sure your in-house team isn’t too overwhelmed with #alltheprojects.
Also remember that design isn’t a one-size-fits-all industry; most designers have an area in which they specialize. So, if you find a designer who’s amazing at creating logos, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be great at designing your website. So keep that in mind when choosing your designer.
Looking for the perfect graphic designer?
99designs can connect you with amazing freelance designers of all specialities
Ok, so now that we cleared up the in-house vs. freelance debate, let’s talk about how to hire, shall we?
Set your expectations
The first thing you need to do during the hiring process is get your head in the right place—or, in other words, set some expectations.
What your graphic designer does (and doesn’t do)
First, let’s talk about what a graphic designer does. A graphic designer is responsible for developing the graphic support for your business. Period.
Now, let’s talk about what a graphic designer does NOT do. A graphic designer is not a web developer. So while they can design the look, feel, and layout of your website, they’re not going to code it for you.
A graphic designer is also not necessarily a creative director. Some designers are, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you might be better off hiring someone in-house for an ongoing relationship—and you’ll have to pay them a little more. While graphic designers in general can offer professional input, they’re not responsible for shaping your brand identity or leading the creative strategy—that guidance needs to come from your side.
And again, keep in mind that designers usually have an area of expertise, so don’t assume that an amazing logo designer will automatically be a stellar illustrator too.
Clarify what you’re looking for before you hire
Before you start looking for a designer, you should know:
- What you need designed (logo, flyer, poster, etc.)
- The look and feel you’re going for
- The basic elements of your brand identity (color palette, approved fonts, etc.)
If you have a vision in your head you want your designer to bring to life, one of the best things you can do is create an inspiration board. Create a Pinterest board and pin anything you think will help your designer better understand your vision, including other designs (so, for example, if you’re designing a logo, pin other logos that have a similar look and feel of what you’re going for).
Before you hire a designer, you also want to be super clear on who you’re designing for. A graphic designer would create a completely different design if your target demographic is children under the age of five than they would if you were going after seniors, so knowing your audience—and communicating that to your designer—is key.
Back in the day, finding a designer was tough, but now that you’ve got the interwebz, it’s never been easier to find an A+ designer. There are SO many options out there to connect with incredible graphic design talent.
There are plenty of sites out there dedicated to freelance talent, including 99designs. On 99designs, you have the opportunity to browse designer portfolios to find your perfect match or you can run a design contest. With a design contest, designers compete to win your project; you get to view a ton of different designs and choose the one you like best.
There are also other platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com where you either have the option of browsing designer’s profiles or posting a job and getting specific responses for your design project. You won’t get a chance to review a variety of work like you do with a design contest, but you can review past work to help make your decision. Similarly, since these sites cater to a wide variety of freelancers, there aren’t as many design-specific tools (to help you find the perfect designer, and to make working with them easier once you’ve found them).
There are amazing designers on these sites, but when it comes to the level of talent, it’s a mix. Upwork, for example, has over 12 million registered freelancers, and while there are definitely great designers in there, there’s also a lot of not-so-great designers—and sorting through all of them to find the real talent can be a challenge. (Insider tip: on 99designs, you have the option to exclude more junior designers from the talent pool by choosing a “Gold” or “Platinum” level contest!)
One other great thing about freelancing sites is they’re designed to protect both clients and designers: they usually charge up front, then hold the money until the project is complete. This ensures that designers aren’t chasing clients down for months with invoices, and also guarantees that clients are happy with the quality of a final design before payment is released.
Portfolio sites, like Bēhance, allow you to view designer’s portfolios. Working through a portfolio site is a great way to connect with professional designers who don’t work on freelancing websites. Now, a caveat: these sites might highlight designers, but they’re not actually a work platform (like a freelance site). You’ll have to reach out to the designers and negotiate a working relationship on your own. (And you won’t have the financial protections offered by freelancing sites.)
Another option is to seek out independent freelancers in your community. Ask colleagues or friends for local recommendations or search Yelp or a similar listing service.
Evaluating a design portfolio
Ok, so now that you know the different options for hiring a designer, let’s talk about how to choose the right designer for you and your business.
The right designer for your business entirely depends on their designs. And the way you decide if a designer’s style is right for you and your business is by evaluating their portfolio. A designer’s portfolio will give you insight into who they are as a designer, their aesthetic, the areas where they shine, and the areas they’re potentially not as strong.
But if you’ve never evaluated a portfolio before, it can be hard to know what to look for. Here’s what you’ll want to keep an eye out for when checking out designer’s portfolios:
The first thing to look for in a designer’s portfolio? Relevant samples. You shouldn’t hire a logo designer if there aren’t any logo designs in their portfolio—no matter how great their other designs are. Remember: just because a designer is great at one thing (like web design) doesn’t mean they’re going to be great at other things (like logos). Before you hire a designer, it’s important to compare apples to apples and evaluate samples of the kind of design you’ll need.
