biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: how to brand your business on a budget

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Andrea Baxter, owner of Bratface Marketing and co-founder of Smart Cookies, which was created in early 2007 after an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Bratface Marketing is a boutique marketing firm with a focus on franchise organizations, start-ups and mid-sized companies in all industries. The Smart Cookies have gone on to publish two best selling books (Random House), hosted their own TV show and more.

Andrea offers some experienced guidance and knowledge on how to brand your business on a budget. She shows us how to build a logo and a website, acquire a legal team, and grow your business . . . all on a shoestring budget! Thanks Andrea for this extremely helpful post! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the past four years as an entrepreneur it’s that you can start a business with very little money, no matter what people tell you. Obviously, it’s smart to have some money saved up, but when it comes to the money you have to spend in order to get your business up and running, the costs can be fairly minimal!

I have always loved branding, so when it came to branding my own business, I was excited and eager to get my hands dirty. I had a very specific idea in mind for my company name (Bratface Marketing) and I knew that I wanted to position my company as being a little bigger than it actually was without coming across as too corporate looking, so I was willing to make a small investment.

It is important to understand what branding really means, as often there is a misconception of its true definition. In short, branding is the specific identity of a product, service or business. This goes far beyond just creating a great logo and choosing Pantone colors. Business branding encapsulates everything the business stands for: how you market your products or services, how your staff treats customers and handles customer service issues, how your website looks and reflects the brand and how you communicate to the masses. It’s one of the most important things in which you can invest for your business, and I can show you how to do it on a shoestring budget. (Psssst . . . and it isn’t that hard!)

Logo & Identity Package

Let your creative juices flow! This is where you can have the strongest influence on your brand’s identity. And depending on whom you’re working with, it’s very important to be vocal, firm and clear about your brand’s core values, vision and goals. How do you want to represent your brand visually? What colors resonate with you and best represent the service or product you are selling? For Bratface Marketing, I wanted something cheeky, but not too cheeky because I wanted people to take me and my business seriously. I also wanted a color that I loved and one that represented the Bratface name, so red and black it was. Working with my designers was crucial to achieving the final product. Be hands-on and involved in how things are laid out on various applications (collateral, stationery, etc). When it comes to money, you don’t have to spend a fortune as many people do. I spent $400 on my entire branded package, which included my logo design, letterhead, business card design, envelopes and complete brand package (all file formats like JPEGs, Vector, Photoshop and Illustrator files) and finally, the Pantone and HTML color codes for my website. I used a small, start-up design company that I had used before and knew had reasonable prices. Plus, I like to support small businesses.

Another alternative, which I use for a lot of my clients who are rebranding, are companies like CrowdSpring or 99Designs. They are both online creative services agencies that offer logo and website design, company name development, product design and writing services. These companies are lifesavers, because the intention behind their creation was to allow smaller business to tap into a global pool of creatives and designers. Logo design can start off as cheap as $200, $300 for logo and stationery design and up to $600 for a small website design. Brilliant!


Spending a fortune on websites is another misconception within the business community. I often hear of people who receive bids from companies to create their websites for $15,000 and up (and that’s on the cheap side!) and wonder how the heck they will come up with this money. Well, you don’t have to. The web itself has created great opportunities for people to find alternative and more affordable ways to build websites. I’m not gonna lie — you should know something about websites and how to post articles and images and change content through the back-end, but it’s not as hard as you think.

Websites like WordPress and Intuit have dominated the website creation category. As the most popular option, WordPress is free and allows you to easily choose a theme or format you like. You just post and upload the info on your site and you decide how simple or complicated you want to get. Or, if you are more experienced in coding and design, you can basically redesign their platforms to look like an expensive website. Intuit costs money, but it’s still rather inexpensive, priced as low as $4.99/month! One third and final option is a cool company in Vancouver, BC, called CityMax. Not only is this company great at what they do, but they thrive at customer service and have a wickedly fun culture so everyone is happy and it shows (I should know, I’ve been to their offices). Plus, their services go beyond web design. For just $19.95/month you get a website domain (your website address), web hosting and web design, as well as features like online payments, editing capabilities and so much more! Whichever route you choose, these companies provide you with a fully functional site with tons of features you can take advantage of for very little money.


As my business has grown, there are many things I have needed help with but could not afford to pay someone for. Interns are a great way to have someone help you out on various projects for a short period of time or, if you want someone for the long haul. I found my intern through a friend who referred her to me. But I also took to the social media masses to let everyone and anyone know that I was looking. I posted an ad on my website with the full job description. Word can get out much faster and allows you to get the job done much quicker! Also, look into some of your local community colleges and technical schools. Often, students must complete an internship to earn their diploma/degree. These are unpaid internships that can last up to four months, depending on their program requirements. Plus, you can apply for an intern with very specific skills (marketing, communications, public relations, etc.). The only work you have to do is training them and providing them with feedback on their performance to their instructors.


People can spend a lot of money on traditional stationery. Luckily with everything now available online and electronically, this means you don’t have to spend a fortune on printing costs. Once I had my brand established, I was really careful as to the stationery I chose to print. Business cards were by far the most important, and this is where I spent the money, only because you need them to connect and network with people. Plus, they will always get used and you won’t waste your money having them collect dust on your bookshelf. One way to save money is to make your letterhead electronic. Have a standard shell created that you can use in a Word document with your logo and contact info on it, and just print it out on a blank piece of paper. This way you aren’t spending money on getting letterhead actually printed — it will save you a ton of money over the long term. Also, because I operate a small business, I email all of my invoices to clients, so there’s no need for printed envelopes. That is something you can revisit once the need arises and as your business grows substantially. Plus, it’s better for the environment.

In total, I spent under $200 to have 500 business cards printed. Keep in mind that when it comes to printing, the greater the quantity printed, the lower the unit costs. Often, it can be more costly to print smaller quantities.


Last but not least (but definitely the least fun), is the legal and accounting side of your business. Unfortunately, getting all of your legal work done is hard to do on the cheap as there are set fees for incorporation, trade marketing and registering. However, you can keep the costs down by being very frank and honest about your budget. Don’t be afraid to question any invoices you receive, as well. Make sure your lawyers are not spending a lot of time working on things that are not important for your business at the time. Make a list of the immediate “must haves” and read your invoices thoroughly to ensure there aren’t any miscalculated costs.

Accounting is another area where you have to spend money, but that doesn’t mean you have to go out and hire the best that money can buy. I have been able to use my bookkeeper as my accountant. She does my personal taxes every year and can also manage my business taxes. Their costs are much cheaper, and until you are an incorporated business with more complicated taxes, you can get away with using a bookkeeper in the interim.

I am always interested in hearing how other entrepreneurs have started and operated their businesses affordably, so please share your stories with me! You can email me directly at andrea@bratfacemarketing.com or you can find me on Twitter at @andreabaxter or @bratfacemrktg.

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  • Thanks for such an informative post. Starting a business with little financial resources and plenty of creative resources is not a bad situation to find yourself in at all and people shouldn’t be put off – articles like this are encouraging.

  • helpful advice for a budding shop owner. all of these things seem terrifying at first glance, but it’s reassuring to see that they really can be broken down into manageable tasks and within a budget. thanks!

  • As a graphic designer (and biz lady myself), I feel like I have to slash my prices in half to get people’s business since they were told they can find design so cheap.

    I’m wondering where pricing like this is available. I live in a big city and the cost of living here is much higher than smaller cities where they could probably charge less hourly and make a decent living for themselves. Lucky for biz ladies wanting to design on a budget, email and the internet can connect them with those people in small cities who are charging less.

