A little over ten years ago, I quit my job at AT&T and started my own design studio called Lunch. Since then, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients all over the world from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses from solopreneurs, and have gotten to work on some truly great projects. But if there’s one thing I’ve found which potential clients have in common, it’s this: sometimes, they really have no idea how to hire a designer.
While I don’t run my design studio anymore, I do still hire designers and other creative, talented individuals for projects from time to time. So whether you’ve hired a designer before or you’re looking for one and don’t know where to start, I’ve got you covered. I’m going to give you some tips on what to do and what not to do when it comes to hiring a designer. (And for you designers reading this, hopefully these tips may give you some insight into leveraging difficult client interactions so you can close the deal.)
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Consider The Process
One big problem that I’ve found with people who work with designers is that they often have the end result in mind without taking into account the process necessary to get there. You might know how you want your project to look and function at the end of the day, but you also need to consider that your project doesn’t happen without research, strategy, and a host of other decisions and factors. What designers do requires time and work, and you’re hiring them to do a special skill that you either can’t do or don’t want to do. They’re saving you time in the long run, so keep in mind that it will also take them time to do your project.
Map Out Your Goals
Your goals for the project and the end result of a project are often two completely different things. Ideally, the end result will fulfill your goals. But your goals may be met with a different end result, and as the prospective client, you should be open to that! Knowing your goals and articulating them to the designer you want to work with will save you a lot of headaches in the future so you don’t end up with something that doesn’t work for what you need.
Ask For Their Availability
Some designers might be sitting on their hands waiting for work to come in, and others may booked for months in advance. Always ask about a designer’s availability first before assuming they will be able to take on your project. If the designer you really want to hire is busy, they may put on a waiting list, or maybe they will refer you to someone who can accommodate your needs quicker. Never assume that designers are ready to work at a moment’s notice. (But if they are, then you should be ready to work too!)
Don’t Play Games About Your Budget
Nothing turns off a designer from working on a project like a potential client without an idea of their budget. This might be difficult for you to understand if you’ve never hired a designer. I mean, how much should a website cost? Or a creative consultation? Or whatever else you need for your project?
You can always ask — and you should — but how you ask is important. “I need a website, how much does that cost” is one of the worst questions you can ask a designer, because that assumes your project is just a simple commodity that has a set price — and it doesn’t! Project costs vary based on a number of factors — the designer’s availability, how soon you need the project completed, extra additions or changes, and a whole lot more. Instead, if you come to the designer with a price in mind that you are willing to spend, the designer knows what you can (or can’t) get for that price, and they can choose whether or not to take on your project.
Have A Reasonable End Date In Mind
Repeat after me:
- “As soon as possible” is not a timeline or a deadline.
- Needing your project completed “by yesterday” is not a timeline or a deadline.
- “In a few days/weeks/months” is not a timeline or a deadline.
- “Soon” is not a timeline or a deadline.
- “I don’t really have a timeline or deadline in mind” is not a timeline or a deadline.
Having an end date for your project in mind is tied what I said earlier about a designer’s availability — these two things are linked.
Here are some examples of good timelines/deadlines:
- A date and a month (e.g. August 30, 2018)
- A range with an end date (e.g. by the end of September — September 30)
- A finite range (e.g. in the next two weeks by Friday)
Read The Damn Contract
Any designer who takes their business seriously will present you with a contract before beginning your project. Take time to read over it before signing, and if the contract is too confusing, ask for a meeting with the designer so they can go over it with you in real time. The contract is there to protect the client and the designer, and you should never start a project without one.
Lean in, designers: I have never blindly sent off a contract and left it to a client to interpret it themselves, because reading comprehension is not a universal skill. Schedule a meeting with the client to answer any questions, and not only will you end up with with a signed contract, but also an opportunity to give the client next steps on how to proceed. Close the deal!
Pay On Time
It’s self-explanatory, really. Nothing holds up a project more than not being paid for working. When your designer presents you with an invoice, pay it on time. Some designers use the terms “net 30” or “net 60” on their invoices — this just means that payment is due in either 30 or 60 days. Pay attention to the due date!
Don’t Ask for a Discount
Do not assume that a designer is going to give you a discount. Do not assume a designer should give you a discount. And especially do not assume a designer will give you a discount because you share something in common with them. This includes friendship, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, hometown, fraternity/sorority affiliation, professional membership affiliation, or genes.
If the designer has discounts available, trust me, they will tell you.
Respect Their Design and Communication Process
Designers have different work styles, so you should make sure to ask them how their design process works before you sign a contract or pay that first invoice. One of the biggest sources of conflict between clients and designers is varying work styles, so make sure that you understand how they approach their work and respect that. Don’t seek outside counsel or “try to help” — they’ve got this. Trust them. (That’s why you paid them, right?)
Then there are communication styles. Some designers prefer to work over the phone. Others only do email. Whichever medium your designer prefers for the project, only use that medium to communicate with them. Chances are, they have a system in place to keep track of projects from beginning to end, and you stepping outside of that to try and give updates or suggestions isn’t helping. Just because you like to text your friends or contact them via Facebook Messenger doesn’t mean that’s how your designer wants you to talk with them for the project.
Be Prepared To Pay For Scope Creep
If you ask for more additions and changes to your project than initially stated, then you need to be ready for the extra time and money involved to make them happen.
Designers call this “scope creep”, and clients often do this to try and squeeze more work out of a designer for a project and get more “bang for their buck.” This is a sleazy way to operate and is a really quick way to make your designer angry (and you’ll get a reputation for being hard to work with).
Now don’t get me wrong — sometimes requirements do change, and if they do, you need to pay for the extra time needed to fulfill them if it’s important. A quick way to determine whether the addition you want for your project is really necessary is to ask yourself this simple question: does this addition or change help me get closer to my goals for the project? If it does, then pay for the extra time. But if it doesn’t, and it’s just something you think would be “nice to have”, then don’t waste the designer’s time with it. You can always pursue that in a follow up project.
That’s my advice for anyone out there who is looking to hire a designer for their next project or venture. Overall, designers love a nice client who is easy to work with who values what they do and pays on time. Don’t be one of the clients that creatives end up bashing on Twitter or ranting about on Clients from Hell. Following these steps will make sure that you and your designer end up making beautiful work together.