The Good News is that Mediocrity is Very, Very Cheap

Well, we don't have much money left to do this. Maybe we can salvage something we have already?"

This is how the conversation began with a client last year. He
was creating a community web site and needed it to have an overall
visual theme that resonated with a very select group. He already had a
great logo, but he wanted to use graphical buttons and icons that would
tie everything together. About 100 icons, in fact.

Crafting over a hundred icons that create an instant response
to help visually guide members through a web site sounded like a really
fun project. It was also a very tall order. And that's when we started
talking about the budget.

My client knew the value of the graphics he needed and was
willing to pay for the best he could get. It was that tiny, nagging
"able" part that was getting in his way. As we talked more about the
project, he revealed to me his struggles in getting his site created.

A Nightmare is Born

He explained to me how early on he set out to save some capital
so he would have something left over "in case of emergency." He didn't
want to skimp on quality, but like most smart business people, he wanted
to find the lowest cost possible. Makes sense.

So he posted the project on a freelancer site and started
accepting bids. When he saw some reasonably good art at a dirt cheap
price, he jumped. The "artist" was actually a company in Southeast Asia
that employed several artists. They could keep their rates at the price
of an Andes mint and bang out work faster than you can eat one.

It sounded like the perfect solution to my guy. Then the phone calls came. 

Around 2:00 every morning, the company would call my client to
talk about the work. The fact that he was in Texas didn't seem to mean a
lot to them. That was their schedule. So he bit the bullet and arranged
his schedule around theirs. 

At 2:00 AM, I have a hard time explaining anything to English
speakers. My friend had the unique opportunity to learns bits and pieces
of a new language, as well as teach some English. Getting across a
simple concept took hours.

Then the graphics came back. They were sort of, almost, pretty
close to being on target, which would be awesome if my client was
building a sort of, almost, pretty good web community. He wasn't. He
wanted to be on the same level with the best sites on the Internet, but
it looked like he was going to fall short of that goal.

The realization built slowly because he tried to keep working
with the same company to get it right. He spent over half his original
budget on graphics he ultimately would never use. Plus, the time to
launch was coming up fast.

Yes, ouch. When he shared this with me I felt terrible for him.
I'm a soft-hearted kind of a guy, but since I can't work for free
without starving to death, we had to work out some very unique solutions
with his remaining budget. So that 30-second flash animation with six
characters? Well, some things had to wait until funds were available. In
the end he actually got more than just the icons, of which we created
over a hundred.

The Moral

Lest you think my moral is about not working with Asian
graphics firms, or posing your project on a bid site, or staying up
late, let me assure you that all those things can be little magic carpet
rides of sweetness.

My client's mistake wasn't in trying to get his graphics for a
low price. If that were true, I wouldn't automatically navigate to the
hidden sale rack at Nordstrom. Everybody wants to save money somehow.
We're business people, we do it better.

Let me let you in on a little secret. Creating graphics is easy
for people who have the skills. Easy. Like riding a bike easy. Most
artists I know can whip out simple graphics with a bowl of Ramen noodles
in one hand (because that's how we're trained).

The value of graphics – or, for that matter good copy writing,
web development, or brochure layout is not solely in the execution of
the work. What you should look for when hiring a creative service is
someone who gets you. Who gets your thing. Who gets what you want to do
beyond the obvious task you're assigning.

Where a real creative service provider spends most of their
time is thinking. We're thinking about you and your thing. A lot.
Sometimes we're thinking about you as we fall asleep. In the shower. At
breakfast when our two-year old knocks over the corn flakes we're
jotting that down as a potential concept – before we're cleaning it up.

It's the end result of those constant ruminations while we're
"off the clock" that you're paying for. We're thinking about all those
things that you may not even know are considerations, like CMYK vs RGB,
raster vs vector, adaptability to other marketing materials, output
cost, will another developer need to work with the code at a later date?

This is the stuff that saves you money later.

Choosy or Floozy?

Okay, I just did that to rhyme and be goofy. You caught me. My point is that when you need a creative service, you should be choosy.
You should be able to talk to a human about your project. Posting
parameters to a bid site can be a good way to price shop, but you
absolutely should be able to talk with a person on the phone to see if
they understand what you really need.

Sometimes you need less than you think. You could save money by
being connected to someone who actually cares about giving you the right thing and not just a thing.

Save your money. Get your stuff as cheap as possible. Just do it smart.


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