    I know that you are trying to help small business grow by sharing cost-effective options for branding, but I feel like it hurts my small business at the same time.

    And I don’t recommend Crowdspring for designers or small business owners. 99% of designers end up doing work for free when a business owner DOESN’T choose their design. Business owners don’t get a quality one-on-one interaction with designers either.

  • it’s really good to remember branding. no matter how good your product is, your presentation is key. as a designer, however, I would like to point out that graphic design is best thought of a custom solution to a custom problem. do your research on who you hire, and make sure you like quite a bit of their recent work, as this is the ‘flavour’ that you will wind up with in your own project from them. but DO hire a designer to make your logo and banners for your wordpress/squarespace websites. it makes such a huge difference, while it may cost you more than $400, in the long run proper branding and placement done right the first time won’t cost you that much.


  • It’s sad to see someone on designsponge promoting a way to get branding for merely pennies. This only hurts designers that are legit, experts at what they do, and trying to make a living. Companies like Crowdspring and 99 Designs sound like a sweatshop where the design process is treated without respect and integrity. I thought d*s would be the last place I would see this.

  • i’m surprised to see design*sponge supporting 99designs, a website which devalues the role and importance of graphic designers.

  • For the type who likes to do it yourself, but with not much computer graphic background {like myself} you can try one of http://www.bludomain.com templates to create from as well as to host and have your website up and ready very fast and with http://www.MOO.com you can create your own business cards, stickers etc for branding and packaging. They also have a free 50 business card trial pack .
    Because I like to have things done quickly, for promos and coupons I just end up designing them in my basic paint application on my computer and printing them out at home on HP’s ecohighlights paper.

  • I think it’s great to provide advice to budding business owners, but I have issues with some of the points here. I understand the notion of saving money, but to basically say it’s impossible to save in the legal/accounting sector while promoting cheap, mass-produced design sites is pretty degrading to the profession of design. It’s because of sites and views like this that it is becoming more and more difficult for designers to get paid fair wages for their work and ultimately ballooning the expectations of the general public in terms of cost.

  • Thanks to Andrea. It can sometimes feel a little overwhelming when trying to start up so great to get some advice and help to re-focus what’s important.

  • i do agree with your intention behind this article, but i’m a little afraid it is a bit misleading.

    i’m all for helping people understand how to put together a cohesive look for their company on a budget, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve created a brand.

    i work for a brand design company and we meet with nonprofit and start up companies on a shoe string budget often. when our services come with too high of a fee, we provide advice and (ethical) resources to help them understand how to get the most from creating a cohesive bran identity. Often times we suggest using great resources like WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook for web presence, and we suggest working with a local fresh-faced freelance designer for identities. what i’m getting at is: it may be worth your while to get a professional’s opinion. often times it’s a quick 1 hour conversation, and it can be very helpful and save you a lot of time and effort. and who knows, you might find it to be more affordable than you might think.

  • Thank you all for your great & honest comments. Whether you choose a small business to design your logo/identity or you go the route of hiring a company like CrowdSpring or 99Designs, its a personal choice depending on your budget and who you have worked with in the past. I have used both in my business and for clients and I have supported several local designers to help out on various projects as well. These websites merely create an option for people who can’t afford to spend a lot of money and the designers on the site willingly chose to participate or not and bid on projects based on the type of project and of course, budget. I personally have used Crowdspring a few times and have had a great experience with them.

    As a small business owner, I only wanted to present some options that are available out there to other small business owners. Thank you!

  • Kate: Great comment above and some great advice. I have lots of professionals and small business owners around me that provide amazing support and advice as do I for other. Thanks for sharing!

  • Juice: Yes I would consider doing any social media marketing if you have the time to invest in it. It will take time but also a great forum for you to share things about your business whether its personal stories, info about your business etc. Some small and large companies are doing amazing things with a Facebook Fan page. Good luck!

  • As a designer, I feel exploited all the time. Would you Andrea, provide your services for $400? When clients try to get me to lower my prices or do spec work I ask them if they do work for free too. Then I tell them maybe their secretary can design their logo.

  • I imagine that many of the readers of Design*Sponge are working creatives. Turning design into a commodity would be unthinkable to most of you, so I am glad I’m not alone in my reaction to Andrea Baxter’s suggestion to use sites like Crowdspring to create logos. That’s essentially looking for a generic solution for an otherwise unique situation. Branding goes beyond the logo, but it’s a touchpoint that all your marketing, communications, visuals, etc. will continually refer back to. If you can’t buy into or invest in your own identity, who will?

    As a graphic designer, it has been an uphill battle with pricing against companies like these, but in the end, you get what you pay for. An experienced graphic designer can not only help differentiate your company visually, but they would also be able to provide services above and beyond graphics and offer help in developing your brand strategically.

  • Great advice overall, but ouch on the intern thing! At least pay them minimum wage. I’ve had three unpaid internships, and I think it’s rude to think you can/should get work (especially of the creative variety) for free.

  • I do appreciate this post. I totally understand that not everyone has serious money to spend on professional graphic design. As a graphic artist, I may not agree with everthing that was said in this article, but I do get it.

    For myself, I have stopped taking on one-on-one clients, it’s just not worth it to me anymore. I’ve changed my “brand” to product design: products that I design and sell directly.

    Here’s an intersting article that I read a while back having to do with branding. Pay particular attention to the 4th paragraph.


    Then check out the actual design that was producted for that awe-inspriring amount of money: in my opinion, it’s worth every penny.


    I”m sorry, but you just can’t get quality design like that for $400. And really, a brand is all about what face you want to present to the world.

    I sincerely wish people luck with whatever path they choose to go with their brand; it’s a difficult decision.

  • @ Rachel. Great point on the intern thing. I thought that when I originally read the article, but it got overshadowed by all the spec work talk. “The only work you have to do is training them and providing them with feedback on their performance to their instructors,” is basically saying, to me at least, use them and give them as little as possible in return.

    I think the general tone of this article is not sitting well with a lot of people because I like to think most *professional* designers try to do the right thing (retain the standards of the industry, pay for working employees, etc.). Entire sites based on the concept of spec work are obviously not going to be well received by an audience whose primary profession is, for the vast majority, against the concept.

  • Thanks for your feedback Rachel. In regards to the internship, I think the provide great experience for people who are just starting out or are students trying to gain valuable experience in their chosen field. I think its important to give a timeframe or 3-6 mos and the reevaluate where you are as a business and whether or not the intern wants to stay on or if the business does. In fact, my former intern is now my full time coordinator and she is now making money that I am paying her. I totally believe in being fair.

  • It is REALLY disappointing (shocking even) to see this article on DESIGNsponge.

    Designers are good at what they do because they have trained long and hard to learn and become expert at their profession. We do this for a living.

    Luckily, you usually get what you pay for where design is concerned.

    I can not even express how angry this article makes me as a professional designer.

    • jen

      this column on design*sponge is about providing small business owners with as many solutions as possible. we’ve spent the last two years of the biz ladies column highlighting and supporting independent designers and their services (and why it’s worth the price).

      while i agree that it’s preferable to work with a designer one-on-one whenever possible (this article isn’t saying to avoid professionals if you can afford them), that’s simply not possible for all people. and i’m a little shocked myself that people assume that all small business owners have $500+ to spend on logos, branding, etc. it’s just not the case.

      no one is saying that designers aren’t talented, and that they aren’t worth hiring. we’re making it clear you get what you pay for (as are all the comments here). if you read the request emails i get on a daily basis asking for discount business resources you’d understand the very real need for lower cost services. and i don’t think these cheaper resources are making higher priced resources obsolete. they’re just a different option for those who can’t afford professional firms/designers.

      as i’ve said before, i understand how frustrating it is to have people assume your services should be cheaper. i hear that every day when it comes to being a freelance writer. but i don’t want to make this column about only providing solutions for people who can afford to hire professional designers. not everyone can. and i would hope that people would understand there’s a segment of d*s readers and small business owners who need these resources to get themselves started. when their businesses grow they can start using our other biz ladies posts on branding and marketing to hire firms, but until then they need these less expensive resources to get off the ground.


