by Erin Sanchez
Imagine this scenario: you receive a call from a small business owner who needs some design work. He says he doesn’t have time to do it himself and asks for a quote. When you give him the project estimate, he balks at your rates and thanks you for your time, never to be heard from again.
You probably don’t have to imagine this; throughout your career as a graphic designer, it’s probably happened to you countless times.
Professional design work is notoriously undervalued in small businesses. When financial times get tough, the creative budget is one of the first things cut. Only one small business out of several I’ve worked with had a dedicated graphic designer on staff. In one sense, that’s great news for freelance designers and design agencies, but it also highlights exactly where designers fit on a small business’ list of priorities.
Small business owners typically run on limited resources, and while each wants a beautiful website, clever logo, and compelling marketing collateral, they’re not always willing to pay professional rates to get them. Instead, they ask an employee without adequate training—usually a marketing assistant who wears many hats—to try their hand at DIY design. Or they start searching the web for “cheaper” options. Either way, the business owner is probably not going to be happy with the results.
The first red flag in the opening scenario was the caller’s assumption that he could successfully do his own design work if only he had the time. This may be true in some cases, but generally it’s not. The second was his aversion to your professional rates. But designers know that sharp, well-thought-out graphic design can mean all the difference to companies big and small. The next time you find yourself talking to a hesitant prospect, reference this list of reasons small businesses should place greater value on graphic design:
First impressions matter.
You know what they say: you only have one chance to make a first impression. Whether it’s a website or the logo in an email signature, potential customers will judge a business in just a few seconds based on visual appeal alone. High-quality graphic design gives businesses credibility—and that’s priceless. No matter how great a product or service, with poor design, it’s unlikely anyone will stick around the company’s website or keep its email long enough to find out.
Design can tell a story.
Similarly, it’s important that people get a feel for what a business does even if they’ve never heard of it before. Thoughtful design evokes the right image in customers’ minds. The concept for a daycare center would be entirely different than that of a law firm. That’s a dramatic contrast, but it holds true in more nuanced ways as well. Consider, for example, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a small company with a short history rooted in Seattle. Beecher’s finely detailed logo and packaging labels echo the artisanal nature of the company, the historic imagery alludes to tradition, and its black and white color scheme suggests a classic quality.
Branding makes a company memorable.
Solid graphic design provides branding consistency across every visual, customer-facing aspect of a business. A professional graphic artist will use precise colors, typeface, imagery, and mood for everything he or she touches. This way, customers have the same experience visiting a company’s website as they do reading its brochure. Think of it as a kind of alliteration—it helps the business become recognizable and memorable. Plus, consistency symbolizes professionalism, and professionalism symbolizes trustworthiness. It’s win, win…win.
Creativity can be a differentiator.
If there’s one thing all small businesses have in common, it’s that they all face competition. And to set themselves apart, they generally have a handful of differentiators, whether those include pricing, quality, customer service, or something else entirely. But consider that creativity can help a small business stand out, too. A company’s visual communication plan serves many purposes, and making the business unique should be one of them.
Good design converts.
A slick website is nice to have. A slick website that converts is even nicer. Design isn’t just about making things look pretty; effective design should entice and persuade. A smartly designed website can direct visitors to take action, like clicking a “buy” button for instance. A well-crafted pamphlet compels readers to keep turning pages. Professional graphic design has the potential to deliver measurable results for a small business.
Spending more up front saves time and money in the long run.
When businesses don’t take graphic design seriously in the beginning, they will more than likely go through a design overhaul eventually—in some cases, more than once. However, quality design has longevity. Paying for great graphic design one time is no more expensive than paying for subpar design multiple times. Not to mention, redesigning a business’ image over and over wastes time and can be detrimental to its brand.
Many small business owners understand the value of great design. Many others do not. Whether you’re just starting your career as a graphic designer or you’ve been on the receiving end of that phone call one-too-many times, this list might come in handy. If you’re up for the challenge, you can educate small business owners about the value professional graphic designers provide. And if that doesn’t work, you can always remind them of David Ogilvy’s famous words: “Pay people peanuts and you get monkeys.”
Erin Sanchez is a freelance writer living in the Seattle area. She enjoys helping SMBs and startups grow their businesses through insightful, creative copywriting. You can learn more about Erin on her website, Dynamic Copy Works, or follow @Dynamic_Writer for small business and marketing tips.
If you’re a graphic designer looking for real-life advice and long-term success, The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients by acclaimed designer Ellen Shapiro is the book for you. Not only does she reveal the secrets behind getting the clients you want to recognize your name and brand, but she also discusses how to land those clients and create a positive and productive working relationship with them.