A mountain of books are precariously piled on your desk, illuminated by the blue glow of your overworked laptop. Each one is a deep well of knowledge, helping to guide you down the treacherous path of entrepreneurship. This is how you’ve built your empire: figuring things out on your own. As a business owner, you’ve become the Lord of DIY. You’ve conquered such monsters as contract drafting, social media marketing, copyrights and patents.
But now, as you need a mailer made to advertise your new service, you question if it’s wise to down countless hours in battle with Photoshop. Those hours could better be spent reaching new customers, catching up on your bills, or taking a much overdue brain-break in front of Netflix. How do you know when it’s time to start outsourcing design work? Can you keep trying to do it yourself?
This is the internal war waging within all small business owners. When building your business from the ground up, you get rather used to doing everything yourself. But there’s a point where you need to hand the reigns over to another professional, one that is skilled and trained with a teacher other than a stack of “Dummy Guides.”
There are already so many obstacles to overcome in running a business, do yourself a favor and don’t be one of them.
A required disclaimer: As a professional designer, I’m required to say the following: You should always hire a professional designer to design everything.
But as a small business owner, I’m also inclined to say: you can (and should) learn how to do some graphics by yourself. So let’s cover how you can gauge what you can conquer on your own and what you should definitely outsource!
The Level of Client Interaction
The first thing to look at is how often is your client going to interact with it. A good rule of thumb is internal graphics can be created in-house, external graphics should be outsourced. How your timesheets look won’t in anyway influence your client’s perception of your brand. But your logo? That’s going to be seen by EVERYONE, and it will be around for a LONG time (fingers crossed.)
So let’s apply that to a project like a mailer. We’ll pretend we have a bakery in town, eager to let everyone know that their pies will be 50% off next month. They plan on printing 10,000 of them, so that means at least 10,000 eyes are going to see them. They’ll also be paying some decent money to get them before those people. The owner decides that since she has a free trial of Photoshop, she can absolutely create the mailer herself. And the journey of mistakes is begun…
There is a very real chance that because she has no training in design, she’ll end up printing 10,000 mailers that don’t do their job. This could be because there’s a lack of hierarchy, the text is distorted and stretched and hard to read, the graphics are generic and don’t demand any attention, and the list could go on and on.
Now what if she hired a designer? She’ll be paying for some who is trained to effectively communicate through visual elements. Which means they’re going to design a mailer that catches your audience’s attention, properly displays the critical information you’ve paid to put out in the world, and conveys a sense of professionalism and quality that you want associated with your brand.
I know I’m SLIGHTLY more attentive to design than the everyday consumer, but everyone is heavily influenced by design in their buying habits, consciously or not. It’s been scientifically proven that you have 7 seconds to make a good first impression. When I receive a piece of mail advertising a business, I immediately draw conclusions about that business based on the design alone. If it’s clean and clear to understand, I’ll assume the business is professional and organized. If it’s crammed full of clip art, and it takes me thirty seconds to figure out just what I’m supposed to read, I’ll assume the business is cluttered and unprofessional.
Now these things could be a hundred miles off, but if all I have to go on is my initial impression of the kind of mailers they put out, that’s what I’m going to use to determine my feelings towards the business. But the more positive impression I have, the more willing I am to take action.
Using this logic, I think there’s ample argument that a logo is something you should ABSOLUTELY outsource. It’s the face of your company, and whether you know it or not, you draw major conclusions about a company based on its logo alone.
The Complexity of The Project
The fewer ways there are to mess something up, the more okay it is for you to tackle it yourself. It’s pretty hard (but sadly not impossible,) to fail at putting five words on a colored background. But there are a million ways to screw up a website!
I think small business owners should absolutely try to generate their own social media images. There are a ton of tools out there to help them. (Canva is one of the most popular.) Social media images are simple, don’t require money to be put out in the world, and aren’t as deeply impactful or long lasting as most other graphics in your business.
Hiring a social media manager who produces high quality images and posts can definitely boost your sales and interactions, but in the early stages of a business, it is possible to adequately manage them yourself.
On the other side of the spectrum is website design and branding. Although Squarespace tries to convince you that you can do it yourself, if at all possible, I suggest you hire a web designer and developer. And if you want to move away from the templates provided and try to build a site yourself, I virtually grasp your hand, look deep into your eyes, and plead with you to resist. In the digital age, your website is quite possibly the MOST influential interaction your client has with your business, so for the love of all good things, please hire a professional!
And to touch back on a previous point, your company’s brand and visual identity is the most prominent graphic attached to your business. Just because logos seem small and easy to make, they are one of the most difficult visual elements to successfully design. As a branding focused designer, I have to hit this point a few times.
Pay good money for a good logo. It’s worth it a thousand fold.
A sum of all we’ve covered is that everything can be designed well, but not everything has to be. Some additional notes to drive the point home:
– Invoices are meant to be more functional than pretty. As long as your client knows how much to pay, it’s done its job. I’m sure Nike has invoices that are unmistakably Nike, but that’s a business expense that is far down the road for every small business.
– Billboards are mean to convey a message. If it’s not designed well, it can’t do its job.
– You want to turn your sweet Subaru into a marketing machine? Car magnets are $40 on Vistaprint, all you do is make sure your business name is spelled right. You can conquer this one!
– Although they’re only 3.5 in. X 2 in., business cards are vitally important in networking. If you want anything more than your business name and logo on it, find a designer. (Most designers are willing to package business card designs into a logo project. Two birds, meet one stone!)
As a business owner, you’re used to doing things on your own. And some things can continue to be tackled in that manner. But as you can see, sometimes you need to hand over the reigns and give your business the best opportunity to succeed.