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Is Pro Bono Good Business?

April 4, 2016 | buchanandesign

Apr2016_ProBono

Before answering this question, here are some thoughts to help you evaluate opportunities and make good business decisions.

Pro bono comes from the Latin, “pro bono public” or “work done without compensation for the public good.” This term comes up often in our industry. It’s a great way to give back to your community and leverage your talents to make a positive impact for organizations that might otherwise not have the resources. It can also cost you time and resources that may effect your livelihood and making enough money to stay in business.

When given the opportunity, and if my schedule allowed, I have provided pro bono work to many organizations and individuals over the last 20 years. I never used a strategic approach to evaluate the opportunity until it was too late to “skip.” The pro bono requests came in the form of referrals or random inquiries.

Finally after all these years, I came to realize an important fact… Pro bono projects need to align with MY values and community interests AND provide exposure opportunities that would help me grow or advance my business. This became the foundation for Orange Tree Project, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that I founded in 2015.

Opportunities

Suggestions for maximizing your creative efforts:

Exposure
Get the name of your business out into the community. You never know who is looking.

Networking
Pro bono projects are often associated to a nonprofit, and all nonprofits have a board of directors who are business or community leaders. They can be a great business development opportunity.

Creative License
Take the opportunity to explore and experiment with concepts and design executions without compromising the brand integrity of the nonprofit.

Portfolio
Select a nonprofit that is looking to raise the brand bar and looking for the right creative partner. The results from this will add diversity and range to your portfolio.

Public Good
Take this opportunity to educate a group of individuals about the benefits that come when working with a design professional. It’s a great way to reinforce the value of design.

Office Morale
This can be a great opportunity to involve the entire team. Split up the responsibilities from design projects, social media posts, meetings, or volunteering for pro bono clients so everyone has a chance to get involved. A great “feel good” boost to the energy of the office.

Pro bono blues!

Great intentions don’t always lead to rewards… here are some issues to be aware of:

Time Commitment
Give your pro bono time carefully or “scope creep” can easily take over, especially when working with a nonprofit who doesn’t have much experience working with a design agency. Find the right balance between paying clients and pro bono projects.

Frustration
Ask the right questions up front to ensure that you and the nonprofit have set clear ground rules for working together. The pro bono relationship can quickly go out the window if you let it. Nonprofit clients can quickly forget the pro bono etiquette and become one of those “frustrating” clients. Your time is valuable and the last thing you want is to do the work out of obligation.

What’s Your Worth
It’s important to share the value of your professional work. Especially when there are so many nonprofit organizations out there looking for the right creative partner. Not explaining the value of your work can come back to haunt you when they need something in the future, or worse, refer you to others because you’re a nice person and don’t charge much, if at all. Even clients in pro bono arrangements should know exactly what the work was worth so they can truly appreciate it’s value. You’re establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.

Potential
Pro bono clients always start with the great enthusiasm about shining your business name in lights… Don’t be afraid to be specific when asking for exposure that will benefit your business in exchange for pro bono work. And put it in writing.

All these conversations are easier to have with causes that you believe in and want to help. It’s important to support causes that have special meaning.

Win Win

How to make it work for everyone:

Establish criteria for working together
As the professional providing services for free, it’s important to establish ground rules at the start of the project. Deliverables, timeline, out-of-pocket reimbursements, approval process, rounds of revisions, and any other specifics should all be discussed to avoid surprises once the project begins. It’s always a good idea to establish a key contact to work with who can coordinate routing proofs and feedback. Working with a “committee” can create extra work and confusion.

Set realistic expectations
Clear expectations are key to getting everyone on the same page, and assuring the best possible experience for all. A pro bono project should not be treated any differently than working with paying clients. Often times pro bono work gets shuffled in between paying projects, but it’s important to always be professional and not let the client feel as though they are not as important. Schedule deadlines and appointments according to your schedule.

