How to hire a designer for your small business rebrand

By the time you decide to rebrand your small business, no doubt it's been bubbling away in your mind for some time. Perhaps you jumped into your branding early on & found that it wasn't working long term, or your products & direction have evolved over time. Maybe you're just in need of a change so you can feel inspired again.

woman creating a branding theme

By the time you're ready to rebrand, you've most likely realized that a brand is far more than just a logo. It's more than a color palette and it's definitely more than your business name or color blocking your posts on Instagram. 

You've come to the conclusion, DIY ain't gonna cut it anymore. Neither is a hodge-podge of semi-customizable templates & fonts that you thought looked good together three years ago.

How do I know all of this?

Because I've been through it. Like, now. This year. 

Why you might have continued using poor branding well beyond its lifespan

In the past, I'd do my own design for a number of reasons.

  • the start-up blues where you're self-funded & after buying supplies or stock, you don't have the budget for design services
  • you're not sure what your brand is really about yet, so you decide it isn't worth investing in right away
  • maybe (and this is less common if you're reading this right now) you just didn't realize how much of a negative first impression your brand was giving potential customers & that it was making them click off to another site because "done is better than perfect"? PS - that's only sometimes TBH

Maybe some of these things are what you're going through right now?

Finding the right designer for you

Ok, so let's assume you're in the "exploratory" phase of doing a rebrand.

That could look like:

  • asking friends if they know a designer they'd recommend
  • stalking brands you like on Instagram so you can narrow down your design wants & inspiration
  • asking for recommendations in Facebook communities
  • letting your LinkedIn community know you're looking for a designer
  • searching local hashtags on Instagram if working with someone in your local area or country is important to you
  • outright asking brands whos design you admire, which designer they used

collaborating on a branding project for website

 Be upfront and transparent about what you want/don't want

When I first started looking for a designer to completely rebrand Sailor Mouth Soaps (2010 to 2020 RIP) to Soap Cult Australia, I made sure I briefed people on what I was looking for. Even if it was just a quick post in a small business group on Facebook, because hey, you never know where you'll find "the one".

Interpersonal skills are key. It's really important to communicate effectively because we all interpret things differently. If I was thinking of "tropical design decor", I'd probably be thinking of something like this:

hollywood glam pineapple lamp

A Hollywood glam pineapple lamp with a classic white shade. Kinda 50's modernist that would also work well in a Hamptons or Cape Cod home.

Whereas someone else could be thinking of something like...this. Cushion cover? Curtain fabric? IDK. I'm just scared. 

 

flamingo pineapple tropical fabric swatch

You can see how getting on the same page, right from the word go is super important, right?

Could you imagine if you continued on with a misunderstanding as big as this? 

YIKES! I shudder to think. 

Politely thank and decline pitches that don't suit your style

If you're asking for recommendations in Facebook groups (especially there) be prepared to get a bunch of people to pitch to you recommending their own services or people sharing their friend's details etc. without any regard to your original brief. 

It's going to happen. Some people literally have their pitch ready to copy & paste into the first lead they see.

Try not to take it personally. It's a tough world out there & we've all got to pay the bills. Better to accept it as part of the business world & just be polite when you say thanks but no thanks.

Remember - how you conduct yourself online is a direct reflection on your business, so always be professional, kind & courteous. It'll go a long way in life!

moody yarn in a basket

How to check out a designer before you contact or book them

  • stalk them on social media
  • look into previous work they're done
  • contact some of their previous clients
  • check out their website for testimonials & reviews
  • lookup their ABN to make sure they're a legally registered business
  • google their real name and business name to see if any reviews come up (or complaints!)

FYI - some really great designers have a minimal website or no website at all, especially if they are fairly new. Before you let the alarms bells turn you off something that could be a great working relationship, consider this.

The lack of a website could be for several reasons.

  • They really aren't serious about being in business
  • There's a website coming but they're such a perfectionist, it isn't live yet
  • OR their word-of-mouth business is so damn good, they keep getting booked out & never have time to work on their own site! It happens.

