How to hire a freelance artist or graphic designer

We’ve all seen them: the homemade brochures, logos that use Microsoft Word art, the same lackluster business cards made from a template, the websites that look like they were thrown together in the 90s. When a business person hands you something like that, don’t you wonder how they can represent themselves so poorly?

While small business owners are pros at keeping sales, customers service, and other elements of marketing ticking along, many draw a blank when it comes to graphic design. That’s because high-quality design requires a trained creative professional.

If you are reading this article, it’s possible that your business has outgrown its plain and simple website. Perhaps you’re after website visuals that mimic your packaging design, or even a fresh new logo to stand out against your competitors. For this type of advanced design work, you’re going to need some help.

So, how do you even find an artist or designer, much less hire one?

Hiring a freelance artist can be alien territory for some people, especially if you are from a non-tech background. Who’s the best fit for creating your business's logo, or adding motion graphic to bring your web pages to life? Like any time you try something new, it’s common to take some missteps the first time around. Here are some tips for hiring the right freelance artist for your business, and how to work with your new hire to get the best results.


What are you looking for in a freelance artist?

The key to finding the professional you need is to express exactly what you’re looking for clearly. Before you start, you should decide:

  • The scope of what you need: Do you need a complete website redesign, a rebrand or perhaps you want your logo revamped? Think about all the elements you need to be revised or created.

  • The look and feel you have in mind: This is as simple as finding an image you like and sending it to the artist(s) you find and saying "Can you do something like this?". Alternatively, if you have some ideas, create an inspiration board using Pinterest. Pin examples of what you like to help your artists designer understand your vision.Pin anything that displays a similar look and feel to what you’re going for. Your designer can use it this information to bring your vision to life.

  • Your brand identity: Just like your personal identity, it’s your brand identity that sets your business apart from your competitors. Brand identity and design go hand in hand. When we talk your brand, we’re interested in the perception of your company in the eyes of your consumers.

    Your brand identity is all of your outward facing brand elements used to portray a certain image to consumers. What qualities do you want to be associated with your brand? What image do you wish to portray? Do you have a specific color palette, approved typography or any other visual elements that are synonymous with your brand? These are all important details to convey to your designer.

The most important element of design is getting your message across. This message must reflect your company's values, attitude, and purpose, all in one, and your designer needs to be clear on what it is they're going to come up to create something that’s true to your business.


Set your expectations

Now you’ve considered what your freelancer will be working on, we can begin thinking about the hiring process. To get your head in the right place—let’s set some expectations.

  • How much? Automatically hiring the freelancer with the cheapest rate is a recipe for disaster. The design isn’t an area where you want to cut corners. If you sacrifice quality to save a few dollars, what are the chances of you being happy with your final design? Slim to none.

    Know the maximum amount of money you have to devote to the project and be realistic about what it will buy you in terms of resources. For example, a budget of $700 won’t buy you a well-designed website, but it could buy you a simple logo. Make sure your expectations are reasonable before reaching out. Be upfront about your budget when discussing the project with potential designers.

  • How often? Is this a one-off task or do you need your freelancer to produce content on a regular basis? The frequency of work should be clear in order for the artists to plan their schedule accordingly. Otherwise, they might not have the bandwidth to take on work as and when you need them. If the plan is to employ someone on an ongoing basis, these things need to be thought through.

  • Turnaround time? Are you running on a deadline? When does the work need completing? Be clear about when you expect the work to be completed. Designers will appreciate your consideration in asking how much time it will take (rather than if you just assume it’s a quick fix). Professional artists and designers are good at giving estimates and will let you know how much time they need if you ask.

Keep in mind that while most people consider timing in terms of the final product, designers benefit from understanding when you expect to see things in terms of first, and second drat and so on, and when you expect to have all final deliverables in hand. Making an outline of your milestones is the best way to show your designer the expectations you have for the project. Using this information they can assess and plan to be available and have an understanding of the amount of time and effort on their part- to see the project through from start to finish.

Recommended reading: How to hire a freelance writer →


Finding artists

There are so many options out for connecting with incredible design talent. Where you find an artist will depend on what you want to be done and the relationship you plan to have with your freelance staff.

Scope out creative blogs and relevant media outlets

Following blogs isn’t simply a nice way to pass the time, they can reflect changes in your industry, and hold the key to finding freelancers that fit your niche. If your business specializes in tourism, get onto the best travel and culture review blogs. If you’re a personal trainer, familiarise yourself with fitness websites.

