8 min read

“Should I Hire a…” design agency, freelancer or student? We see people asking this all the time.

It’s hard to identify the right choice to help you with your design project and growing your brand.

In this post, we’re going to give you an unbiased overview of your options and highlight the pros, cons and costs associated with each level of practitioner.

So, who should you hire to help you and your business brand?

Should I Hire a Student?

Hiring a student seems to be the first idea a lot of people have. Usually, this is because they think students will be cheap.

However, when looking to set up or grow a new company, you need to think about design as an investment rather than an “ughhhh, I need to pay a designer” type cost.

Whilst it’s true that students can be cheap and save you money on your project, they can also be hard to get hold of and their design work is often not as refined as it needs to be.

The Pros of Hiring a Student

  • A student designer will usually be considerably cheaper than your other options.
  • Students tend to go out of their way to help you, especially if you’re one of their first clients.
  • You might hit on lucky and get a student that produces some exceptional work.

The Cons of Hiring a Student

  • Students are inexperienced, and often don’t know how to help you use design to you grow your business.
  • With their busy lifestyle, students can be hard to get hold of in regular business hours.
  • You might find them to be unreliable, causing you to miss pressing deadlines.
  • The standard of work they offer, might be on the low end of the spectrum which could harm your brand.
  • Finding a student to hire can be difficult if you don’t have links into the student community.

So, Should You Hire a Student?

Honestly, hiring a student isn’t the best of ideas if you’re serious about your business.

If you run club nights and need flyers made, sure, why not hire someone involved in the University/College community?

However, if you run a business venture that relies on a professional brand identity and sleek website experience, I’d advise against it.

Should I Hire a Freelancer?

Freelancers are a great option for small businesses. Many businesses turn to freelancers in an effort to avoid using the more expensive design agency options.

Finding a reliable freelancer is relatively easy thanks to sites like However, I’d recommend putting Google to good use and find your freelancer that way.

Whilst freelancers might work in the short term for your business, as you grow, they might find it difficult to keep up with your growing demands.

The Pros of Hiring a Freelancer

  • A freelancer will be more expensive than a student, but usually less than a design agency.
  • As freelancers work for themselves and word of mouth is important, they tend to be reliable and easy to work with.
  • Because freelancers work on their own, you’ll get a very personal service from them.

The Cons of Hiring a Freelancer

  • As freelancers are a “one man band” type outfit, if they’re sick or on holiday, you’re left without a designer.
  • As they’re only one person, if you need to get hold of them, but they’re unavailable for any reason, there’s not a lot you can do about it.
  • As your company grows, you might find yourself outgrowing your freelancer and over burdening them with too much work. This could cause delays and unnecessary stress.
  • Finding a freelancer is easy, but finding a reliable freelancer can be slightly harder.
  • Their skill set could be limited. As a freelancer, you’re expect to be a “jack of all trades” – unfortunately that also means you’re a master of none.

So, Should You Hire a Freelancer?

Freelancers are a great choice for certain types of business, or businesses that don’t have the ambition to grow rapidly.

If you’re comfortable with working up close and personal and putting all of your eggs in one basket, then go for it.

However, if you’re looking for something more flexible and scalable, then a freelancer isn’t the right choice for you.

Should I Hire a Boutique Design Agency?

For want of a better word, I’d consider Canny Creative to be a boutique design agency. We’re small and growing, but we’re not internationally renowned (yet!)

A boutique design agency is considerable smaller than the Wolf Ollins’, Sagmeister and Welsh’s, Landor’s and Pentagram’s of the world.

However, for most businesses, they’re the perfect size to help grow their business.

The Pros of Hiring a Boutique Design Agency

  • The level of work design agencies produce is of a very high standard.
  • Because this level of design agency have a number staff, if one person is off sick or on holiday, there’s always someone else able to step into their shoes.
  • Having staff means having a physical premises or office you can visit. This means you have someone to hold bigger in-person meetings when they’re required.
  • As design agencies have several staff, the range of skills at a boutique design agency tends to be diverse.
  • Because of the range of people working there, the networking opportunities are endless. People know people and you might be able to score your next hot lead through someone on the design team.
  • Design agencies have connections with other companies such as printers, distributers and manufacturers that you might be able to tap into.
  • The price might not be as bad as you think!

The Cons of Hiring a Boutique Design Agency

  • The cost of a design agency is likely to be more than a freelancer.
  • Your company will be one of several clients. Unless you have a budget big enough to put your chosen agency on a 5 day a week retainer!
  • Meetings need to be scheduled ahead of time to ensure both of your diaries match up.

So, Should You Hire a Boutique Design Agency?

In short, yes. A boutique design agency is a great solution for most businesses out there.

Sure, they’ll be charging more than a student a freelancer, but the level of service they’ll be providing far outweighs the cost.

They’re small enough to be personable and caring, but big enough to see larger rebranding projects or web builds through to completion.

If you want to deal with one person and have them ask “how high?” when you say “jump” – then a boutique design agency isn’t right for you.

But if you’re looking for a professional service that can help you to grow your business, then I’d say this is the right choice for you.

Should I Hire an Internationally Renowned Design Agency?

Internationally renowned agencies such as Huge or Landor come at a high price. They have huge overheads and you’re the one that’s going to be paying for it.

However, they work with the world’s biggest brands and manage huge projects.

But are they right for you?

The Pros of Hiring an Internationally Renowned Design Agency

  • Most of the benefits from a Boutique Design Agency still apply.
  • Your business will be joining the ranks of a design agency that have huge companies on their books. You might just benefit from association.
  • The level of work and commitment to your project will be second to none. It’s highly likely that you’ll have a dedicated project manager and team to work with.
  • The work they produce is some of the best design work in the world.

The Cons of Hiring an Internationally Renowned Design Agency

  • Cost. Imagine what Mercedes Benz are paying to keep an agency on the books, that’s how much you’ll be paying too.
  • They might not even accept you. Most internationally renowned agencies have a high barrier to entry. Some just don’t deal with small companies at all.
  • Dealing with a huge design agency might just be too much red tape for you.

So Should You Hire an Internationally Renowned Design Agency?

Well, that depends. What size company are you part of and what are you looking to achieve?

If you have a high five or six figure budget, then sure, an internationally renowned agency is probably the right choice for you.

However, if you’re looking for something more personal, then I’d suggest you go with a smaller company.

There is one more option…

Bringing Your Design Work In-House

Just don’t do it.

You don’t need the added stress of bringing a designer in, to then work out how to manage them and keep them busy.

Unless you’re producing magazines, brochures and web campaigns day and day out, then you’re better giving the work to one of the choices above.

You don’t need to pay out a salary, just to keep someone in the wings for when you do need them.

Also, by bringing someone in house, you’re falling into the Student/Freelancer trap. One person on their own is highly unlikely to have the skills to help your company grow.

Conclusion: Should I Hire a Design Agency, Freelancer or Student?

It’s important you hire the right person for your project.

I’d always recommend, unless you’re a massive Fortune 500 company, that starting with a boutique design agency is the way to go.

They have the best range of skills and services, and the cost is worth the investment.

What do you think – do you use students, freelancers or design agencies? Let us know in the comments below!