Use your instinct here & if in doubt, just ask. Seriously. When you're investing a decent chunk of change, you must be sure you're getting the real deal, so just ask. 

beetle leatherwork crafting

Reaching out to the designer for the first time

Keep your email somewhat brief, friendly & to the point. No one wants to wade through a giant email when you're just sussing each other out.

Important touchpoints:

  • mention how you first got their details
  • introduce yourself
  • briefly describe your brand as it is right now
  • what your pain points are (ie. inconsistent, dated, etc)
  • be clear about where you want to take it & your business goals
  • if you've already got some branding inspiration, include that as a reference
  • ask about their services & their price list

Ask former clients what it was like to work with them

I did this! Without any shred of guilt & you should too.

I found my designer (Laura from Obscurio.Co) in a Facebook group! I put out a request & she replied expressing interest in the project. So I jumped on Instagram & checked out her profile, previous work, etc.

From there, I found a prior client (Ami from Damn Write) & I LOVED the brand Laura had created for her. It was really quirky & unique with illustrated elements that easily communicated her brand voice.

I sent Ami a DM & outright asked what it was like to work with Laura. And she had nothing but amazing things to say & encouraged me to book her asap.

SO. I. DID.

Because real talk - good designers book out fast & you may end up on a waitlist so don't delay taking the first step.

Reading testimonials is great but if you can, always ask a prior client. Try to pick up on subtext & ask follow up questions if you're still not sure. A genuinely happy client will be more than willing to help. 

handmade pottery ceramics thrown pots

Ok. So you're on the right track, now what?

If you're done all of your due diligence and it's feeling like you've found THE ONE now it's time to get serious about the project.

Before you actually book in with them - Get clear about what you want from the project. 

A designer isn't a mind reader or a magician (although sometimes it does seem like they can pull a rabbit out of a hat) so you need to be crystal clear about what you want.

Spend some time deeply considering your:

  • customer demographic
  • what's working & what's not in your business
  • where you want to be in three, five & ten years
  • your must-have's
  • a wish list of "nice to have but not essential"
  • a shit-list of things you haaaate & don't want anywhere near your new look & feel
  • your budget!

A good designer will send you a detailed questionnaire so they can get a deeper understanding of what you're trying to achieve. That's pretty much non-negotiable. You both need that to ensure you're on the same page. If you aren't sent one, that's an alarm bell.

BUT, you don't want when you get the questionnaire to be the first time you've considered those things. You should know precisely what needs improving in your business & what you expect from the rebrand in advance. That's best practice. 

woman in halloween mask holding unicorn

A note of caution - not all graphic designers are branding designers

A designer that can REBRAND well; is a unicorn.

Rebranding is an advanced design skill. Not everyone will be comfortable doing it.

It takes a holistic thinker with a good understanding of strategy, target markets, brand voice & identity. 

Someone like that will be able to create a brand that reflects parts of your personality in the design so it feels authentic & naturally connects you with the right customers. They will create a cohesive brand and obsess about the details. 

Their portfolio won't just be the same thing over & over with an overabundance of lowercase Helvetica fonts. They'll be creating something that will last you 10 years or more and not just what's trending right now.

Pricing, timeline and booking your designer

Pricing/design fees will vary from designer to designer but generally, they have a set price for a full rebrand service. Hot tip - it usually works out cheaper than paying hourly!

Check to see what's included in the package & negotiate anything you'd like to substitute or include.

Get clear on the anticipated timeline & be aware that it's all based around you getting back to them quickly with replies & everyone staying well during that time. We're human & our meat suits sometimes get sick. It happens, plan for it & if it doesn't happen, hooray, you're ahead of schedule. 

Be aware you most likely aren't the only client they have on the books at the one time; so be cool with that. 

A deposit is usually 50% and final files will only be delivered once the balance of payment is made. 

Tip - set the design fee aside immediately so you have the cash there to pay. And you'll need CASH, not a credit card. Solopreneurs rarely take credit cards so be prepared to direct deposit actual money. 

PS - make sure you get a Style Guide as part of your design package. A Style Guide shows you (& other designers in the future, commercial printers, etc) everything about the layout of your brand. From logos to the color pallet, to font usage & social media layout suggestions. 

woman working on laptop

Working with your new designer

Ok, so you've found your unicorn and you're ready to get started. 

