#40 – How to Be Successful At Graphic Design Outsourcing

What you will learn

  • What is the #1 mistake other people make when hiring designers?
  • Start from scratch. New site, basic WP theme. Where do you start - hire vs service 99 designs?
  • Lifecycle of design needs
  • Best place to hire designers?
  • Best practice for hiring process? Testing/Interviewing/portfolio? What to look for? What to avoid?
  • How to work with a designer?
  • What can designer do and what can't they do?

I suck at design! There, I said it. But if you’ve been following us for any length of time you probably already knew that.

As a site owner, you often have to be a jack of many trades and design is certainly one of those trades. Most people have had ad experiences with deisgners at some point in the business life.

That’s why today, I’ve brought in the expert. Russ Perry is the founder of Design Pickle. Think of it as a sort of WP Curve, but for designers service.

And in this episode I grill him on the hard questions about all things related to hiring designers for your site. This was one of my favorite podcasts to record as I learned so much myself about hiring and working with designers.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

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Full Transcript

Welcome to the Authority Hacker podcast, the place to learn field tested, no BS tactics to grow hack your online business, and finally, live life on your own terms. Now, your hosts, Gael and Mark.

Mark: Hey everybody, Mark here and welcome to the Authority Hacker podcast. And today we’re going to be doing something which we don’t do very often in our podcast, and that is to invite a guest on. As many of you know, Gael and I are not exactly the best when it comes to graphic design, but as a site owners we have to hire, we have to manage designers all the time. But, to be totally honest with you, I don’t really have much of a clue of what I am doing here, so that’s why today we’ve called in the expert, literally, my guest today is Russ Perry who is the founder of Design Pickle which is essentially all you can need subscription service for design work, is that right, nothing to do with actual pickles?

Russ: Correct, which is sometimes a misconception when I am out wearing my branded T-shirts, people stop me frequently asking if I sell pickles.

Mark: Awesome. So, good to have you on Russ, we’ll get to the Pickle question in a second, but let me just start by asking you to give us one sort of super actionable tip, maybe what is the number one mistake which you see website owners making when they are hiring designers?

Russ: Okay, so I’ve been thinking about this, I think the mistake that they make is not hiring a designer, and trying to do it themselves. So this a lot of times people getting started they think that hiring a professional designer is going to be too expensive, it’s going to be too hard, too time consuming, they don’t have a budget and there are a million tools from ours to sites like Fiverr, 99 Designs, Elance, Upwork, all those tools where you can find a professional designer at any budget that is good, that provides great work so there is no excuse not to be working with the professional designer.

Mark: Yeah, I think that’s a good point, and I think generally, when people are starting out, the idea of hiring someone else to do something, especially something like design which they may not understand is quite difficult and it’s quite hard to sort of envisage how you manage someone doing a job that you don’t know yourself, really.

Russ: Correct, and like when we go to the restaurant we have a lot of contextual experience about whether or not it’s good or bad or the pricing is right, because we eat out and we consume food all the time, design not so much and so there is a lot of anxiety when we first go to try to source that service because you just have no experience around that. However, there is so many ways with the new form of tools out there to test the waters and get that experience that is honestly no more expensive than a meal out, eating out at the diner.

Mark: That’s awesome, I really like that analogy actually, I think that helps put it into context quite well. Let me start sort of at the start here then and I am sure you get asked this all the time but Design Pickle, how did you come up with this name? You guys have really awesome branding I think.

