The hidden cost of DIY design.
When starting a business, there’s one thing that a lot of us struggle with, and that’s money.
Whether it’s because you’re literally on a shoestring budget and you need to get this business going to give you some financial freedom, or you’re on a decent wage and have money to spare but aren’t sure if you’re ready to go all out investing into an idea you’re only testing, things can be tight. So when it comes to deciding where that limited budget can go, the majority goes into essential tools and software, and we’re forced to look at other options for things like design and branding.
Other options usually looks like: deciding you can do it yourself for now, and taking on the roles of a designer, brand strategist, marketer, creator, assistant, sales rep, accountant, IT consultant and every other role under the sun as just one person. This can work if you’ve got experience or skills in those areas, but it can become more difficult when things fall outside of your area of expertise.
When it comes to design + brand identity, we’re really lucky these days to have software and tools like Canva or Squarespace that allow even total beginners to pick them up and produce a graphic or a website with relative ease. We don’t have to go through the massive learning curve of figuring out the Adobe suite or learning to code beautiful on Wordpress.
But just because these tools are simple to use and easy to access, doesn’t mean there are no hidden costs associated with using them, especially if you’re taking on all that work yourself and design is outside your area of awesomeness.
It’s really easy in the beginning to get fixated on the idea of money and where you can save it while getting your business going, but there comes a point where we have to consider not only the monetary cost of something, but also the value of your time and mental energy.
It seems simple and easy in theory to just take on design work yourself until you can afford to hire it out, but here are some hidden costs you might not have considered:
Doing it all yourself doesn’t cost any money? Think again.
Many people turn to DIY options because we tend to think that if we do everything ourselves, it doesn’t cost anything. But that’s not true, because your time is money. Any time you spend doing any work is worth being paid for, so unless you’ve built the cost of the time you spend working on your DIY designs into the price of your service or product, you’re losing out.
The other way it can cost you money is this: if you’re spending a ton of time working on your business and brand visuals but you’re not necessarily great at it, and the results are not really up to standard, you could be losing out on customers or clients, and that directly impacts your bottom line.
For some people, your awesome content or skills or product might be enough, but for others, the quality of how something looks will impact their perception of the quality of the actual product or service. For our more aesthetically inclined friends, sloppy or inconsistent visuals might put them off working with or buying from you.
There’s a similar downfall here when using some of the tools or software that offer a free version to create your graphics or website. For example, a lot of people like to use Wix for their website because they offer a free option. But when people (myself included) see the obviously free, yoursite.wix.com URL and the banners over your visual space that advertise free Wix sites, it’s a giant tip off that you’re not prepared to invest in business basics.
If there’s a chance that your DIY or free attempts at important brand visuals could be turning away potential clients or customers, it IS costing you money, no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise.
There’s still a learning curve, and learning takes time, and as we just discussed, time is valuable.
Even with the help of some of the amazing tools and resources that have given the average person the opportunity to take on DIY design, there’s still a learning curve, and learning takes time. If you’ve never used Canva or another image editing software before, it will still be unfamiliar to you at first and you’ll have to spend time figuring out how everything works.
It’s also unrealistic to think that you can jump straight into DIY design quickly and easily if you don’t have creative or design experience. You can open up Squarespace and have a go, but without putting time and effort into learning some of the basic principles of design, you’re unlikely to produce a result that you’re happy with.
No worries, you think, because I can just whack all my information into one of their pre-made designs! The problem with that is if your content or photos or colours are different to what came with that template originally. Then you have to start making changes, and if visual problem solving doesn’t come naturally to you, the end result can end up looking unbalanced, unprofessional, and way less beautiful than the template you started out with.
We all have limited time to work on our businesses, so it’s painful to have to waste it on something you’re not great at, when you could be using that time to make your service or digital product better for your audience.
You’re using up important mental energy.
We all have a limited about of mental energy available to us each day. Ever get to 3pm and just feel like you have no more brain cells left to keep going? I know I have. Studies have shown us that we only have a certain capacity for deep work and decision making on any given day. And working on tasks we find mentally taxing can use up far more of that available energy than tasks we enjoy.