Check out media related to your business niche, and pay attention to the artists you like. Once you find someone who sparks your interest, look up their contact details, or social media handles and ask whether they are available for new freelance work. You can often find the names of the artists involved under an image, or in a footer link. Yelp reviews and Google reviews are also great sources for potential artists, in your area.

While doorstop-sized print directories aren’t popular these days, there are plenty to hit up online. AIGA, the Professional Association for Design provides a directory of AIGA members listed by name, location, and area of practice. Find every type of freelance artist here. How Design provides a similar list, separating listing from design firms to illustrators, and more. WorkBook connects businesses with the contacts they need, at no cost. Search for everything from photographers, illustrators, retouchers, pretty much anything you can think of to make your project come to life.

Social media

Nowadays, most artists use social media to get exposure and clients. Using social media channels is another handy way of finding suitable freelancers. Those that are most important to artists and designers include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

Don’t forget that social media works both ways. If you don’t have social media account for your business, set them up. These platforms are ideal networking grounds for personal and professional purposes. Use them to promote your business and to announce your requirement.

While Facebook has many active professional groups, it’s also full of scammers and spammers. LinkedIn, on the other hand, has much better professional matching, allowing registered members to establish networks of people they know and trust professionally. You can also build professional relationships and peruse artists online portfolios. You’ll have a complete overview of their career and works to date without asking a single question. To attract professionals through LinkedIn, post an advertisement with a link to your website so that they can apply directly. Use the chat function to talk directly with artists that show interest in your post.

When you’re browsing social media for an artist, don’t forget Pinterest. This site uses mainly visuals making it the perfect place for freelance designers to flock to. If you’re interested in working with a designer from this platform, you have two options. Messages can only be sent to someone who is following you. The best way to attract the attention of a designer is to create a Pinterest account for your business. Use your account to express interest by following a designer. They can contact you since someone can only send messages through Pinterest if you are following them. Otherwise, find a mention of their website or social media as a means of contact.

If you don’t know of a group, share a “help wanted” ad on your newsfeed - chances are that someone in your network will know someone fit for the job. People on social media networks are generous in sharing content, and this can work in your favor.

Job boards

Job boards are a great place to find artists. Posting an ad means you save the legwork of looking around. Artists will offer their services based on your job brief. The best places for posting freelance artist jobs ads are:

Indeed

As one of the top job sites in the world, Indeed is a great option for posting your job ad. You can post an ad for free, with the option of sponsoring a post starting from $5 to boost its results placement.

LinkedIn

Posting an ad on LinkedIn will really boost the chance of your ad getting seen by the right people. Billing is on a pay-per-click basis. You set an average daily budget and get charged for how many views the job ad receives.

Freelance Marketplaces/ Portfolio sites

The internet is brimming with sites dedicated to talented freelancers. The best things about these sites is that they are designed to protect both clients and the freelancers they represent. It’s commonplace for these sites to charge the project fee up front. They usually charge up front, then hold the money, and transfer the balance to the artists once the project is complete. This practice is in place to protect both parties. Designers won’t have to chase down payments,, and clients have some guarantees that payment is only made once they are happy with the final design.

Upwork

Is a platform which relates freelancers and employers. It has its own system of verifying payments and work of freelancers. It’s perfect a perfect place to find a good digital artist.

Freelancer.com

Is a great spot for browsing potential hire’s profiles or to posting a job ad to sit back and receive specific responses for your project.

Bēhance

Presents design portfolios. Portfolio sites like this are a great way to connect with artists who won’t work on freelance marketplaces. With these sites, you’ll have to reach out to the designers. Since these aren’t working platforms, if you see an artist you’d like to work with, you need to negotiate a working relationship without any systems in place to help with that. You also won’t benefit from the financial protections offered by many freelance marketplaces.

Dribbble

Lets you can check designers’ best works and find a person, whose style and techniques suit your tasks the best. It is a really popular way of finding and hiring artists online.

Agency

If you’re determined to hire the best of the best and there’s no room to compromise on quality, hiring through an agency is the best route to go down. Indeed, costs are higher with an agency, but the quality is higher than hiring an ad hoc freelancer and you won’t need to micromanage or constantly harass someone for designs. Agencies oversee projects a project is well communicated and delivered in a timely manner.

If you have the cash flow necessary to hire an agency, then, by all means, go for it. Indeed the price of an agency is steeper than your average designer, however, there are benefits to paying a bit more. For example, a startup or business wouldn’t hire an agency for a simple logo design. Agencies are called upon to help with branding. The brand discovery process helps a business solidify their identity, values, mission and vision, everything considered to create a complete brand.

