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How To Get Good Design For Cheap

Good design cheap

It simply blew my mind. I had no idea what she was doing until that moment.

It was a balloon. And it was the most amazing balloon I, to this day, I have ever seen.

This was my first job out of college. A temp agency had placed me at the headquarters of a large chain of craft stores. My job was to systematically put together weekly ads for newspapers around the country.

That’s where I learned the difference between me, a person who could use graphic programs, and a true graphic designer.

One day, my boss was helping me and started drawing something at my desk. I watched for three minutes as this women sketched something in front of me. I had NO IDEA what the heck she was doing…

…until the very end…

…it was a frickin’ balloon. And it was, I’m not exaggerating, amazing to see her draw a balloon.

The difference between me and a true graphic designer is just that. If I leaned over your desk and drew a balloon, it wouldn’t be a mind-blowing experience for you. Trust me. :)

But when you see a true graphic designer at work, it is something to behold. What a true graphic designer can do with the simplest depiction is worlds beyond anything a dabbler like me could ever hope to achieve.

However good we are at pushing buttons or using programs, most of us will never be graphic designers. We have to accept that fact. The skill of using those programs and the skill of designing are simply two different things. Having one doesn’t mean you have the other.

To Graphic Designer Or Not To Graphic Designer

Hiring a great graphic designer, while arguably worth their weight in gold, can be quite expensive.

Luckily, you have options for graphic tasks that are reasonably beyond your ability to do well.

In fact, I’ve found you can get good graphic design, “good” not “exceptional,” for less than you might think.

Let’s talk about your options:


The first time I used 99Designs was when I was creating the cover for The Magic Of Winning Proposals. I had thrown together the cover for Proposal Development Secrets myself. But I knew:

  1. I didn’t have time to create a cover.
  2. I didn’t have the skills to create a much better cover.

So I set up a design competition through (which I believe you can see at this link). I wrote a description of what I wanted and designers competed for my business.

It was the first time I had done a design contest. And I was on “paternity leave.” So, as I was getting designs in (331 of them), I was frantically checking my laptop to see if any of them were good. I could rate each design and give feedback on what I liked and what I didn’t like.

The winner got the prize money and transferred the design’s rights to me. Ultimately, I paid $799 For the cover. But look at the difference.

Magic of winning proposal cover

I just don’t have the skills to design something that nice.

An important note about 99Designs is their motto is “a design you love, or your money back.” I tested them on that. I wasn’t satisfied with the designs I received for one of my contests. They gave me a number to call. When I called, they apologized and gave me my money back. There wasn’t any hassle.


There are many professionally-designed templates that someone with a little skill can customize for their particular use. Here’s an example of a template I’ve used in the past. The second example is one that we ultimately never used, but I really liked it.

post graphic design example

Sites like offer professionally designed templates in a variety of formats.


When the task is small, like a graphic for your website or protyping a new logo, is a great place to go.

All designs at Fiverr start at $5. Yes, $5. Usually, the base design is $5 but they’ll charge you another $5 for extras like “.psd file,” etc. I’ve spent between $5 and $35 for designs on Fiverr.

Unlike 99Designs, Fiverr offers others creative, non-design, services (which they call “gigs”). But we are talking design here.

Here are some of the designs I bought from Fiverr:

Podcast image

Here’s another one that might look familiar.

Brutally Honest Proposal Critiques

And here’s a sneak peek at an illustration for a children’s book I’m writing. I got this at Fiverr too.


Now, these are examples of some of the best stuff I got from Fiverr. I’ve also had some duds. Most of the time, I’m pretty cool with stuff not working out if it only costs me $5. Here’s an example of something I had done at Fiverr, that turned out….well, pretty terrible. logo fail

Yes, with Fiverr, sometimes it’s a crapshoot. But in general, my overall experience has been positive. And hey, if you lose $5…no big deal.

99Designs Tasks

Similar to Fancyhands, 99Designs gives you the option to buy tasks. But in this case, these are not virtual assistant tasks, but design-related tasks. And they are $19 per task. Here’s what 99Designs will give you for $19.

A Task is a small design-related task that can be completed in a short period of time (ideally in 30 minutes or less). Examples would be a text or layout change to a business card or banner, color changes to an existing logo, minor photo retouching or basic image vectorization…

For example, I had someone recreate a graphic the appendix of The Magic of Winning Proposals.

Bottom Line

Most marketers are not exceptional graphic designers. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but in general that’s the rule. If you are faced with graphic design tasks, I’ve just shared a few ways you can get good design for cheap.

If you liked this article, please subscribe below or on the right side of the homepage. If you want to give us your thoughts on this issue, please leave a comment below. 

I Paid Someone $9 Per Hour To Do My Job For 5 Days

Fancy Hands Review

Yes, I paid someone $9/hour and they did my work for 5 whole days.

