DIY versus hiring a pro: graphic & web design

“Just GOOGLE it!”

We live in a world where information is accessible at the tip of our fingers. We can youtube how to fix that plumbing problem, sign up for that free or low-cost software-as-a-service (SAAS) that’ll do a “quick and dirty” version of what we need. Instant gratification and saving money… that’s what it’s all about, right?

I think we first saw this with the birth of digital photography, when suddenly for a few hundred dollars we could all become our own “family photographers” and hiring a professional was no longer a necessity. Now that creative DIY concept has spilled into graphic and web design with the launch of CMS systems a la Wix and WordPress that the website owner can build without knowing code or web development at all.

This tendency to take control and do it all ourselves has certainly helped in the influx of lean startups (myself included!). The idea of launching a business for a couple thousand dollars is more real now than ever before. But when do you draw the line between DIY and hiring a professional when it comes to graphic and web design?

Full disclosure here… I’m a DIY-er to the core because I enjoy letting the creative side out once in awhile (and have a bit of a knack to pull something together on the fly). I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, and I definitely invest in the pros when I need real work done.

When should you DIY? When should you hire?

I pick and choose based on a few factors:

  1. Turnaround timeline: For design pieces that I need tomorrow, I’m not going to call a pro designer because I know the turnaround just is not realistic. These tend to be pieces on a whim, such as a custom image for a social media post or e-newsletter.
  2. Purpose: If it’s gotta look professional and “dressed to impress”, I know enough to go to the pros. Professional pieces are more crucial to my long term marketing plan, more thought out in terms of message and I’ll have them laid out weeks in advance, providing my designer appropriate time to complete a draft and changes. These pieces may be used in a printed format as well, so allowing for print shop turnaround is required. I need them to look their best because they’re an investment – not only in design but in print as well. For digital images with a short lifespan, and not a crucial message attached- that Motivational Monday branded image for my Facebook or Instagram feed, for example, doesn’t need professional design, but a long-term Facebook Page Cover image may be worth a professional design to add a bit of pop!
  3. The lifespan of the material: We’re back to the purpose and investment here… if it’s a long-term print material, don’t just blow one out that may have typos, pixelation, and other design flaws. It’s worth the investment to go with a pro. This is the same with long-term online presence… such as a website.

You may feel that your DIY website “does the trick” when you first start up… and that may be the case. Personally, I’ve done it all — DIY, professional, back to a DIY as technology and my knowledge has advanced. This is a personal thing… if you’re not stellar at designing your website (i.e. 0 to finished in under a month) DO NOT attempt to do it yourself! (The aggravation alone would probably have you pulling your hair out.)

My cardinal rule for anything, whether it be design or accounting, is if it takes you twice as long as it should you need to be outsourcing that task to a professional. Your time should be spent generating revenue for your business… especially if your business is new. And don’t get hung up on perfect… a website can be added to, changed over time, improved upon. Get something looking professional and basic to make you look like an expert in your field, and then add bells and whistles as you can invest in them.

When should you, no question, hire a professional to develop your website?

(and I don’t mean your buddy who says he may be able to help you free of charge)

  1. If your website has any direct link to your sales… a shopping cart, product gallery, event or ticket purchase option are all examples. If those components need to be on your website you need to hire a qualified professional who can set it up and know all the ins and outs of having that developed properly (and in a timely manner) because, without sales, you don’t have a business.
  2. If you want to project a sleek and professional presence from day 1… in other words, you need to make a big impact in your business because of your target market. Don’t scrimp in the start up – dress for the job you want.
  3. If your business is a B2B sale or service… you know your target customers are going to google you and you want that credibility with an online presence, investing in a professional everything (online and offline) is the only way to go. It speaks volumes to first impressions and lets them know you’re in it, not going anywhere.

There are a time, place and purpose for the DIY solution, but don’t be afraid to start talking to a professional. Finding the right professional designer isn’t always easy, and developing a long-term relationship can help you immensely as your business grows. That professional will know your business and you, have all your design files already, and know what you like and don’t like from a design perspective. I’d recommend talking to people who’s websites or print material you like, find out not only who they worked with but what that experience was like. Be conscientious of projects being done on time and budget, and how easy the professional was to work with. Brand Web Design (GWEn’s graphic designer for print) provides some tips on what you need to know when looking for a new designer. Find someone you know, like and trust.

PRO TIP: when working with a professional, you need to have enough of an idea of what you are looking for but also need to be open to their creative knowledge and experience on what will speak best to your target market, purpose of your materials, etc. You wouldn’t hire an accountant only to tell them what tax code they should reference, would you?



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