Matt Chansky • November 18, 2015

”We’ve got a really tight budget since we’re a start-up. How quickly can you design a logo for us?”

How many times have you received this inquiry? And then there’s the ubiquitous “how many revisions do I get?” As a culture, people want what they want faster and cheaper, but the small business client adds another wrinkle – they also don’t want to sacrifice quality. After all, they need to compete to grow and you need quality to do that. And if you don’t “work your magic” right away, clients can loose confidence.

Knock It Out of The Park Quickly And on A Tight Budget

These are some of the toughest conditions for anyone to work under. It’s hard to think of many other professional service industries that are asked to achieve results within these parameters and where consumer pressure and assumptions impact price.

Life in First Class

On the other hand, when you work for an ad agency providing the logo design service, your work and time have a different valuation. You are able to work under very different conditions, especially in big ad agencies. You have the luxury of more time, more revisions, and the assurance that you’ll be paid for your efforts. It’s understood that the pressure to deliver for a client with worldwide aspirations and funding is a separate variable. However, I’ve seen a few of these agency designers try to transition to smaller clients and it’s a sobering reality: “you want me to do what for how much and how fast?” Exactly. That’s why it’s the toughest job in the design industry. When there is enough time, funding, and creative freedom – the logo design process itself, wins. Let’s look at some case studies of logo design development lead by individual designers.

Two Famous Logo Design Case Studies

FedEx Logo Design – Designed by Lindon Leader when he was with Landor Associates, at the point when he realized the famous “secret” arrow could be possible, “we’d already created and reviewed over 200 designs,” said Leader in an interview in 2004. According to Leader “understatement is much more effective, much more elegant.” The creative process allowed for the creation of the secret arrow. His team was clear in their goal of not revealing the hidden arrow when presenting to their client, however once it was discovered by everyone, Leader and his team knew they undoubtedly hit the mark. The budget for the logo is unknown.

Citi Logo Design – The Citi logo was designed on a napkin in five minutes. Or so legend has it. But was it really designed on a napkin in five minutes? What was the real investment of time? According to creator Paula Scher, what may have appeared as only taking seconds is actually “a second done in 34 years.” Legend has it that the logo was then refined, reviewed in meetings, and finalized about a year later looking much like the original sketch. The budget for the logo is unknown.

My Big Agency Experience

When I worked on Madison Avenue for a well-known ad agency, when a logo design project came in – 4 to 5 art directors were assigned the task of providing 3 to 5 logo options to start. The Creative Director and Account Executives (AE) pitched the designs to the client and the AE’s handled the back and forth communications with the client. Factoring in salaries, rent, and health benefits it cost this agency around $15,000 for a logo for which they were paid $50,000. Their profit was over 200% per logo. How does that compare with your small business logo design experience?

Mission Impossible

As a freelance logo designer you are responsible for:

  • • Industry and competitor research
  • • Brand direction
  • • Logo design
  • • Pitching to the client
  • • Client communications
  • • Production files

Sometimes it takes many attempts to get a working concept that a client can get behind. And sometimes after a great initial rough concept, the refinements required to do really high quality work take the majority of time (as well as dialoging with the client).

The price range for a small business logo design is highly debatable and it will vary depending location. Let’s exclude the $99 group and just focus on good freelancers and small shops. Somewhere between the $500 and $1500 range for a small business logo (without stationary) is reasonably typical more or less. And generally small businesses want to achieve their logo in 3 to 5 rounds on average.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a noteworthy logo in a fraction of the time and budget of a good sized ad agency, do the job of 3 different departments, and somehow make a living.

5 Essentials for Building and Protecting Your Freelance Logo Design Business
  • 1. Do not ever charge a flat rate. Clients will absolutely take advantage and ask for dozens of concepts and revisions eating into your income (if not every client, then every other client–even nice ones). It's an invitation for lowering your wage or creating unpaid hours.
  • 2. Charging by the hour is a gamble. If you knock out the Citi logo on a napkin in an hour and then the client says “just clean it up a bit.” You have 2 billable hours. It was your years experience doing logos year and year out that allowed you to achieve that initial concept, but now you’ve set yourself up for punishing business model.
  • 3. Given mission impossible, probably the best way to protect yourself is to come up with project fee model and then an hourly rate for hours beyond the base project model. This guarantees a minimum to cover your time and the experience you bring and protects yourself from clients that want a longer development process.
  • 4. Always try to write up a Project Brief and make sure you and the client are in agreement with process, expectations, and cost. Some clients won't want a contract or believe a false notion that a contract means they will get screwed. A project brief that clearly outlines what you are providing and what is expected of the client is the least amount of protection for yourself – but it is good protection and helps the logo design process. If you can make up a simple contract, great. If you can make a contract form on your website for a client to effect a signature, that's another option.
  • 5. A client that really knows what they are doing will provide you with a company overview and general brand directions. A logo design questionnaire is advisable if your client is short on details. Consider developing a long and short version. The questionnaire helps to hit the ground running and eliminate coming up with designs that are “off-brand” to start. And it will help clients from getting off-brand themselves.

In some cases, it can be worth the time to try to educate your client about the logo design process and how/why historically it takes time to make something great. It shows that you can be an industry expert as well as an expert designer. If you have a good client, this conversation will take “some” of the pressure off of hitting a home run on the first round and build trust for an actual logo design process. If this conversation yields an uncomfortable response, then this is your red flag that working with this client will be a gamble.


Freelance Logo Designer

Princeton, NJ

Toll Free: 855-846-0089