How to SQUEEZE your design budget

My creative agency works primarily with marketers, so we know that a big concern they have is the creative budget. Having to do with more with less (with an already thin budget) is a daily battle. And we hear about, oh we hear about it. And while this post is not about squeezing your graphic designer or agency, it’s how your creative partner should help maximize that thinning budget of yours.

First, let’s deal with the easy stuff, things you can change right away…

Stop paying a premium for rush service

In the 18 years I’ve managed my agency, we’ve never once charged a client for rush, I just don’t believe in it. A solid agency should have the bandwidth to handle urgent projects and have some buffer built into their production flow. But if a designer is told it’s urgent every time, they’ll quickly learn that it’s not. The good clients are the ones that are honest about their deadlines. If you build trust with your agency by giving them time when you have it, you’d be in great shape to call in a favour when you’re in deep sh@*# because the campaign was due yesterday. C’mon, you’ve been there a few times, right?

Multiple layouts = Mucho dinero

Creatives generally pour their heart and soul into the first layout, so requesting additional designs (of diminishing quality) may not get you far. And since you’re likely paying for each one, perhaps you should ask to see the first layout first – you may not need a second or third. However, if you work with an agency with several in-house designers, then requesting multiple layouts typically means you get multiple designers. Well worth the investment.

Whoa, hang on, your copy isn’t ready for the designer

One of the biggest blows to the budget is when incomplete or early draft copy is supplied to your designer. Designers are happy to make minor edits, but often they’re making major edits. It adds up, so save your budget by first making copy edits yourself. And while we’re on the topic, try being OCD organized on how you supply the material. Collect and compile all stakeholder’s comments and files into a single email for your designer (as opposed to 10 scattered ones). Designers are divas and want all of the parts on a silver platter, but the more organized you are, the less time they’ll spend on managing the assets.

Uh oh, did you go beyond 3 revisions?

The industry standard of allowing only 3 rounds of edits is older than my grandpa’s Cadillac. I can’t recall when a project was wrapped up in 5 rounds, let alone 3. Designers know this, but may use “extra rounds” as a chance to pad the bill. However, a good design agency will have plenty of work on hand, and won’t be so desperate to recoup every single dime out of you. They recognize that every client is different, so handcuffing them to a preset amount of changes is counter-productive to the process. Read more about “changes” here. Try to negotiate at least 5 rounds of revisions with your designer, you’re going to need them. Uh, better make it 6.

Scope creep

On the other hand, unforeseen major changes in a project – or growth beyond what was originally quoted – can happen. This may occur gradually, and most designers will let it go, but when it gets out of control, both parties should be honest about it and work out a compromise on time and money. There’s that trust thing again. I’m starting to see a pattern here.

Flat fee 

And finally, ask your designer or creative agency about flat fee pricing instead of hourly. It can often be difficult for inexperienced designers to know how long a project will take, and their invoice could be a big surprise. Like the state of Texas big. Of course, a seasoned agency will likely have designed a project like yours before, so they’ll have the confidence to quote you a flat fee, no surprises, and no hidden fees. Read more about that here (because hey, I could use the backlink).

Ok, is that enough to get you started? 

I have other thoughts on how to squeeze more from that creative budget of yours. Something about using design templates, repurposing content, and even becoming exclusive with one creative partner. But we’ll address that another time, I’ve got to go and squeeze my wife now. Her budget I mean, her budget.

Greg Carmichael
Greg Carmichael

Greg is the Managing Director of Synergy Design, a creative branding agency in Streetsville (Mississauga), just outside of Toronto. Greg leads a talented team that creates effective marketing collateral for print and online, and he ensures their clients have a great experience working with them. To learn more, visit