Run a contest

So you’ve figured out what kind of business you want to run.

And now you’re ready to get your website out there and start making some sales.

Problem? You’re not a designer.

So how do you get a professional-looking website up that won’t break the bank and looks great?

Truth be told, there are a few ways that you can do this. But the method that’s worked the best for us by far has been by running a contest on 99designs.

If you haven’t heard of 99designs yet, it’s a site where you can post your project, and then multiple designers will post designs for you to choose from. You pick the one that you like best and then only pay that one designer.

It’s possible to find a lot of great designers this way at prices that you can afford.

And if you find one you really like, you can even keep them on as your in-house designer (which is what we did) and avoid the whole contest process when you need more designers further on down the line.

So how do you go about running a contest that gets you a great website design?

Here’s our step-by-step case study of how we used 99designs to create the website for Groove Kudos.

1. Select “Web Page Design” as your project

website design

When you create a project on 99designs, you have the option of choosing several different projects (landing page, Facebook covers, etc.)

You’ll want to choose a webpage design.

We always get only the homepage done first. Then after you’ve found a designer you like, you can get them to work with you further on developing the inner pages.

Please note that at this point in the game, you should NOT be looking for a designer to make a logo for your business.

Believe me, I know how exciting it is to want to have a logo right away. But building one without a website or any other clear design direction in place can lead to something that looks campy, or just doesn’t fit in with the overall design scheme that you choose later on.

It’s much easier to fit a logo to a website design than it is to do the opposite, so just hold off for now.

Often the best designers will include a text logo with your finished design anyway, which is what we’ve just run with for sites like Wet Shave Club.

2. Guarantee The Contest

guarantee your contest

Designers are already taking a huge risk just by entering your contest. They’re offering up sample designs for free and might only have a 1/40 chance of being picked.

So if you don’t guarantee the contest, the risk to the designers bidding on your project is even LARGER. A lot of good ones will just walk away at that point if there’s no assurance that anyone will even win.

So do yourself a favor and remember to guarantee your project. It’s free, after all.

3. Make The Contest Blind

guarantee your contest

In the past, we haven’t made contests blind.

What we found happening over and over again was that a lot of people would just “watch” our project until the very last day.

Then these same watchers would swoop in at the last minute with a design that incorporated all the best stuff from our favorite designs into one awesome look that steals the contest.

Making the contest blind will attract more of a variety of designs to your project. Plus it won’t allow one of your favorite designs to be overtaken at the last second by someone who is only really copying what they think you’ll like.

4. Choose the silver package

silver package

We always choose the silver package. You’ll still get super solid designers to work on your contest but at a substantially cheaper cost than if you went with one of the more premium packages.

If you penny-pinch and choose bronze, you likely won’t get the level of quality that you want to be aiming for.

5. Make the title appealing

Appealing Title

Now, obviously, the reason we’re using 99designs rather than some world-renowned designer is that most of us aren’t starting off with a huge cash pile to burn through.

That said, the folks bidding on your project will still want to have a solid entry in their portfolio.

Meaning that the more professional you can make your project, the more quality designers you’ll have submitted samples.

One way to do this is to give your project a professional title. This lets the designers know that you’re not just some random yahoo who will never use their designs.

6. List 5+ websites with looks that are similar to what you want

Style Ideas

Go through and list as many solid websites as you can find that speak to what you’re trying to accomplish.

We usually aim for around 5, which is enough to give a great designer an idea of the styles we like without being overwhelming.

7. Be as detailed as possible

Describe clearly in as much detail as you can think of exactly what you’re looking for.

Use screenshots from other sites, or whatever else you can find to get the message of the kind of design you’re looking for across. Remember that not every designer who’s bidding will speak English as their first language, so the more pictorial clues you can give the better your final samples will be.

8. Invite EVERYONE!

This is the part that folks usually fail on.

Just like setting up a business, too many people think that they can just set up a contest and wait for the offers to start pouring in.

Well, I’m here to give you a reality check.

If you want a lot of quality designs to be submitted, then you need to reach out to as many designers as you can find and personally invite them to the contest.

I like to focus on folks that recently won contests (and the other folks that also submitted really strong entries).

I know that these designers are still active and that they will jump on my contest if it’s interesting.

Additionally, I also like to send designers a nice message telling them that you really like their style and would love them to join your contest.

Just like pretty much every other aspect of running a business, being considerate and caring upfront goes a long way.

9. Only give 3 star ratings at the beginning

Here’s how people running a contest on 99designs will usually shoot themselves in the foot: They see an awesome design and give it a 5 star rating right away.

The main problem with that is that the other 20 or so designers that are watching the contest (and they are always watching…) will think that you found what you need and are then far less likely to enter.

Only when you are 100% sure you have what you want should you 5 star an entry and then select your finalists. This will keep other folks out, which is not what you want at the very beginning.

10. Rate/comment on 100% of entries

First of all, this is just a good thing to do. All of these designers have taken time out of their day to offer up genuinely great samples for you to choose from. And yet most of them are not going to get paid by you.

The least you can do is rate and comment on their entries.

If you ever want to run a future contest, this is also something that future designers will look at. If you don’t comment or rate the entries from your previous contests, you’ll miss out on a lot of good designers for any further projects.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.25.04 PM

So that’s it! After you pick a winning design, get a good developer to link it all together and you’re golden.