To hire an artist through an agency, head to Google and search for the type of artist you need + “design agency”. My search for “graphic design agency” brought up over 1 billion results. Don’t let this number put you off. Narrow the results by focusing on businesses in your area. Local agencies are best to work with most of the time because they'll know not just the region, but the competition.

Fortunately, Google’s SERPs lists local businesses above the organic listings. Reading Google reviews is the key to finding the best design agencies in your locale. Alternatively, head to the Design Directory, for a comprehensive guide to design firms and creative agencies in your region.

By word of mouth

Sometimes, it’s easier to place your trust in a personal recommendation than a killer resume/ portfolio or Linkedin profile. Begin by asking your inner circle if they can recommend anyone. Colleagues or friends might know just the right person for your business. There’s also the option of seeking out local independent freelancers. See if there's a meetup group for designers in your community. Sites like meetup.com can hook you up with events in your area. Alternatively, look at what’s working in your area. Perhaps you’ve driven past a logo that’s caught your eye. Ask local businesses who did their artwork and take it from there.


Find the right artist for your business

Now that you’re aware of the ways to go about hiring a designer, it’s time to focus on choosing the right designer for your project, and your business. Picking the right artist for you and your business comes down to their designs. Deciding which designer is a good fit for you comes from evaluating their work, which is often presented in a portfolio. Portfolio's offer insight into their aesthetic, which aesthetics they are strong in, the areas they stand out in, be in banners, logos or branding, and those which aren’t their strong point.

How to evaluate a portfolio

How do you know what to look out for, if this is your first time evaluating a portfolio? Without some guidance, it can tricky to know what to keep an eye out for. Let’s cover what you need to look for when evaluating artists portfolios:

  • Relevant samples: The first things to look for when browsing artist portfolios are design examples that fall within the specific parameters of your project. If you’re hiring for a new logo design, don’t go with someone who hasn’t produced any logos. Their portfolio might be packed with spectacular designs but no matter how great they are at designing logos, this doesn’t necessarily translate to them being great at designing your new website banners, for example.

  • Market: A designer that has experience working with companies in your industry is usually the best choice because they will already understand your market. When you’re evaluating a portfolio, look for a designer who has prior experience in your industry. Let’s say that you run a trendy sports apparel website, a designer with experience in the industry of ‘hype sneakers’, the jargon that comes with this niche, and the looks and feel that is will connect with your target audience.

  • The right design aesthetic: Is your company going for a minimalist aesthetic? One that capitalizes on space and maximizes on simplicity. Think Steve jobs vision of slick designs that thrive in Apple’s products and branding. Minimalist design keeps coming back to popularity as evident in the latest Pepsi, IKEA, Google, MONT BLANC, Levi’s and Nike logos. Perhaps you find the less is more approach timid, and dull, favoring a bolder look, also known as ‘Maximalism’. This style has heaps of personality, playing with color, patterns, and texture as displayed in the logos below.

    Look for a designer that shares your aesthetic. If your brand is edgy, look for a portfolio that reflects an edgy design aesthetic. If you’re brand is focused on targeting young children, you’re might want to pass on designers pushing an edgy aesthetic in favor of something more whimsical.

  • A solid body of work: Professional artists should have a portfolio of work to present to potential clients, i.e. you. Take this opportunity to check their level of skill and expertise and whether their style fits what you are looking for. Digital portfolios also offer an opportunity to check for plagiarism. Online tools like Copytrack are available to help with this.


Freelance artist hiring process

If you’ve decided to use a job board to hire, you need an ad that attracts the right people. That’s done with an effective job description. How do you write a compelling job ad that does just that?

Writing an ad

Looking at other, similar jobs already posted online to get an idea is a good place to start. Explain why you are interested in hiring a freelance artist, and what you need help doing.

Basic Job description template

  • Information about your company and what it does

  • What the freelance artist position entails

  • The kind of content you need

  • Salary expectations

  • How to apply

Prepping your artist

Now you’ve founded the ideal artist for your project, it’s time to reach out and make a proposal.

  1. Make contact to let them know you like their work and are interested in working together

  2. Provide a simple outline of the project

  3. Describe what you need from a designer and ask if they are available, and interested in your proposal

Assuming all goes well, and your chosen artist is interested in working with you, you will need to create a design brief. The design brief also allows you (the client) to focus on exactly what you want to achieve before any work starts on the project. A good design brief will ensure that you get a high-quality design that meets your needs, providing you have chosen the right designer.

Design brief template

The brief should include the following information

  • Type of Business: What do you do?

  • Goals

    • What is the overall goal of the new design project?

    • What are you trying to communicate and why?

