Outsourcing Your Own Brand: Pros and Cons
Should designers outsource their own website or personal brand? It may sound crazy but the practice is more common that you might think.
Today we’re going to attempt to look at both sides of this issue and explore the good and the bad of letting another designer define your digital identity.
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This is a practice that I’ve been fascinated by since I first got my start in design nearly a decade ago. At the time I was working for a popular promotional marketing agency and was therefore “in the know” regarding the basic activities of other agencies within our bubble.
It was frequently the case that one of these agencies would hire another company to take on their personal branding and marketing. Instead of showing off their advanced marketing skills by utilizing their own in-house team of designers, marketers, copywriters, etc., they would hire out and get another team to take on the project.
As I began exploring the freelance world more and more I found that several freelancers and small design companies seem to pick up this practice. They too can often be seen bringing in outside help to manage the creation of their logo and/or website.
So what gives? If you’re a designer, why not do it yourself? Isn’t personal branding an important enough task to pour yourself into? Let’s explore.
To kick off our discussion we’ll take a look at some arguments in favor of letting someone else take the reigns for your personal project. In many ways, the obvious cons are probably at the forefront of all our minds so I want to be sure to shed some light into why this practice can and does take place every day.
You’re Too Busy
You’ve heard the aphorism countless times before, the mechanic always has a broken down car in his driveway, the painter’s walls are cracking and the plumber’s own house needs new pipes. The general idea is that professionals in any industry tend to the needs of their clients before themselves.
The reasoning behind this is usually a combination of two things. First, you’re just too busy with other business (a good problem) to take the time to attempt a personal project. Clients are calling and emailing non-stop and you’re working at the edge of your capacity as it is.
Secondly, many professionals don’t want to work after work. When it’s time to clock out for the day, the last thing the mechanic wants to do after working on cars for eight hours straight is come home and pop the hood of his own vehicle.
Both of these issues play a role in designers working on their own brand. The result is far too often something hastily thrown together that doesn’t really accurately represent the quality of work that you’re committed to delivering to paying clients.
With this in mind, the benefit is obvious. If you can’t take the time to do it right, hire someone who can. Making an investment into your business is rarely frowned upon, it only seems out of place if you happen to be hiring someone to do something you specialize in. However, if the choice is between a half-hearted self-attempt or an awesome product created by someone else under your guidance, which is better?
A Fresh Perspective
For many of you, you are by far the worst client you’ll ever have. Unless you’re particularly conceited, you’re likely to criticize your own work more harshly, even beyond the point of healthy honesty that simply leads to better work.
Creating a personal identity is tricky business. It feels like a massively important task and you want to really make it awesome, which means that no matter what you come up with, you end up feeling like it’s not quite good enough.
Many designers seem like they’re addicted to changing their site. Every few months they go through a total redesign. This could be the result of someone who has a lot of time on their hands and genuinely loves to design websites or it could be driven by this feeling of inadequacy when attempting to create a personal brand.
The benefit of outsourcing that arises here is simply having an outside opinion to help you blast through all that self-criticism. When someone else presents you with an idea for your brand, you can evaluate it more honestly than if you were examining your own ideas.
Further, someone who isn’t you might be better suited to step back and take an outside look into who you are and translate that well into a visual brand. Personal introspection is not always the easiest task and an attempt to turn yourself into a brand can quickly result in an identity crisis!
Maybe Branding Isn’t Your Area
The last argument I can think of in favor of letting someone else handle your brand is both the simplest and the strongest if it happens to be true for you.
As with any profession, design has several facets and sub-specialties. Maybe your area of expertise is web application interface design and you don’t really have much experience in the branding arena. In my story above, this was the case with promotional marketing agencies, who often specialize in running sales, discounts, and specialized events within an established brand and not necessarily in building brands from the ground up.
If this is the case for you, it’s fairly easy to justify letting someone who actually excels at branding take over your personal project. The end product will be better than if you had done it yourself and you don’t have to be ashamed of that fact because that’s not the service you’re looking to sell anyway!
Now that we’ve laid out some solid benefits to outsourcing your personal brand, let’s take a look at the obvious downsides that inevitably arise as a result.
If You Don’t Trust Yourself, Why Should I Trust You?
Here’s the biggest issue of this discussion. I struggle with this question every single time I see designers letting someone else create their site, logo or other branding materials.
Why should I hire you? If you see this other designer as someone better suited to take on your project, what argument do you have that I shouldn’t do the same? If I look at your site and like what I see, then I should be hiring the people who built the site!
There’s a real credibility issue here and it’s not easy to get over. As I said above, if branding isn’t your thing you can worm out of this but if you’re advertising your web design and branding skills through materials created by someone else, I can’t help but perceive that you aren’t confident in your own abilities.
Your potential customers won’t think about the list of pros that I created above, only this line of reasoning. You might argue that there’s no reason for anyone to know who built the site, but it’s often the case that these projects are listed on public sights, making it easy for anyone to discover. Even further, sometimes the company that did in fact create the site inserts credit for it in the footer, code or elsewhere (not to mention the fact that they’re going to post the project in their portfolio).
It Isn’t You
Along the same lines, if potential clients take this logic to the extreme, it could possibly be viewed as a dishonest practice to let someone else create your site. After all, the general assumption upon seeing the website of a web designer is that he or she built the site! If you stop by Joe Smith’s web design, you immediately evaluate Joe’s level of talent and proficiency based on the site you’re staring at.
If you stop by a designer’s website and see something clean, professional and modern, then hire that person only to receive something that seems sloppy by comparison, you’re likely to feel like you were lied to. This is especially true if you discover that the designer didn’t actually create their own site.
Even beyond the point of dishonesty, if you really think it through, you may not really want someone else visually portraying you and your business to the world. You’ve worked hard to build a reputation and company that you can be proud of and putting that into someone else’s hands may not be the best decision you’ll ever make.
It Costs Real Money
Finally, the most unpleasant part about hiring someone else to create your site is that it costs real money! When you’re working on your own site, you must consider opportunity cost: every hour you spend not making money is an hour you could be working for a client. However, if done properly, building your own brand is an investment that will prove profitable in the long run.
When you hire someone, suddenly you’re not dealing with theoretical money but real dollars and cents that won’t be in your bank account anymore. Many designers simply can’t afford to pay someone to develop their brand, others can afford it but see it as an unnecessary expense when they could tackle the work themselves.
What Do You Think?
I fully admit that I haven’t quite reached a conclusion on this topic. Before really digging in and putting some thought towards this article, I leaned more towards the idea that designers really should take on their own personal branding as a matter of principle. However, as I explore the pros of letting someone else take on the project I couldn’t help but admit that there are genuinely some real benefits to taking this route, many of which need to be examined on a per-case basis instead of through sweeping generalizations based on pretentious opinions.
All this to say that I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you get upset when you see designers hiring someone to do their own personal branding or do you think it’s a beneficial practice that should be considered more often? Chime in below!