When to Outsource Graphic Design vs When to Hire In-House

If you are trying to decide between outsourcing your graphic designs needs and hiring an in-house designer, this post is for you! From someone who has held positions in both roles, I’m digging into the pros and cons of both options so you can decide what is best for you and your business.

Make sure you read to the end because I’m including a video tutorial on how to organize your marketing materials so that your new employee or freelancer can jump right in and make the most of the time you are paying them for!

Consider the IRS’s definition.

In no way will I try to provide legal advice (please seek the counsel of a lawyer), but I will encourage you to consider the definitions the IRS uses to classify employees and contractors as they have the final say in that classification.

Behavioral Control:

If you would like to have specific control over the details of your graphic designer such as the hours they work, who they work with, the materials and software they should be using, and specifics about how they are to do their work, it is likely that bringing on a graphic designer employee would be a better fit for you. If these details of behavioral control are not important to you, a contracted graphic designer might be a better fit.

Financial Control:

Generally, independent contractors are not guaranteed a consistent wage, have the ability to provide their services to other companies in the industry, can claim a profit or loss, and take on their own business expenses. Employees are generally guaranteed a regular wage and are reimbursed for expenses.

Relationship:

If you would like to extend benefits to your graphic designer (paid vacation/sick days, pension plans, etc) you would want to hire an employee. If you plan to bring on a graphic designer for a specific project or number of projects, you would be hiring a contractor. Additionally, the IRS and US Department of Labor consider the services being provided by the graphic designer and if they are deemed critical to your business (ie your business provides graphic design services and you brought on the designer for additional help) you might be better suited with an employee.

Consider the frequency of your design needs.

How often does your business need graphic design support? Do you have occasional one-off projects or ongoing design needs? These are two VERY important questions you should be able to answer before you make a decision to hire in-house or bring on a contractor. Many service providers that have in-house designers have ongoing marketing design needs or have a design-related aspect to their services. It is also important to become familiar with the different services provided by in-house designers and contractors/agencies to consider the best fit for your business. In-house Graphic Designers: Are there other tasks they can oversee? ie. social media management, public relations efforts, website management, etc.Contractors/agencies: What type of working agreements are offered? Is project-based the best fit for the frequency of your design needs? If you have ongoing design needs, does the contractor or agency offer monthly retainers or day-rate style services to accommodate the availability you will require of them?

Consider your list of pros and cons.

Beyond the legal definitions of the two roles and the frequency at which you need graphic design support, I encourage you to weigh your list of pros and cons for each position. I’ve provided a list to get you started but it is important that you add or remove items that are specific to your business and industry. Not all of the items listed below will apply to you and that is ok!

Pros of Hiring an In-House Designer:
  • The designer is always available for the projects when you need them
  • The designer becomes familiar with the industry and jargon
  • The designer knows your brand inside and out and learns internal workflows
  • You can hire locally, ensuring face-to-face communication
  • You can hire a multi-skilled designer to have additional support (ie marketing skills, administrative skills, etc)
Cons of Hiring an In-House Designer:
  • You are responsible for investing in and maintaining expensive hardware/software
  • A long-term commitment
  • Typically the more expensive option as the average graphic design salary in the U.S. is $49,366 (see Glassdoor for more information).
  • You may have trouble finding the right talent in your geographic area
  • Time-consuming hiring and onboarding process
Pros of Outsourcing to a Graphic Designer:
  • The investment is typically smaller
  • You can bring in professionals with different specializations as needs require
  • You aren’t bound to a long-term commitment and can pivot your business and finances
  • Some designers can be hired only when you need them (not an ongoing expense)
  • You are not responsible for software/hardware expenses and maintenance

“Companies are having to pivot very quickly and to quickly adapt to remote work and having to change their businesses in a variety of ways. Some of them are trying more flexible talent and finding it works, especially in circumstances where you need to move quickly and grow and scale dynamically.” Adam Ozimek, Chief Economist at Upwork

Cons of Outsourcing to a Graphic Designer:
  • Outsourcing can require more administrative work
  • You may need to plan ahead for graphic design needs (few freelancers provide on-call services)
  • You may have time zone differences (or cultural/language nuances if you are outsourcing overseas)
  • It can take more time for a contracted graphic designer to become familiar with your brand, industry, and internal workflows
  • Some designers do not offer ongoing support after a project has been completed

“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” – John C. Maxwell

With either option, the most important thing to remember is that you will be lightening the load in your business so that you can focus on the things that move the needle forward. When it comes to delegating tasks, I always focus on keeping the things that only I can do nearby and finding support for the tasks that aren’t 100% in my zone of genius.

Whether you outsource or hire in-house, it is super important to make sure your brand assets are available to your designer. Follow along with the tutorial below to learn how to keep your files in the cloud to make sharing them a breeze!

Dropbox

  • Up to 2GB of space for free
  • You can access it on up to 3 devices
  • If you run out of space, you can upgrade to the next plan (at time of recording) is $16.58 a month
  • Dropbox can sync files with your computer so you don’t have to use a web browser to access your files. Or you can just serve as an online cloud storage location that you log into to access your files.
  • I personally found Dropbox to be easier to understand when I first started organizing my files online but its just a personal preference and some people find Google Drive to be more intuitive.

Google Drive

  • Every Google Account starts with 15 GB of free storage that’s shared across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos.
  • If you sign up Google Workspace ($6/month) you can get 30 GB cloud storage per user and a custom email address.
  • Google Drive allows you to easily add google docs or sheets which can make it a one stop shop for all of your business files
  • Although the file sharing has a bit of a learning curve – there are a few simple tips that can help you keep your business files organized and your brand files ready to share with just the click of a button.

Not ready to hire an in-house designer but looking to take your visuals to a professional level? Learn about Design Intensives here.

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