    • Are you trying to sell more products or get awareness of your product or service?

    • How do you differ from your competitors?

    • Do you want to completely reinvent yourself or are you simply updating your promotional material? If it's a rebrand you’re after, why have you decided it’s necessary? Why now?

  • Target market: Are you targeting teenagers? Middle aged males? Or retirees living in Upstate New York, for example.

  • Budget: Be upfront with your designer on how much you are willing to spend. Providing a budget prevents a lot of wasted time down the road. A clear budget offered up front also allows designers to know if the project is going to be worthwhile to complete. Make sure you are worth their time.

  • Time-scale: It’s very rare that you’ll accept the first design that lands your way. The design process takes places over many stages; the brief, their research, initial concept ideas then several rounds of feedback for example. You should take into account the various stages of the design process to set a realistic deadline that both parties can agree on.

  • Specs

    • Where are the designs going to be used? The web, or in print for example. On stationary or on your delivery van.

    • Include anything the designer should know in regards to your specifications.

    • Do your brand use a specific color or color scheme, font, images or text? If so, make these details known to the designer.

  • Benchmark: This is where your initial research comes in handy. Provide a potential designer with an example of what you consider to be an effective or relevant design. This will be your benchmark, this way, you won’t get something completely far removed from your vision.

If you stick to the points above you can deliver a 'designer-friendly' brief your artist can interpret without any trouble and begin creating relevant designs for your project. Take the time to fill out each section with as much information as possible. This way, you’ll reduce any snags in the process and a faster end result.

Artist contract template

Once the design brief has been communicated to your freelance artists, you need to draw up a contract. Contracts are essential because they put in writing what is required of each party before any work can begin. It also provides consensus since yourself and your new hire must agree on the contents before embarking ohe project. In the event that problems arise during the project, or once it’s complete, this mutual contract can be referred to as a fall back. It clarifies the responsibilities of both parties should problems arise.

For a guide to creating a simple graphic design contract, take a look at ‘Keeping a Graphic Design Contract Simple’ featured in HOW magazine. While the article assumes a contract for a freelance graphic designer, it can be adapted for any freelance artist. This article includes tips for creating a contract user-friendly contract that all parties will understand. 13 clauses guide laying down the terms for a successful working relationship between client and designer. These include timelines and schedules, client responsibilities including their scope of work and how edits are handled, payments and terms of ownership that no contract should overlook.

To save time drafting a contract from scratch, adapt this template from Pandadoc. There’s even an electronic signature feature which can be signed from any computer or mobile device. This way, you can e-mail or text the document in splits of a second. It’s also handy if you are employing someone overseas.

Don’t forget to ask about ownership of any graphics used in the design and the final design itself. Many designers use stock photography, for example, which only allows for limited use.

If you want unlimited use of an image, communicate this with the designer so they know to acquire exclusive rights for graphics. In addition, put it in writing that you own the rights to the final design.


Onboarding and setting expectations

To create a good working relationship with your new hire, you need to be clear from the get-go what you expect from them and set the tone for your working relationship.

Maintain good communication

The key to building a good relationship with a freelancer is communication. Decide on your preferred method of communication, by email, telephone, or communications tools like slack or Skype. For a more streamlined approach, look to collaboration software like Google docs, or set up a Trello board so all parties have clarity on the work in progress.

Feedback is key

The best way to approach feedback through the project is to find a constructive but direct means of delivery. To set the tone, make it known to the artist you’ve chosen, that you respect their work and value their opinion.

Feedback is an important part of the creative process and it doesn’t have to escalate into an awkward butting of heads. If this is new territory, you might be tempted to go to extremes in providing feedback: scared to offend and thus not providing the critique that’s necessary to deliver the desired finished product. On the flip side, you might fall in to the ‘too forceful’ trap which is deemed inconsiderate and risks causing frictions in your working relationship. Designers are used to taking positive and negative feedback and responding constructively. When sharing feedback with your artist, just be direct, honest, and considerate of their effort.

Pull together your assets

Compile any existing assets that could assist the designer in creating the final product. Your asset pool might include a guide to your brand, a style guide including colours, fonts and aesthetic for example, as well as relevant versions of your logos, (if you have them). Pull together any creative executions that didn’t work out in the past to avoid repeating the same mistakes.


Conclusion

Hiring a freelance artist is a walk in the park when you take the time to consider the scope of the project and your expectations. From here on you can filter out the qualities needed from your would-be artists, and screen only the right candidates for the job. With this guide to hiring a freelance artist, all you have to do is get to work finding the best designer for your business.

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