How to create visual content on a shoestring budget

Images are the new currency for brands online, but the challenge is often finding someone to create them. Here are five options for brands on a budget.

Whether you are a nonprofit organization or a multinational corporation, it’s necessary to complement your content with a visual ingredient.

In 2012, images have emerged as a major source of traffic on the Web, helping fuel the virality of blogs, Facebook campaigns, and more.

Yet people still ignore, or are intimidated by, creating visuals. This is because of the talent required to create quality photos, graphics, or videos, and the assumption that you have to spend a lot of money to get it done right.

Of course, your chances for success can be greater when you have a talented team of in-house designers or an experienced agency at the ready, but what is a smaller company, startup, or nonprofit with limited budget to do?

There are people out there with these skills who are willing to work within your budget. You just need to know where to find them.

From the least to most expensive, here are five ways to get visual content creators on a shoestring.

1. College Students: They will work for free (but pizza helps)

If you are in a city with a college or university, you have a pool of burgeoning talent in your backyard. Most of these students are learning the theory in the classroom, so they’re hungry to cut their teeth with real-world experience.

Working with college students is one of nature’s symbiotic relationships: You get great visual assets from a talented designer for free as the student shores up his or her portfolio and work experience.

Just be careful you’re not breaking any labor laws as you put those students to work.

2. Fiverr: Oh, what people will do for five bucks

If you are going to spend money, the most economic option is Fiverr. This is a website in which people will do almost anything for five bucks. Sure, there’s the “Fun & Bizarre” section where you can pay someone to say anything in the voice of Shaggy from “Scooby Doo,” but Fiverr also provides a great forum to find people to make custom graphics.

I’ve hired people on Fiverr to design business cards, logos, graphics and even a poster promoting my roommate’s short film about zombies. Each item cost me just $5, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of some of the graphics. I’ve used many of these images in different campaigns.

Of course, you may get what you pay for, but the risk is low: You’ll only be out a small amount of money and a little bit of time.

3. Craigslist: It’s not just for selling your old couch

Craigslist is the darling of the Internet for buying, selling, and trading items, but it’s also a great resource to find people to create visual content. Many local designers, videographers, and photographers moonlight on Craigslist to make additional income, and often their rates are significantly lower than that of an agency.

The trick is to discern whether the people offering the services are “aspiring” graphic designers or if they have real chops. Your best bet is to ask for examples of their work to see what they are capable of creating.

Remember: If someone wants to meet you in person, always do so in a public setting.

4. 99designs: Pay for the best, forget the rest

Instead of relying on a single designer, you can hop on the crowdsourcing movement and host a design contest on 99designs. Whether you need a logo, website, shirt, or print design, you can put your requirements and budget on the website. Designers will create prototypes and you can give feedback on what you like and don’t like about the designs.

While this option is more expensive—it’ll cost you several hundred dollars—you get to choose among multiple designs to ensure that you get exactly the look that you want.

5. Elance or oDesk: Adding a person to your team

If you are looking for a more permanent solution for your team, you might want to explore popular freelancing sites such as Elance or oDesk, where you can hire a freelancer for a project or on an hourly basis. On each of these sites you can describe your project and the skills you are looking for. Interested people will submit responses with their rate, portfolio, and experience.

Furthermore, there is a rating associated with each person so you can review and understand their interactions with past clients.

The inspiration for this post came from a presentation on Visual Content that I gave at the Action Camp San Antonio conference. If you are looking for more information, check out the complete Prezi from the event.

Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace and has experience as a technical project manager in the cloud. He enjoys writing about how the cloud is spurring innovation for startups, small businesses, and enterprises. Follow him on Twitter @pinojo.

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