3 Steps To Vetting Your Brand + Web Designer, and Why You Need To Do It


Last week I shared about the rebrand and entirely new website of Lorna Stell Photo. I also mentioned that the other part of the story of how this all came to be is that the rebranding process has actually been on the backburner for A YEAR, not quite by choice. In January of 2016 I had connected with a designer, and she had agreed to work with me to rebrand my business, as she built her portfolio. In my case, this meant she would put together a moodboard for the new brand, hone in on my brand’s key words, and design a new logo, collateral (business cards, giftcards, and notecards), social media graphics, and website. All while making sure everything is visually cohesive, and reflects my aesthetic as a photographer, and my values as a business owner. If you think that sounds like a lot of work…you’re right!

From talking with other designers and being in creative communities, I knew the whole process would take at least three months, if not longer. When I was told everything would be done in about a month, I knew that seemed off, but I continued in the process with her because I was SO relieved to have help in what felt like an overwhelming process, and I also didn’t have a set timeline in mind so I knew I could be flexible. 

As we went along, each step took days or weeks longer than I expected. Again, I could be flexible, and I preferred quality over fast work, so I continued in the process. Overall, everything was still great—This designer was super nice and understood what I was after. Flash forward to June, when she let me know that things were changing in her personal and professional life, and she didn’t have as nearly as much time to work on this project. She also hinted that she might be stepping away from her new business. The last files she sent me were in July 2016. Meanwhile, I still hadn’t received social media graphics or a website.

I share all of that not to trash another creative—I don’t think I would share this story if her website and social media accounts still existed, but they have been down for some time. Mainly I wanted to share why I posted several excited blog posts about rebranding so many months ago in 2016, and then never launched anything until now. I also wanted to take an opportunity to turn this unexpected situation into something that can benefit you. This post is for anyone else who owns a business and is thinking about rebranding or hiring a designer!


Here’s how you can learn from my mistake!

1. Look for a quality portfolio with (at least) several examples of the kind of work you want done. I think I was a little too trusting and dove in with this designer because she was nice, understanding, and I liked her own website. Her blog was helpful and from her posts she seemed knowledgeable, but she didn’t have a ton of work to show. It seemed like a win-win situation at the time, because I would be helping to bulid her portfolio, and she would help my business get back on track with its branding. I’ve been in the same place as her before, hoping clients would hire me even though I had less experience, and I’m forever grateful to the people who took a chance on me. So, I thought, why not? In my case, I think this designer didn’t have a lot of work to show because she hadn’t been doing it for very long. That means less experience (even experience doing personal projects still counts for something!) and less evidence of commitment to the work.


2. Ask them to share their workflow and timeline with you so you know what to expect. When I work with clients, this is something I openly tell them about upfront when we meet in person or have a call. I want them to know what to expect from me so wait time, editing style, pricing, etc. doesn't come as a shock after we’ve already committed to working together. That’s a good thing for both of us! In this situation though, there was very little expectation setting going on. I was making a point to be extra nice and understanding that this designer was doing me a huge favor, but that led to me not being sure what was going on 4 months in. It also tells me that she likely didn’t know either, and didn’t have a solid workflow. This is to be expected when you’re new to something, but if you’re paying someone for a service, it should be a red flag!


3. Make an investment. Budgets are totally a thing! I 100% get that, but at the same time, I think often you get what you pay for. In my case, I paid $0, but paid A LOT in my time—Not just waiting for completed work from my designer and emailing back and forth, but in the process of finishing the work myself a year later. I don’t consider myself a designer, but if I had no design skills at all, I would be in a pretty bad place right now! When someone asks to be compensated for their time and expertise financially, it tells me that they’ve worked hard to get to a place where they can do that. They’re committed to their work, to making their clients happy, and to continually building their expertise, to then create even better work. That’s worth money! The other part of this is contracts. My designer never sent me a contract to sign, which normally would be a binding document that outlines expectations and responsibilities of both parties. This should have been another red flag to me, but I chose to overlook it because I felt like "I neeeeeeed this service!" 


So many lessons learned! What other tips would you add to this list if you’re hiring a designer?