Published on February 10, 2015 | by Andi Mortenson

Finding the right balance between expertise, timing and cost is not a simple task. Many factors play into your decision on whether to hire your creative services in-house or hire an agency or freelancer. It’s important to maintain perspective when making this decision. Will you be in the same position, between a rock and a hard place, on the next project? If so, you may want to consider a long-term strategy to maintain the balance that best serves your organization. We’ve laid out the pros and cons of each.


Do they have the skills to achieve the desired outcome? Are you setting them up for success or failure? Do they have enough time to complete their assigned tasks?

Depending on your goals and the project, using an in-house designer may be a good option. You have control over time allocation, they’re readily available, and they’re familiar with your organization. An added bonus to an in-house designer, is that any skills they acquire will be applied to future projects. In-house may be the most budget friendly option but they may not have the time for extra projects outside daily tasks. More importantly, they may not have the expertise for executing any number of other specialized jobs that may arise.

If you’re looking to hire an in-house designer, keep in mind that while you may prefer to have someone on staff, you might not be able to find the right creative talent. This is particularly true if it’s a time-sensitive hire. When making the decision, you need to consider the scarcity of skills in the market. Whether you will get the level of professionalism you need for the budget you have, in the time you need. When outsourcing, you may be able to choose from a number of service providers, and select the one with the most specialized skills to meet your needs.

Also if hiring someone junior, the best way to see a return on that investment is to have them work with a mentor or someone they can look to for guidance. Have a long-term plan in place for their professional development and better future outcomes for you. In-house designers are commonly in danger of becoming complacent if they aren’t challenged enough. Working in the thick of the brand, with little variation, on a daily basis may cause a lack of perspective and long-term direction. If it’s a fresh look and perspective you’re after, outsourcing is the way to go.


Will they be able to meet my needs –  time and quality? Are they worth it? How do I know?

Outsourcing to an agency or freelancer is a great route to go in the right circumstances. You can select a service provider with expertise in the niche you require. They don’t require employee benefits, they bring a fresh perspective, and you can learn from their experience. Specialized companies are usually able to recruit experts with deeper experience. Because they work on a range of projects, they have wider knowledge of the subject which will benefit the quality of your project. A contracted company or individual also has a commitment to completing the projects within the deadline and scope, otherwise their reputation is at stake. There is less worry about your designer getting sick or going on vacation and putting your projects on hold. They will work with their team to keep the momentum going, or they will find another way to get it done.

Another advantage of agencies and consultants is that they come complete with a network of professionals in their industry they can call upon, and years of experience in developing best practices.

That sounds awesome – what’s the catch?

Outsourcing work usually means paying a higher rate, and the company is not dedicated to your needs 100% of the time. If they’re good, they’ll have multiple clients, and can get quite busy! They will also need to familiarize themselves with your brand, workflow and personnel. Since they aren’t working on-site, communication is crucial to the success and efficiency of a project, and can easily breakdown if people are unfamiliar with each other’s processes.


Now there’s an idea! Having your cake, and eating it too!

A hybrid of these two worlds may be the answer. In-house design is convenient for the on-going day to day needs, rush projects, and simple production projects. When developing a brand, introducing a new event, service, or campaign, working with an outsourced design company can provide informed insight with tried and true processes. Figure out where the balance lies – you don’t want to over-extend your in-house designer or under utilize your outsourced experts. By having an in-house designer for the day to day needs, you can save money on hiring out for those tasks, and save that budget to hire the right expert for the higher profile, more complicated projects.

Some questions to consider when delegating:

1. Does our in-house designer have the expertise and available time?

If allocating this project to your designer will result in their being overloaded or out of their depth, the answer is to outsource it. If they are spread too thin, not only will the quality of work suffer, the chances for human error increase dramatically – costing you more in the end.

2. How crucial/tight is the deadline?

Although in-house staff can turn around small rush projects quickly, they may not be able to handle a deadline for a large project on their own if it is over and above their usual workload.

This can be the critical factor in the decision to keep a project in-house or outsource it. Depending on your contractor or agency and the timing, they may have varying available time or assets on short notice, so the sooner you check with them the higher the likelyhood they will be able to assist. That being said, if you’ve worked with them in the past and are familiar with your brand they may be better positioned to turn this around quickly than your staff. A larger agency will usually politely decline projects with tighter deadlines.

3. How can I use both efficiently?

Figure out where your priorities lie –  would your designer be better used working on another project while your contractor works on this one from beginning to completion? How much time does it cost to move projects between the two, will the finished project be consistent? Stop and assess where your expertise, cost and time lies and how to best reconcile the three

“When we first started working with the 2015 Canada Winter Games we were the sole designers, developing the brand from the ground up. As the organization grew, they hired an in-house designer. We were kept on board to assist the designer with day-to-day production jobs when needed, while independently working on sub-brands and various large projects such as the design of the Canada Games Torch Relay Truck.


At the end of the day, there is no easy fix-all solution or route to take. Decide on your priorities first, and assess the best course of action for your situation. When you ask yourself ‘should I hire in-house or outsource design work?’ – considerations include budget, workload, training time, office space, required expertise, and what point you are in your company development and branding. Finding the right balance between in-house and outsourced experts is likely the key for most companies.