You also ideally want someone with experience in your industry. So, for example, if you own a real estate business, it’s going to be easier to work with a designer with real estate experience—they’ll understand the industry, the jargon, and the kind of designs most likely to connect with your ideal audience. When you’re evaluating a portfolio, look for a designer who has prior experience in your industry.
The right design aesthetic
It’s also important to review a designer’s aesthetic before making a decision. If you have an edgy brand, you want to look for an edgy design aesthetic during your portfolio review; a designer who has a lot of whimsical or corporate samples isn’t going to be the right fit. On the flip side, if you’re a brand targeted towards children, you’re going to want to stay away from a too-edgy aesthetic.
Hiring a graphic designer
Once you’ve reviewed portfolios and made a decision, it’s time to hire your graphic designer. Huzzah!
Let’s dig in to some of the nitty gritty hiring details so that the process is smooth as butter for you AND your designer:
Communicating with your designer
Once you figure out which designer you work with, it’s time to make contact.
Reach out and let them know you’re interested in working with them. Give them the basic framework of the project and what you’re looking for and ask them if a) they’re available, and b) they’re interested.
Once they’ve let you know they’re available and interested, it’s time to negotiate pricing.
Before you start asking your designer for rates or sharing your budget, it’s important to get a clear understanding of the market rates for different design projects (for logo pricing, you can check out our article on how much logo design costs). The last thing you want to do is insult a designer by offering them $5 to design your website.
When it comes to pricing, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Fair rates are going to depend on your designer, their experience, the scope of the project, and competitive rates in their market (so, for example, hiring a designer in San Francisco is likely to be more expensive than hiring a designer in Bali thanks to differences in cost of living).
Ask your designer their going rates, compare it to your budget, and come to a number that feels like a fit for both of you. And remember—design isn’t an area where you want to cut corners. If you sacrifice quality to save a few dollars, the chances of you being happy with your final design? Slim to none.
In addition to negotiating a pay rate, you also need to negotiate payment terms. Are they charging by the hour or by the project? Will you pay your designer 50% up front and 50% upon completion? Or does your company pay NET 30? Will they be sent a check in the mail or will you send payment digitally? Ironing out all those terms ahead of time is key to avoiding any hassles or miscommunications during and after the project.
Things to look out for
When you find a great designer, you’re going to be eager to get the ball rolling and start working together. But don’t let your eagerness make you turn a blind eye to any potential red flags.
If your designer:
- Takes days to respond to your correspondence;
- Asks for the entire project fee before they’ll start working on the design;
- Refuses to give references or samples; or
- Makes you feel uncomfortable (even if you can’t quite put your finger on why).
That’s not a designer you want to work with. Any red flags you notice in the beginning—before you’ve actually hired them—are only going to get worse once you start working together. If something feels off from the beginning, it probably is. Do yourself a favor, skip the headache, and hire someone you feel good about.
Once you and your designer are on the same financial page, it’s time to officially hire them for the project. But if you’ve never hired a freelancer before, you might not know the logistics you’ll need to take care of before they start working for you.
Here are the things you’ll want to consider when hiring your freelance graphic designer:
You should always, always have a contract in place when working with a designer; it protects both parties during and after the project. When you work with a site like Upwork or 99designs, the contract part is already taken care of (you’re welcome!), but if you’re writing one up on your own, be sure to include:
- The timeline of the project, including all relevant deadlines
- How many edits/revisions are included in the project fee
- Pricing terms and structure
- Rights (most corporate companies use a work-for-hire agreement, which means you own the rights to the work)
- Any confidentiality agreements
Before you get started, make sure both you and your designer sign off on the contract.
When you hire a freelancer, you don’t have to worry about paying taxes for them like you would a traditional employee, but you still need to keep records for tax season. When you hire your designer, ask them to fill out a W-9 form. Whenever they send over an invoice, file it with their W-9. If you pay them more than $600 throughout the year, you’ll need to a) send your designer a 1099-MISC form by January 31 of the following year and b) fill out Form 1096 that lists all the freelancers you paid more than $600 and file it with your business tax return.
Side note: these tax rules are for the US, so if you’re based elsewhere, make sure to check your country’s tax rules and regulations to make sure your tax game is on point.
Wrapping things up
Finding a graphic designer can be a challenge. But now that you’ve got the A to Z guide on hiring a designer, all you have to do is get out there and find the best freelancer (or employee) for you and your business.