  • I’m in agreement with most of the posters here. I love the Biz Ladies series, and I think this post is unfortunate. Businesses that focus on design and branding should get paid for the quality of their work, as should interior designers, mechanics, florists etc. To go around making everything DIY or to focus on getting things for super cheap is watering down the quality of the work. I understand we all need to pick and choose our priorities in starting up and maintaining businesses, but I usually feel like D*S is a place where quality and craft are honored, and this feels a little like we are are losing that. I absolutely agree that as a small start up biz you should be frugal and careful, but you walk a fine line when price is the focus of all decisions. Sometimes it is best to save up until you can afford the higher quality.

  • I agree with most of the previous comments that it is quite surprising to read an article on D*S that in a way devalues good design, both in terms of being able to get a “cheap” logo off a site like Crowdsource and using interns merely as free labor.

    I’ve done plenty of work for small start-ups but I really do believe you get a stronger logo and corporate identity when you take the time to find the right designer and work with them through the entire design process (and it’s a process, not merely a here-is your-new-logo dump) – and that process costs time and money.

    I’ve lowered my rates many times to help out new businesses and non-profits, yet have also lost many potential clients because I would not lower my rates enough to fall within the $200 to $500 logo design budget. Seeing cut-throat rates like that discussed and promoted on D*S makes me quite sad…

  • I am so grateful for this post. I have been trying to figure out the best and most economical way to brand my design business and this is just the advice that I need. If I haven’t said it before , I absolutely love your blog!

  • I think Grace’s comment was very appropriate. For example, there is no way I could spend even “just” $400 on a designer right now to get my business off the ground; I have a mortgage and two children in daycare and after that all my income goes to groceries and debt. I’m certainly not going to take out (yet another) loan to pay for business start-up costs; I plan to grow organically and reinvest profits if and when they materialize. For someone in my situation, the post offers good suggestions. This doesn’t mean I don’t totally “get” the argument the designers in the comments are making. Hopefully in a year or so when I’ve gained some traction, I will be able to hire a designer at market rates.

  • The logofarm recommendations wouldn’t be quite so distasteful if they were coupled with other financial solutions that are a bit more creative. Why not suggest offering a burgeoning designer a trade of services if you can’t afford their work? Or suggesting a discount for letting the designer have free reign over the creative or the process? A lot of us get really excited about working with cool, easy clients and are willing to occasionally break the rules + barter if it means we get to explore a creative space that’s exciting to us or we get, say, marketing services in exchange for our work.

    Using logodumps is gross, no matter how you slice it because spec work is gross no matter how you slice it.

    I also think that it’s important to note that it may not be a great idea to go into business if you need to cut such a huge amount of corners. It’s not just damaging to your vendors to nickel and dime, it’s damaging to your business. The ‘do a crappy job now, fix it later’ attitude is a scary methodology.

    I really value this series but I think this entry just missed the mark.

    • dylan (and everyone else)

      i understand your points and i agree that it would be nice to couple this article with some additional ideas about bartering, etc for work (although many artists i know find those equally unfair offers). i want people to have as many options as possible for working within their available budgets.

      that said, i think there’s a point here where andrea and i disagree with the group assumption being made here, which is that “inexpensive = crappy”. i don’t think that’s necessarily the case. will you get the highest quality work and service possible? probably not. but will you get something that might be a good place to start? yes.

      i think that the idea that “it’s not a great idea to go into business if you need to cut such a huge amount of corners” is what i take the biggest issue with. this isn’t cutting a ton of corners, it’s cutting one corner. and while i agree that branding/logos aren’t the best place to cut corners (obviously the way your business looks is very important), the reality of new or upstart businesses is that extra funds aren’t always available. and it’s totally unfair to say a new business shouldn’t start because they can’t afford a professional graphic designer.

      i’ll give you a very personal and very real example. my own experience with d*s and our branding:

      when i started with d*s i couldn’t afford a web designer, period. so i used the free templates that blogger provided. doable and cute, but not the best for a design business that needs a unique look. so a year after i started, i took the next step up which was to do a trade with an artist friend. we made small logo changes to the header and tiny website changes (background color, etc.). i wanted to do more but i didn’t have the money to do it. so instead i started a small savings fund and started putting aside small amounts ($10-$20 a piece) here and there.

      then when i saved up a bit more money ($500) i hired a new designer (the previous designer wasn’t a web specialist) to work on the website layout some more and make a few changes, including a revised navigation layout. the website NEEDED to work and look better but i had to make do with what i had. so we did an ad trade and i paid every cent i could afford, which was the $500. is that a low amount of money? yes. but did i get bad work because of it? no.

      then 2 years later i realized we’d outgrown that look and functionality so i looked into hiring a professional web firm. i had to save up all those two years to afford their already affordable rate, but i finally bit the bullet and spent over $3,000 for a new logo and new website design. that wasn’t a lot of money to them, but it was a TON to me. the work was great and it pushed us in a new direction stylistically.

      now, 3 years later i’m about to launch a revamped version of the site and logo that cost me twice as much. i’m thrilled with the new direction, but the bottom line is- it took me over 5 years (and a series of small, inexpensive branding changes) to get to a place where i could afford professional work from a firm specializing in my niche.

      my point is, are people expecting businesses like mine or other people’s to wait for 5 years to start until they can afford the more specialized firms? that’s just not realistic. businesses grow and change in stages. it’s a gradual process and you don’t start out perfectly from the get-go. you have to make the best you can from whatever you have available. and if $400 is all you have, then you have to find a way to make it work. not having a logo or website isn’t an option these days, so if you can find a way to turn that $400 into a design that’s a good starting place, i don’t see anything wrong with that. someone that only had $400 was never going to be working with a $2,000 designer at the beginning. so they’re not taking business away from you. because they weren’t going to be able to afford you for a while anyway. but if you’re friendly and helpful when they reach out initially (suggesting that their secretary should design something probably isn’t the best response) they’re going to keep you in mind for down the road when their business has built up and they can afford to hire you. that’s exactly what i did and it’s exactly what a lot of new, small, and growing businesses do.

      i don’t want to put any small designers out of business, i try every day to find ways to support and educate them. but i do hope some of you can understand that there are two sides to this issue: the very real concern of designers that need to be paid a living wage, and the very real concern of new/small business owners that just can’t afford to hire a pro firm right off the bat.


  • Yes, branding is expensive. But it is a gigantic part of of your business. Probably half of your recognition is logo, look and feel, paper choices, little ephemera that’s associated with your business but is not actually your product. Branding is an essential marketing and business tool (do you really think even Design*Sponge would have such a following if it didn’t look at beautiful as it does and was just a plain old templated blogspot blog?).

    I’m not saying all this just as a designer, but as a shopper, maker of products, a craft fair curator and a generally visual person: presentation matters a LOT. It occurs to me that maybe if you can’t afford to invest in branding your business yet you can’t really afford to START your business yet?

    Remember, there are creative ways to apply your branding – ie. you can stamp your letterhead instead of printing it, etc. There’s creativity in constraint but please ensure you know what the priorities actually are and don’t skimp where it’s most important, where it will hit you the most as a business later.

