Profit Minded

How to tap dozens of designers for the price of one

As a business and technology reporter, I've written a lot over the past few years about how organizations are using crowdsourcing to get things done—from solving major scientific problems like protein folding, to translating urgent text messages sent by victims of the Haiti earthquake to English-speaking emergency workers.

But I was reminded how relatively unknown this approach is to most business owners when the sole proprietor I eat dinner with every night had no idea what I meant when I suggested he "crowdsource" a new logo design. If, like him, you're not familiar with how to tap into crowdsourcing for the benefit of your business, here's an introduction. Take design tasks to the crowd

The idea behind crowdsourcing is that, for certain creative tasks that you lack the manpower or resources to complete in-house, you can use one of a number of web-based crowdsourcing platforms to recruit help from "the crowd." The crowd can be virtually anyone who is qualified and willing to help. In the case of the aforementioned Creole-to-English challenge, the crowdsourcing company Crowdflower reached members of the Haitian Diaspora who contributed from around the world to translate emergency text messages.

For a small business owner, crowdsourcing can be a cost-effective way get marketing and web-design jobs done. For instance, let's say you need a logo design. First, seek out one of several graphic-design crowdsourcing platforms. You'll use it to effectively launch your own logo-design contest. There are dozens to be found through a Yahoo! search, but a few popular ones are 99designs, DesignCrowd, and LogoDesignGuru, and LogoTournament.

You'll notice that these sites look strangely alike, but that doesn't mean you'll get a cookie-cutter logo out of them. 99Designs, for instance, walks you through a series of questions about your business, the styles of logos you like, the values you want your logo to convey, where it will be used, and the colors it should feature. Once your project is defined, it is announced to the crowd of designers who contribute to the site, and you have the chance to give feedback as their designs evolve.

Depending on how much you're willing to pay, you could get hundreds of proposals to review. Most sites set a minimum fee for specific job types. To host a logo-design contest on 99designs, you'll pay a minimum of $299 for the copyright on a final design, satisfaction guaranteed. That site is presently hosting more than 700 such contests. One business offering a reward of $1,429 for a winning logo now has more than 4,500 entries to sort through. But even businesses that post the minimum reward can see several hundred entries in a matter of days.

To be sure, some less interesting or ill-defined projects sit for a week without a response. But you don't pay the reward if you don't pick a winner. Considering that you could pay a single designer $500 or more for a selection of designs that you ultimately aren't crazy about, crowdsourcing a contest seems like a no-brainer. Unless, of course, you're in the business of graphic design.

Have you used crowdsourcing for your small business? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments or Tweet #YSmallBusiness.

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