Russ: Yeah, so we’ve actually, I know you and have shared about our agency past and I use to run pretty much a creative and branding agency but the bulk of our business was technology and software companies, and I am not talking about cool startups at San Francisco, I am talking about the company that was started in 2002, somehow was still alive but has branding and design that is old and just terrible. So we go to this creative projects, and I sold millions of dollars of these service as a branding and design and I would just bang my head against the wall because usually, our cool ideas would just get broken down by committee and so the final time we would deliver whatever, it would be like The Silicon Valley Tech Group and you just be like this brand sucks, so when I started Design Pickle, literally, this was the process, I was like I want something that can be remembered, that is silly and fun because I just spent eight years doing boring brands, and I loved pickles and then the final decision maker which I cannot tell you how important this was, was the domain Design Pickle was available. So that sort of sealed the deal, and since then, I mean, it’s crazy easy to do marketing ideas round, in fact, as I am recording this, one of my teams out in another part of our office is pre painting a pickle card that we have and give give out pickles and it’s just super fun, so that is what I now love about our brand and what I recommend for anybody in the industry is to have fun with it.

Mark: Yeah, it’s almost uncanny like how similar your story is to Gael and I’s we had pretty much exactly the same frustrations in terms of trying to do online marketing for people and put this questions people sort of okay, do you want to do it your way, or do you want to do it the way the data says which you are going to make more money, and then we rather do it our way. So I am with you on that one.

Russ: And, then you are responsible for the lack of success.

Mark: Exactly. It’s just honestly, we actually did the podcast, a full episode on sort of our lessons as an agency, so if anyone out there is considering starting an agency of any kind, I highly encourage you to listen to that podcast before you do. Okay, so let’s start by talking about the sort of new site owner. So, maybe they have got WordPress setup, they’ve got a basic theme on there, they are starting to write a research and content, then suddenly they start having all these realizations like hey, I need a logo, how am I going to design my imagery and this kind of stuff. Where do you start?

Russ: Well let’s talk about branding again, because I think this is just foundational shift in what people are used to with that topic and what the reality is. So, for many people who hear that word, they think of all of the billion dollar brands that we experience, whether that’s a Nike, or Tesla or whatever, but at the end of the day, it’s just having something that you can creatively design and create other content around, and that content is various things, whether it’s your marketing materials, whether it’s your website, so any business, any website owner getting started you definitely need a brand that you could think of as like the foundation for everything else you are going to do; if you start to go down a path to design an advertising campaign or Facebook ads or marketing, especially if you are trying to work with someone else to design those things for you, and you don’t have the brand foundation in place, you are going to waste a lot of time and money because they’re effectively guessing of what you want. You can’t really show them because you haven’t taken that step, now there is a lot of ways to get a brand, the simplest ways is to do design the visual side of your brand, so that’s going to be your logo, kind of the fonts you use, the colors and the styles, and all of that.

My favorite tool on the market to get this done is actually free to use and it’s crazy I know the founders, it’s a company called Tailor Brands, and it is a computer algorithm that will design your brand for you. You put in, it’s like going to the optometrist where it’s like A or B, B or C, D or E, you put in your info and it kind of designs it, and picks, and designs things for you. So I love for people to start there because it’s free to use, you can only pay- what you buy is basically the files of you like it, and it’s so much more streamlined and it’s very modern, the styles are very on brand for what’s kind of cool and popular nowadays, like getting those foundations in place, then allows you to start thinking about okay, well what do we build from here, and again, it allows anyone working with you like a designer or freelancer or your colleagues everybody speaking the same language.

Mark: And, is this something you think people should do before they even sort of buy the domain and get their site up?

Russ: You know, you just have to think about what’s going to work for your audience, Design Pickle, we knew we wanted to go after people who had worked with designers in the past, and may or may not have had a good experience, in fact a lot of clients have had a bad experience, so with our brand, we wanted to make it simple and we wanted to make it friendly, we wanted it to make it something that was approachable. That’s why you have a little dude, a little pickle that is smiling as our logo. Knowing that hey, we make clients who actually distrust designers because of the bed experiences they have. So having that conversation in your mind, at a minimum, is what branding, is what like branding consultancy will do for you, but you don’t need to hire anybody, you just need to think about it, like what’s going to work for who we are trying to sell stuff to. and then you start to create the visual identity around that, do we need to be friendly, do we need to be friendly, do we need to be serious, do we need to be totally different than our competitors, should we look very similar.

