When and How to Strategically Outsource Your Design Work: An In-Depth Guide for Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur trying to manage all aspects of a growing business, finding ways to add capacity and supplement skills affordably is crucial but challenging. Should you hand over design work to outside specialists? How do you identify the right design partner? What specific projects make smart candidates for outsourcing?

With the right approach, outsourcing select elements of design can provide strategic leverage for high-performance and flexibility. This guide shares frameworks, best practices, and lessons learned to help entrepreneurs successfully integrate outsourced design.

Breaking Down Design Outsourcing

Before weighing pros and cons, let‘s align on what outsourcing design actually entails.

Outsourced design refers to delegating certain design activities and deliverables to external specialists instead of completing internally with employee designers. For example:

  • A website development agency might outsource graphic design for info graphics to a freelance designer
  • A startup might contract with an external industrial design firm to design their new hardware product
  • A retailer might outsource print catalog layout and production to a design studio

Companies access outside design talent in many forms – from individual freelancers to specialized agencies.

Outsourcing differs from completely relinquishing design capabilities through an agency-of-record model. Strategic outsourcing means purposefully supplementing select design needs while retaining core design direction and management internally.

The Benefits and Risks of Outsourced Design

Before rushing to outsource design tasks, weigh key upsides and downsides reported by other business leaders.

The Potential Benefits

82% of companies outsource design work to gain efficiencies and focus resources. [Stats]

Specific strategic benefits often include:

  • Access specialized skills: Obtain niche design expertise missing from current teams. For example, data visualization design for a new dashboard.
  • Increase capacity: Handle higher design workloads or variability without expanding fixed teams. Useful in growth mode.
  • Control costs: Pay for on-demand work rather than carrying full-time senior design salaries.
  • Enable focus: Direct internal efforts toward high-value priorities and management roles.

The Potential Risks

Despite significant advantages, handing design duties to outside parties does pose some risks if not managed deliberatly:

  • Misalignment: Lack of communication around objectives, expectations, and feedback can derail success.
  • Lower quality: External work may fail to meet standards around technique, style, or execution.
  • Limited control: Less ability to provide interim guidance and course correction during the design process itself.

Deciding If Outsourcing Is Right For You

Consider these factors when determining if outsourcing matches your needs:

Outsourcing Considerations

When To Outsource Design Work

Outsourcing works best for specific situations versus all design needs.

Experts suggests considering outsourced design help for:

  • Specialized skills: Design capabilities outside core competencies of current team. For example, 3D modeling for prototype development.
  • Repetitive needs: High-volume or routine design tasks distracting internal teams from critical work.
  • Capacity gaps: Project volumes temporarily exceeding bandwidth of current design staff.
  • Short-term needs: Interim design help for transitional business needs. For example, new branding to support entering fresh markets.

Take time to analyze and segment design projects to reveal smart outsourcing opportunities.

How To Select the Right Design Partner

Finding an aligned, qualified design partner takes due diligence – but pays dividends in results.

Follow these tips for evaluating and engaging outside design help:

Assess portfolio fit

  • Review 4-5 sample projects comparable to your needs
  • Verify specific relevant skills and style

Interview designers

  • Discuss comunication processes
  • Assess design thinking approach
  • Confirm availability and bandwidth

Check references

  • Speak to 2-3 prior clients
  • Ask about quality, reliability, communication

Clarify pricing

  • Understand project cost structure
  • Set schedules for invoicing

Start small

  • Test capabilities with a pilot project
  • Then scale if successful

Vetting thoroughly upfront reduces downstream headaches!

Managing Outsourced Design for Success

Careful management sustains the benefits of well-matched external design partnerships over time.

Best practices include:

  • Maintaining frequent status checks and giving regular feedback
  • Periodically revisiting scope and needs as business conditions evolve
  • Providing direction but also listening to creative recommendations
  • Enabling direct connections between designer(s) and internal team members

Key Takeaways & Next Steps

The above guide just scratches the surface of successfully integrating outsourced design help into your small business. Additional topics like contracting, work product ownership, expanding partnerships, and ending engagements merit dedicated attention.

I welcome further discussion around your outsourcing goals and questions! Please reach out to schedule a working session around mapping specific design needs, identifying partner prospects, or structuring pilot engagements.

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