  • Work for free or for full price. Never for cheap. While these are words I live by… everyone has a different definition of “full price” based on their skill or experience or time limitations…

  • I will suggest that if d*s feels it’s appropriate to direct people towards using crowd sourcing and spec work, that they also present the other side of the issue by having a post written by someone adamantly anti-spec… Perhaps Debbie Millman of the AIGA would be a good one to share why using crowd sourcing and spec work is never the right solution to any design problem.

  • I really don’t think that anyone is saying that we think these sites/low cost design solutions are taking work directly away from us. What we’re saying is that it slowly brings down what “acceptable” prices are for the entire industry. A lot of people see prices and that’s it. It’s wonderful that you, as a design conscious person, saw the value in upgrading your work, but many don’t. They have already paid $400 for a logo from a site, so how could your more expensive logo be any more valuable to them.

    I’m saying this as someone who is an in house designer surrounded literally by people who are not design-minded. I experience this mentality daily and know that if the option exists to get super-cheap design work done, most people will not take the extra step once they have the money for more quality work.

    The fact is: you cannot go to your accountant and ask them to prepare your tax return and if you don’t like the amount of money you get back, not pay them. That’s what spec work is. There is no reason it should be okay for our profession and not for others. Find another way.

  • I am a designer myself, and while I do agree with many of the posters about the value of high quality design services, I also understand the need for lower priced alternatives for those without the resources to hire a designer.

    I hope most people using lower cost services when starting out, do so with the knowledge that they want something more personalized, and higher quality once they are a little more established. After all, you aren’t losing business if they couldn’t afford your services to begin with!

  • Ok but why does the article make me feel like one is being told it is ok to barter with designers but lawyers’ fees are what they are and there’s no negotiating those.

    • donna

      the lawyer bartering issue may be something that andrea has experienced personally. i’ve known of lawyers to barter for service exchanges, so i don’t think it’s out of the picture. perhaps less common though.


  • I think Dylan raised some really great points. There are plenty of other less expensive routes a business person can pursue before they resort to using a logo factory. Approach a design program at a university. Tons of students would love to get their hands on a real world project just to gain experience, which would most likely lead to an eager student spending lots of time and energy on your project. These designers who work for logo factories are churning out tons and tons of work at a quick pace, which means that more often than not you’re getting an unoriginal, generic solution which in the end won’t help your business stand out.

    Personally I feel that if you only have $200 (or whatever amount of money it is) to spend on your branding you would be better off purchasing a low cost, but well-designed typeface from a good foundry (speaking of HF&J, for example, you can buy single fonts and or basic sets of typefaces for less than $200 there) and tastefully typesetting a logo in whatever Word Processing programs you use as a temporary measure. As Grace has shown, you can revisit your identity as your business grows and you can afford to hire more experienced professionals.

    I also don’t think any of us designers are saying, universally, that inexpensive = crappy. And I don’t think using free Blogger templates is the same thing that we are getting fired up about. The main problem with logo factories like 99designs is that they require their designers to produce work when there is no guarantee they’ll be paid. For every logo that is chosen, there are tons and tons that are not. (I realize they do this voluntarily, which is a whole other issue.) This is not a fair practice, plain and simple. It’s bad for the designers who are participating, the businesses who are paying them and as a result it devalues the the design profession as a whole by driving costs, and a respect for our industry, way down.

  • Seconding Shannon and everyone else on the real value of design, although I will say that we have at least one client who can’t afford us at all, but we’re working for him at a discount because he lets us do interesting work and because he’s a nice guy.
    As far as I am concerned, it’s perfectly ok to ask a designer to give you a discount. What’s not ok is a client expecting that we’ll knock our prices down simply because they can possibly get cheaper work done elsewhere.

  • I’m really taken aback by this conversation. I feel as though the creative professionals who felt inclined to respond so passionately to this post really bared their teeth and it is profoundly unattractive. As a small business owner who started with almost no capital to speak of, I designed my website on my own. As I am setting aside funds and considering hiring a professional to handle the redesign of our logo, I’m now extremely hesitant based on the elitist mentality that has prevailed here.

  • Grace,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly here. I am one of the many new entrepreneurs that will look into some of the suggestions made in the post (while also doing my own research). I am starting out and do not have it in my budget to work with a designer for my branding or my website at this time. Hopefully my creative ideas will tide me over until I can in fact utilize a wonderful designer to help me redesign later. Thanks as always for the great advice!

  • Shannon, I could not have said it better myself. This post is degrading the value of design. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given a cost quote to a potential client and heard “well…so and so company only quoted us $500 for this.”
    This post is teaching clients (that don’t know much about design, nor paying for design already!) that it is totally acceptable for design to be cheap.
    Us designers have a hard enough time as it is, we don’t need a major design blog condoning and advising this unjust mindset.

    • sam

      people are always going to want more for less. that’s the nature of a slow economy and decreased budgets. i didn’t create that condition and neither did this post. this post is providing alternative resources for people who are already admitting they don’t have the money to hire professional designers right now. maybe they will in the future, but right now they don’t.

      i hate to break it to you, but explaining your value to customers will always be part of being a designer or any sort of business owner. i have to justify things like this on a daily basis, whether it’s with our ad prices or my writing fees. those are my two sole sources of income and i take them very seriously- and i have those prices questioned (and complained about) on a regular basis. but it’s not anyone’s fault and there’s nothing unjust about wanting a lower price- unless you cave to that questioning and give in to someone else’s expectations.

      you’re never going to win a disagreement on price with someone who wants a lower rate. if someone has a budget and you’re over it, the story’s over- at least for now. maybe they’ll come back in the future (like so many of us do). but what you CAN win is a disagreement on value. explain to these customers that expect lower rates WHY you’re a better deal and why it’s worth the cost. i have always agreed that hiring someone professional is the best choice if it’s in your budget. and you, the designer, should be able to do explain that to them better than anyone. but if you think people will suddenly stop asking for lower rates because these other low-rate sites disappear, you’re unfortunately mistaken.

      as long as i can remember people have asked every business owner i know for lower rates, discounts, and freebies because “someone else” gave them one. if you don’t like being asked (which i understand, can be annoying) make it clear on your website that you do NOT do spec work and that you have a starting rate of X dollars. but telling people why you’re worth the investment is part of being a small business owner.

      i understand being frustrated with people expecting lower prices, but you’re assuming a lack of education that isn’t inherent in everyone asking. i think you’ll find that there are many, many small business owners for whom lower (what you’re calling “unfair” or “unjust”) rates are the only option. they’re normally happy to take whatever you can give them for that rate, or understand if you explain why you can’t. i see conversations like that as the cost of doing business and am always surprised when people think there’s one site, one post, or one person to blame. it’s the nature of this economy and i haven’t talked to a single business owner in the past few years who hasn’t felt this same undercutting pinch.

      that said, i think discussions like this are good for business owners to see. it’s important for them to know that designers are passionate and willing to explain why their work is worth investing in. if people just assume all low-budget clients are uneducated or non design-savvy they’re really cutting off a decent amount of people who are struggling with the same thing we all are- big dreams and small budgets.

      i hope both sides of this argument can walk for a second in the other person’s shoes. i know i’ve gone to bat to defend prices of independent designers for years, but i also understand and identify with the readers who’ve emailed me struggling to get their businesses off the ground and looking for advice and help to make that happen on a budget.


  • I had been thinking about buying stationary, but you’re right, it’s better to just design and print a few sheets myself. I don’t need things collecting dust!!

