Hiring Freelance Design Help for Your Startup: Some Advice

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September 29, 2014
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Fishing out for freelance graphic designers is common in startups, especially early-stage ones. Like all outsourced work, it can be challenging to get reasonable results within the limited budget you have been given. However, if you choose to go online, there are some pointers you can keep in mind that can ensure a better experience.
Let’s take a look at some of the online services first:

1. 99Designs

I am listing this site first because it is offering something different from the more commonly used outsourcing services. You can post your design project in the form of a ‘contest’, which will then be joined by multiple designers (you can expect about 10 participants to join their lowest cost contest) who will then send in their work to you for feedback and finalization. At the end you pick the winner, who gets the amount you had paid in advance. The great thing about this is that you get to have a team of people working on your project, and you get multiple versions of your design vision from which you can select the best. The downside is that this service is always going to be on the more expensive side of the outsourcing spectrum, because you cannot quote your own fixed price on a project, nor can you decide an hourly rate for work done. They have Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum packages for each category of design work, and Bronze starts from $199. So it is not suitable for jobs you think you can get done in much less. Additionally, the community of designers here doesn’t seem to be UI/UX focused, so you have to look elsewhere for those jobs.

2. Fiverr

The premise of Fiverr is that it features freelancers who have listed various jobs they will do for you for just $5. What is immediately attractive about this service is that you can find designers who have listed some very specific tasks, like ‘designing a logo’, ‘creating 2 advertising banners, ‘creating one mascot to represent your company’, all for what amounts to about 500 in PKR. If you are looking to go absolutely bare-minimum on the first attempt, especially to test the waters before you hire someone full time, this can be extremely convenient. Of course, it is handy to keep in mind that you won’t always end up paying just $5 for complete and final work, because if you want any revisions on your design, or you need to put in some add-ons, the freelancer will take that as an opportunity to upgrade the job to a higher pay project. That much is pretty built in to the site’s culture. Beware though, because Fiverr has some funny business brewing within its confines too. As this detailed review explains, Fiverr does not have a very stringent vetting and review process, and you will come across some featured designers who have listed plagiarized work on their portfolios. As a result, you may not get the quality of work you thought you would be getting, for reasons other than the fact that you are paying only $5 for it. Also, there is a tendency among the freelancers there to hold back source files for your work unless you hire them for further tasks, so you have to be clear in communicating your needs before you hire anyone.

3. Odesk

Odesk is the more popular option for outsourcing work, and for good reason, as it has one of the largest communities of freelance job seekers featuring a diverse range of skill-sets. Also, its payment security system and procedures to track work and settle disputes are a lot more sophisticated, so it is definitely the more professional and hassle free option to go with. For your graphic design project, Odesk has a lot of positives. You can quote a fixed price for a small task with a limited budget, or you can select from designers with good performance reviews whose hourly rate matches your requirements. There are a lot of Pakistanis on the platform, so if you specifically require someone with knowledge of local markets/tastes for your project, this is a good place to be. A really stand-out feature is that you can find some very accomplished designers on the platform who would be willing to work on your project at a small fixed price. Because Odesk is widely used as reliable tool to supplement fixed income by professionals all over the world, it is easy to find experts who would be doing your job as part of portfolio of multiple small jobs on Odesk. Recently, I posted a project for designing some marketing banners for $50, and one of the people who applied for the job was the lead UI/UX and Marketing Creatives designer at Vimeo.com, the very popular video hosting site. As you would expect, I was able to get a pretty exceptional quality of work from the designer in the very limited budget I had set out.
Some downsides to Odesk (and the similar Elance) include the difficulty of fixing a budget that would be enough to get all parameters of your job done, as sometimes the designers might request you to shift payment to an hourly basis if the revisions you demand stretch the project to beyond the budget capacity in their view. Also, because you will typically receive a lot of applications from freelancers who seem to be quite good, you will have to go through quite an elaborate vetting process.

To conclude, a few tips you may find useful:

1. It is very important to decide the parameters of your job and important milestones of work with the person(s) you are hiring beforehand. This includes both detailing your job well on the brief and also through communicating with the designer directly.
2. If source files of the designs are important to you, ensure that you discuss this with the designer before starting work, and also by setting up a time when the files will be shared.
3. If you are looking for design that is supposed to be coherent across mediums and will be consistent in the long term (especially for UI/UX but also for marketing purposes), it would be more prudent to hire in-house help. The alternative would be to try out freelancers with small tasks first and then engage the ones you like best for a possible long term contract.

Happy outsourcing!

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