According to a 2021 study, the number of operating small businesses decreased by 37% since January 2020. There is good news, however. Another 2021 commerce report indicates ecommerce sales grew by 16.1% in 2020. This change in consumer behavior signals an opportunity for small businesses also to take their business online.
Going online will mean a rebranding effort or overhaul of their existing marketing materials. Small businesses looking to add a digital storefront will likely need to enlist graphic design and development help. However, hiring an in-house designer or an agency may be out of range for recovering businesses.
Luckily for small business owners, they're not the only ones going online. Nowadays, you can easily find and hire graphic design help online, and the competitive landscape has only made these services more affordable.
Graphic Design Subscription Services
More consumer-friendly models, such as graphic design subscription services, are slowly replacing the traditional model of hiring a freelancer to do one design job.
These subscription services allow you to get multiple design jobs done, usually for a monthly subscription between $299 - $499. For businesses looking for a rebrand, this is an excellent alternative to hiring a freelancer for one-off projects. You'll likely save money and get to work with a wide range of talents instead of being stuck with a designer who may only be proficient at one type of design. These service providers will generally assign different designers based on your needs.
- Great value if you have a lot of design jobs
- A dedicated account manager will usually find the best designer for you
- Can work with a wide range of designers with different specializations
- Affordable and predictable rates
- Designers usually work in different time zones
- It can get expensive if you only have 1-2 design jobs per month
Tip: Get your money's worth. Make sure you have at least 3-5 projects ready to start. Anything less than that, you may not get your money's worth. We recommend starting by getting all your branding materials done first. Afterward, focus on your marketing materials and advertisements to get the most design work done every month.
Tip: Make the most out of your subscription. Most subscription services offer a turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours, depending on project complexity. Some also provide a same-day turnaround but for a heftier price tag. With most providers, you can expect 10-15 completed jobs per month. And if you want to make the most out of your subscription, you have to do your part. That means making your project brief and as straightforward as possible. Otherwise, the back-and-forth can take longer and reduce the number of visuals you'll get for the monthly rate.
Tip: Review at least three providers. Be sure to check online for reviews and vet at least three unlimit design providers. Check each provider's offerings to make sure their plan has what you need.
Hiring Freelance Designers
If your design needs are more specialized, hiring a freelancer may make sense. For example, if you need someone experienced with branding for your niche industry, then freelancing will be the way to go. Job marketplaces such as Upwork or Guru make it easier to find, interview, and hire freelancers.
- Perfect if you're looking for a specialized talent
- Can hire a designer who has experience in your industry
- The interview, hiring, and negotiation process can take time
- Hiring the right designer can be hit or miss
- Can be expensive
Tip: Have a list of questions prepared in advance before your interview with them. Be sure to ask questions that only someone with actual experience in what you're looking for could answer.
Tip: Verify all of their portfolio work to make sure it's their work. Ask them to send over the raw design files for you to evaluate internally.
Hiring on Gig Marketplaces
Another great option is hiring on Gig marketplaces. There are many gig marketplaces, each with its distinct model. The most well-known one is Fiverr. Fiverr is a gig marketplace that lets you browse different freelance jobs that can be done for cheap. There are no job posts or interviews. You browse the services each freelancer offers and make a purchase. True to their name, most gigs can be purchased for $5. However, with add-ons, you'll usually pay much more than $5 to get what you want.
- One of the cheapest options. Great for businesses with limited budgets.
- Easy to use platform
- Fun to browse the different gigs offered
- Wide range of services listed, not limited to graphic design
- Design work can look templated
- Turnaround can take a while
- Limited communication with the person doing the gig
Tip: Pay attention to turnaround. Not all gig artists offer the same turnaround time. Some can deliver quickly, while others will make you wait 7-10 days unless you purchase an add-on to expedite delivery.
Tip: Pay attention to revisions. Not all gig artists offer free revisions. You'll usually get one free revision on the design, and anything beyond that will cost extra.
Crowdsourcing platform was popularized by companies such as 99designs. Instead of hiring a single designer, the service lets you create a design contest and have up to 20 different designers submit their entries for you to select a winner.
The primary benefit of a crowdsourcing platform is the sheer volume of designs you'll receive. This is particularly useful for businesses that don't know what they want yet or are in the process of figuring out their brand. Most contests will usually receive 15 - 20 design submissions, and you'll quickly know what you like and don't like.
Due to the nature of the model, crowdsourcing can be more expensive than hiring a freelancer or using a gig marketplace. For those looking for ideas and inspiration, it's a great place to start.
- More expensive than gig marketplace but still affordable
- Wide selection of design submissions to choose from
- Easy to use platform
- Turnaround for the contests can be slow. Usually 7-10 days
- Design quality can be hit or miss unless you pay more for premium tier
- Limited communication with artists on the platform
Tip: Write your design brief in advance. Since the designers can't ask you any questions, whatever you wrote, is all they have to work with. A well-written design brief will ensure you get the best possible results. Before you make a purchase, spend some time writing a clear design brief. Then when you're making your purchase, copy/paste the brief.
Freemium Graphic Design Web Software
Doing designs yourself is also an option with graphic design platforms like Canva and Crello. They allow users with zero design skills to create professional-looking visuals. If you like tinkering with graphic design without committing to payments, you'll enjoy this solution.
The platforms offer users professional templates created by their graphic artists. All you'll need to do is customize the content, tweak it to your taste, and you're good to go.
Design templates are already organized per categories, such as posters, presentations, and business cards. There are also digital marketing categories like Facebook posts and Instagram Stories, making it easy for users to get what they need.
- 100% free to use
- It does not require design skills to produce something usable
- Great for creating something quick or last minute
- Your designs will likely look like a template
- Not suitable for professional branding since there may be others online using the same template
- Paying for premium design assets can get expensive
Tip: Look out for paid elements. Canva offers a free plan, an excellent resource for small ventures with a tight budget. However, some free templates may include paid elements like a premium image or font. If you don't plan to spend on anything for your design, you can swap it out with a free option.
Tip: Consider a paid subscription. Though you can already do a lot with the free plan, a paid monthly subscription can multiply the possibilities. For instance, paid plans for both Crello and Canva allow users to remove image backgrounds and create brand kits. If your tasks need a lot more than merely editing templates, a paid plan might be worth it.
Which is Right For You?
Having a well-established digital front has become a necessity for many small businesses. Those who were reluctant to make the transition can no longer ignore the change in consumer's buying behaviors. Ten years ago, graphic design services were exclusive and expensive. Today, you can hire a part-time freelancer, purchase a design gig, or onboard a subscription service with all online.
Our picks above are the most economical, easy-to-use, and trusted methods of hiring a designer online. The right design service or partner is entirely up to you. We recommend testing out 2-3 of the services to see which are best aligned with your budget and needs.