Hiring a freelance designer can be a great move for your church. It can be a great opportunity to experience personal service and benefit from a creative mind that thinks outside of the ruts.

It can be a way to save money, as you eliminate the overhead cost that often comes with hiring a design agency. As a freelance designer myself in the past, I’ve got a lot of projects under my belt…

I’ve also been on the other side of the equation as a small business owner, farming out overflow work to freelance designers.

While it can be a beautiful thing, it can also be a super painful experience for both sides with:

  • A myriad communication fails
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Nebulous budgets
  • Sketchy terminology
  • And of course, fuzzy deadlines

These can leave both the freelancer and church leaders frustrated, upset, and rethinking life decisions.

Bad DecisionDrawing from past personal experience as well as the experiences and pain points of others, here’s a collection of tips to consider as you contemplate hiring that freelance designer for your next project:

  1. Start Early.
    Such simple words, right? As a general rule, the smaller your timeline window, the greater likelihood that something is going to go south.Sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control, but listen – Easter is around the same time every year… There’s just no excuse for a frantic call to your freelance designer 8 days before your event. Figure out when you need your project in hand, and build 6-8 weeks of lead time into your project. Everyone involved will breathe much easier!
  2. Establish Clear Timelines.
    If the designer thinks he has four weeks to finish the job, but you needed it in three weeks, you’ll have a problem. Be very clear on the date that you must have the job in hand, then work backwards on your calendar to determine the date that you would need to have the first round of proofs. Establish these dates in written form via email, and confirm them orally with the designer.
  3. Know Your Budget.
    As incredible as it seems, you’d be amazed at how many times churches will hire a designer, and complete a project without asking what the cost is. Then, at the end, the church receives a bill that is inevitably larger than they expected, and there is conflict. Make sure you get a solid written estimate from the freelance designer that spells out all costs involved in the project. Agree on payment terms and schedule. Understand that you are paying for the designer’s craft, not just their time.
  4. Choose A Project Lead.One of the most frustrating things for a freelance designer is to be receiving conflicting instructions from multiple church staff members.This scenario wastes valuable time and cultivates confusion. Appoint a singular staff member to communicate with the designer on the project, and make sure all communication and feedback moves through that singular channel.
  5. Decide What You Want.
    “Make something cool” is not a good project brief.
    If you have a church staff, sit down with them for a discovery session to determine what you want. If you don’t have a church staff, schedule a brainstorming session with your spouse or other trusted individuals to come up with details for your project. Be clear with your freelance designer on which parts of the project have specific requirements and on which parts they will have creative liberty.
  6. Write The Text Content.
    As a freelance designer, I found that projects were so much easier and faster when I was given quality copy to work with. As a pastor or church staff member, you are a communicator. Stop and take the time to craft some well-written content for your design piece. If you can write a sermon, you should be able to write a trifold tract or a postcard mailer. If you really struggle in this area, ask your freelance designer if they know of a good copywriter that might be able to assist you.
  7. Proofread Thoroughly.
    Don’t trust that your freelance designer doubles as a grammar expert. Ultimately, you are responsible for grammatical and typographical errors in your project, so take the time to review it thoroughly, and have one or two other individuals review it as well. If you are the only one looking it over, you will no doubt miss some things that can result in costly errors.
  8. Aggregate Your Feedback.
    An experienced and organized freelance designer will have a clear proofing workflow established.. However, not all freelancers are organized or experienced. Don’t overwhelm them with multiple feedback emails. I’ve worked with church staff members who would send 4 or 5 emails within a matter of minutes, sometimes changing directions with their feedback between emails, and leaving me to translate exactly what it is they were trying to say. When you receive a proof from your freelancer, sit down and take the time to thoroughly review it, gather your thoughts, make notes, and then send one email with your feedback in line item format.
  9. Be Generous.
    A freelance designer works with a lot of different personalities. Some are a delight, and others… well not so much.During my freelance days there were certain individuals that immediately sparked negativity when their name would pop up on my phone’s caller ID. In fact, there was one church staff member that I lovingly nicknamed “whiney pants.” Don’t be that guy. Treat your freelancer with respect, dignity, and generosity. Establish a healthy working relationship, and it will pay off in huge ways. Want to take it over the top? Shoot them a gift card every once in a while with a note of thanks. You’ll have an ally for life!

Hope these simple thoughts will help you cultivate great ongoing relationships with the freelance designers you work with.

It can be a rewarding experience if you take the time to do it right.

What are some things you have come across in your experience with freelancers that might be added to this list?

I’d love to hear your comments below!