    I design all my own website/business card/invoice/everything graphic design related. The way I figure it, I’m an artist, right? So definitely not gonna pay to have someone do for me what I do best!

    Thanks for the post :) inspiring as always!

  • Thank you for the article. I’d like to add that it isn’t a hard thing to do your accounting yourself for a small business (at least here in germany). It’s really just doing sums. And you see were you are spending what.
    Also coding in general isn’t that hard but to get the great (trendy) stuff right that designers love, you will need a real programming pro or a lot of time to learn. So you will be spending here, too.

  • Wow – I had no idea that my article on tips on how to brand your company on a budget would provoke such a reaction. But I’m happy because its engaged people into a fairly healthy conversation. That is the key word I hope everyone can get out of this article. TIPS. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to this and I was clearly presenting some options that have worked for me and my business in which I wanted to share to a like-minded audience. What people don’t realize (and I agree, I did not put it in the article) is that all the alternative suggestions you have all made (bartering, paying high fees etc) I HAVE done in the past and I’ve learned from them all! I’ve personally bartered my marketing services for personal training from a friend of mine. Does this mean him or I put a lesser value on our areas of expertise? No – it was a mutually agreeable set up.

    Case in point: when myself and the other Smart Cookies launched our business 4 years ago, my whole approach was “lets get a good brand and do it properly” therefore, we need to make the investment and dump some good coin towards it. That we did – $12,000 later we had a logo and brand that we liked but looking back on the experience, we could have done it differently and more affordably. Everyone has their own approach – expensive or inexpensive.

    It is not my intention to devalue any designers skills or businesses – trust me, I have had people think my marketing skills are not worth what I charge – they will do what they want – and I can’t be offended by that.

    I am a HUGE supporter of small local businesses – I am a business mentor for businesses smaller than mine and I do my best to guide them in all areas of their business as best I can and they will go in the direction they choose.

    I would love to know if anyone who has commented on my post, has actually used a service like CrowdSpring etc. Personally, my experience was good plus it isn’t a logo submission project where you get 1000 designs and you have to choose one. You can get some really good designs because it allows to you communicate with the designer and tweak ones you have shortlisted. I’ve never been one to praise a business or service that I have NOT tried – this was simply the route I went due to limited funding and it was a good one. Who’s to say when I redo my branding in 3-4 years that I won’t go with a local designer and spend the money? I have done it in the past after all.

    As for Graces comments, I love that she is very passionate about her business and that she has vouched for me a bit through her comments. I also love that she shared her personal experience because everyone has a different one. I don’t expect anyone to fully agree with me and the ones who did love my post or found it valuable and took from it what they wanted to, have personally emailed me to say thanks.

    Either way, I appreciate hearing so many different sides to this – clearly everyone has a different opinion on this and I get that.

  • AIGA has a very clear definition of what spec work (crowdspring + 99designs) is and why it is so devaluing to the graphic design profession. http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/position-spec-work

    I understand that people just starting out may not have the funds to work with a professional designer but, like some of the other designers posted earlier, there are alternatives that are affordable and will not abuse the value and worth of good design.

    Bartering: You design unique pieces of jewelry. You need a logo + business card. Talk to a designer and see if they’d be willing to barter their services for yours. Designers could always use photographers for projects, barter that service in exchange for a logo or a website.

    Another option mentioned, go to a student. When I was in college I met a woman at an internship who was starting up her project and needed design work done. Five years later, she is still my client . Students will work for a very affordable price and will be motivated to have some professional experience under their belt. You will get an identity package that is actually catered to your business, mission and audience for a price that you can afford.

  • As a graphic design professional I was also taken aback by the suggestions in this post.

    I echo the comments many others have made about why the proposed solutions for logo development are not sustainable. Utilizing wordpress, blogger and other open-source platforms is an excellent suggestion.

    But there are other branding and design options that are just as budget-friendly for people who are starting out.

    I’d like to offer an alternative solution in the hopes that someone reading this would find it helpful:

    I know other designers like myself who would welcome a client who explains their situation and is really open to making the project work on a tight budget. Tell a potential designer that you’d like to work with them and if their prices are too high, be honest about your budget. Tell them you are willing to be flexible to make this work and see what they propose.

    I have done a lot of work for people who don’t have typical budgets for design work and are starting out but also want beautiful, custom, tailored designs. We discuss a process that is less expensive and less time-intensive but still gets them a great product. I actually have a process just for these types of clients! It doesn’t bring down the cost of my more typical work, it just brings along more clients. There are designers out there who will appreciate that you are up front about your needs and will come up with a solution that is beneficial for both of you.

  • I think this article is very helpful for those of us who need it. I also find it interesting as an artisan to hear the perspective from the designers. While I can understand their point of view, as a trained potter, I am always going to be faced with endless cheaper alternatives to my work. I would never expect anyone to go without dishes because they couldn’t afford those that are handmade, and also wouldn’t think less of them for doing so. All businesses generally have a low, middle, and high end, and I don’t think it’s surprising that graphic design follows suit.

  • It’s interesting how people who say they ‘can’t afford’ to engage me as a professional designer are the same people who have the latest iphone/ipad, new clothes, cars, laptops etc. To me, this just says they’re not serious about starting their business, or have no solid plan.

    My dad always says, ‘measure twice, cut once’. If people aren’t willing to invest properly from the start in their brand, they probably shouldn’t be in business in the first place.

    Any business has essentials they need to start up and continue to run. A restaurant needs a kitchen, food, drinks, staff… For me as a graphic designer, obviously a computer and Adobe software are essential. Are these things cheap? No. But I need them to run my business. I accept that. So I put aside money each month to ensure I upgrade these every two years.

    If you keep your logo for, say 5 years as it is and it costs you $2 -3000 to produce (properly!), that’s max $600 a year, or $11.53 a week! If you can’t invest $12 a week into your business, you are in trouble!

    If you can’t see the value in investing in your brand, then how can you expect anyone else to?

  • I am a floral designer who grows my own flowers and designs for wedding clients. So, let me state that I appreciate the “designer” perspective here because I routinely have clients meeting with me (for free consultations) who want $5,000 worth of flowers and services for $1,000 just because they heard Martha Stewart say using local seasonal flowers for their wedding was the “cheap” option. So, believe me, I understand being devalued.

    But, I have to commend Grace on her approach and agruements here. As a small biz lady, I started with very little and designed my own website via WordPress and got my biz cards printed *economically* via Vistaprint. And yet I repeatedly have clients comment on how professional and well-branded my business appears. I’m not saying this to toot my horn. I’m leading up to this point: I’ve spent 18 months “making due” with what I could in terms of my branding. It’s worked just fine and I couldn’t have started this business any other way. BUT, now I’m getting to the point where I can A) afford to hire a professional and B) feel confident that my business is going to be sustainble/successful so I will need a logo and website that stand the test of time. And so I will be hiring a professional shortly to do that for me.

    It’s very scary to start a business and think you have to invest thousands into branding and online tools when you desperately need that very same money to buy inventory so you have an actual product to sell. Perhaps it’s a chicken and egg scenario, but I had to choose putting my money into supplies/inventory first and now that I have some wiggle room in my budget, I’m going to get that logo I’ve always wanted.

    Oh, and just another sidebar: I personally enjoy it when a client challenges me to demonstrate my value to them (i.e., says my quote’s too high). I find it a great opportunity to both practice vocalizing my “unquie selling point” (what makes my company special) and to clarify for myself over time what my real niche is and how I can better serve my clients. Yes, I would love to have all my clients just throw money at me, but the reality is that I think they actually value me more after they’ve questions my prices. Usually I can also demonstrate to them my flexibilty (I don’t lower my price on what I’ve proposed, but I will offer them a lower cost alternative), which either wins them over and they sign the cotract or they leave with a good feeling still and they recommend me to others because they still respect and appreciate my business.

