Red Flags When Shopping for a Creative Partner

If you’re like most entrepreneurs, your business is your baby. You wouldn’t entrust your baby to just anyone, right? But shopping for a solid marketing partner can feel like more trouble than it’s worth. You know you need high value deliverables, expert advice and strategic help for a price you can afford, but how do you know if you’ve found a perfect match? We’ve been in the industry for a long time, and whether you’re looking for a designer, a content creator or a web developer, there are some very specific things to watch out for.

Below we’ve compiled our Red Flags list. These are all flashing red signs that you should run the other way when shopping for a creative partner:

THE UNICORN: When ONE person claims to be good at everything. Think graphic designer, content creator and website developer all in one package. These areas are all so specialized, that it’s nearly impossible to be good at all of them. In our experience, when you hire a ‘unicorn,’ you will get mediocre work across the board at best.

NO SHOW AND TELL: You need to see previous work in order to determine their quality. Lip service is just that. Always ask for a portfolio. This extends to prior work experience in general. Look for someone who has a legit job history, even if that history is limited to internships.

THE PRICE IS TOO RIGHT: If the pricing seems very low, don’t think ‘wow I am getting a deal!’ Professionals who take themselves seriously and do good work charge appropriately. If you’re shopping creatives and looking for the lowest price point, this is a sure fire way to waste money on crappy work.

MY BEST FRIEND’S NIECE: A friend/family connection is great, but see all the above red flags and make SURE you’re getting a quality partner who truly knows what they’re doing. Too often we see people get sucked in through a relationship, but then get taken for a ride.

NO CONTRACT: If you don’t have a clear outline of expectations, deliverables, timeline and a payment schedule, you need to look elsewhere. Contracts protect both parties, and can end up saving you in the end if things go sideways.

ORDER TAKER: We know it’s tempting to come in with a fully baked idea and just tell the person to execute your concepts down to the letter. BUT! A professional who has honed their craft can be trusted with idea generation and you should be able to lean on them to provide guidance and insight. You may want an order taker, but ultimately, that will not give you what you need in the long-term.

THE OVER-PROMISER: If you are guaranteed immediate results, be wary. Everything in marketing takes time, and measuring data on a quarterly basis is a best practice. There are too many unknowns and variables that can account for a sudden spike or dip in sales/traffic/(insert your metric here). Smart people set you up for success in the long run.

WHAT’S A VECTOR FILE: If working with a designer, be sure to ask up front for vector files, fonts, PMS colors and hex codes. If you don’t get key pieces to your logo, this person can basically hold your brand hostage. Be clear up-front about the deliverables you expect to receive in exchange for services.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: Did you know that you don’t automatically own the design concepts pitched to you? Make sure it’s in the contract that you are the sole owner of all work so that they can’t charge you later for and/or sue you for rights when you get successful.

THE HOT SHOT AGENCY: Marketing agencies can be an incredible resource when running with a big campaign or launching a robust e-commerce website, but beware! Agencies often assign lower paying clients to interns, trainees and lower level employees with less experience. Be careful that you’re not paying top dollar prices for mediocre work that has been delegated all the way to the bottom of the food chain. Agencies are also notorious for upselling services you don’t actually need… at least not yet. If you plan to work with a traditional agency, ask a lot of questions: Who will be working on my account? How will this service benefit me? When can I expect to see the ROI? What is your timeline and what does the review process look like? Will an account manager be assigned to my project? If you’re getting vague answers or pushback, consider that a giant red flag.

Currently looking for a marketing partner? Let’s chat. We’d love to have a conversation with no strings attached.


Stay up to date with us on social media.


“Our agency has had the pleasure with working with The Starving Artist on a few projects (with a few more in the works) and we could not have been happier with the process, communication and delivery of services provided.”

Coral Radican

Visit Mississippi

“Haley went above in beyond in helping my company create amazing packaging for our candles! I really couldn’t have done it without her and hope that we can use her services again soon.”

Jon Mark Buckner

January Letterpress

“We highly recommend this agency to anyone who wants a beautifully designed and professional product in a timely manner.”

Melissa Estep

Hoops for Hope International