Negotiate a fair deal
Your work has value and the nonprofit knows it. Don’t be afraid to ask for things such as:

  • Design credit on printed materials or website.
  • Sponsorship listing on event programs, invitations,
    website, or any forms of advertising.
  • If applicable, request a complimentary membership
    or tickets for event access.
  • Attend a board meeting where you can be
    introduced to the entire board.
  • Social media promotions highlighting your company
    and the great work you are providing.
  • Highlight in a printed or online newsletter.

Pro bono clients evolve and can often become paying clients once they understand how valuable design can be. This has happened for us often and reason enough to be very picky when selecting your next pro bono client.

Community, Design Community, Design Industry, Partnership

Crowdsourcing vs. Design Agency

November 20, 2015 | buchanandesign

What you need to know before choosing price over value.

Dec2015_CrowdSource

So you’ve decided to start a business and need a brand, or maybe after years in business your logo needs a serious overhaul. You have decided it’s time to bring in outside support to get the job done. Like most people, you turn to GOOGLE to start your search.

The result is an assortment of local design agencies along with some interesting paid ad options. Being a smart shopper, you visit a few of the agency websites and poke around their work, office culture, and client lists. Then you explore a couple of the online crowdsourcing websites like 99 designs, Crowdspring, etc. Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and choosing what you like best. It’s made even more tempting because the cost is fractional compared with a professional design agency.

This is the moment of truth: do you pick the cheapest option just to have something to put on your business card, or do you choose value and receive a brand identity custom tailored to you and your business?

As a design leader with over 20 years in the industry, I’ve always had the belief that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. Not all brand identities are created equal and price should not be the only factor in making your decision. For these reasons, I’ve gathered the following comparisons to help you be better prepared to make your own right decision.

  1. PROJECT UNDERSTANDING
    The online option will force you to become an art director and guide the participants with instructions and information to launch your contest for a new logo. In contrast, most professional design agencies will meet with you in person to understand specific goals, discuss strategic objectives, and complete a project brief that will be a useful tool for both client and design team.
  2. CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE
    Crowdsourcing “designers” are often from third world countries and will have very little understanding of your industry or local competitive landscape. A design agency will learn about your company, your goals, and the cultural norms that are shared by you and your customers. Additionally, their proposal will include time to research your industry and your competition for important insight.
  3. COMMUNICATION
    Communication is limited to an online portal with crowdsourcing, and in most cases, time zone differences delay communication even further. Since you are the art director, the process will inevitably turn into a risky game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe… as design options flood your screen. On the contrary, open dialogue regarding concept explanations and rationale are maintained throughout the design process when working with a design agency. You benefit from their experience in the form of guidance, strategic thinking, and asthetic considerations.
  4. ORIGINALITY
    In many, many cases, logo designs presented by online sources have been “borrowed” from the web or design annuals, only to be passed along as original ideas. They believe that most clients may not understand trademark laws or stop to think about the source of the logos presented. We have experienced this first-hand as several of our logos were stolen from published books, modified slightly, and presented online as a menu item. Legal action put a stop to that, but only because we know this type of corruption exists. A design agency understands the importance of original work and reputation.
  5. CONCEPT
    Perhaps the most subjective reason for not using crowdsourcing sites is the lack of “concept.” A design agency will spend hours researching the client and their competitive landscape before putting pencil to paper. Online participants don’t have this luxury when competing against 20, 30, or 100 other anonymous individuals. Instead, they submit as many ideas as they can, hoping for one design to stand out so they can get paid. It’s a numbers game. Works for some, but the design profession benefits from experience and process.
  6. BRAND DEVELOPMENT
    Crowdsourced logos are often produced strictly as a logo alone. These logos are created without the understanding of how they may evolve into a broader identity or brand look. When a logo is developed at a design agency, it is created with a larger brand strategy in mind. A design agency will create the logo in conjunction with a much larger identity plan. Whether or not you desire additional brand collateral, your logo will carry the roadmap to expand as you shape your business going forward.

I understand that hiring someone to help with the creation of a new identity isn’t the easiest thing to do, but I hope you find the information above helpful as you navigate the process of making this important decision.

Branding, Design Industry