You've completed your detailed questionnaire, are happy with the design package, the timeline & you've paid your deposit. 

IT'S GO TIME! Your next step is really simple.

  • Give your designer some space. Let them work & come to you when needed.
  • Let them be the trained professionals they are.
  • Don't hover & constantly email asking for updates. No one works well like that.
  • Be open to different ideas.
  • Collaborate. I can't stress that enough. Collaborate.

You're probably used to working on your own & that echo chamber can be really hard & limiting in ways you'd probably not considered. 

Without letting in outside voices & ideas, you're closing yourself off creatively.

Take advantage of the opportunity to collaborate. Both of you set to benefit from working together, so loosen your grip a little & work with your designer collaboratively. 

collection of pens

What to expect during the design period 

Good communication is key & your designer should be checking in with you at least once a week or so, providing little updates on where the project is at.

They should also be letting you know how far along they are & when to expect to hear from them next. 

When they send you drafts for feedback, make sure it's specific and actionable.

It's not helpful to be vague. Don't ever say "it's nice" when you really mean, "It's not what I'd imagined".

Be clear & respectful. Talk about what you like & don't like and suggestions for what to try next. 

Most designers will allow you a set number of revisions for free & after that, expect to pay an extra fee. But really, if you've communicated well along the way & done your branding questionnaire, there shouldn't really be any need for extra fees. Unless you want to change the whole aesthetic once work has already begun. Then that's on you, friend! 

Remember - your designer is looking at your brand in a COHESIVE manner, not at just the minutia. They'll have the vision for how everything fits in together so exercise some trust & look at it from a birds-eye view too. 

hand drawn typography

It's time to deliver your business baby

You're almost there!

By now you've probably exchanged 60+ emails and are just about to take ownership of your new brand.

When you get your last drafts before the final files and payment, you should do a few due diligence things:

  • go through the files to make sure everything quoted on, is there
  • double-triple-quadruple check details on things like business cards are correct 
  • anything else that might be unique to your project

soap cult australia no issue tissue paper semi custom packaging

Final payment and file time

When you're satisfied with everything, now it's time to make the final payment & await your files.

Once payment clears, your files will be sent via Dropbox, We Transfer etc. shortly after. Whichever way your designer likes to do file transfers. They'll be far too big to be sent via email.

Download your files in several places. Keep backups! Use Dropbox for the easiest & cheapest solutions, plus save them locally on your computer to a section that gets backed up regularly. 

Designers won't keep files for you indefinitely.

It's your responsibility to make multiple copies & backups. After all, this is now your brand intellectual property. Keep it safe. 

Provide a genuine, useful testimonial for your designer

As I'm sure you rely on feedback & reviews from your customers to generate business, as do designers. 

Remember how in the early stages, you sussed out their past clients & testimonials, etc? You can to give that courtesy to future clients of theirs & leave an informative review. 

It's customary to leave a long, detailed, specific review for your designer that they can use on their website or in their marketing. Be sure to include "swipeable" or "sticky" copy - sentences that are clear & concise & easily sum up why they're so great. 

 

soap cult australia gift tags

Unleash your new brand in the world!

This is the fun part!

It's been a long road to get here & the best thing you can do now, is go live.

I won't lie - this part is also hard! There's a lot of behind the scenes stuff you probably hadn't considered or DRASTICALLY underestimated the time it will take (that's me, raising both my hands!). 

BUT STICK WITH IT.

YOU CAN DO IT.

ESPECIALLY NOW WITH A KICKASS BRAND THAT'LL LAST YOU A DECADE. 

Who I chose to do my rebrand design

I found my unicorn in Laura from Obscurio & Co. She's a Brisbane based designer specializing in brand identity, with a strong passion for "weird" businesses. 

She's worked with clients in service-based business, fashion design, handmade e-commerce, digital agencies, national retailers & more. 

Together we've worked on multiple projects & she's an actual angel. 

You can find her at Obscurio & Co  Suss out her offerings & rates via download if you vibe with her style or simply find your own personal unicorn. 

Thanks for reading and good luck! I believe in you.

x Aliya 

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