How to Find a (Good) Freelance Designer

Find a FreelancerIt is difficult to address this topic without bias. However, I have been through the freelancing process from both ends… as the freelancer, and as the hiring party. And in both roles, what I’ve learned is that the world of freelancing is a turbulent ocean, with thirty sets of teeth for every pearl.

That’s not to say that hiring (or being) a freelancer is a bad idea. The pearls are there, and they are worth the swim if you’ve got the legs for it. The problem – or at least one of them – centers around an over saturated and under regulated marketplace.

The Business Owner Perspective

In our early days, we hired too many people who only felt the need to earn their way inside the door… then promptly slumped to a drooling, whiny, expensive heap on the other side. They didn’t last long. Now, we test run our designers through freelance assignments before offering anything close to a permanent position – and our criteria for freelancers in the first place border on the punitive.

Other business owners only have temporary or occasional need for designers, which makes the long and expensive process of retaining a permanent employee more than a bit undesirable. Unless you’re the Federal government and enjoy wasting time and money. But that’s another story.

It’s obvious enough to say that when a business owner (or manager) needs a designer, they want someone who will do the job, do it efficiently, and do it spectacularly well. But the process of finding such a rare beast is a daunting one.

Searching for Freelance Designers

Google, for all its virtues, has failed us here. Searches around the topic of freelancers yield an overwhelming number of contest, bidding, and crowd-sourcing sites… which the majority of experienced designers avoid like the plague. If you want something unrealistically cheap and enjoy such pastimes as Russian Roulette, then you have found your holy grail in these sites. Good luck to you.

What’s wrong with contest/crowd-sourcing sites? Think about it. Assume you are a lawyer with all of the appropriate education and experience. A firm approaches you and says: “We are asking 1000 people at random to work for us for a month, we’re not going to provide the resources needed to do the job properly, pay is below minimum wage, and we are only going to pay one of you.” Would you bite? No. No professional would. The only people working in those situations are the desperate and the unqualified.

For the rest of us, it seems the trick is to omit the word ‘freelance’ or any variation of it from your search. Instead, look for phrases like “graphic design portfolio” or “graphic design company”. You’ll still get a lot of garbage, but at least you’ll have a chance at catching a glimpse of where the pearls have been hiding.

Big and Small are Not Mutually Exclusive

Think your startup is too small for a good design company to bother with? Wrong. Many established design companies love startups – you are a clean slate and usually fun to work with. Be honest and fair about your budget, and if it’s realistic they will find a way to help. Even if they’re enormous, they will usually have interns or students (properly supervised) chomping at the bit to work on your project.

Think an small team or individual freelancer won’t serve your multinational corporation well? Wrong again. These key players can have the advantage on the big design houses precisely because of their size. They are agile enough to respond to your emails the same day, and push that big project through within the month. All without the red tape and endless circular meetings chewing away at your budget.

Alright, So Where Do I LOOK?

Well you’re here aren’t you?
Am I really that cheeky? I suppose yes, at times.

If we’re not your style, here are a few places I have come to rely on when searching for individual (quality) freelancers:

Caveat Emptor

Regardless of the circumstances, there are always sharks hunting nearby. There are people passing off templates and stock materials as their own designs. There are kids just looking to make a bit of spending money, without having the skills or experience to produce something your business can or should rely on. There are offshore outsourcing companies who hire thousands of employees with “no experience or education required”.

So do your homework. Scour portfolios. Read customer reviews. Send an email and see how long it takes them to get back to you. Make sure they know what they’re doing – because if they don’t, you’re the one who pays.

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