When you’re working on something you know how to do, there are less decisions involved than something you don’t. If you’re working on a design and you have no idea whether it’s any good or not, just imagine the number of times you question what font to use, or whether you’ve used the right colour, or why your picture looks wrong. It’s tiring work.
And when you’ve used up all that important energy and focus ability on work that isn’t your client work, product development or content creation, by the time you get to those tasks, you might lose out on quality and impact because you no longer have the room to really give them your best shot and deepest focus.
The other factor that comes into play here is context switching. In a productivity sense, context switching is the act of finishing one task or job and moving on to another, different task. Most people aren’t very good at this by default, so while we think we can finish up working on design at 1:30 and start working on our course at 1:31, most of us can’t make that leap so smoothly. A lot of us end up on social media, procrastinating while our minds adjust to the idea of doing something differently. So you’re now wasting more mental energy on something other than your area of awesomeness, and you’re wasting time - and time is still money.
Doing stuff we hate makes us resentful.
Most of us go into business with a magical idea that we’re super passionate about, and then we actually get to doing the work and realise that in reality we get to spend a much smaller percentage of time doing that passion driven work because there’s all this other stuff to do.
You thought you were going to spend all your days empowering women through business coaching, but instead you’re spending 10 hours trying to make a half decent looking graphic for your blog post.
You thought you were going to show people the importance and impact yoga can have on their lives and relationships through your online course but instead you’ve spent a week screwing around with your website trying to get it to look the way you want and nothing’s working out.
It was your decision to DIY, but everything takes longer than it should, you almost always end up frustrated and cursing your computer because you can’t figure out why something isn’t working, and by the end of it you’re not even sure if you like the result. This is where anger and resentment can take hold and turn that magical business idea into something you hate.
This resentment can make people procrastinate and avoid doing the work - even the work they were once passionate about - because it’s all been coloured by those negative feelings and emotions they felt while doing the not-so-fun stuff.
It can even make people feel like the only way out is to quit their business.
So what do you do instead?
If DIY design really is costing you money, or clients, or time and mental energy, or it’s making you feel angry and frustrated on the regular, what are your options to get off the DIY hamster wheel? Here are a couple that can work, even if you’ve got tight budget considerations.
Take advantage of pre-made designs.
I know it sounds a little bit counter-intuitive to be considering templates or pre-made designs given what I said about them in the time saving section, but hear me out.
It can be hard to use the templates that services like Canva or Squarespace or Wix provide, because they don’t fit exactly right with your business. This happens because those services aren’t designing their templates with your specific kind of business in mind - they need them to work for everybody, so their templates, while beautiful, are also super generic. This usually means you need to change a bunch of stuff to pull them more in line with what you do, and once you start changing, you’re back at the bottom of the learning curve.
But there are designers out there creating excellent template and pre-made design systems with specific kinds of online businesses in mind. Many of them also provide detailed instructional videos, and some even offer an install service, where they’ll do all of the hard work for you.
Designers like Studio Standard (pre-made branding + collateral), Station Seven (pre-made squarespace + wordpress templates with install service options) and Good as Gold Studio (pre-made Squarespace websites with video instruction + business planning extras) all do amazing work in the template game and provide you with the support you need to make them work for you.
Don’t count yourself out from hiring a designer.
It’s not impossible to find a designer that can work with your budget. Maybe you can find someone willing to trade services. Maybe you can pull the price down by limiting the scope of work you need done. Or you might find a designer you love that offers an entry level service.
I know what it’s like to start a business on a budget, so I offer Starter Branding as an entry level design service. It’s $500, and it’ll get you all the basics you need to get your business looking beautiful and feeling professional from the get go.
Have you been DIY-ing for your business?
Leave a comment below and let me know what part of building a brand is taking you the most time.
If you’d like to get more articles like this one delivered right to your inbox, drop your name + email below and you’ll get a new one every Thursday!
See you in the next one!