The Cheap and Easy Guide to Crowdsourcing

New to crowdsourcing? Here's what you need to know to get your next logo or banner ad done quickly and inexpensively.
July 05, 2012

In the business world, creating effective branding for your company is one of the biggest challenges business owners have to overcome. It usually sets the tone for everything else in your business. One option many businesses are turning to is an open call for talent via the Internet, commonly known as crowdsourcing.

First introduced by Jeff Howe, contributing editor of Wired Magazine six years ago, crowdsourcing describes the act of a company taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined community of people in the form of an open call. Buyers put a creative project on the table, such as a logo design, via a common Web outlet and offer a monetary reward. People submit their own interpretations based on the project specifications and the buyer chooses the one he or she likes best.

If you’re a small-business owner considering crowdsourcing your first project, here are some steps you should take to ensure a successful outcome.

Determine the project. The easiest projects for small-business owners to crowdsource are often logos, business cards, stationary Web site designs and banner ads. Other projects that are often good for crowdsourcing are taglines, product or packaging design, newsletters and even video production.

Find a partner. When you search Google for “creative crowdsourcing,” you'll get hundreds of results. It’s important to review each site for the size of its design and writing community, other projects it has handled and its current offerings. Our company crowdSPRING, for example, handles full project management, file transfer, payment, legal contracts and communication (public and private). A reputable crowdsourcing company will also offer non-disclosure agreements (NDA's), private projects and a 100 percent money-back guarantee.

Also, be sure to review other projects that are similar to yours. Read the creative brief, review the entries and note what you like and don’t like.

Set the price. With creative crowdsourcing, the buyer determines the length of a project (typically one to two weeks) and sets the price. A project such as a logo can cost as little as $200, and the buyer typically receives dozens of choices from creatives around the world. The designer is paid once the deliverables are approved and the project is completed. Using this model, the business owner avoids paying an hourly rate or monthly retainer and other unanticipated expenses.

It’s always a good idea to be generous with your award offer. You’re competing with other open projects, so the award is a draw and a higher amount can often attract the best talent. Review buyer projects on different sites to see what brands are offering as awards. Compare the award to the amount of creative entries.

Engage the community. Some of the best designers are out there searching sites for projects and you want to make sure they find yours. Snazzy titles are one way to interest creatives in the project. Some of our favorites include: “Design Cubs Pitcher Ryan Dempster’s Foundation Tour Bus,” “Logo Quest for Grid Dynamics," and “Cool, Modern Website Needed for EPIC Response.”

Develop a creative brief. If you are not familiar with a creative brief, try this one from OPEN Forum. Share as much information as possible. The more details you can provide the better. Remember that creatives need solid input to do their work effectively. However, you should also keep an open mind when creating your brief. Unless you want something very specific, don’t limit the designs by describing specific imagery/concepts. Designers can easily customize the project to your liking.

In our brief on crowdSPRING, we ask for things like what you're looking for, what kind of company you are, how you're different from your competitors and what kinds of design you like and don't like because the more descriptive the brief, the better the work. Most designers are very busy, so they're picky when choosing a project. The brief doesn’t have to be overly formal; just be sure to clearly identify the objectives and make it sound like a real person wrote it.

Choose a winner. Visit your project every day on the crowdsourcing site you choose to check on the contributions and comments on the entries. When you’ve narrowed down the field to entries that you feel best deliver on your brief, pick two to three people on your team whose opinions you really trust and get their input.

Have you tried crowdsourcing for your business? Tell us about the results.

OPEN Cardmember Michael Samson is the co-founder of crowdSPRING,, the world’s largest marketplace for crowdsourcing creative.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock