Finding Middle Ground Between DIY Design & Big Agency

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All it takes is a quick Google search to find a cheap logo these days. “Logo-rr has you covered starting at just five bucks! Fancy yourself a creative? Try your hand at designing your own logo—for FREE!”

For freelance graphic designers and small design agencies, these kinds of shoddy DIY design services can feel like the bane of your business. You know there’s a lot more to designing a compelling logo than simply making something pretty, but many small businesses don’t appreciate the power of design.

[Related: A 10-Point Marketing Checklist for a Successful Creative Business | How to Win at Working Remotely as a Graphic Designer]

That’s okay, you tell yourself. You’ll go after bigger companies; the ones that actually value professional design work. The only problem is that now you’re competing against the big name agencies that tend to bag all the well-paying clients.

You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. What do you do? How do you win when you’re up against online services that enable people to purchase dirt-cheap DIY design on the one hand, and slick, industry-leading advertising agencies on the other?

Luckily, there are several things you can do to better market yourself to a broad range of clients in order to grow and expand your design business.

Take Your Pitch to the Next Level

If you’re pitching a client that needs a little more convincing that good design is worth paying for, help them overcome sticker shock by going a bit deeper in your project proposal. Highlight the ways thoughtful design can impact brand perception, affect consumer decisions, and direct one’s attention in a very intentional way. This may seem like common knowledge to you, the seasoned designer, but it can be revolutionary to the uninitiated.

Up front, this approach may require a bit more effort on your part, but you can reuse this information to pitch new clients again and again. However, beware of spending too much time trying to convince small fish of your value—if they don’t see it fairly quickly, let them go. Most likely, they’ll be back one day when their cheaply done design work just isn’t cutting it.

Highlight Your Cultural Competency

Today more than ever, businesses must keep issues like diversity, language barriers, and environmental matters top-of-mind when it comes to branding and design. One way to win clients over is to prove that you do more than create eye-catching graphics; show prospective clients your process for conducting adequate research and gathering ample feedback before committing to designs. This ensures that your client won’t face backlash from their customers for being insensitive, uninformed, or unsophisticated.

One example of an old logo that might not be so well-received had it been designed in the new millennium is that of Sherwin-Williams. Covering the earth in paint is certainly not the cleanest, greenest message to send. There are plenty of examples of poorly designed logos out there—assure your prospective clients they won’t be the next laughingstock of the internet.


Up Your Offering

Set yourself apart from the competition by offering service packages or bundle deals. Including components that complement design—like taglines, if you or your agency provides copywriting services—is one option. For new or small businesses, you might consider offering a “starter bundle” with website templates, letterhead, and a logo, for instance.

You can also offer “freebies” that help your prospective client, but don’t require a ton of additional effort. Examples include providing brand guidelines or best practices the company can distribute to their in-house marketing team.

Be Transparent and Accessible

Outsourcing can make some business decision-makers apprehensive. They worry that service providers, like graphic designers, will charge excessive rates or nickel and dime them through hidden costs and deceitful billing practices.

In recent years, the City of Vancouver and the State of Tennessee each engaged graphic design agencies to redesign their official logos. In both instances, the government administrations and their constituents were disappointed with the final logo designs and accompanying price tags. And in both locations, lack of transparency in the design and decision-making process was a chief complaint, stirring debates that reached local media.

The State of Tennessee paid $46,000 to Nashville advertising and marketing company GS&F to design the new logo (right), which was met with criticism among residents.

The City of Vancouver’s new wordmark (bottom) was developed at a cost of about $8,000 by city staff with an unnamed designer, featuring unadorned bold Gotham block letters.

Make it easy for businesses to choose you over the competition by being completely transparent about your work process and associated costs up front. Be available to your clients to answer questions and address concerns in a reasonable timeframe. DIY design sites and big agencies can seldom build this level of trust with customers.

Go the Extra Mile

Once you’ve won the client, prove they made the best bet. Follow through on every aspect of your proposal: stick to your timeline, be faithful to your quote, and over-deliver on the final project. If, for example, several strong design options were created during the course of the project, why not present more than what was outlined in the contract?

Providing additional graphic elements created during the engagement but that didn’t make the cut is another way graphic designers can go above and beyond. The client may be able to use these “throwaways” for marketing collateral or online campaigns. Toss in your research findings as well—perhaps the company will find this useful for other marketing efforts. You get the idea. Make your client love you; they’ll keep coming back for more and are likely to refer you to others. Repeat customers are often a designer’s bread and butter.

Go Forth and Conquer

Whether you’re looking to show DIYers and penny-pinchers the light or lead prospective clients with big agency stars in their eyes to your front door, implementing these tactics will widen the top of your sales funnel and help you outshine the competition. Effective, thoughtful design with a fair price tag, excellent customer service, and unbeatable transparency will earn you clients from one end of the SMB spectrum to the other—and quite possibly beyond. If you’re looking to scale your design business, expand your offerings, and win that coveted middle ground, these tips should serve you well.