The Best Way to Buy Creative Services For Your Small Business

Floyd Sanchez
5 min readOct 19


@jdent / Unsplash

So, you own a business. Or you’re a leader at a nonprofit. You’re a thoughtful founder and a great operator. You understand that your brand is bigger than a logo.

You’re bought into the process, and you want to do it the right way — taking in inspiration from your product or service, your community and other brands that have created the warm and fuzzy feelings you want your audience to associate with your brand. You entrust creatives to build your visual brand, shoot great photos, make amazing videos and potentially much more for your company.

You buy creative

…and there’s a couple popular ways creative is sold.

Some creative practitioners ascribe a ‘value’ to the deliverables they bring to you as the product of your collaboration with them. This is the practice of pinning a price on their time, the talent they’ve carried into the work they do for you, and perhaps even the lifetime monetary value their work will create for your company in the market.

Some creative practitioners ‘charge by the hour.’ This is when a designer, studio or agency assigns a dollar amount to each hour of their labor. Depending on the task that they’re performing at any given stretch of the project, the rate may vary.

In most cases, the potential project you’re discussing with your chosen creative will go through a process of ‘quoting’ — creating an estimation of how much time will go into the project. This probably sounds quite familiar if you’ve ever hired someone to complete a photoshoot, website, logo, TV commercial, explainer video, SEO, mural, blueprints or anything that originates from the mind of a designer, creative or consultant.

You receive your quote, you sign off on it, make a deposit, and work begins. As work progresses you might make a few more payments that are tied to project progress milestones, and of course once the project is completely delivered, you make a final payment.

This project based method of buying & selling creative is lame

Quotation-based work on creative projects, especially large projects, is an incredibly inaccurate and inefficient way or transacting for consulting services. Someone will always lose out, and it’s impossible to predict at project outset who will win and who will lose, and by what dollar amount.

This reality creates a tension between creative and client that often goes unrecognized, but is almost always felt.

As a buyer, because you are keenly aware of how much you’ve spent on this work, will be driven to try to maximize the value of the money you’ve spent by extracting more labor from your provider, regardless of whether these efforts are toward making improvements that are perceptible to the project’s audience.

As a service provider, your chosen creative will be working to minimize efforts to maximize their take — potentially creating a bias against additional work which could close the door to potential insights and revisions that might vastly improve the project in tangible ways.

There’s a better way

You can structure your engagements to purchase creative in a way that maximizes the spirit of collaboration with your creative team, unlocks better creative results by eliminating the tension surrounding money, and completely eliminates the risk of costly overages. In the end, you will get more work done for less money.

Pay for creative in advance, based on a set hourly rate

This puts you in complete control of how you measure the relationship you have with your creative provider. Instead of signing on the dotted line for a huge project, you can commit to a bite size amount of, say, 10 hours of the practitioners time to see how far you get and what the results are.

I don’t know many creatives that would turn down an upfront payment for their work, but you may have to insist that they accurately account for every minute of time they spend working on your project (Toggl is a great tool for time tracking with a free option).

Don’t like the work? Walk away. Your creative has been paid for their time, and you’ve likely received a few deliverables that hold some value to your business, or at a minimum tested some of your assumptions and developed a clearer picture of what you’re actually looking to accomplish with this creative project. You can take that insight to your next creative partner.

Love the work? …and the experience of working with your chosen creative? It might be time to buy 25 or 50 hours. Let’s keep this party going.

Think of these larger commitments of time with your creative as a gas tank.

You’re on a journey with this creative partner, and you might have an idea of what the final destination will be at project outset, but if you mutually decide with them that you want to take a detour (think: unexpected deliverable to capitalize on a surprise opportunity) you can head in that new direction with confidence.

And trust me, your creative is happy — they’re getting paid! That’s all we really want in life.

This model is designed to increase satisfaction on both sides of the creative purchase, and optimize the project to increase the sense of collaboration and partnership.

This model increases the momentum and chemistry that you are able to generate with your creative team — you as the client are motivated to be efficient in providing clear direction to your creative, and your creative is motivated to provide great work and have an open sense of imagination about trying out new approaches because they’re being paid for every minute of their time.

With this approach, you’ve successfully purchased their attention span and sense of imagination for the benefit of your project, and that leads to more results and less stress for you as the client.

Everyone wins

In the end, by eliminating the tension between client and creative common in quotation-based contracts, each side of the engagement is focused on solutions and optimal creative outcomes — not money. This is the grail of contract-based creative collaboration.

Before implementing this approach, I used to regularly push back against client feedback and requests. I used to regularly (and accurately) declare client requests as ‘out of scope’ and requiring a new quote to be drawn up, and this creates stress and bad feelings on both sides.

Now I tell my clients ‘Yes.’

Yes, I can take care of that for you.
Yes, I will try that.
Yes, I will solve your problem.

I’m a big believer in this model, but I can’t take all the credit. My studio implemented it after being inspired by this 2015 blog post by Eric Karjaluoto. It’s been a game changer for our studio, but I wanted to share with creative ‘clients’ how your business can benefit from purchasing creative from folks like us using this model