How to successfully hire and co-create with a designer

#1 – Set them up for success.

There’s a famous scene in the movie Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise bursts out yelling on the phone with his one-and-only challenging client, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., the now-famous line: “Help me, help you!”

This is a key line to think about when you’re about to hire a designer/design agency.

When we’re about to enter into a relationship, we must face our own responsibility and accountability in setting others up for success and letting them help us. Examining and clarifying what we’re bringing to this potential professional relationship is as key as reviewing their portfolio.

While the idea that the ‘client is always right‘ has been around for many decades and is deeply rooted in the service industry, it actually disempowers and undermines the relationship between the client and the service provider – in this case, the designer. The reason being is that it strips out a core element in the success of a working relationship: accountability. 

So before getting into the nitty-gritty of why and when you should hire a designer for your business, it’s important first to take stock of the responsibility you have as a potential client to help them, help you.

Remember that it takes two to tango, and your project’s success takes more than your designer’s skill or technical ability. Business is 90% about trust and relationship, and that is where psychology takes the lead when it comes to a successful project. More than a beautiful mood board, a rocking logo, or a website with all the bells and whistles, this business relationship’s success hinges a lot more on both parties’ respect and accountability to be fully present and give it their best.

Before you reach out to a designer with your project, take stock of how you can set them up for success, so they may deliver what you need and want for your business.

Also, remember that they’re not ‘inside’ your business. It behooves you to educate them about your business/field, your needs, and the challenges you need assistance with, instead of presuming that they’d piece it all together with minimal input or information.  


#2 – Show up clear, informed, and ready to be accountable for what is your part. 

Having clarity around your project’s vision and needs, you’ll help you communicate more effectively with your designer. This is the first step to a successful business-to-business relationship and for your project. Come prepared to give them effective and essential information they’ll need to carry out the project. 

This goes from the practical aspect of having the necessary information and files they may need and your own psychological readiness to stay accountable in this working relationship. How you show up determines how others show up to your requests, needs, and even success. 

Have these necessary pieces together: clarity of vision, necessary materials, and relevant information.

This doesn’t mean that you will have all the answers because you may often gain different insights and ideas for your project through the designer’s conversation. Remember that the organization of how you bring different pieces for your project is also essential. Scattered information leads to inefficient use of time and a loss of focus. Delivering your information and materials efficiently helps your working relationship with your designer run smoother and be creatively successful. 

Clarity and organization help both parties be set up for success.


#3 – “Give me something trendy, classic, and that pops.”

At its essence, a designer’s job is to translate your ideas into applicable visuals that fit your business and its brand. They’re a mixture of artist and visual translator, working to create a design that works through different platforms: printed, digital, and web, to name a few.

So if you’re not clear on your project needs and how to communicate this, it will be harder to achieve what you’d like. How you communicate what you’re looking for, the descriptive words you choose are essential. Plus, you have to remember that what is ‘classic‘ for you might not be what they understand as ‘classic.’ Avoid generic descriptors. Instead, come prepared with examples of what you’re looking for.

Always go back to this idea: the designer is not ‘in’ your business. They aren’t part of its day-to-day operation and privy to all that’s going on. This means that you’re responsible for being your business’s ambassador. At the end of the day, a client’s lack of clarity in what they need makes the process more complicated and has a reduced chance of success.


#4 – You’re not the car mechanic.

That is unless you’re an actual car mechanic. But in general, when you take your car to the mechanic, it’s highly unlikely that you hover over their shoulders, telling them what to do. You may come as informed as you can about what’s happening in your car, but you normally let them do what they’re trained to do. In most scenarios, you respect and trust what they say about your car needs and how you can make the most out of it.

The same goes for when you hire a designer.

Notwithstanding any random horror story about unprofessional designers, in general, they want your project to be successful. They will do what they can to make it so because your success is also their success. 

You’re the car mechanic in charge of your own business. Let them be the car mechanic when it comes to design matters. If you’ve come to them with your project, it implies that you’re ready to delegate this aspect of your business to an expert. So be open to their questions, input, and recommendations. 


#5 – Design matters.

As it sets the table to make your brand look professional, seamless while creating the emotional connection that your business brand needs to make with your market. It’s advisable to get a designer involved in your project sooner than you think because the design is an integral part of what you’re creating, even if you don’t know yet. But first, you need clarity about what you want.

