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How to hire a graphic-design pro on the cheap

At 99designs, you can enlist a small army of designers who will battle it out to win your business.

Does your Web site need an overhaul? Do you need a company logo for your startup? How about a sales brochure or even some product packaging?

Take a look at Response to 'How to hire a graphic-design pro on the cheap.

See also Why you shouldn't hire a graphic designer on the cheap.

Sounds like it's time to hire a professional designer. Just one problem: they're expensive. Worth it, yes, but sometimes your budget is at odds with your needs.

Enter 99designs, which crowdsources your graphic-design job to give you a potentially unbeatable deal.

Here's how it works: You write up the details of what you need--a business card, logo, T-shirt, or whatever. Then you choose one of three preset price packages, or set your own price. The more you pony up, the more designs you'll get. Many projects start at around $195, which is a fraction of what you'd probably pay a design firm.

Your project gets listed as a contest, one that interested designers can "enter" by submitting concepts. You can provide feedback along the way to get the work tweaked so it's closer to what you want. In the end, you choose your favorite design; the money goes to the winning designer, and the artwork (complete with copyrights) goes to you.

Cool, right? It's like getting dozens of designers for the price of one. (Realistically, though, you may only get a handful of them--it all depends on the project and pricing.) What's more, 99designs offers a money-back guarantee: if you're not happy with any of the designs, you get a full refund.

If you're on the other side of the table (that is, you're a graphic designer yourself), you can offer your services. This gives you a chance to get some exposure, find new clients, and, potentially, earn some cash. The flipside, of course, is that you might end up doing lots of work with nothing to show for it. Such is the artist's life, I think, in today's Web-powered world.

I haven't used 99designs myself, but I will tell you this: years ago, when I handled marketing and advertising for a computer reseller, just finding a qualified designer was a huge chore. Then we ended up spending a small fortune on ads and logos we didn't especially love--but we'd already invested so much time and money, there really wasn't any alternative.

That's why I like both the concept and execution of 99designs. If you need help with a design project, I'd check it out.

Let me add that I have endless respect for the people who do graphic design professionally, and my recommendation of 99designs is in no way meant to devalue their work. Indeed, for a designer who's struggling, it offers a way to keep working and potentially land some new clients.

I do think the service is a reflection of the crowd-sourced business world we now inhabit. And for a cash-strapped startup that needs pro-caliber work on a budget, this kind of service can be a godsend. Hit the comments and tell me if you agree or disagree.

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