Monday, May 9, 2011

Crowdsourcing: How to abuse a Freelance Designer

For many small businesses there has opened up a new and exciting opportunity for getting work done at a price that fits your budget. Crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is a simple concept. You register what you want done on a website and freelances like me quote to do your work. You choose the designer who best fits your budget and he delivers your work a few days later. Brilliant.

The problem is, when you source from the crowd of designers who pitch for your work, you get to see some ridiculously low quotes - and being the small business owner that you are, you are mighty tempted to go for the unbelievably low prices on offer.

I have a word of caution: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I regularly lose work to "designers" who quote so low that it is impossible that they are working above - or in fact anywhere near the minimum wage. The client - that might be you - then forks out a pittance to the successful designer and two days later gets his logo or whatever. Well, you get what you pay for. It can be argued that a logo design for instance, is a bit of type with a symbol. Fair enough, it is. But that's a bit like saying a cake is a bit of flour with some eggs, sugar and butter. That doesn't mean it will be a good cake or a memorable cake. It might in fact mean it will be a tremendously yukky cake.

A genuine designer - such as me - is similar to a master baker; a craftsman. A genuine designer designs logos. We know our ingredients - fonts, colours, printing processes etc. We understand markets and we know about things such as brand personality, character etc. We can make our ingredients work properly so that when, after lots of agonsing over microscopic details in letter spacing, shapes and line widths as part of our careful preparation, we pull our finished design from the oven it is not only pretty to look at but appropriate to your business and your market. Most of all though, we know bad design when we see it. And there's an awful lot of it about these days as unskilled, inexperienced owners of DTP systems brand themselves "Graphic Designers" and jump on the crowdsourcing bandwagon.

Not one of the above designs was completed in under two days. Each was subject to countless sketches, doodles and tweaks before being selected as good enough to present to my clients.

Look, you could get precisely the right thing for less than a hundred quid if you're lucky, but there's also a good chance that you will have spent a hundred quid on something you hate. Or worse still, something that gives your competitors an undeserved advantage, because in the eyes of your potential customers, your brand is unappealing or sending the wrong message.

There's an old adage about cream always rising to the top. Cream costs more than milk. And really good organic cream from a good dairy costs more still. You get the picture.

As a small business and start-up specialist, I know only too well the constraints of your budget. I know that every penny counts. A brand design or flier, brochure or website has a job of work to do. Make sure it does what it is supposed to do, because there's a good chance it could be undoing what it is supposed to do, turning people away, sending them off to your competitors.

So: Abusing a freelance designer. How to do it.

1. Set a ridiculous budget. A good, professional brand identity designer will take at least a couple of days to establish a proper brief, diligently research your competitors and your market, create design options and then refine and deliver a final, signed-off design. Three or more days is likely because a good designer has processes that he will follow. Processes that ensure you get a good result. So there is no way that a good designer is going to do you a logo design for £50. Look at £300 - £500 as about the minimum you should budget.

2. Make the designer do a free pitch. Many people think it is a sensible idea to ask a shortlist of designers to submit ideas before making a decision. I agree. But pay them for it! You don't wander from restaurant to restaurant enjoying free starters before making a decision where to have your dinner, so why do this to a freelance? We are people who have to eat, feed families, pay mortgages etc. just like you.

3. Act like Mr Big. Freelances are just like you. We are small business owners. We too are conscious of how precious our time is, so be considerate of our time. If we say something isn't going to work, don't expect us to waste time to proving we are right. Accept what we say and move on. You want a new logo, not to win a pissing contest.

4. Lie to your freelance. Every single client I have is trying to grow their business. I know this and I understand it. Telling your freelance to keep his costs down "this time" on the promise of future work is something we hear day in, day out. And we don't believe it. Pay the full whack and once you've established yourself as a loyal, lucrative client, you might be in a position to negotiate a better rate.

5. Expect credit. Forget it. At least not in the beginning. You are a stranger. Would you lend money to someone you hardly know? Many freelances go bust on the back of unpaid bills. I've been there and I know many others. Pay at least 50% up front (Some of the better crowdsourcing websites hold the money in escrow) and the balance on completion of your work (I never release any usable files until the money's in my bank). No ifs, no buts.

6. Second guess your freelance. Sure, you're the client and all that, but more often than I like I have clients showing me someone else's solution to the brief I'm working on. Again, I will use the restaurant analogy: Would you carry one of Gordon Ramsay's dishes into another (possibly better) restaurant expecting the chef there to be happy?

7. Keep your freelance in the dark. You are looking for strong results, right? Well, you need to keep your designer informed and up to date with what you are doing. You should consider your designer as part of your inner circle - after all, he's the one creating your public face. Too much "need-to-know-basis" is a bad thing. If you are unhappy with your freelance, talk to him. If you are happy, tell him too - better still, say it with work. We love work and love to be loved, just like real people.

8. Be unfaithful. If your designer is doing good work for you, be loyal. Build a relationship - an alliance. Sometimes small business owners are tempted into shopping around for every new project to save a few pennies. This is a bad idea on several fronts. You will lose the continuity of design and your messages will start getting mixed when clarity is key. Your freelance will feel more like a whore and less like a partner - and will quite likely act accordingly. Quality will be inconsistent - sure you may get some genius work from elsewhere, but the lack of consitency will drive a bulldozer through your corporate image.

9. Be impatient. Freelances are one-man-bands. As such, we are not always in a position to immediately start work on your project. From time to time you may have to wait a couple of days before your work can begin. Explain the urgency of your project and if it is indeed time-critical there's a likelihood that your freelance will shuffle his schedule to accommodate you. When this is not possible, don't just run off to the next designer you can find. Give the known quantity - your current freelance - a chance to pull in some help of his own - we're all part of networks and have trusted, quality-assured buddies who can help us out when the pressure's on and you'll find that your consistency is maintained.

10. Undervalue what has been done. It's not just a logo. It's not just a brochure. It's not just a website. These are all business-critical components that help make up the engine of your brand. Sure, some components might only have taken a couple of hours to produce, but you wanted the work done, now recognise its value.

11. Forget your manners. Freelances have to be super polite to win business, and to keep the relationship sweet. We like earning the money you pay and we are always grateful for the work., but nothing is as sweet as the moment a client calls to say thank you, well done. Us creative types are just like everyone else - sensitive little sausages who will work harder for the people who we like the most.

Copyright © 2009 Paul R Davey. All photographs, text and artworks in this portfolio are copyrighted and owned by the artist, Paul R Davey unless otherwise stated. Any reproduction, modification, publication, transmission, transfer, or exploitation of any of the content, for personal or commercial use, whether in whole or in part, without written permission from the artist is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.

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