That statement would have seemed ludicrous to me just two years ago. How could you possibly pay someone $9/hour to do your job for you? That can’t be legal, right?!?! Something about it just doesn’t seem right.

Today, I’m going to reveal the results of my two-year experiment with virtual assistants. In addition, five lucky readers will each get a task done by one of my virtual assistants (more on that later).

What Is A Virtual Assistant?

We all know what an (administrative or personal) assistant is. It is a person that comes into work everyday and helps a president, CEO, or someone else of importance get things done.

A virtual assistant doesn’t come into your work. They work from home, wherever in the world that may be. And they typically don’t work for CEOs. They usually work for entrepreneurs or office slugs like you or me.

I’ve been fascinated with the idea of virtual assistants since I read Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week. But at that time, many of the virtual assistants were overseas. Usually, they were people from India or the Philippines. Even though these people spoke English, there were some cultural and language hoops you had to overcome. Certainly, it was doable…but I really didn’t have the patience for that.

And they were a little expensive for a guy like me. Yes, you could get a full-time virtual assistant for something like $500/month. But there were two problems with that. First, $500/month is a lot of money to test something out (at least in my book). Second, I wasn’t sure I had enough non-sophisticated tasks to keep a person busy full time. Not to mention, it is natural for most people to feel like they don’t deserve or are not important enough for an assistant, especially a full-time one.

The idea of bringing a virtual assistant on to help me was a little too daunting for me at that time. But somewhere deep inside, I dreamed of having my own virtual assistant.

Enter Fancy Hands

fancyhands dashboardSomehow, I can’t remember how, two years ago I stumbled upon Fancy Hands. Fancy Hands uses only US-based virtual assistants. You can start at $29/month (although I took the $49/month option). And you receive a specific number of tasks to use per month.

So, I decided to try it out. You can read my original Fancy Hands review here. I was pretty impressed after two weeks, but would I continue to find the service useful? Could I successfully work with virtual assistants?

I think it is officially enough time to call the experiment a success. You can look at the statistics yourself.

Over the last two years, Fancy Hands has spent over 129 hours doing stuff that I would have otherwise had to have done myself. That includes spending 17 hours on the phone on my behalf. Now, granted I have a full-time job, manage this website, write books, etc. But still, they did my work in some capacity. And rather than rest on my laurels, I spend that time accomplishing even more.

Two years of $49/month comes to $1,176. Do the math, and that’s $9 per hour. And what did I pay someone about minimum wage to do for me?

  • Manage my calendar
  • Create a SF330 template
  • Transcribe hours of video I had recorded
  • Recreate charts and forms
  • Type up my handwritten notes
  • Enter contacts into my CRM
  • Arrange hotel and flight reservations
  • Coordinate countless meetings and phone calls
  • Set up a photoshoot
  • Create book covers and logos
  • Manipulate images
  • Research tasks including who had won specific contracts
  • Proofread minor documents
  • Edit Microsoft Word files
  • Suggest great Christmas gifts for my family
  • Arrange the return or replacement of products I purchased
  • Recreate forms in Microsoft Word
  • Manipulate Excel spreadsheets
  • Compare documents and identify differences

Now, these might sound like minor tasks that wouldn’t take much time. But you have to realize that the time you spend on minor tasks really adds up. In fact, despite having this help, I still did not complete everything I wanted to get done. So, not having to do those tasks really made a huge difference in my life.

Security and Virtual Assistants

I know this question is going to come up. What about security? Here’s a rule of thumb you can use. Don’t give assistants anything you would panic if you found on the street outside your office. For example, if you found your cover letter or price proposal on the street outside your office…time to panic. You don’t want to ask virtual assistants to help you do anything with those.

But if you walk out of your office and there’s the ad you were drafting…no big deal. If you walk out of your office, look down and there is that competitor’s contract you were looking for….awesome!!!

There are even steps you can take to secure information within your systems. With my CRM, I set up a special account that can only enter information and see what they entered. After a month, the contact records entered shift over to my account.

When it comes to security, really at all times, you just have to use your common sense. I don’t see any real security concerns with using virtual assistants.

The Good With The Bad

I would be lying to say that I didn’t have my hiccups with Fancy Hands. First, you never know who you are going to get. And my sense is that as the service grew, they had to take on less adept virtual assistants to meet their client’s needs. In 2013, I was routinely blown away with thier immediate work product. But in 2015, being blown away with their first try is not the norm.

Sometimes their initial work is pretty bad. You have to keep sending it back until they do it right. That’s usually only one or two times. In the worst case scenario, you might get “radio silence” for a day followed by a new assistant apologizing and then doing it right.