Mark: And are those the types of questions which the Tailor Brands tool asks you?

Russ: Yeah, so it’s actually very limited and they are like, the open ended questions, it really just ask a few and then just starts presenting you with design concepts, and it’s like do you like this version, this version, or this version. You pick the one you lie and then it’s like okay, well how about this, this or this, and you pick the one you like. So you don’t even need to be clear of you use a tool like that you don’t even need to know what you have, you just need to sort of have an instinctual understanding of where do you want to go. I will though warn anyone who is going to be creating or updating or designing things around their brand, make sure you are clear the difference between what you want and what your clients want. Because that could be the same, it could be different. So just that’s something to think about, you may not be, if my clients are 45 year old women, that’s going to be a much different brand than what I like because I am a 33 year old guy.

Mark: Absolutely, and I also think there is an argument to say that perhaps you have a different opinion, but, the first iteration of your branding and especially things like your logo, it doesn’t have to be sort of pitch perfect, you know, because it’s something that can be changed evolve later on, I find a lot of the time and I’ve done this myself, just get far too distracted and spend weeks or day at least working and coming with the ideas for this when it’s really not that important of a thing to start with.

Russ: Absolutely, and I don’t have, this is not a scientific formula, but always throw out there, the amount of time and energy you put towards your brand should be truly reflective to how complex your business is, how many clients you have and the amount of places and touch points out there. If you are a launched website, with zero customers and you are just trying to get you a few, spend like an afternoon go on the Tailor Brands and just get something done. And let’s get on with it, start to focus on a lot of the other things that matter, like making money and making sales. Now if you have ten million clients and you are looking to change something, that’s going to be a much different project and you are probably going to have to invest a lot more time and money, in those decisions, because those decisions are going have a much larger impact.

Mark: So, if you are sort of a bigger site, let’s say I don’t know, in the sort of six figure kind of range, and you are looking to do a proper sort of branding exercise, perhaps you’ve never done it in the first place, how do you do that, is it best to engage with someone, or is it basically the same process you are following?

Russ: That’s a tough one, a lot of it depends on your experience with branding in general. So if you are an executive that came from some e-commerce place and now you are doing your own thing and you know how these projects work, then I think you could really be a highly efficient finding a local design expert who is focused around branding, because you know how to manage them, you know the process. If you are completely blank to it, and have no experience and you’ve never done it, and you are thinking man, maybe this, maybe my brand is impacting my sales, or maybe I do need to do that, then you would want to probably engage and hire either a firm, an agency, someone who is dedicated to this study because what they are going to do, is they are going to be able to take care around a lot of answering the questions, that you might not even know to ask, because you don’t have the right experience in the process.

Mark: Okay, and let’s sort of take it one step further, so let’s go back to the new site. We’ve used let’s say Tailor Brands and we’ve established the branding and have the basic sort of imagery logo color scheme and that established, but then, a little bit further down the line, you start realizing that okay, you know I need to create some visuals for pop up or an ad, or something might be like an email template, stuff like that. How do you go about doing that? Is that the point where you should start to hire a designer?

Russ: I would say initially, yeah, you want to get somebody who can focus on creating those things for you, and here is why, yeah, I have, I am highly self interested in people hiring professional designers, but if you look at everything you should be focused on in your business, my instincts and I am usually really accurate with this is that designing a Facebook ad is not high on your strategic priority list. Yes, it’s something that needs to be done but you should be focused on other things, so that alone really is the main argument for hiring a professional person is it’s not that you can’t do it or you can’t use a great tool like Canva which is kind of a DIY design tool that you can like it’s a web browser based design tool that a lot of people use, actually I used it this past weekend because I didn’t have Photoshop on my computer, so I was like oh I need this. But that was like a one time thing. Hiring a professional person really just gives you the mental clarity to delegate those design tasks, and then focus on what you need to do.