  • Folks! Do you think lawyers and accountants get so “bent out of shape” when someone presents some less-expensive alternatives to their services?? I wholeheartedly agree that good design is essential and that designers – like EVERYONE else – should be fairly compensated for their work. I feel fortunate that I (or my organization) have been a been able to afford the services of a dozen design firms over the years and I also feel fortunate that none of these designers had the attitude that they were indispensable to my business. I agree with Erin and Beth – there are always a range of alternatives and hopefully, most businesses will select the best services their resources will allow.

  • As a designer, I agree with the points being made about devaluing design. There is rarely a time someone does not try to haggle with me over prices. However, I can see the side of small business owners on a basic level as someone who does not have much money in general!

    I’ve also run into many of the people who are gadget/status symbol lovers and like high-caliber design, but just don’t want to pay for it for it for their own business. Hmmm…

    Also, as someone mentioned before, designers have it hard enough. Most are not making the money that lawyers (not the non-profit ones) are making. It’s hard to feel like you’re not asking for much, and told you won’t receive fair pay.

    Random thought: I wonder if anyone has ever tried setting up long-term payment plans for clients that don’t have a lot of funds. Does that ever work out?

    But I think if both client and designer are willing to compromise and manage their expectations on the deliverables, it may be possible to create a beneficial working relationship.

  • I just want to give a HUGE thank you for this article, Grace, Andea & DS.

    I am disabled so spending a lot of money means I can NEVER get my biz off the ground. In my circumstances (having barely enough $$ to live on), being able to sell my wares is the only hope of bringing in cash since I am unable to work at a “real” job. Just getting my biz going is an uphill battle, so I am extremely grateful for every DIY/lowcost info I can find so that, I too, can have a piece of the entrepreneur pie.

    You who are complaining about this article are not taking other peoples circumstances into consideration! There are, I would bargin, thousands who have no other choice but to climb the biz ladder one rickety step at a time and who NEED this info.

    As for me, once I am making profit, I will probably want to find a designer, an accountant, a printer, etc whom I can sit down with face to face; I would PREFER that kind of biz integration, but if I can’t even get started, I won’t be there to use your services down the line.

    If you could stop being ‘shocked’ by this article, you could see it as a positive for your biz; this may bring people into a true biz to get started, but after profits are coming in people will WANT to have a higher quality of everything and will start looking for YOU instead of staying with a less personal, less quality mass-producer. I wonder how long those who use the mass-services stay with them after they have become successful? Any investigation been done on that?


  • Okay. I’ve been back and forth on this post for the past few hours and I’ve finally come to an actual opinion.

    I think this article points out a lot of good stuff. Sometimes you can’t afford a “real” designer and you need a logo fast. I get that. As a new business owner, I’ve been there.

    But at the risk of sounding enormously bitchy, I have NEVER seen a crowdspring logo that looks good. NEVER. This includes the author of the post (no offense! I swear, it’s totally my unprofessional opinion, it just looks cheap.)

    A really well done web design and perfectly branded logo are really important. My own site is lacking because I can’t afford to shell out for a $4,000 website (that’s usually the going rate for a good site that won’t break the bank), but I’ve seen from experience that other freelancers/small businesses who DO shell out the cash for good design see the results payoff like nobodies business.

    My advice? Don’t go for some generic logo that’s been done by someone at 99designs. I get the temptation, I really do, but you can always tell. And I would never hire a company that doesn’t have a really well done site that shows they’ve spent the cash and taken the time to really brand themselves properly.

  • Also! Sorry, one more thing. I like what Becca said about bartering. I can’t afford a massively impressive web design, but I recently bartered with a designer. She creates a kick ass website for me, I help her grow her design business by using social media. It’s win-win and has been working out extraordinarily well. Can’t wait for my new site!!

  • Marian:

    If you had read my post carefully, you would see that I had written that a local designer/small business owner designed my Bratface Logo who I was supporting – not CrowdSpring – and paid their fees that they posted. I then go on to mention that another ALTERNATIVE is to use a sight like CrowdSpring or 99Designs. Don’t forget the people who actually design logos, stationary etc on websites like CrowdSpring are still designers.

  • Oh man, I’m so sorry Andrea, I must have missed that. Totally lame and completely my bad.

    You’re right about them being designers too, I’ve just never seen a good logo come out of one of those sites. I really didn’t mean to give you a hard time, I promise! I just really think an impressive site is important – especially from experience. I know I don’t get the kind of clients that I want because my site doesn’t look professional.

    Thanks for responding, truly.

  • As a freelance writer I completey understand the designers point of view – sites like elance cause the same problems for writers that 99designs does for designers.

    However, as an industry (and an article) that’s all about BRANDING, I’d think you’d all understand Grace’s argument about establishing and arguing your unique value proposition. It’s your job as a designer (and mine as a writer) to have a brand that explains why it’s worth paying for. If you don’t like explaining it to every customer, hire a writer good enough to make clear on your site why you’re worth every penny.

    I agree it’s stupid to work for pennies and would never suggest to a designer that they work for something like 99Designs; but I also would not put down a small business who saw that as their only option for putting together a good design.

    I agree options like bartering for services are preferable, but not every small business has the connections or know-how to do that. So some fall for the “cheap” option. It’s the way of the world.

    Instead, focus your energies on converting customers who have the money but are reluctant to pay into folks who understand what you have to offer.

    I write for a B2B magazine that covers specialty retailers and they have to do the same thing WITH PHYSICAL GOODS. They can’t compete on price with mass merchandisers like Wal*Mart; so they have to offer their customers education – they have to teach their clients about the value their products offer. It’s not just the design industry – or just the writing industry – or just any one industry. It’s EVERY industry that sells ANYTHING.

    Perhaps a designer who wants to offer a “cheaper” option should hire an intern and charge clients who can’t afford their services a lower rate for their intern’s work, with the promise to oversee it – the intern gets a portfolio builder, experience (perhaps even pay if it’s a paid internship) and you can offer the client cheaper services and get them coming to you for work.

    Be creative. And realize your struggles are not unique.

  • Also, having to explain your UVP to clients is the difference between having your own company and working for an agency… if you don’t want to explain why your work is worth it, perhaps you should be working for an agency instead of yourself.

  • I totally agree with Melissa on this one, and I’d like to take it even a step further by repeating what a great business coach once told me: Yes, you can make it your job to educate potential clients on the value of your work vs the value of writers who’ll write for a penny a word. Or, you can target those who are already educated enough to know that they want top talent and what they’ll have to pay for it. Both are equally valid tactics; I think it’s just a matter of growing with your audience. As your work and expertise improve, so should the quality of the clients you’re targeting.

  • Andrea,
    Crowdsourcing sites like 99designs and crowdspsring are ruining the design industry and the future for those of us who are in school, working as freelancers or owners of small graphic design businesses. These sites disrespect us and exploit our knowledge and talent that we have all spent so much time and money developing.

    You do get what you pay for and don’t expect much from those sites. The designs are generic and hastily done. There are a lot of concept copycats and people who trace clipart so you may likely find yourself in a legal battle due to copyright infringement. There are many unethical designers on those sites so it is best to hire someone directly so you can get an understanding of their background, education, aesthetic and personality. You’ll have peace of mind knowing you spent your hard-earned money on a trusted source instead of giving it to someone who could have stolen an idea from someone else’s portfolio site. Believe it or not but it happens all the time!