Much like you take your car to the mechanic for maintenance and stay on top of things before any issue becomes a bigger problem, the same applies to design. Talking to a designer too early, before you’re clear, won’t help much. But waiting until the last minute won’t help either. 

Also, be aware and careful about ‘design by committee‘ situations. Avoid collecting input from everyone inside and outside your business that isn’t part of the group of your business’s decision-makers. Knowing what your neighbor or best friend thinks about the design concept you’ve just received from your designer may not be the right kind of input you need.

But when asking others for their input, be sure to be specific in what kind of feedback you want. Design by committee‘ situations tend to water down and challenge the creative process because it speaks to a lack of clarity. If your business has more than one decision-maker, then inform your designer from the get-go.


#6 – Your success is also the designer’s success.

A designer is an expert in their field, and you’re an expert in yours. As a co-creative work relationship, it hinges on trust and accountability on both parts. Most projects are only as complex as the ego-personality of those in the relationship. But if both parties are accountable for what is theirs to do, then projects and their success will be much easier to achieve.

This co-creative relationship’s success is deeply linked to properly established boundaries and clarity around expectations from both parts.

Clear expectations and boundaries show professional kindness and lead to long-term collaborative success.


#7 – A designer is an asset to your business, not a click-monkey.

As an expert in their field, a designer is here to help you build and put your brand out in the world, not just to execute your likes and dislikes.

Design is about functionality and a cross between taste, practicality, and the market’s unspoken rules. A designer is a translator between your vision and its functional applicability.

As mentioned before, the more information you can give them and show up ready with the part that is your responsibility, the better they can translate your vision.

Hiring a good designer is an asset to your business and one of your greatest collaborative partners. So before hiring a designer, research their portfolio and see if their specialty is what your business needs right now. Not all designers are the same or can execute the same things. And more importantly, just because someone (e.g., your neighbor’s High School kid) knows how to use Photoshop, it doesn’t mean they’re a designer.


#8 – You do get what you pay for.

Time and experience go hand-in-hand. While there are outliers, as with any field, it’s best to do your homework when you’re looking to hire a designer by first getting clear on what you want/need and then doing your due diligence when researching their work.

Come prepared for your consultation call with the questions you need to be answered and ready to answer their questions. When you’re hiring a designer, it’s really a double interview. You both are hiring each other. You may hire them as your designer, but they also are looking to see if they’ll hire you as their client. How you show up matters just as they do. If a lack of preparation or focused presence shows up on that first interview, take it as the first red flag of future problems down the line. 

While a designer is a translator for your brand vision, they can also see your plan’s flaws.

It’s normal to be so close to a project that we can’t see beyond our ideas. We get so married to the idea that we miss its problems and how it may not work for what we want. It’s an absolute must to listen and take in your designer’s recommendations, as they’re coming in with an outside perspective that can actually help you. 

Remember that what your ego may want isn’t necessarily good for your business and its brand. As a good business owner, a certain level of objective detachment is needed. A designer may bring that outsider perspective that may reveal hidden gifts and flaws in your project. Assume positive intent and be open-minded and curious about their recommendations. 


#9 – As with any relationship, we get what we put in.

Lack of accountability only leads to diminishing returns, both from a business relationship perspective and your design project’s success. How you show up to your designer’s interactions via email, phone, or text matters. Remember that they’re also attending to their other business clients and not at the beck and call of your needs.

It may sound cliché, but open, clear, and consistently organized communication is key for your project’s flow and success. A lot can be gleaned from how you or they show up through their communication with you. Unclear, disorganized, and bombarded communication speaks to a lack of clarity and organization, and it can be the reason why either party can dismiss the other. Hiring a designer also means that they’re hiring you as a client, which means both parties may also fire each other.

Look at how your designer communicates with you, even from that first interaction. But also notice how you are or aren’t showing up to your communication with them. Communication breakdown can happen from either side, and both need to take accountability. 


In sum, hiring a designer to help you with your business is an important step on your entrepreneurial journey.

But it’s in the psychological nuances of this relationship that a large part of your project success resides. On the other side of the screen or phone is a psychological and emotional being. While in our culture, we still hammer on about business not being personal; in reality, this is a fallacy. Who we hire to help us on our entrepreneurial journey is often the hidden gem to our success. A key element in this co-creative relationship is the two-way street of accountability, and how both parties show up speaks volumes.

Hiring the right designer for your business is wonderful, but one has also to ask if they’re the right client too.


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