Now, when you do decide, whoever your resource is, for a design, here is what I say- and especially if you are coming off like a new brand, or you kind of want to change the visual direction, just start with one thing. Don’t try to do a million things at once, it’s like juggling two balls, or one ball, versus ten. Get one thing done that could be a new ad, it could be a sales sheet or a brochure, or an email template, or a graphic for your website. Because you will go through the design process, you will finally dial that in, and then you take that as like a seed design to design other things from, so that you are not trying to figure out what it is the visual style is across ten deliverable simultaneously, you do that with one and then build from there. And it saves so much time and stress and money and your designers on the other hand, or whoever you are working with, they can design faster because you’ve locked down what that one thing is and now you are just spinning off variants and versions for all the other stuff you need to do.

Mark: That’s super awesome tip actually, I’ve literally have made that mistake few months ago, I hired a designer off of Work and for one of our sites, and asked him to do something like 19 different tasks, which I know I spent like a day writing a big long Google document about, and then we had a sort of minimum branding like a brief established, but really I hadn’t been thought through and trashed out properly and we won’t be making that one again.

Russ: Well, there you go, that’s the value for you guys, yeah, totally.

Mark: Okay, so let’s just go back to the point, so where should people look to find designers? Where do you recommend?

Russ: So it depends again on your budgets and your timeline, the ones that I recommend and these are ones that I’ve personally used for not only Design Pickle but with my previous life, with agencies and consulting, the ones that I would say you can get started with, is so Upwork, let’s talk about Work, because, that’s like a really wide open marketplace. Up Work is, I tend to lean recommending against using Up Work until you have thing really tight. Like you know what it is you want, and you have some experience working with designers. Before you get to Work, the two sites that I would recommend would be Dribbble, 3 bs, that is more of a portfolio type site where designers can show off their work, but you are going to find pretty high quality people from around the world and you can kind of connect with them. Fiverr, which I forget how many Rs they have in their domain-

Mark: Two, we’ll link to it in the show notes.

Russ: That’s a transactional site to find designers and you could go on there to define someone like let’s say you need an illustration, or a banner ad or a single brochure. Those tools though, it’s really tough to do a lot of volume, or really to develop a relationship with anybody, because a lot of times those people are available, they are not available, so I am going to recommend using them for anything you are in a rush with; once you get those experience than using a tool like Upwork you can find designers to work with around the world that then could be more dedicated. After that, if you are really looking for, like we use this tool, I am about to recommend to redesign our website, if you are looking for a really high end and not necessarily expensive, just really experienced designer Crew.co, is a agency as like a talent agency for designers, so they broker matchmaking between designers and clients, the whole system is Escrow based so you can pay in increments, based on delivery of work, and the talent pools are amazing, I found a guy in Manchester in the UK, we’ve used it for other things, and that tool is really great for things like websites, for really large branding projects, for mobile apps, mobile designs, things like that. Then there is-

Mark: Is that quite expensive?

Russ: It’s budget based so what they all do is you say look, I have a 1,000 dollars and I need to update my brand, or I have 3,000 or 5,000 dollars, and I need to create a new WordPress theme for my site, like we hired a guy to do a custom theme for our WordPress site and it was for that and a lot of really detailed implementation, it was under 5,000 dollars. So it was for us, like it was fantastic deal. Now, I will say we actually ended up having a problem with our designer, he kind of went MIA for a while, I think he went on like a bender on holiday, I am not quite sure.

Mark: Just one of those mysterious places that remote workers seen to disappear to every little.

Russ: It’s inevitable, in design, and the cool part about Crew is they totally managed it, they gave me a credit, they were helping me, the guy ended up pulling through, but they were ready to put someone else on the project and that’s why I love that company and I really highly recommend them. And then the final one selfishly is Design Pickle, you know, we are a on demand, unlimited service, we’re really great for stuff, for like sales and marketing efforts, again, once your brand is established, and it’s you get matched with one of our full time designers that we’ve already vetted and hired, and work for us full time, and then you get connected with them directly, and you just email in when you need stuff, and we turn it back out to you and it’s a really straight forward process.

