We've worked with many a startup before starting SWARM and one thing is common among all of them, they're strapped for cash, and good design can get pretty expensive and fast. So while this problem isn't exclusive to startups or non profits, reducing design costs can help you fatten up your bottom line.Below are a series of options for reducing the cost of design services and making them more efficient.  

Digital vs. Print Marketing

Save money by switching to digital marketing. Instead of paying for postcards and physical newsletters, start collecting the emails of interested parties and send out a digital newsletter. Hire a designer to create an HTML template that can be used with one of the email marketing services like MailChimp or SendGrid, and use this template as a standard way of connecting and updating your audience at least once a month. These mailing services will also maintain your mailing list, and automatically handle the unsubscribe functions.The costs involved are:

  • Labor: One time, design of the original template
  • Labor: Per month, text updates to newsletter (does not require a designer, can be anyone in the organization)
  • Service: If you exceed around 2000 subscribers, the service provider (mailchimp, campaign monitor, sendgrid) usually has a nominal monthly fee.

Some types of clients will respond better to print marketing materials – consider whom your audience consists of. If you know the amount and the kind of marketing materials you will need to send out during the year, negotiate a rate with a designer or printer – let them know your entire yearly design or printing budget, the number of projects you need to create, and ask them for suggestions on how to achieve this. Many designers and printers will give you an overall discount with the agreement that several projects are included.

Website Building: HTML or Wordpress

A large expense for non profits and small businesses is the cost of maintaining a website. You may already have a website built that you are happy with, but there is no one to update it. Commonly, the actual website maintenance is not budgeted for in the overall development process. A clean solution to this is using a backend that allows someone who does not have HTML experience to update the site.

Wordpress is a very good tool for lowering the cost of website maintenance. If you have the budget, or are already looking to redesign your site – find a designer and development team who can create the site for you through Wordpress. This means that the front facing part of the site will look and function like a normal website, though you or someone else from your organization can log into it and quickly change text, add posts or pages, and generally manipulate much of the content quickly without knowing HTML.

The prices for this will vary depending on the functionality you would need – but in the long term this will save your organization a lot of money. The largest value add here is really that your companys website will be up to date all the time. Cost for this service ranges between $1000 - $9000, and greatly varies due to features and complexity.That being said –  large or intricate organizations might have additional needs that Wordpress would not be a good tool for. In addition, the E-commerce experience is frequently very limited in a Wordpress built site and a custom design will produce better results. In this case, having a traditional website built, and budgeting for maintenance is your best bet. 

Save Money on Graphic Designers:

There are two main areas where an organization can save money when hiring a designer. The first is to ask the designer to create templates. This is an area where you might spend a little more than expected for a talented designer. Hire someone to create a series of easily updatable templates. They might define a style guide, create a series of postcards, template a newsletter, etc. Later, an in-house designer or even non-designer can change the text in specific areas without harming or needing to change the overall look and feel.

The second area to save money on design is obvious but often overlooked – organization. When contracting a designer, have all your marketing materials ready and organized. If you have copy written for a brochure – only hand the designer the finalized version. Often times a designer receives incomplete text, plugs it in, completes the design and then receives new text to work with. Well, they charge for those additional changes as this takes more of the designer’s time.By having well written, finalized copy, there is less back and forth and the savings is passed on to you.

The DIY method - Stock Photos services:

Stock photos can be purchased at around $30 per photo on these websites, and if you're planning on getting a lot of them, consider a monthly plan:istock.comdreamstime.comthinkstockphotos.comshutterstock.comEditorial and higher end stock photography will start at $70 per image for a low resolution file and can go up to $600 for higher resolutions of the same image. When you pay premium prices for photography, you're paying for what you know is a good photo, with smart composition, and a pleasing and effective appearance. Once your budget increases, consider hiring a professional photographer to create unique pieces for you.

Using Social Media for Marketing:

The focus here is on your digital footprint. If you have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, or a blog – though none of these are being updated regularly – then none of these are contributing to your social media marketing. The work still has to be put in – this isn’t a magic bullet. Once your team has committed to set some time aside each week to create content for any of these venues, then you need to consider a secondary list of items.

  • Who is your audience and what do they want from your services? Your social media content should reflect the needs of your customer and the services you offer.
  • Become a resource and have high quality content. If your organization is art based, write articles or post feeds about an upcoming show that is not held by your organization. Certainly, if you would like to update your audience on your own events or service changes, this is fine to do – but you are not limited by this. In addition, your company could be a place to go to in order to find information about related resources. This will provide value to your audience.
  • Networking. Follow, comment, and link. Reply to your commenters. This will help establish rapport. One of the mains strategies of youtube celebrities is to reply to their commenters and engage them in a real world way. This creates a bond between you and your consumers resulting in positive feelings about you and your services.
  • Tell a story. Create emotional attachment. Writing about experiences or situations in which your organization has helped allows your visitors to quickly (and emotionally) understand the value of your company. Emotional attachment is better than analytical attachment. You can tell someone how great you are, but it will stick better if they conclude this on their own.
  • Subscribe to Google Alerts. When a phrase or word of your choosing is indexed by Google – you will receive an email. Try this with your organization’s name. Maybe there is an interested market you can reach that you haven’t considered yet?

Don't skimp on design. While there are a number of free resources to help you lower your design costs, this isn't to say that you shouldn't use a design firm or design service. Good design isn't about being cheap, it communicates who you are, and having a logo that came from a stock image site - one that anyone else can use as well is a poor decision. Notwithstanding, there's no replacement for a user experience and interaction professional, and while stock themes may look nice and bring your costs down initially - they may negatively affect your margins in the end. In the end it's about what you can realistically afford and what choices you make - but for the day in and out tasks, the ideas in this post should help you manage your design and marketing.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to email me at valerie[at]swarmnyc.com or post to the comments below. I would also love to hear from you and find out if any of these resources helped out.Image credit: Bukhavets MikhailResources for nonprofits PDF 

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