Professional graphic design isn't just for the big budget projects

Why / How you can get great designs for less than you think

Many people, even small business owners, often assume they don't need a professional graphic designer for their everyday projects. It's not that they wouldn't use a pro for every job, but they probably assume a professional will charge more, and won't want to bother with small jobs or tight deadlines. Or, in the case of an individual (who doesn't have a need for design work very often), they may just not know who to turn to, or assume that a designer only works on projects for businesses. Either way, people often just try to design their project themselves or head down to their local copy shop with an idea.

Years ago, when I was first starting out as a graphic designer, I worked for a national print & copy chain. I won't name them here, but the company was bought out around the time I changed jobs and the name has changed anyway (that's your hint). When I first worked at this print shop, we were definitely the place to go if you were the type of client I mentioned at the start of this article. We still made most of our money printing large jobs for large companies in downtown Des Moines, but when it came to designing something from scratch (like a poster, banner, graduation invitations, wedding programs, tickets/coupons, flyers, forms, etc.) and getting it finished quickly, we were a great option. I'm not trying to take all the credit for this either - sure, we only had a couple of people who had any official training as graphic designers, but I really enjoyed working with everyone at this store. The manager was one of the best I've worked for, and because every person there was so good at his/her job, I had more time to focus on design work as it came in.

I know most customers didn't come into our store because they thought we'd be the best company to design their invitations, or whatever the project may have been. They came in because we had name recognition and they assumed we wouldn't charge much. For awhile, we really didn't charge much - at least not for the time we actually spent to get the design right, or for the amount of personal attention we gave each customer. I was personally being paid better than minimum wage, but I didn't have much design experience at the time, so of course I wasn't being paid much over minimum wage (at least the benefits were good). So, these customers got a great deal for their money, and the company was able to keep their costs low.

Unfortunately, once the company was bought out, the focus of each job position changed. Since everything was corporate-owned, not franchises, individual stores were no longer allowed to design a customer's job in-house. Instead, you were supposed to take down all the information, scan what you needed to, then email all the materials to a central design center and try to explain what your customer wanted. Of course, the person at the design center was probably not making any more money than I had been, and had the same level of graphic design experience, but now it took more time to communicate the project with them, and they still couldn't turn the job around any more quickly than with our previous system. In fact, almost every job came back 24 to 48 hours later, at which point we'd have to arrange for the customer to look at the artwork (they would have to come to the shop in person - we weren't supposed to email drafts to them since they hadn't always paid for the work in advance) and about 50% of the time, the result wasn't what the customer was looking for anyway, so there would be another delay, which was exactly what our type of customer was not looking for. If they were coming to our company in the first place, it was because we claimed to be able to get things done on short notice.

All this extra time spent sending things back and forth and turning the local employees into middlemen probably increased labor costs for the company. Even if it didn't, that was justification enough to significantly raise rates for design work, at which point, the customers could have just hired a small, local design firm or freelance designer to do the work in the same amount of time and probably at the same price. This is where the market still stands today.

Maybe you already use a local copy/print shop for your "quick and easy" projects because you rarely need this kind of design service. If they do good work and you're happy with the price, that's great - I support giving local print shops more business. Print shops know a lot of tricks for getting things done quickly and usually affordably. For example, they often have tons of free clip art you can choose from when explaining the design you want. However, keep in mind that you can almost always find an independent designer who is happy to work with you, even on projects you think are too minor for them to care about. At OGara Graphics, we take on small jobs for people all the time, and because we understand the value of keeping customers happy (so they'll be repeat customers), we can almost always work within your budget and time frame. After all, I learned a lot on the job in those early years, like how to design quickly for many projects at once, with various deadlines and budgets in mind. Sure, every designer, myself included, would like open-ended time frames to really give us ample opportunity for inspiration (you never know when it will strike). Still, I don't think I'm giving away any industry secrets when I say that we will often accept shorter deadlines, and we can price our services competitively with your other options, like your go-to copy shop, or designing something yourself.

I mean, really, couldn't a professional make your flyer look twice as good in the time you would have spent trying to get Microsoft Word to do what you want?

Matt O'Gara
Owner, OGara Graphics

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