Mark: How do you guys manage the sort of, the people that use your service to much, if you know what I mean, like you provide all inclusive service, but don’t you have some people that just take up ten times the amount of time than other people do?

Russ: Yeah, so we try to balance our designers versus our clients equally, so you know, one designer is not going to have too many power users, and then, our throttle is always delivery timeline, so you are never going to get everything automatically back, immediately. And so if you requested a high volume of stuff, you timeline is going to be, depending on the complexity could be a couple of days horizon for everything, a couple of weeks, we literally have this one client I love them, they are submitting hundreds and hundreds of requests every month, their timeline is endless, we actually put new designers on their account for training, so they get used to the process, and it’s like a never ending, we will be done in December with the current volume that we have. But they’re cool, you know, because none of what they are doing, it’s just like I’m doing content that they need it’s not super urgent, we just, it’s like a manufacturing production like the first thing in is the first thing out.

Mark: When it comes to actually evaluating potential designer, what’s the best way to do that do you think, is it just go with what the portfolio, you’ve got instinct of kind of like what they do here or is there like some kind of scientific way to look at it?

Russ: Don’t judge solely on the portfolio. That’s a common mistake. It’s very easy to show killer work, but you could be a terrible business owned and a terrible designer in terms of communication and work ethic. So, portfolio is a mandatory thing, just to make sure the styles and things will match for you, but just test it, test them on a few non urgent, non essential projects, things that if they go totally wrong, you are not going to be freaking out that all your budget’s been spent, and get to know them in a working relationship first, and then scale it up from there. Also using a service like Crew or a platform like ours, where there is a business around the designer that it’s not just being connected one to one, that’s another way to manage the experience because then if something does go wrong, you can, you have-

Mark: You are the project manager or something.

Russ: Exactly, yeah. And working with agencies, I haven’t talked a lot about agencies, but there is millions of really still good ones that are fighting a good fight of being an agency, that’s why they also exist, it’s because you have more of an infrastructure of support, I would definitely use agencies for highly complex projects that you may not have a lot of experience around like mobile or app development, things even for me, I still use agencies for our software and and other things.

Mark: I’ve got to caveat that by saying just because someone is an agency it doesn’t mean that they are going to be good either. Because there are good agencies and bad agencies out there too.

Russ: It depends on what your definition of an agency is, it could be two dudes and a Skype account, and they are calling themselves and agency. So definitely, do your research and again, just don’t, just be willing to lose whatever money it is you are investing in the initial projects and that way you can test how they actually work and see what the result is. That’s huge.

Mark: Yeah. Good tip I have, and I use this for when I am hiring writers, but I guess the same would apply for designers is, I hire four or five people, to do a paid test project, and I give them all the exact same task, and so then with design for example, I am not really that good and I am not really good at looking at the technical side of it, of what is good and what is bad, but it’s much easier to compare than different pieces of work to each other, so that might be useful for some people is what I think.

Russ: Exactly, and actually that is exactly how we hire our designers, is we have a templated bank of projects we give everybody, that way it’s apples to apples on how responsive they are, the experience, the work that comes out.

Mark: Cool, so let’s say we’ve got our designer on board, but we’ve never used Photoshop we don’t know any of these sort of design terminology. How does one go about working with the designer and instructing them what to do, without making the designer tear their hair out?

Russ: Copy. That’s my pro tip, copy other people’s stuff and now I don’t mean literally copy like infringe on copyrights, but find stuff that works, whether it is inspiration from other industries, whether it’s inspiration in things within your own industry, things that you have been sold on or you like, Facebook is always pumping ads into your streams, whether they are recommended for you and who you are so that is a good place to find stuff, but, just show your designer, don’t try to tell them, show them, and you can include screenshots, you can include videos, I’ve seen clients record their video and browse their websites, talking about things because it’s so much easier to show than to try to draft an email and like articulate from your mind, what it is you are thinking.

