“In business, strong branding is the difference between success and stagnation. Humans are visual creatures, and the vital first impression of a company can rest on the design of its logo and other marketing elements.” If you want to get serious about building a better brand for your business, you need to get an experienced and talented design agency on your side.

Not all small businesses have the resources to hire in-house for this, so what should you look for when choosing a boutique design agency to work with?

Design & Branding Industry Experience

Most industries have a loose, overarching design theme used by successful brands within them. This greatly affects the type of design you should employ. As an extreme example, a snowboard clothing brand needs a very different tone and feel than a seniors health insurance provider.

While it can be effective to step outside the ordinary, it pays to know the common themes and conventions as starting points, and it’s helpful if the designer can draw on the experience of previous work in your particular industry.

Range of Previous Design & Branding Work

However, simply aping the style of your competitors will do little to build a distinctive brand. A well-rounded designer will have professional experience in a variety of industries and can bring a wide range of influences into their work. Also, while you may employ a designer because you like their individual style, they need the flexibility and experience to adapt their work to your company’s needs.

Testimonials and/or Reviews

Can the designer provide testimonials or reviews from previous clients? While these are always helpful, confidentiality issues may rule them out. However, there should be some way of verifying previous experience.

Professional Portfolio and Case Studies

Whether or not testimonials can be supplied, a solid portfolio is a must. It’s fine if this consists of proof-of-ability examples rather than actual client work, but it’s essential to have a real indication of the level of work you can expect. If you’re not impressed by the quality, or have other serious issues such as disliking the fundamental style, stop right there – you’re unlikely to get a designer to radically change their ways just for your project.

Working with Others

Wide experience should also have furnished the designer with an ability to work with others in your organization. An effective designer should be able to liaise with, for example, your web team to ensure the results match their needs. Are they happy with this level of communication, and who will be the point of contact for your staff? Also, how can you get progress reports, and who do you speak to if there’s a problem?

Delivery of Goods and Legal Issues

Once the work has been completed, which formats can you expect it to be delivered in? Who will take ownership of the original files, including any rejected drafts? Who retains the copyright? While for professional freelancers and agencies none of this should present a problem, it’s better to ensure the details are laid out before commitments are made or money changes hands.

Realistic Pricing

Lastly, in most creative industries the price expectations have been lowered over recent years, largely because of easy online outsourcing through bargain-basement platforms. However, it’s best to be realistic about the fees a reputable agency or freelancer will charge. As in any industry, you get what you pay for.

If you want a relationship with a competent and proactive professional, this will cost more than a one-shot project ordered online. Be sure to find out what the initial fee covers, what it doesn’t, and whether a retainer option could offer a better deal all round.

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