Hiring a designer can be expensive. That’s a truth universally acknowledged. You aren’t paying for the time it takes them to layout that flyer or design your new site. You are paying for the years of experience that they have up their sleeve. This is why they can do it quickly and more professionally, where it might take a novice weeks to do.
The problem is, not everyone has the big bucks. Small businesses and start-ups can be pretty cash-strapped, especially in the early days. Believe me, I know. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
But you need design work done to tell your story, catch peoples attention, sell your company & stand out from the crowd. What do you do? Well, there are things you can do (and not do) until the money starts rolling in and you can afford to hire a professional designer.
Firstly, a word of warning. You may have come across sites like Fivrr that offer super cheap design work by outsourcing work to people all over the world. It is very tempting to get a logo designed for $20 or a site made up for $50, but the quality of work on these sites is very hit and miss and could do you more harm than good.
That’s not to say that everyone on these sites is bad or a cowboy, just that it can be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff, and there are few avenues to explore when something does go wrong. I have had clients come to me with horror stories, where a bargain on Fivrr has turned in to cease and desist letters because their designer has used copyrighted material without permission or finding out that Joe Bloggs in the next town has the same logo because they used the same guy. There are countless other examples of this sort of thing, just google it to see for yourself, or take a look at this blog for some examples. It can turn in to a big waste of time and money, and you will end up having to pay someone else a lot more to sort it out. Rant over.
So, anyway, what’s the solution?
Do it yourself. This might seem daunting, but it really shouldn’t be. There are a couple of brilliant, and more importantly cheap (or free), services that are here to help. Do not think you have to learn Photoshop. You don’t need to deal with cowboys. You can have control and get good results.
Adobe, the company who make Photoshop, have a suite of online services specifically designed for creating quick and well designed social content, which can be adapted to use online and off. Adobe Spark comes in 3 flavours; Spark Posts, Spark Pages and Spark Video. The main one for design is Posts, which comes loaded with predesigned layouts that you can quickly and easily change and manipulate to fit with your brand identity. They recently added a feature, where you can add your logo, preferred fonts and brand colours, and they will create branded templates for you. All the major social platforms have predefined sizes, as do things like standard posters, letter and blog headers, or you can enter a custom size. The most useful thing is, once you finalise one layout, you can then quickly change to a different layout dynamically, meaning you can create a flyer, and a Facebook cover and an Instagram story post in next to no time, keeping the brand tone consistent without ever needing to think about it. There is a free version, but to get all the features you need to subscribe for about $10 a month. A snip when compared to the cost of a designer.
The other parts of Spark are useful too, Spark Pages allows you to build simple and eye-catching mini sites that function as great ways to showcase a blog or document an event or trip or as a newsletter. Spark Video helps you simply edit video in the correct formats to post on social platforms. It says it only takes minutes, but take that with a pinch of salt, as to get the best results, you will still need a well-shot video to start with to get the best results.
An alternative to Spark Posts is the ever popular Canva. It works in a similar way, however, there is more free content here. There are some layouts that are blocked behind a paywall but are cheap at a dollar or two. The problem comes that everybody uses Canva, so it can become obvious who has used it as you will see the same layouts used over and over. Canva also offers a couple of useful extra tools. The Font Combination tool helps pair fonts that work well together to use in your designs. The Colour Pallet tool helps you extract colours from images to give you a pallet of colours to use when designing, and they also offer a basic photo editor. They also provide a tutorial section which will give you the fundamentals of design if you invest an hour or two.
Learning The Ropes
If you want to learn more there are some great resources out there to help you learn. There are lots of design books available, but in all honestly, I would steer clear, as, for the ley person, they tend to be pretentious, over complicated and hugely expensive for what they are. Your best place for free lessons is YouTube. There is so much fantastic content on there it can be a little overwhelming, but if you can focus on what you need and spend the time you will get a lot out of it.
Alternatively, for a more focused experience, using something like SkillShare will get you up to speed quickly. It’s about $11.95 a month, but there are plenty of free trials floating about. And, there are great video lessons from industry professionals. You can enrol in classes, allowing you to discuss and show your work with other students and the class teachers. From a design point of view, there are some real big hitters in the design world teaching on there who are ready and waiting to impart wisdom to you. It’s a service I use regularly for continued professional development and to learn new skills. I can’t resist a good tutorial, there is something about someone sharing knowledge with me that makes me go all fuzzy inside.
Another place to look is Lynda.com. This comes bundled in with Linkedin premium or Linkedin Learning. This more expensive at $25 a month, but here they have curated learning paths that will give you a foundation in design and pretty much anything else that your business might need. It’s a bit more formal in tone, but the production quality is high, as they vet the videos much more closely than SkillShare. The compromise is they tend to only have one video on any one topic, presenting it as definitive, which reduces the variety of different approaches to the same topic, but it is guaranteed every video is a stonker that you will take something away from.
If you are serious about learning some fundamentals of design, you can take a short course online and offline, taught in real time. I have done some at Central St Martins in London which have been excellent, but a lot of universities and colleges will do similar courses. They aren’t super cheap, and they do require some dedication, but they are well worth it. However, unless you are in a creative industry, or plan on always doing your own design work, they may be a little overkill for most. But if you learn best when there are real live people to give you feedback and deadlines to meet every week, it might be for you.
When to Hire a Designer
There is no getting around it, all this will take time. Time and energy. You didn’t start your company because you wanted to design social content and learn colour theory. While it’s great to have an understanding of layout and design, there comes a point when you should hire a designer.
Business is going well, you have a full calendar of work coming up and money in the bank. This is the time to start looking for a designer you can trust and can collaborate with. They will be able to do it faster and easier than you, and you will be able to get back to what you do best. That’s why you hire an accountant to do your taxes, that’s why you hire a designer for design work. By the time you are at that stage, you will have an idea of what you what and what is possible and what works for your business. Believe me, the designer will thank you for that. The process will be quicker and smoother. You will be getting top quality design work from an experienced professional, and a whole bunch of time to work on your business. The other great benefit of a designer is they will be able to give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t, because they have been there and done it before with most stuff; and even if they haven’t, they will probably know someone who has, and they can hit up their network of creative friends for help and advice.
So, if you are doing it right you will hire a designer as soon as you can, you will get more exposure, more work, more money and you will look back and wonder how you ever had time to do any that design work yourself.
I’m Alex Dyett
I am a freelance Graphic Designer and Photographer, and Flickering Light Studio is my company. I live in York, UK, with my wife and daughter.
Hopefully, this blog post has given you some inspiration to go out and tell your business’s story with great design and eye-catching images. Take a look at the other blog posts to get some more ideas, and if there is anything that you feel I could help you with, please feel free to contact me, and I will be happy to work on a project with you.