How to Choose a Graphic Designer When You’re on a Tighter Budget

By Lilly Garcia, Founder and Creative Director of Wild Olive Branding Studio

The big day you’ve been putting in long hours for is just around the corner. Your new shop is opening in just a couple of weeks! Your phone chimes and you feel your heart skip a beat when you see the email that just arrived. Your finalized logo files are here! You run over to your computer, giddy to finally be able to send your storefront sign maker the files.

You get a call a few hours later. It’s your sign maker saying your logo files aren’t going to work. You need a different type of file and he tells you exactly what to ask your graphic designer for. You send your designer a message through the website you posted your project on, but you don’t get a response. The other printers and vendors you’d hired also tell you the files aren’t working. You try again and again to contact the designer, but you never hear back. If you can’t figure out how to get the right files soon, you’re going to start falling behind and things won’t be ready for your grand opening.

A lot of small business owners start off relying on inexpensive graphic design sources like 99Designs and Etsy, where you can see dozens of design concepts before paying anyone or get a pre-made trendy logo for next to nothing. It makes sense. Your business just got started, the money isn’t quite rolling in yet, and you’ve got 47 other things you really need to invest in. But relying on these ultra-affordable graphic design options will end up costing you a lot more in the long run.

The problem with these platforms is that they force designers to cut corners. It’s the only way that they can crank out enough projects to make a living on these sites. They can’t take the time to get to know you, become familiar with your business, or research your audience – all crucial pieces if you want a design that makes your brand resonate with the right people. At best, you luck out and get a decent logo that you then have to figure out how to turn into business cards, letterhead, and marketing materials. At worst, you end up paying for a logo that gives you nothing but problems and headaches.

Almost every business I’ve worked with started off with an inexpensive logo from some online platform that promises great design. They all sooner or later ran into problems. Whether their logo always looked blurry, couldn’t be printed large scale, started to look outdated after just a couple of years, or wasn’t bringing in the right people, the problems made their affordable logo actually pretty expensive. Rebranding and replacing costly prints and signage adds up quickly, not to mention the damage of all the stress caused by train wrecks like the grand opening scenario above.

You can avoid these headaches and extra expenses by investing in developing a personal relationship with the right designer from the very start. But there are so many designers out there. How do you find the designer who will give you what you need without breaking the bank? Here are four things to look for when you’re searching for a graphic designer to partner with:

  1. Look for a small studio or an independent freelancer. Skip the big flashy agencies a go straight to a solopreneur or small shop who can give you a much more attainable price. Being small business owners themselves, they’re likely intimately familiar with your challenges and struggles. A good place to start your search is, where you can search for the specific skills you’re looking for and even filter by city if you prefer to work with someone local.
  2. Look for someone with a history of satisfied clients. You don’t have the time or money to waste on an unprofessional or unresponsive designer. Make sure the one you choose has testimonials from previous clients, case studies that show their process, and referrals you can contact. They may not have them listed on their website, so you may have to ask. It’s a good idea to do so up front in your inquiry email.
  3. Look for someone focused on getting you results. The right designer will put your goals and needs ahead of their own artistic expression. They’ll understand that you need designs that will resonate with your audience and communicate your brand well. Your designer should have a process in place for getting to know your business. It could be in the form of a questionnaire, worksheet, or phone call, but make sure getting to know you is part of their process.
  4. Look for someone who knows how to price. This is a bit of a controversial subject among graphic designers, but I believe a good design quote considers your industry, business size, and goals alongside the project deliverables. Hourly rates can’t possibly take all that into consideration and leave you without the information you need to budget or save up. Look for a designer who gives customized quotes after getting to know you a bit and be willing to put in some time and work before seeing an estimate.

You started your business to do something you believe in, something you’re passionate about. You’ve poured you heart and soul into it to make it amazing. There have been lots of long work days and sleepless nights to get your business this far. It deserves the care and attention of a personal graphic designer and you deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have the right designer to help you succeed. It may be a bigger upfront investment, but it’ll be so worth it in the long run.


About the Author

Lilly Garcia is the founder and creative director of Wild Olive Branding Studio, a boutique design shop dedicated to helping natural minded businesses discover their brand and creating visual identities that empower them to reach their goals and change the world. She loves exploring her new home state, Oregon, with her husband and daughter. Learn more about her services at and follow her on Instagram (@wildolivebranding)


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