Mark: Right, and I think the same thing is true in giving feedback, like once you get the sort of first round from a designer, at least in my experience I’ve always found it’s never quite what I was expecting, and back in the day, I would kind of get a bit frustrated, this isn’t what I had in my head, and I guess that’s quite common problem with your client maybe or you guys are just so good that that never happens.

Russ: No, and this comes back to experience, so I know exactly what to say to get the result I want from a designer because I have almost ten years of experience, doing that. So, when you get started working with the designer, be fully prepared that things may not come out right, but if you’ve hired a professional, and you are able to be specific with what it is, that is not correct or not working or that you thought this and they came back this way, and then you just kind of show them and get more detailed, a truly professional designer will be able to adjust and get an alignment with what you want, and, that’s just design. So don’t be discouraged, and this is where I see people start to get frustrated about working with other people is that they think oh that designer is bad, I asked them for this and they got me this, more often than not you are a bad communicator and you just need to improve how you communicate in the way you express what you want, and that’s an ongoing process. And what is cool and I’ll share this just anecdotally, with our service, the better you get you actually get more confidence, and then you can do more complex stuff and the faster things go so your whole experience with designers really improve the more experience you get around using them. So don’t quit and really focus on that when you are first getting started.

Mark: Alright, and I also found that just having the bare bones knowledge of tools like Photoshop and I am not talking about doing anything crazy, but just knowing slightly a way around or how to edit a bit of text or build something around, it makes a big difference to kind of understanding, giving instructions and feedback to designers. And I also, just when it came to mind there, is somethings which I do a lot is whenever I am getting files from a designer, I always get the original illustration or psd which is Photoshop file, as well as the actual jpeg or png or whatever, just in case I need to edit something later, add a bit of text or tweak something which is really easy to do, you don’t really need any design skills to make those kinds of little edits but having those files has really saved me quite a few time.

Russ: Yeah, and, that’s often what is the most frustrating part of the design process is that last 5% where you just need one little word tweaked, or something was forgotten that really wasn’t anybody’s fault but you realize oh, crap, I need to put my logo on this and just everybody forgot to put the logo, so I would highly recommend going to the learning site Udemy, and taking like a 10 dollar Photoshop course, or a 10 dollar Illustrator course, you can do any, you can find one that has 2 million five star reviews and just invest the weekend into learning those tools, and then that way you can get these design files as you said, the original files that your designers are using and if you need to get them to the finish line you are not freaking out because it’s Saturday and the thing is due Monday and you can’t get a hold of your designer.

Mark: Yeah, and those courses, they are not super scary at all, and you don’t have to sort of be a creative master I think it’s really just showing you around the tool and anyone can do it. Okay, great, so this has been super actionable and super helpful for me, it has definitely changed a lot of my perspective of how to approach design. Are there any sort of final tips or words of wisdom which you’d like to share?

Russ: No, just have confidence and the best way to develop a better experience around working with any designer or any design service, is actually using that service and going for it, and having a fun mindset around it some things will be great, some things won’t, but, no matter where you are at, just do it and you will find that it’s not as scary and it will help your brand and business tremendously.

Mark: Great. And if people do want to use Design Pickle, how can they get in touch, I presume designpickle.com?

Russ: Yeah, it’s super straight forward, go to designpickle.com we’ve got tons of info, the coolest part about our service as we are talking about testing and making sure it’s a good fit is that there is a 14 day risk free trial, so you can get signed up and use our service for two full weeks with whatever it is that fits within our house, and either it’s a fit and it’s awesome, and like again a flat rate service 370 bucks a month, and if it’s not a fit, cool, no hard feelings, maybe we’re not the perfect fit for what your business needs, you can get refunded. We want to make sure that you still have that ability to test even our service.

Mark: Awesome. So, thanks very much Russ for your time today, I really appreciate it. And, thanks.

Russ: You bet, take care.

Mark: Bye.

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