But for me, it is a lot easier to hound someone until they do it right if they are working for a service. I wouldn’t walk into a coworker’s office and say, “This is terrible. Read my directions closely and do it again.” That would only cause problems for me. But when dealing with a virtual assistant, being forthright and honest (in my experience) doesn’t cause problems.

There is also a minor problem with the interface, which in general is pretty good. It is my understanding that assistants get paid more when you give them a thumbs up. But what about when the first assistant screws up royally and then another swoops in and does an amazing job. Do you give them thumbs up or thumbs down?

You Know That Client Or CoWorker You Hate, For Scott…That’s Me

Then there is Scott, Fancy Hands’s Customer Experience Supervisor. He’s the guy who is charged with making sure the assistants can do your request and that the request complies with Fancy Hands’s terms of service. Actually, Scott is a pretty nice guy…but I’m sure he hates me.

With Scott’s help, I’ve become very familiar with their terms of service. For example, all tasks should be reasonably completable within 15 minutes. This means you have to break up large tasks into smaller 15-minute chunks. I know there is a problem when I send a task in and don’t hear anything for a couple of hours. This means I’m going to get an email from Scott.

Scott is going to say this task will take longer than 15 minutes and suggest that the assistant stop after 15 or 20 minutes. I usually respond with very detailed step-by-step directions that can clearly be done within the time limit. I can’t recall ever having to use an additional task to get one of these complete.

Another issue Scott had was with entering info into my CRM. Fancy Hands terms of service is pretty clear that they don’t want to do anything for you that can be considered spammy. Specifically, their terms of service prohibits assistants from gathering or collecting contact information for you. That’s because you may use that information to spam people.

But I wasn’t asking for the “collection” or “gathering” of contact information. People had handed me their cards. I had photocopied their card with a note about who they were and how I met them. I asked assistants to enter that data into my database. There was no gathering or collecting involved. It was strictly a data entry task. Not only that, but Fancy Hands had done this task for me many times before. Now, I always identify these tasks as data entry and I haven’t had a problem since.

Fancy Hands assistants are also not graphic designers. At one point, I thought that specific tasks were sent to assistants who had certain skill sets. I sent a small graphic-related task to Fancy Hands just to see what would happen. And this assistant, Dionne B, knocked it out of the park. In fact, it was the creation of the Help Everybody Everyday logo displayed on this site. I immediately sent in other graphic-related tasks and the same assistant kept knocking them out of the park. It was a glorious day to say the least.

I continued to send in graphic-related tasks, but Scott stepped in and explained to me the problem. His assistants do not have the software tools or the skillset of a graphic designer. So, I always send suggestions for what commonly available tools could be used to accomplish the task (like Powerpoint or Canva). And I always provide whatever directions I can and let the assistant know I’m just looking for them to try their best. Recently, they took the background out of a photo for me. The first try was a little rough, but they went back and did a commendable job the second time around.

In my experience, graphic manipulation tasks are OK, but you have to be careful before you send in a “graphic design” task.

Then there was the time I asked for several videos I recorded to be transcribed. I got another email from Scott. He was puzzled why I would ask the assistants to do that. Why not just use a transcription service? Well, the website states that assistants will transcribe up to 5 minutes of monologue per task.

Let’s do the math. I pay $49 for 15 tasks. That’s 75 minutes of transcription at 65 cents per minute. It’s actually the cheapest transcription service out there.

You can learn more about what Fancy Hands will and won’t do at

The Best Feature

For me, the best feature is the ability to create a new email account and connect it to Fancy Hands. By doing that you create what can be described as a consistent identity that will be used with those you interact with. When you email someone and copy this account, the assistant will interact with the person you emailed as the identity you defined.

For example, the assistant I created is Pat. Some of you may have even interacted with Pat. And since I never knew whether Pat would be a boy or a girl, I thought the name was appropriate.

Pat virtual assistant

Looks like Pat got me a birthday cake!


How Fancy Hands Has Changed Since My Original Review

The major changes since my original review are that they:

  1. No longer arrange meetings for free. Yes, they used to arrange meetings and manage your calendar at no cost.
  2. Now allow unused tasks to “roll over” like your cell phone minutes.
  3. Charge a small fee when making purchases on your behalf.

My Verdict

In the last two years, I have opened and closed accounts with many services. But I haven’t closed my Fancy Hands account because I have to admit it is really useful. In my experience, the math just works in favor of using Fancy Hands. In addition, I think the service will only continue to improve over time.

I don’t care who you are or how low on the corporate ladder you are, I urge you to give a service like Fancy Hands a try… if nothing else, for the experience of having an assistant.

Put My Assistants To Work For You

I’m making it easy for 5 lucky readers to get something done. Just leave a comment and tell us what you would have my assistants do for you. Keep it under 15 minutes. Five lucky readers will be randomly chosen to have my assistants complete their task. So, don’t forget to comment!

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