    I understand many women here are on a tight budget but there are alternatives like brandstack.com and upstack. These are the ethical way to go.
    Designers on those sites do not participate in spec (FREE) work. The logos are already designed or you can easily hire a designer with the appropriate aesthetic through there or upstack where you work one-on-one and within your budget.

    Would you work for FREE each time you were trying to land a new client or project? You wouldn’t sell yourself short so why should we? As female business owners we need to do things the right way and think about the consequences of the choices we make when building and operating our companies.

    Sites like 99designs were created by men who wanted to make a quick buck because they saw an opportunity. They are exploiting so many designers who are desperate for work-it should be criminal!

    Please think about using the alternatives out there-you’ll get more value for your money, a much better experience and tailored, creative memorable solutions.

  • As someone who is starting a small business I found this site due to it’s amazing biz ladies articles. This article was put in the biz ladies section for ALL women starting a small business – not just for designers starting a small business. And they do a great job of giving advice to people like me who do on all sorts of subjects, not just design.
    Trust me when I say I have tried all sorts of ways to get some affordable design work – everything suggested here. I offered to do work (for free) with a design business to learn how to do some design work myself and they would get use of my business skills in return. When they saw my business management skills they offered me a job instead. After 70+ hours and no pay, they then told me they were too cash strapped to pay me but they wanted me to stay on. I asked if they would prefer to pay me in design. Nope. They were too busy to do that and they thought I didn’t really need the design work or the money because I had been offering my work for free, obviously I could afford to just pay for work if I could afford to work for free. So I quit. I have since tried many other designers – I have tried bartering, I have tried to students at my Uni (even offering them CASH and to be a excellent client reference!), approaching people I went to school with and offering them design work when I heard they were really strapped for cash. I have tried EVERYTHING I can think of to get some affordable design work done because I do understand the need for good design and branding. I dedicated over a year to finding some affordable work. Unfortunately I have had no luck and sadly I have come to the conclusion that designers are *really hard work*. And this post has just proved that to me even more, you guys are all up in arms and insulted when this post was just trying to help those that cannot get help from you or afford to pay your exorbitant fees.
    I have tried EVERYTHING suggested by the designers in these comments to get some design work. Now I am desperate and I will most likely have to turn to something like Design99 because as much you seem to say you are flexible I have not found this to be true at all.
    I thank Andrea and Grace for being able to look at this situation objectively. They see that there is a need for this post because people need other options. Everyone needs options and maybe you guys need to have a look at why people think your as an industries work is over priced and under rated – it is not just because of places doing things on the cheaper side. It is because you have an unrealistic idea of how important your services are in the grand scheme of things.
    Just remember many of the people you knock back will go one to have very successful businesses (without design perfection from the get go) and they will be turning to someone else to spend their big design budget with, not with you who looked down on them in the early stages of their business because they needed to put their money back into building their business and not on your big design project when they barely had their first client.
    Thank you Grace for this wonderful biz ladies series, it has been more help then you could have imagined. And thank you for staying down to earth and seeing that every situation is different and that one size does not fit all in terms of design or business. I am sorry you and Andrea are being crucified just for trying to help others. Don’t let it put you off giving real advice to those who do appreciate it. YOUR A STAR!

  • I’m a little late to this post but had to add a few thoughts I hope will be helpful to your readers. (

    I run a boutique design firm and like many of the previous designers who commented, was shocked to see a post recommending spec work and radically low prices for design here. As many others have commented, there are a lot better options for those on a really tight budget. Working with young designers (with less experience and therefore a lower rate… a great way to give a designer a start in his/her career AND get amazing quality work), templates for websites (like BluDomain), etc.

    But I felt there were a couple things that have yet to be mentioned.

    1. Fair wages
    I don’t think any professional designer commenting here took issue with the idea that there is a real need for more budget friendly design options. What we are taking issue with were the specific suggestions to use spec and/or expect RADICALLY reduced costs. When you are asking for spec work or working with a company that promises a brand for $400, someone somewhere is being taken advantage of. Ditto with unpaid interns. Designers are either not being paid at all (spec/intern) or being paid a few dollars an hour ($400 full brand package). I agree with Andrea’s statement “Business branding encapsulates everything the business stands for.” I would include in this fair treatment of vendors. We all support the efforts of Fair Trade to guarantee fair wages to those who might be taken advantage of in the global business system. This is no different. The suggestion to use these kinds of services would be like saying about jewelry design, why go to etsy and buy something unique and handmade when you can go to Walmart and buy 10 necklaces for a $1? Your brand should be strategic and unique or it does very little for you. This is a really important thing to consider when you are weighing your options to get started. Consider the real VALUE of what you are getting, not just the cost.

    2. True cost: a word of caution.
    Because I get inquiries for this kind of work, I hear A LOT of horror stories. I can’t tell you how many sad stories I have heard from potential clients who have been burned by what seemed like an amazing deal. I have had several people come to us with half finished projects or non-functioning sites. They are now in the unfortunate position of having to redo the work and what seemed like a great deal has now cost them both time (a valuable asset to a start up) and a great deal of money. I also had a client come to me after having to sue their previous (very cheap) vendor when they discovered their logo was STOLEN from a charity organization in their industry. They were lucky. They discovered this pretty early on in the process. (And they were lawyers and could sue without adding lawyer fees to their loss.) Can you imagine the irreparable damage this would have done to their business had they launched with a stolen logo?! Not to mention the cost of redoing every part of their brand? Design is like all other things in life… if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Sometimes going with merely the cheapest option is not the best business decision in the long run. You really need to weigh ALL the factors (reputation, quality, experience, value AND cost) to make the best decision overall.

    I am a HUGE fan of the business series and also a huge fan of Smart Cookies. I remember being inspired with my own business when I first read their story. I think we all know that this article was written with the best of intentions. But the points we are raising are very real issues in our industry. As Andrea mentioned, it is positive to have an open discussion, because (as shown by the post) many people outside of our industry (even those who support the design world) really don’t understand the impact of spec work and unrealistic price expectations. There is no design button on our computers. This work requires a great deal of our time, creative energy, knowledge, and skills we gain over the course of our careers. And those skills have a real value. Both to us as service providers, but also to our clients who get strategic, EFFECTIVE brands.

  • It’s so great to hear folks on the sunshiney side of the coin! I also believe that it doesn’t take a mountain of money to start a business. It’s all about being creative with your resources. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • I’m a professional photographer and often run into the same scenario as the designers in this thread (plus I’m also a design graduate from SVA). But to echo Grace’s point other photographers that service clients that cannot afford to hire me are not taking away my business. They are simply providing a solution for clients that would otherwise have none. Sure, occasionally there may be a client that can indeed afford me but chooses the cheaper photographer simply because they can get away with it. But that client does not realize my worth, so I am better off without them.

    It’s interesting to me that no one has mentioned a glaring irony here. Design Sponge is mostly articles teaching people how to DIY. Refinish the wood on that dresser, reupholster that chair, choose this color combo or shop at these online boutiques for the best wallpaper. Don’t you think there are professionals out there that can do it better than you? Don’t you think they may get upset to find countless articles teaching you how to do, for free or cheap, the very thing they specialize in? Why is it acceptable for certain professionals to get upset while at others we tell them their trade is a dying art, a lost craft? What goes around comes around my friends. The letterpress was killed by modern printing methods and yet we now see many professionals making a living doing it as it is considered high style once again. As computers and software became commonplace graphic designers and photographers sprung up everywhere. It may be the same story told a different way.

