Anthony St. Clair
Anthony St. Clair is a business copywriter, author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series, and a craft beer writer specializing in Oregon. Learn more at anthonystclair.com.
14 min. read
Updated October 27, 2023
Your logo is the key to your small business brand.
Whether you are setting up shop or rebranding, designing your logo is just as important as getting things right on other aspects of your business.
However, that doesn’t mean you have an unlimited budget, a branding agency, or even a graphic designer. With today’s logo design crowdsourcing services, you still have lots of options for good small business logo design.
Our top pick for crowdsourced logo design? 99designs.
Many startups and small businesses turn to the web for crowdsourcing their logos, so let’s start with a basic understanding of what crowdsourcing is in this context:
Crowdsourcing is using the internet to obtain services by approaching an online community.
Our top four picks are large online communities of designers—the crowd. You are coming to them to provide you with a service; in this case, small business logo design—the sourcing.
You post what it is you need them to do, and they will put together logo designs based on your description of what you need for your small business logo (usually called the brief). You review the logo samples, provide feedback, and select the one that’s the right fit for you.
Sites typically have guarantees and customer satisfaction policies to minimize the financial risk on your end—for example, if you don’t find a design that you can approve, you can be refunded, or you don’t pay anything until you’ve selected a design. Once you’ve paid for your design, files and copyright are transferred to you.
It’s important to understand that crowdsourcing your logo design is not the same as working with a dedicated agency. Often crowdsourcing sites have a lower cost, which is good for your marketing budget, but the quality of designers and designs can vary. However, a good rule of thumb is this:
The designer’s work is only as good as the information and direction you give them.
Make sure you and your team are set on what you are looking for in the right logo design for your small business. Be thorough and detailed when writing up your brief (more on that below). Don’t assume that the designers know your business or your industry.
Be as certain as possible that the information in your brief is final—changing those details mid-process can result in delays, a withdrawal of designer services, and lots of frustration all around. Give as much information and detail as you can—the end result is more likely to be a strong design that you can approve and put to work for your business.
Not every business has access to graphic design resources. Online services help bridge that gap. A crowdsourced logo design service is a good fit for a business willing to be an ongoing part of the design process, from writing up a design brief, to reviewing submitted designs, to choosing the final winner. The services are also good for someone who feels they need to have lots of options to consider.
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However, these services are not for everyone. Originality and quality can vary, and you aren’t necessarily working with someone who is dialed in to your industry, service area, or target market. If you want more assurance and guidance, you may be better off finding a more dedicated agency or designer.
The crowdsourcing process varies depending on the provider, but your overall process will look something like this:
1. Pick the service category you need (usually logo design), and select a pricing package or budget option, along with a project timeframe (this could be a day, a week, 30 days, and so on, depending on your turnaround time or how much time you and your team need to compare and comment on designs).
2. Develop your brief based on the information the provider requests (below we’ll also cover what to keep in mind to write a rock-solid brief).
3. Post your project based on parameters you’ve specified (this part can take just a few minutes).
4. Review design samples that come in from prospective designers.
5. Select designs that fit your brief and reject designs that don’t. Provide feedback on designs if designers need to refine the sample.
6. Choose your winner. Once you pick the final design, the winning designer gets paid, you receive the files, and rights and/or copyright transfer based on the service you use.
You can trust our recommendations because we’ve looked at this from your perspective to make sure we were fitting your needs.
We’ve thoroughly vetted each service, including discussions with people behind the scenes at these services, and we interviewed customers who have gone through the design process at each service. These services are not paying us to recommend them.
To save you time, we’ve looked over the many crowdsourcing logo design sites online, and have picked out our top four for you to choose from.
Each site is similar in what they do and how they do it. Packages and price points vary (plus, pricing and other details are subject to change without notice). Some sites are more wide-open on who may bid for your work, and some sites do more vetting and have more stringent requirements.
We also spoke with small business owners who have used each service to learn more about their experiences.
“Crowdsource your design and branding projects—and pay only for the design you love.”
Choose from four packages:
It’s the big dog that brings in the best of both worlds. Over a million designers work through 99designs, putting vast creative power in your reach.
Those numbers can also sound overwhelming, but the platform walks you through step-by-step so that you can get the right designs from the right people.
In addition to its primary crowdsourcing model, the “1-to-1 Projects” feature gives designers and clients a workspace to collaborate more individually—perfect for when you want to get away from the crowd and have more dedicated interactions.
Founded in 2008 by a group of designers, 99designs is among the most visible brands for crowdsourced logos, website design, graphic design, and more.
Customers around the world have launched over 500,000 design contests, and as of July 2016, 99designs has paid out over $150 million to designers via its platform. Designers and client organizations collaborate on over 10,000 design contests a month, and the platform has helped over 364,500 businesses around the world.
Bellgray is a streamlined shopping solution for serious professional women. When exploring prospective logo design providers, founder and CEO Annie Shafran looked at everything from branding agencies (“too expensive for what I needed”) to individual graphic design artists (“felt too risky—just looking at their previous work did not guarantee that they would understand my vision”).
She selected 99designs as “the perfect mix of both because it was the right price and offered me access to hundreds of designers with different ideas and interpretations of my brand.”
“I was uncertain about the whole branding process in the beginning and felt like I needed to hire an agency to nail it,” says Shafran about why she would recommend 99designs. “Your brand is so important and you want to get it right from the beginning…It was an important part of my process, giving feedback to different designers, which in turn made my brand stronger.”
“The world’s best creative team.”
Logo design from US$199
CrowdSPRING and 99designs have many things in common: a vast pool of creative talent, tens of thousands of completed projects, crowdsourcing and 1-to-1 options, and more.
