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3 Tips for Getting Better Freelance Design (A Parable)

April 20, 2009 by

I walked into my local coffee shop, excited to be meeting with a prospective client who had contacted me only days before. I introduced myself to Jill (not her real name); we ordered lattes and sat down to talk.

Jill told me about a new company she was launching. She said she would need a logo, business cards, a brochure and a web site with e-commerce features and a registered user section. And she needed it all in four weeks.

After Jill gave me a few more of the project details I asked her, “What it your budget for this project?”

Jill seemed flabbergasted. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes, she finally responded to my question with a question of her own: “What is your hourly rate?”

Me: “I prefer to quote projects based on a price for the total job rather than by the hour. I’ve found it usually works out better for both me and my clients that way.”

Jill: “But if you had to charge by the hour, what would you charge?”

Me: “No less than $100 an hour. Maybe more for the web site coding. Depends on who is available to slice and code it on such a tight deadline.”

Jill: “You mean you don’t do all the web design yourself?”

Me: “No ma’am. Have you seen my portfolio or been to my web site?”

Jill: “I’ve been meaning to. I’ve been so busy I just haven’t had a chance yet.”

As a result of the current economic challenges, we are all looking for places to save money, and using a freelance designer versus having a full-time staff person is now a serious consideration for many churches. Contracting freelance design can seem like an intimidating process to the uninitiated, but it doesn’t have to be.

Churches can learn from Jill’s mistakes, as they are the same ones churches often make when they contract freelance design, as evidenced by my own experience and a number of the projects listed in the Freelance Lab. Follow these three tips the next time you have to outsource a design project and you’ll already be ahead of the curve.


Ask to See a Portfolio
Jill could have saved herself time and money by simply looking at my portfolio. This may sound like a no-brainer, but you would not believe how many times I meet with prospective clients who have not taken the time look at my past projects. If you are looking to outsource a redesign of your church’s web site, look for portfolios that are are heavy with web site design. If you are looking for logo design for a new ministry, look for portfolios that showcase multiple logo designs. This is really about making sure the freelancer you contract has the chops to do the job.

Be Up Front About Your Budget
Jill’s response to my question about the budget for her project was understandable for someone who doesn’t regularly contract freelance services. After all, no one wants to get “milked” for every penny possible! But the reality is that the possibilities for Jill’s project were, to a large degree, infinitely scalable. For me this was (and always is) less about money and more about beginning to define the scope of the project. It helps me to better estimate the time/work required. And because few designers want to get stuck on a project that never seems to end, most will give you a better price quoting by the job rather than by the hour.

Be Realistic About Your Time Frame
My first real red flag was when Jill said she needed everything in four weeks. I knew that was going to be a real challenge, and because it would be a rush job it would not be cheap: lots of long hours and late nights–time spent away from those I love. Not to mention the cost of the work that I would have to subcontract.

Tight deadlines are a ministry reality churches have to contend with. But because they don’t often outsource design, many churches consistently underestimate the amount of time that goes into creating something original. The more time a client can give themselves to collaborate with their designer, the greater the chances that the best design solution can be reached. (After all, who desperately wants results described as “the best we could do on such short notice?”)

At the end of the day, the best client-designer relationships are not unlike the best relationships found within the body of Christ: they are based on mutual respect, trust and a common goal that brings them together. Cultivate these types of relationships and you’ll get better results from your freelance design projects.

Post By:

Hal Thomas


Hal Thomas is a freelance graphic designer and brand strategist living and working in Savannah, Ga. He is passionate about raising the standards for strategic design and communication by churches and ministry organizations.
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3 Responses to “3 Tips for Getting Better Freelance Design (A Parable)”

  • Jason Dragon
    April 24, 2009

    Hello. I am a designer, and I do other things also. I am very busy so I choose to freelance out the tedious parts of a project.
    I just built a large new shopping cart with about 1000 items. I selected and uploaded the items, but I lacked good descriptions or photos. For under $100 I was able to hire a young guy in bangladesh to go to all the websites of the people who make the products and move the photos and descriptions to our site. It would have taken me about 20 hours to do this.
    Usually I help people think about what the web can do for them. I code it sometimes but other times I just outsource. It is really easy. I have about 10 freelancers I have used in the past, all from asia.


  • Justin
    May 28, 2009

    Good tips to use.
    We’ve had great success using Craigslist.
    You can find a web person anywhere in the U.S. so we always recommend avoiding the coasts, or any location where the cost of living is high.
    Those looking to hire a freelancer have to understand the costs associated. You can go overseas, but the language barrier and quality control can be an issue. You can operate on a tight budget, but you can’t expect everything tomorrow.
    Simply put, be respectful of your web person. They are a human being, with a life and personal obligations. Just because they work on a computer doesn’t mean they’re a machine.


  • I think that this reaction is the direct result to the current economic downturn here in the states. I say this because prior to the economic crisis that we are currently experiencing, people were more than willing to throw jobs, and in turn money, in the designers direction to obtain quality results. I think, or maybe hope, that once this recession is over that things will return to what we once knew. Additionally, businesses that are prepared for marketing expenses don’t blink an eye when the proposal is presented.



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