    Perhaps a little off topic but I remember how many people thought nothing of downloading music online several years ago. Now most of us realize how doing so is practically the same as taking something off the shelf in the store and hiding it in your coat as you exit. The point is that ethics, methods, aesthetics & practices in business and life in general are not always cut and dry. There is always room for debate and it is articles like this, along with the accompanying dialogue of responses, that allow us to learn and grow as a healthy society.

    Couldn’t this article, as well as the entire Biz Ladies series, be seen as hurtful to the many professional and well paid business consultant/marketing firms out there?!

    Am I the only guy that read and responded to this article?

    • M Kruter

      I’m assuming you’re not the only man who read this, but you may have been the only one that responded so far ;)

      I understand your point about DIY and groups of professionals and agree to a certain point. However, just like you pointed out in your paragraph above, there will always be people for whom buying is their preferred option. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people who say things like “That project was fun, but where can I buy the finished version. I don’t have time for that”. I think people who want to make things will always make their own versions regardless of a project being published here.

      That said, the projects published here are primarily of a 101/Basic nature. These aren’t exactly things a “professional” has trade secrets on. Taking off veneer and learning how to hang wallpaper aren’t going to take business away from people that have a completely different, and more specialized/expert, level of skills to offer. The level of quality you’d get from say, a professional upholsterer, is always going to look cleaner and nicer than something I learn how to do with a staple gun in my house. But like you mentioned above- if I didn’t have the $1500 to redo my couch, I was never going to hire a pro anyway.

      I don’t think any group should have their skills overlooked or disregarded- we highlight (and recommend/support) talented artisans on a daily basis here, but we also try to provide resources for people who’d prefer to try to make or do things on their own because of budget or personal preference. So I don’t see it as a glaring irony so much as a continuing choice to offer things to both sides of the audience.


  • Grace, I agree with you entirely and it is my only intention to play devils advocate.

    Regarding trade secrets I refer to Chase Jarvis, the very popular photographer and information activist. He was the keynote speaker at last weeks PhotoPlus Expo in NY (http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/2010/11/chase-jarvis-on-social-art-keynote-address) and he discussed being the first amongst his peers to share trade secrets.

    He did not mention the short or long term effect that he has had on the industry but I feel it is the following:
    -Short term he opened the door for many who would not have broken into the field. He watered it down and now the market is becoming saturated with photographers that can do it for less.
    -But long term, as the field becomes completely saturated, the cream rises to the top. What’s important is not that it can be done for less (there is always someone willing to deliver an inferior product for lower cost) but that the clients (and peers) understand the worth of the higher priced providers. And this is true in most all industries.


  • I feel that I’m on both sides- as a small business I had to create my own website, logo, and business cards. There is no way I could pay anyone to do these things for me (either last year or even in the next few years).

    I truly wish I could because I know paying a p.r. or marketing pro would pay off, but I also don’t feel right getting an unpaid intern either. For now, I’ll have to continue doing all the design/branding myself to the best of my abilities.

    On the flip side, consumers are accustomed to cheap, mass produced furniture so I do have to convince people that custom made furniture is worthwhile. It is a constant reminder to myself of the value of my services.

    On another note, it was interesting to read through the comments. You can’t assume you will get great service because you are paying more:
    My close friends who were starting up their business last year hired a professional graphic designer…do you know that he gave them a logo they didn’t like, had nothing to do with their business, and that he had copied from a magazine? Even the pros can provide inferior products.

  • the idea and the all other statments are specialy good to think while work in any firm. i think it can apply in the personal and the official life.

  • As a pretty broke and avid DIY personality I can understand both sides of the story here. I appreciate the article and the methods pointed out because without being thrifty and making creative decisions I would not be able to bring my art and talents into the online world, but I have been marketing my things in stores and to shop owners for years with only basic business cards and brochures I designed and I have been able to make enough money to keep afloat and keep making things (which is sadly about all I care about, sharing my gifts and knowledge and not charging much more then cost for them, but that’s a fault of my own and my demographic).
    I understand the desire to have much more professional looking designs and things, but honestly you can do just fine without it as long as your products are good and you know your customers well.

    Sometimes when I walk into a store to make my sales pitch I need to be prepared with why MY products are a valuable asset and why they should buy from me. I don’t look at the things they have or could get and say, “yeah, that costs less, but it’s junk you just need to spend ten times as much on my stuff and you’ll have more sales” I really feel like that is the attitude among a lot of these graphic designers (and also a lot I have met in the real world), you know to me even saving up $200-$500 for a design seems like an outrageous expense… I could grab up a huge amount of awesome supplies and make things with that much capital. Let alone what I could do if I had $2,000-$5,000 saved up. I could finance another trip to go get my own materials, straight from the earth.

    I think if a designer wants to sell their products for thousands of dollars they should. but they should not complain when people get inferior products and lower prices. If I was able to get a $50,000 business loan, you bet I would hire professionals, to handle most of the “dirty work” in my business, but instead I choose to keep my prices low and wholesale as much as possible, thats my business plan and it’s working for me. Don’t let my business choices interfere with yours. It’s not good for anyone to engage in that type of attitude. Let your quality speak for itself.

    Sorry to make this so long, I read the article and really liked it! Then I read ALL of the comments, and I got pretty passionate about it. Thank you to the author and all the commenters, you have opened my eyes to a new perspective!

  • wow – some pretty passionate posts….this is great!

    persoanlly, i like crowdsourcing – call it what you want, but it’s a great tool for a lot of people.

    i work in marketing and help a lot of small businesses get their marketing plans started, but i’m not the most talented designed. so, if i’m working with a group that needs help cleaning up a logo or getting some new ideas, crowdsourcing is perfect.

    to the people who are upset about options….believe in what you are selling. you aren’t providing a logo, you are providing a relationship and and brand. a $100 logo isn’t going to compete, but for someone looking for a $100 logo, your “basic” branding package is way out of their league.
    if you are worried about losing your customers then you don’t believe your skill set puts you any better than the $100 version. that’s where your problem is – not that there is a $100 version.

    i like to think i have a pretty good understanding of building brands, and if i need website hosting or a fresh logo i’m not going to pay someone to do my job….i’m going to look for a customized solution for what i need. crowdsource is one option.

  • I loved the article. It has given great insight on how to build and brand your business on a budget. I have found ways to keep my costs low as a small business owner. I especially like the idea of locating an intern to assist me. Now, I’m ready for the ROI!

  • Andrea, I just wanted to tell you, as a result of this article, I have been working with 99designs to develop a logo for my little start-up business. My experience has been wonderful, and I will be choosing a winner within the next 24 hours. Thank you so much!

  • Oh my goodness! Aren’t the graphic designers a touchy bunch? A bit of perspective would go a long way here. Think about all the other creative occupations that are in exactly the same position (dressmakers, jewelery designers, furniture designers, writers etc) and are not the ‘cheapest’ option by thousands before. The RIGHT people will come to them for their service and are more likely to come back if they are NICE and are great at what they do (were most likely attracted to professional reputation in the first place).
    Get over it people, no one is taking business away from you because the business we are talking about wouldn’t be able to come to you in the first place.
    Be honored that you are too good for this post if nothing else.

  • Hi Glen,
    A couple of things that I’d appreciate your thoughts on (and hopefully others would too).
    First, use of tools such as Scribe to optimise posts/content for SEO. I guess what I’m looking for is good/bad/waste-of-time-or-money-for-this-reason type thoughts.
    Second, use of video in posts/content (coupled with transcripts for SEO). I’m fondling my way through this and experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t.

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