What are your options when you can’t afford a professional designer?

A Woolworths Home Brand flour sitting next to a bag of Laucke Sprouted Wholewheat

Above: two 1kg bags of flour. One costs $1.40 and the other costs $7.00… a difference of 400%. Can you guess which is which, just by looking at their packaging design? And can you recreate this luxury branding effect with Canva, AI, or Fiverr? Let’s run through the pros and cons of cheap design work!

Professional design makes your business desirable to your customers, so they’re excited about paying to get your product or service.

Alongside a brilliant offering and fabulously-written copy, professional branding is the main difference between you being perceived as cheap and flimsy or quality and luxury. That directly affects how high you can justify your prices, the calibre of your customers, and the level of respect you attract – and therefore, what your income looks like at the end of the year.

Evidence: That Laucke flour retailing for 400% more than the Woolies one. Both are flour. Both will make bread. But they aren’t the same structurally or nutritionally, and Laucke’s premium design tells you that it’s a higher-quality and healthier product. In other words – it clearly justifies the price tag in the eyes of the customer walking down the Baking aisle.

If only it were that simple…

But ahh, the dreaded catch: even though we know professional design is critical for marketing, driving emotional connections with our services, and encouraging consumer purchase, sometimes we just cannot afford it. It’s just how the economy is right now – during a per-capita recession, most small businesses are in damage control and survival mode. Not growing and flourishing!

So what happens if you have to pull the plug on professional branding or website design? What are your next steps, when you still need to make sure your business is presentable and marketable – but you don’t have the funds to invest properly? Or what if you haven’t started a business yet, but think your full-time job might be in the firing line for layoffs… and a cheap side-hustle built from your savings might be the way forward?

Here are the options.

Option 1: DIY

The cheapest way to get design work is to do it yourself for free.

The pros:
  • Price: Costs $0 (except for subscriptions, like Canva Pro or Squarespace).
  • Control: You get to make your logo or website design exactly the way you want it.
  • Speed: As long as you don’t really care what the design looks like, you can knock it out really fast. You don’t need to be on anyone’s waiting list, or wait for the designer to custom-create your logo.
The cons:
  • Skill: You’re not a professional designer, so unless you have natural art skills, the design may not look very good.
  • Inffectiveness: Your design might not be attractive to your target customer, unless you’ve done some really thorough brand research first. This is especially likely to be true if you rush the design to “just get something finished” fast.
  • Inconsistency: “I shortcut things because I’m cash-strapped and need profits now. I don’t care about doing work properly and I’m not properly established or legit.” This is what you’ll look like if you don’t know how to apply fonts, branding, and technical colour codes consistently across all your materials. Would you hand your money over to a business that looks like they’re a hair away from going bankrupt? I wouldn’t, JFC.
  • Stress: You may find the design process stressful, because it has a learning curve. This is especially true of website builders.
  • Unpaid Time: Designing your own logo or website is unpaid time you’re not spending at work. You could have spent those hours writing a proper business plan and doing initial customer outreach.
  • Copycats: DIY logo makers like Canva often make your business vulnerable to copycats, because everyone else has access to the same program and images.
  • Theft: Someone could steal part of your design and you might not be able to do anything about it – because the general public has the right to access those same elements. They’re not yours.

    And most importantly…

  • No vectors: Unless you’re paying for the premium version of your design program or generator, you may not have access to the vector files. Vector files (.AI, .EPS, .PDF, .SVG) are made from equations instead of pixels, so they never go blurry – and if you don’t have these, you’ll be stuck with logos that go pixelated when you try to resize them.
  • Hidden costs: Signage and clothing companies usually need those vector files to be able to print your stuff. That’s why design companies like Canva and Wix put these files behind a paywall – they know that you’ll need them, so you’ll be forced to fork out extra $$ to access the vectors and avoid wasting all that time.
What could you do instead?

I offer Basic Logo Packages for $399. As long as you can sketch something simple or give me a really detailed moodboard, I can take your idea, recreate it professionally, and make a couple tweaks. You’ll then get all the vector files you need for uniforms, signage, and vehicles – and we’ll be done in less than two weeks. This means you could literally DIY your own Canva design, then hand it over to me to zhuzh it up properly. Winning!

All up, this could save you up to 10-20 hours trying to figure everything out for yourself – plus it eliminates the risk that anyone can copy you, and you can go ahead and cancel your Canva Pro subscription when we’re finished. That’s because, by making that larger, higher-quality, one-off design purchase – you’ll have all your professional logo files, you’ll own them, they’ll be appropriately unique, and can trademark and protect them in court.

For websites, I make one-page designs from $1500 – so if the usual $3k+ website investment is not feasible for you, you could scale down to one page until you start getting some cash flowing into your business. I’ll cover your first year of hosting, too, and you’ll have the option to pay your site off in 6 months of small installments. 🙂 Get in touch if this interests you!

Option 2: Get a cheap design on AirTasker, Upwork, Fiverr, Facebook, or Etsy

If you’re unwilling or don’t have the skills to DIY, and still can’t make $399 – $1500 work, your next best option is to source a really cheap designer using an app.

