Working with a freelance graphic designer as a small business: An overview

As a small business it can be difficult to find affordable, high quality design work.

Most design agencies have a budget threshold that a project needs to meet before they’ll agree to take on a project, this can often leave small businesses in limbo as they are more likely to need a designer for a small amount of time or for a set budget. Agencies have targets to meet and staff to pay, if your budget falls short of their threshold then often you’ll be asked to look elsewhere.

Hiring a freelance graphic designer

Freelance designers are often former agency staff members that have decided to go it alone. The work of a freelance designer can vary, some prefer to work on site with agencies, essentially functioning as a de facto member of staff, and others prefer to work directly with businesses to solve design problems. Freelance designers that work directly with businesses aim to provide an agency style service to their clients, providing insights and processes that the business can utilise long after the designer has left.

Freelance designers offer a choice of working on site (working from your place of business) or remotely (working from home or from their own office). This is typically dictated by project requirements and location. Having the designer on site can often facilitate better communication and can lead to quicker sign off on design work. Conversely, it’s just as simple to communicate remotely with a competent freelance designer if the designer is experienced and sympathetic to your deadlines and hours of work. A good freelance designer working remotely should be available to take any calls or queries from a client with minimal notice and should aim to eliminate any sense of distance that comes with working remotely.

Rates and payments

After an initial meeting or consultation the freelance designer will submit a quote outlining their rate and the amount of time required to complete the project. A freelance designer’s hourly rate can seem high initially, as many like to compare this rate to what a designer may be paid when directly employed by an agency. A key thing to keep in mind when questioning a freelancer’s rate is that they are a business with bills to pay, not an individual moving from job to job. A freelance designer has tax to pay, software fees, utility and operating costs to pay like any other business.

To begin a project a freelance designer requires a deposit payment, this can be anywhere from 30% of their quote and upwards. The deposit functions as more than a good will gesture, it allows the freelance designer to block your time into their schedule, allowing them to turn away work from other clients. The final payment is typically dictated by the length of the project. If it is a long project, then the freelance designer might agree some key milestones with you that lead to further payments. If it’s a shorter project then often the freelancer will invoice you for the outstanding amount at the end.

Deliverables and ownership

When the time arrives to release your project to the public, you might have some questions for the designer around ownership of the work created. You might not be comfortable with the designer adding your project to their portfolio. These issues can be addressed at the start of the project by creating and signing a contract with the freelance designer. Most freelance designers are more than comfortable with handing over editable artwork files at the end of a job if agreed in advance.

You might also consider a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), this limits the designer from advertising the fact that they created the work for you.

Retainer work and building a relationship

You might enjoy the experience of working with a freelance graphic designer so much that you’d like to continue working with them in some capacity. This is where retainer fees come in. If you’d like the designer to, for example, update your project on a monthly basis then a monthly fee can be agreed. Maybe you’ve just had a website designed and you’d like the designer to be responsible for updating it and adding new content, instead of handing it over to someone in your organisation. Hiring the designer on a retainer ensures that the website adheres to your brand guidelines and doesn’t undo any of the hard work put in to getting everything just right.

These are the main points to keep in mind when approaching a freelance graphic designer. You can expect different freelancers to operate slightly differently, but as a general rule, if they follow the points detailed above in some capacity you’re probably on the right track.