But to-date, CrowdSPRING simply is on a smaller scale. That’s a positive, as the Chicago-based firm has room to grow, and they want to matchmake clients and creatives in a secure, user-friendly space.
Also founded in 2008, CrowdSPRING wants to bring high-quality creative logo, web design, branding, and naming work not just to small businesses and one-person shops, but to organizations of any size who want to work in an online collaborative environment that combines ease of use with watertight contracts, secure digital content management, and an escrow service.
Over 190,000 creative professionals have competed for over 500,000 successfully completed projects. CrowdSPRING also offers a 1-to-1 environment for customers who prefer individual interaction to managing crowd conversation.
Networlding is a marketing, ghostwriting, and publishing services firm. CEO Melissa Wilson is the author of 15 books, including five business bestsellers such as Networking is Dead: Creating Connections that Matter.
When it came time to design a cover for a new book, Wilson turned to CrowdSPRING to find the right design and branding that would appeal to the book’s target market.
“I like the people running the company. I also like the experience,” she says—even when there were problems along the way.
“I had a legal problem with one of my designers,” Wilson explains. “CrowdSPRING really helped out to resolve that situation. People don’t realize the world of design and how it can get sticky sometimes. CrowdSPRING takes away the need for you to worry about that. They offer protection as well as crowdsourcing design.”
The process also provides an opportunity to understand your brand and project better. “People owe it to themselves to go through the experience. It’s like they have to go through it to understand the benefits,” she says. “People don’t understand what they don’t know. What they don’t know is what’s possible with their logo, brand, or book cover until they see it.”
The two other firms in our top four are similar in many regards to 99designs and CrowdSPRING. Be sure to compare and contrast with our top pick and runner-up to find the right match for your small business logo design.
US$59 posting fee, plus a budget that you specify for the project.
Over 541,025 designers have completed 203,312 projects for logo design, web design, t-shirt design, flyer design, brochure design, business card design, and much, much more—42 project categories to choose from, depending on your other branding and design needs. DesignCrowd was also established in 2008.
Trail Team 10 is a 6-month professional development journey for startup CEOs to scale themselves, their teams, and their businesses. This “virtual hike” enables like-minded leaders from different cities to talk shop with peers in a safe and confidential setting.
Founder Todd Uterstaedt needed a unique logo that would effectively bring together Trail Team 10’s theme elements of outdoor hiking, startup culture, and modern-day business.
Uterstaedt had worked with a design firm previously, but he needed more design concepts to trust that he had fully explored the possibilities for his brand. “Underwhelmed” by prior experiences with other design crowdsourcing platforms, “the promise of a wide array of quality designs from designers around the world, and at an affordable price, convinced me to try DesignCrowd,” he says.
“The first thing I noticed was the commitment of the designers to accept feedback and strive for a design that just worked,” says Uterstaedt.
“Secondly, designers were not just copying or tweaking the work of others, they clearly focused on original, creative designs based on my exact specifications. Thirdly, the user interface for DesignCrowd made it super easy to review, rate, and compare designs in a fast and efficient manner.”
Choose from three packages (each with varying money-back guarantees):
Founded in 2010, Logo Arena is built around more of a contest feel, where the client can rank entries and provide feedback.
In the lead up to launching boutique indoor cycling and core fitness studio psychle studios (who as of yet don’t have a website set up), founder Donna Pellegrini Alderman needed a unique brand design in an industry full of visual cliches. “I didn’t want to rip off and do just a different variety of spoke and wheel.”
That need for logo design innovation led Alderman to Logo Arena. “It was a fun and fruitful experience from start and finish,” she says. “We spent the time initially to explain what the business was, what the vibe was that we wanted to deliver, even down to color scheme. People listened. These designers translated my words and thoughts into the design, into graphics.”
Alderman received 100 different designs from 48 designers. She would rank designs and provide feedback, and designers would continue revising or submitting designs based on their refined understanding. The designer whose logo she ultimately selected had submitted four distinct designs. At last, she had a logo that was both unique yet spoke to her industry.
“They seemed more personal and more personally involved to care, more than the bigger services,” says Alderman about why she would recommend Logo Arena. “It’s like hiring dozens of designers versus one designer. The value for the money is remarkable. They do top-quality art for national branding. This is a wonderful way that the web has really brought commercial quality, top-shelf service to the individual consumer. To a startup, this helps us grow.”
Working with a crowdsourcing logo design has many positives, but it’s not without its negatives.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Your odds of getting a successful crowdsourced logo increase with the quality and detail of the design brief you submit. Here are some things to include and keep in mind:
What do you want in your logo? This could be your business name, an acronym, tagline, colors, symbols, or other attributes that your business considers essential to its brand.
Write out details of your business: background, industry, mission statement, the size of your operation, service area, your short-term and long-term vision. Who are businesses you look to as examples? Who are your competitors?
Discuss your industry and market: provide any demographics and psychographics on the markets you serve.
What are three qualities about your business that your logo should communicate?
Is there a particular style that you’re looking for, such as image only, text only, or image plus text?
Give examples of what you love and hate: Look at other players in your industry. What do you like or dislike about their branding? Provide examples of what you like and dislike. This can help designers hit the mark with initial designs, as well as help you have differentiation from the competition, while still being in-line with your industry.
Whether launching a business or rebranding your operation, picking a logo is not a task to be taken lightly. However, today’s crowdsourcing services give you access to a global pool of talent at a reasonable cost.
You have control over the design brief, you get to pick the designers and designs you want, and you have protections to minimize your financial risk and make sure that you get the design that works for your small business. Write a detailed, thorough brief, and odds are your business will get the right design for your budget, message, and needs.