The pros:
  • Price: Can cost as little as $5 for a design.
  • Time: Someone else does it – you don’t have to waste time doing it yourself.
  • Reliability: You can look through the designer’s portfolio first to make sure you like their style. That means you’ll have some ability to do quality control.
  • Negotiation: On apps like AirTasker, designers have the right to post a counteroffer to your price if they’re not happy with what you’ve offered them. This keeps it that little bit more ethical.
The cons:
  • Unoriginal: To offer designs this cheap, designers will almost always use a template. This means your logo or website design could look almost identical to five other businesses’ designs – which does not set you up for success in a crowded and competitive market.
  • Ineffective: Cheap designs have almost zero research behind them because the designer does not have time to do this step. So while the design might look good to you, it could be completely ineffective at luring in your ideal customers. A template-based website could even cost you money – if it’s not appropriately customised, not properly suited, or not effectively encouraging purchases through suitable Calls to Action.
  • Unprofessional: Fiverr designs often have a homemade feel, which could cost you money in the long run. Your clients might wonder – if you’ve cut corners on your logo or website design, what’s stopping you from cutting corners on their job? (remember, you don’t want to look like the Home Brand option!!)
  • Unqualified: A lot of people on these apps are underqualified (eg. students) or not qualified at all, so you’d almost be better off doing the job yourself – that way, you at least have some control over the outcome.
  • No control: You’ll have to pay your cheap designer even if you don’t like the work that they’ve produced.
  • Scams and fraud: You may be vulnerable to scams using apps like these, especially if the designers are operating without an ABN. This could be as simple as taking payment without delivering your work, or as complex and serious as credit card or identity theft.
  • Overseas workers: Your designer may not be based in Australia, so money could be flowing out of our economy and into India or the Philippines.
  • Exploitation: By using services this cheap, you may unintentionally be exploiting desperate people for work way below minimum wage.
  • No vectors: You may still end up without your vector files.
  • No copyright: The designer might retain copyright over your work.
  • Ethical problems: Fiverr is based in Israel, which is currently under international scrutiny for war crimes. Airtasker’s the best, cause it’s Aussie and designers can negotiate the project’s prices with you.
What could you do instead?

If you decide to hire a cheap designer on an app, the best way to protect yourself is to ask questions before you commit. Here are some suggestions:

“Do you provide vector files for the designs? Are these included in the price, or do they cost extra?”

“Do you hand copyright over to me, or do you keep all the rights to the design?”

“Are your designs made from templates, or do you make them from scratch?”

“Do you do any research before you create a design?”

“What are your qualifications?”

“Are you based in Australia? What’s your ABN?”

If they can’t answer these questions, or if they insist on taking payment through a private link or WhatsApp instead of on the official design app – immediate red flag – run.

And if it’s all too much of a headache, skip to Option 3. Or, come on into Origami Graphics – where I’ll get you sorted with some of my simpler and more affordable design options on a 6-month payment plan.

Option 3: Use AI

AI’s come a long way, and it’s now an option for free or cheap logo and website design.

The pros:
  • Price: AI might be able to help you get a free logo or website design.
  • Safety: You’re unlikely to be scammed, because you’re just working with a bot and there’s often no payment involved.
  • Control: You can spend time experimenting with the prompts you give the AI, so you get to keep some of that control without needing design skills.
The cons:
  • Theft: AI can only learn from what it finds on the internet, so you might accidentally be plagiarising someone else’s work. This opens your business up to a lawsuit – so make sure you have insurance that will cover you for this.
  • No copyright: Unless it’s specified in its Terms and Conditions, the AI company will keep copyright over your AI-generated design. You will not be able to trademark it or protect it in court from copycats.
  • No vectors: Odds are, you will still not be getting the vector files for the designs.
  • It’s not actually free: If AI has designed a website for you, you’re still going to have to pay for yearly hosting. This can be up to $500 per year.
  • Unprofessional: AI is still developing, and often has errors in it like misspelled words or distorted pictures. If your logo has any of these errors, your customers will know you used AI.
  • Inflexible: Your design probably won’t be editable unless you go back to the bot and ask it to make changes for you.
  • Inappropriate: You probably don’t have the design skills needed to audit the AI product and make sure it’s appropriate for you, your business, and your customers.
  • Bad for the economy: Using AI takes jobs and income out of human hands during a cost-of-living crisis. We’ve just seen Telstra cut 10% of its workforce, and increasing use of robots instead of humans will result in way more job cuts across all industries. That includes yours.
What could you do instead?

If DIY, cheap designers, and AI still can’t provide a satisfactory result, and you can’t afford to hire a real pro, then just spend some time researching to find a medium-priced and semi-experienced designer who suits you.

I’m not cheap (by most standards), because I’m a busy person and I was overloaded and stressed out when my rates were lower. But there will be other small businesses out there who can do work that’s more affordable for you. By paying a little more than Fiverr but less than $100 per hour – let’s say around the $50-$80 mark – you could get a pretty good result that doesn’t burn your wallet so badly and still pays your designer more than minimum wage.

The best way to find a medium-priced designer is to Google something like “Graphic Designers Near Me”. Google will pop open a map of businesses that are registered in the local area – and you can scroll through to find a family-run design business that does cheaper work because they’re locals, not because they’re robots.

You can also do a standard Google Search – and instead of looking through page 1, skip straight to page 2 and onwards. That’s where you’ll find a lot of the freelancers and newer studios who can’t yet compete with the established ones, and whose smaller ad budgets aren’t able to get them to Page 1.

Finally, you could propose a skills exchange. One of these designers may be willing to work for free… if you can give them something for free, too.

By looking for a less-experienced local, you’ll get more affordable work – and you’re also supporting your local economy. That’s a win-win.

What can we take from all this?

The Rolling Stones said it best – you can’t always get what you want.

If you can’t afford to pay for a really good designer, you won’t be able to get the best result. You’ll just have to settle for less.

It’s your job to do your research and find the solution that works best for you – a compromise that means you can afford the product, while still providing value for your business and your clients. This will mean looking at those pros and cons, and deciding what you can accept vs what is not acceptable.

If you really can’t do without the best, then start saving up now for a proper project that will smash all your goals!

Got some questions about this? Want to test the waters and get a ballpark estimate on your project? Book a free 30-minute consultation call – and let’s chat about project ideas, timeframes, and payment plans.

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