How to Get Design Work When You Can’t Afford It

When people find out I’m a graphic designer one of there first questions is always about cost. I find there is a lot of confusion around pricing for design work. Understandably so, design projects can vary widely and depend on a multitude of factors from time, to intensity, to intellectual property to value.

If you didn’t know where to start, it might seem easier to leave it out of the budget. Now, I could go into detail about how essential creative is to the success of a business but that’s another topic for another article. And chances are that as a business owner, you’ll reach a point that requires the design eye of a professional eventually.

But what happens when you’re strapped for cash and desperately need a menu, logo, website or advertisement? Scrounging up $200 just won’t cut it unless that $200 has gets together and makes a bunch of babies.

If you can’t afford to hire a dedicated designer to create custom work for you, here are a few options:

Hire a student.

There are a lot of grads out there just chomping at the bit to get started on their client list. While new designers will most likely have a long way to go in customer relations and design, their work will still be better than no work at all. And you can always hire a seasoned professional to redo some of this work when you have the funds.

The advantage: You can likely get very cheap design work. And you’ll be helping a student gain experience and add to their portfolio.

What you’ll sacrifice: As someone early in their career you run the risk of projects taking longer, bumpy processes and interactions and green design work.

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Try working on contra.

Barter arrangements work really well for some companies, especially if you’re serviced based. I’ve been known in the past to trade my graphic design services for things like hair cuts, messages and dinner tabs. You could even construct your own arrangement that pays for a portion of the design work and covers the remainder with trade. It won’t hurt to inquire about this option with your designer to see if they’re open to it.

The Advantage: You’ll get graphic design without breaking the bank and skip the taxes as well.

What you’ll sacrifice: If you don’t have a very clear contract in place before you get started, things could get sticky with establishing how much each service is worth.


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Buy off the rack.

There are many websites out there that offer an ocean of different stock designs and templates you can purchase, download and customize to your business. Some of these websites include Shutterstock, Etsy, and Design Cuts. I would personally recommend Creative Market or Envato’s Graphic River where you can find everything from website themes to logos to print design templates. Often times the author will even customize the design for you for a small extra charge.

The advantage: Millions of designs to choose from that you can purchase and start using right away.

What you’ll sacrifice: It may take some time to search through and find what you need and even then it might not be a perfect fit. You’ll also run the risk that someone else will wear the same dress to the party – there are potentially many other businesses using the same design.

I know that startups struggle with finances in the first year or two of business and I hope I’ve helped with giving you some options on how to give your marketing a boost without going into debt. Best of luck with your creative endeavors!

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