Most business owners and marketing professionals are well aware that any successful business will in some capacity need graphic design. If you’re not, then that’s a whole other conversation. Whether it be to design your logo, website, or on-going marketing efforts like social media management and advertising. The root of all things marketing, in most cases, is graphic design.

Most marketing professionals and business owners then are also well aware that when it comes to design, they do have options. You can hire a designer in-house, you can source your design work to an agency, or you can outsource your design work to a freelancer, you can even try to do it yourself. And although, there is a case to be made for any of those options given the situation the most common question that we see get asked is – Should I hire a graphic designer in-house or should I hire a design agency? So that’s the question we’re going to look examine.

We’ll save the freelancer vs agency debate for another day. And as for the “do-it-yourself” option, just don’t.

agency vs freelance outsource graphic design

So the question is not whether you need professional graphic design (you do), but whether you need to actually hire a graphic designer (you probably don’t). And from our experience as both business owners and designers what we can say with certanty is that most businesses would be better served to source out their graphic design needs rather than hiring someone to work in-house. 

So let’s take a look at why you’re better off hiring a design agency as opposed to hiring an in-house graphic designer.

For starters, one thing a lot of people get wrong is that they tend to view the role of a designer as they would any other in position in their organization. Whereas, one should really think of the role of a graphic designer the same way they would a lawyer or an accountant. Most businesses do not have an in-house lawyer or accountant, and they likely shouldn’t have an in-house designer either. Why? Because these are all highly specialized services that should be left to professionals.

And so in most cases, hiring a design agency makes more sense, for a number of reasons:

agency vs freelancer vs outsource

Get work done now

Let’s say you decided you would rather hire a graphic designer instead of outsourcing. If you made that decision today, how long would it take until you actually have someone producing work for you? First, you must factor in the process of finding someone. On average that could take about 3-6 weeks with standard methods (Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn, etc.). Then assuming you’re lucky enough to actually find a designer that has the experience and skills to suit your needs, it could still be another couple of weeks before their first day. Minimum 2 weeks if they’re already working somewhere and even longer if they will have to relocate or make other arrangements. Then, depending on your HR processes, it could be another couple of days to a week of training, on-boarding, and orientation. After all of that is done, then your new designer is finally ready to get to work.

So where does that leave you…

Best case scenario: If you decide today that you want to hire, in about 6 weeks your new in-house designer can start delivering work.

Most Likely scenario:  8 weeks.

Worst case scenario:  You don’t find anyone at all, 6-8 weeks has passed, and you still don’t have anything done.

Now contrast that with out sourcing. The day you hire your agency is likely the day they start work (or at the very least that week) and depending on the project you could have completed work on your desk within a week or two or so (sometimes a couple of days) depending on the nature and size of the project.  

Avoid the hiring process

The hiring process can be an ordeal in itself. Make no mistake, assessing resumes, interviewing candidates, and making hiring decisions are not only time-consuming and tedious but also involve a skill set all on their own. Do you really know what to look for in a graphic designers resume or portfolio? Realistically, it takes someone with in-depth knowledge of the profession to truly know what to look for in a prospective hire’s portfolio, not to mention being able to manage a designer(s) so that they are effective and produce meaningful work. Unless you’re a seasoned creative director, you’re likely not the best fit for that role.

Plus, let’s not forget that if you hire someone that means you will have another person on staff to manage. When outsourcing, the onus of managing a graphic designer is on the agency. You just need to worry about the work that gets delivered.

Finally, will you consistently have enough work to justify a full-time employee? If not, and you’re looking to hire part-time, then your options for candidates will be limited. Most professional designers will only accept full-time positions

More economical

The most obvious question is: Can you really afford to hire a full-time designer? Even if you can, is that really a smart investment? An extra employee means an extra pay cheque that you need to write every two weeks. Whereas, an outsource solution is an expense that you can pick and choose when to spend.

When you outsource, you only pay for the work that gets delivered, not all the other costs involved with having another in-house employee. Meetings, breaks, downtime, payroll, benefits, training, vacations, and sick days all add up. Probably the biggest savings though are experienced by businesses who have large fluctuations in workload. When you outsource your design work, you are only paying when you have work that needs to be done. If you do not have a consistent volume of work, then you’re just paying someone to sit around. Or waste time on meaningless work that won’t return any value.

Also, depending on where you operate it’s likely that there are additional payroll expenses involved in hiring another employee. And there can be more tax benefits to paying for general expenses as opposed to payroll.

More capacity

The opposite can be just as much of a problem. What happens when you get hit with a bunch of projects at the same time and your own designer gets swamped? Wait and delay projects? Or go searching for an outsourced solution to handle the added volume? In a perfect world you always have exactly the right amount of work to keep your designer busy, but not more than they can handle. I think we all know how often that would happen.

agency vs freelance outsource graphic design

More versatility

Like most professionals, graphic designers all have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. Some are great at illustration but only so-so at photo editing. Some are technical wizards but lack creativity. Chances are slim that you will find someone who excels in all facets of the job. Design agencies, on the other hand, typically have multiple designers and are able to match the right designers to the right projects.

So as with any major business decision, you will need to take into account all the specifics of your particular situation in order to make the right choice. There are certainly some companies that have the budget, volume, and expertise to justify a full-time, in-house graphic designer; however, companies like that are few and far between. Most will find their needs more efficiently and affordably met by a dedicated design agency who can address their needs effectivly, without all the added baggage.