Outsourcing design work has quickly become an increasing trend, and everyone from solopreneurs and small businesses to large agencies and Fortune 500 companies, are taking advantage of the convenience and multiple benefits of hiring outsourced designers.

While agencies and large corporations are able to diversify their talent pool and hire for specific tasks without having to bring on additional full-time employees, smaller businesses are able to find qualified designers for specific projects, whether it’s web design, logo design, social media creatives or brand packaging, and receive top quality work at affordable rates.

The biggest hurdle facing small business owners looking for outsourced designers is knowing how to properly vet and hire them. To help you, here are hiring tips from thirteen small business owners that have all successfully outsourced design work in the past. Their first-hand knowledge and suggestions can help you avoid common mistakes and connect with designers that are best-suited for your specific needs.

1. Hire the right designer for each specific project

13 small business owners’ tips for hiring an outsourced design team
Hire the perfect match. Design by OrangeCrush.

Just like with any job, you want to make sure you qualify all prospects and hire the individual best suited for your exact needs. “Rather than just looking for a general designer, you will want to start your search with specifics in mind. If you are in need of a website design, then you need to seek out experienced web designers that also have extensive knowledge of the platform you are using,” suggests April Gillmore, CEO of ClickFirst Marketing.

“For example, if you are an e-commerce brand and will be using Shopify as your platform, you will specifically want to seek out web designers with experience designing Shopify themes.” Gillmore is spot-on, as different platforms require different design strategies. An eye-catching design is one thing—but if it doesn’t work for its specific application it will not deliver the desired results.

2. Check prior clients’ work—are they still using it?

soap packaging
Check if prior designs are still being used, like this soap packaging for North Whidbey Farm by Mj.vass.

It’s always a good idea to review portfolios and ask for examples of past work relevant to what you are looking for, but you should dig a bit deeper than just reviewing sample work. “I like to perform a little due diligence on the brands and companies highlighted in a portfolio,” explains Vini Iachetta, owner of Peppermonkey Media. “If the designs are still being used that is a good sign. If not, it raises a red flag, especially if it’s a trend.”

Iachetta bring up a valid point that many overlook and don’t take into consideration. If a designer has multiple web design examples, yet none of those websites are currently running that design it could mean that the designs didn’t work out for the brands in the long run. This tip takes just minutes to implement and can save you a lot of headaches down the road.

3. Give small tasks to see them in action

subsea valley web design
Start with a landing page mock-up, not the entire website. Web design by Mike Barnes.

It’s hard to gauge a potential freelance design hire by only looking through a portfolio and exchanging a few messages back and forth. You need to see them in action to determine whether or not their communication, speed, understanding and execution is up to par.

“Rather than hiring for your main project first, consider hiring a potential candidate for a much smaller task first, in order to see if they are going to be a good fit. Design talent is one thing, but you need to see the way they interact with you and your company in terms of communication and speed,” says Ben Larcey of StoreKit. An example would be hiring a web designer to design a landing page mock-up first, rather than your entire website, which allows you to see them in action prior to fully committing to the entire project.

4. Define your project’s scope and schedule clearly from the beginning

If you do not clearly lay out your project’s scope before engaging your designer and have him or her fully understand and agree on that scope of work, then you are more than likely going to experience some miscommunication and maybe even frustration.

Cluttered desk
Have your project’s schedule laid out in advance via Unsplash

“Your scope of work needs to be very detailed, including a list of specific milestones, deliverables, functions, features, deadlines, and most importantly, costs,” explains Immanuel Debeer, CEO of Flight Hacks. “There should be no gray areas, and you need to fully map out every detail of your project, from start to finish. Remember, a freelance designer is there to do the work you are hiring them to do. It’s not their job to fill in the little details.”

Some companies will outsource design work and not be satisfied with the end result, but the designer isn’t always the problem. The lack of details and instructions are often to blame. Be detailed and thorough when mapping out and explaining your scope of work.

5. Spend time building relationships and understand their passion

illustration of a woman
Get to know the person behind the design work. Design by Musique!

Sometimes you will need to outsource a one-off design task and you will hire a freelancer to handle the job, never speaking to them again, simply because that need was satisfied. Other times, you will find a great outsourced designer and form a long-term relationship, resulting in collaborating on several projects over the years.

“Just like with in-house employees, you want to form a strong relationship with your outsourced talent. Taking a little time to understand who they are, what they like to do away from work and what they are passionate about, can go a long way in helping to create a stronger bond,” suggests Mike Fernandez, owner of Tank Prints.

Something as simple as noting their birthday and sending them an electronic gift card to Starbucks can have a positive effect on the relationship. You can experience faster turnaround times, priority as a top client and even more favorable pricing, simply by building a strong relationship.

6. Don’t neglect the interview process just because you’re using a third-party service

Two people in an interview
The interview process via Unsplash

Using a third-party service such as 99designs provides so many benefits, from providing you with a large talent pool of designers to select from to its payment protection, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid a traditional interview process.

“Communication is a big factor when dealing with design, so it’s always a good idea to conduct a proper interview prior to hiring. So much information needs to be properly relayed in order to not only finish a project on time, but also to receive a final product that matches your needs and vision,” says James Davis of StaffOutsourcing. “A simple yet thorough interview, whether by phone or video conferencing, ensures you hire a designer that you can openly communicate with.”

If you hire solely based on a design portfolio you risk not receiving a comparable final product because there is a communication gap, or the designer doesn’t fully understand your brand. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make when outsourcing design work that could be avoided with an extra five to ten minutes of work.

7. Test communication and response time upfront

isometric desk design
Test those communication skills. Design by Tomas Nadymacek

The last thing you want to happen is discover that there is a communication problem weeks into a project. You always want to test those waters in the very beginning, before formally hiring a designer. “I use the initial screening and interview process as a way to gauge communication. If days go by between responses in this early stage before they win the job, then to me, that’s a major red flag. I immediately assume it could be worse when they are hired,” says Tim Johnson of Ink Factory.

Personally, I use the same approach. Now, I understand that freelance designers are working with several clients and managing multiple projects, but if they can’t multi-task and reply to messages in a timely manner it’s just a recipe for disaster. I have to feel 100 percent confident that there won’t be any delays in communication before finalizing a project hire.

8. Establish a working time zone to communicate more effectively

The great thing about outsourcing your design work is that you are able to search for talent all over the world. There are no geographical restrictions—you can go out and find the right person for your specific requirements. This often means you will be working with someone in a different time zone, so a little adjustment will be required.

Clocks with different time zones
Time zones via PEXELS

“It’s important that you identify what time zone your designer is in and determine whether or not that will work in terms of communication. If there are major delays in response times it could end up dragging a project on longer than anticipated,” suggests Peter Zaborszky, founder and CEO of BestVPN.com. “Also, don’t expect your designer to adjust his or her time zone to accommodate you.”

If you absolutely need to work with a designer within your own time zone you can simply perform your initial search using location filters, showcasing available local talent. If they are not in the same time zone just make sure their time management skills are on point.

9. Hire to design, not code

website code
Website code via Pixabay

If you are hiring a designer to create a new website design layout or an email newsletter template you want to make sure that he or she has experience, in terms of creating the design in a way that will work with your desired platform or application, but you can’t expect them to perform the coding as well.

“Remember, you are hiring a designer, not a developer,” says Scott Langdon of HigherVisibility. “While you want to ensure that your designer understands the function they are designing for, you should only hire for that specific task—the design. The coding and development should always be handled by an expert in that field, whether a large development agency or a freelancer.” Just as the design is an important component of an effective website, so is the coding and technical aspect.

10. Ask for multiple references

Woman laughing on phone
A grueling reference check phone call via Unsplash

Reviews and feedback on an online portfolio are a great start, but don’t be afraid to ask for some references you can speak to. “An experienced freelance designer is going to have a fairly large book of business, and asking for references, especially if they are being considered for a large-scale project, should be expected,” explains Zhen Lim, Co-Founder of OGO Print-on-Demand.

“You can also reach out to brands directly that you find in their portfolio, but it’s much easier if you are able to get the name and contact information of the person at the company that worked directly with the designer,” adds Lim.

By speaking with individuals that have previously worked with the designer you are able to get a good idea of the communication as well as past clients’ overall satisfaction level. Taking the time to do this helps ensure you hire a designer that you feel comfortable with and confident in from the start.

11. Consider several candidates but cut dead weight quickly

You always want to engage with multiple candidates in order to find the best designer for your specific job. “I like to cast a very wide net at the beginning, but cut dead weight quickly, as to not waste a lot of time on potential designers that just aren’t a good fit,” explains Robert Hamparyan of Hamparyan Injury Lawyers. “If the response time is unacceptable or if there is a communication gap, it’s onto the next. There is a large pool of available talent, so don’t be afraid to clip quickly—you want to avoid wasting time.”

The longer you work with freelance talent, the easier this part becomes. You learn what qualifying questions to ask and how to identify designers that will gel good with you and your team.

12. Constantly be on the lookout for new talent (always be in recruitment mode)

captain looking out for ships
Always be on the lookout for new talent! Design by Henrylim.

So many designers are leaving the traditional agency setting and freelancing. The freedom to work remotely and for themselves is appealing to many, resulting in an increasing talent pool of top talent.

“There used to be a stigma in the past in regards to freelance designers, as almost second-tier, but that has completely changed in the past few years,” says Thomas Asseo, CEO of Fresh n’ Lean. “There is so much creative talent becoming available, which is why it’s important to always be on the lookout, even if you don’t have an immediate design need.”

At my brand development agency, we keep our eyes open for new talent by constantly searching portfolios, just as we are constantly keeping our eyes open for new products to launch. The quality of freelance design talent currently available is extremely high.

13. Learn to trust your intuition

good vibes only design
Find designers you vibe with and trust your gut. Design by Martik

“Trusting your gut when working with a designer will save you a lot of time and headaches,” suggests Greg Reese of AmeriEstate Living Trusts. “If you feel that he or she simply doesn’t understand your brand or the message you are trying to convey in a design, then it’s best to move on and find someone that gives you a good gut feeling.”

A great designer is one thing but connecting with someone that understands your needs and wants, is another story. Your intuition plays a huge role in this process, so learning to listen to, and trust it, will be key.

My company hired a freelance designer to create the packaging for a recent product and he was hired solely based on my intuition. While his portfolio was limited, I felt he completely understood our goals with the brand and the message we wanted the packaging to deliver. Needless to say, he greatly exceeded my expectations and over delivered, resulting in a highly successful product launch.

Conclusion

With so many different design requirements—user-experience (UX), user-interface (UI), landing pages, social media content, email templates, logos, product packaging, etc.—it becomes highly beneficial to hire designers that specialize in your specific need.

Rather than hiring several designers in-house, which most budgets simply won’t support, hiring freelancers becomes a much more affordable option. Not only is outsourcing budget-friendly, but it also results in a better end-product, as you are able to hire an expert for each specific design requirement.

Jonathan Long
Recommended by: Jonathan Long

Jonathan Long is the founder of Uber Brands, an e-commerce brand development agency, and blerrp, an online community for entrepreneurs and business owners.