It seems like there are contests for everything from finding love, losing weight, cooking to being a ninja. It can all be very entertaining. In the midst of if all, you’ve also heard about the design contest sites out there like 99designs or designcontest.com and they sound great! You need a logo. You may have a start-up, need a rebrand or just a refresh. You pick the price, you get a variety of designs and everyone wins. Or is it too good to be true?

We have had clients come to us in the aftermath of using these design contests. Here are some of the problems you could encounter when using contest sites for your design needs.

1. They don’t take time know your business
You put out a contest for a logo, but beyond the information you offer, very few contestants will ask you questions about your company. They spend as little time as possible on your job because most of them will not have their design picked anyway. You may also have an inexperienced designer who thinks something looks “cool” but they may fail to connect the look and feel of the logo to who you are. Contest sites do not allow you to build a relationship with a designer who is invested in your success. Your logo is the “front door” to your brand. A client’s first impression of you should be created by a professional who knows you, your mission statement, your goals, your market, and your aesthetic.

2. Can’t get a hold of the designer after the contest is over
The contest is over and you want a letterhead to be made with that logo you just had created? You try to email the designer of your new logo but you can’t get a hold of them. Maybe they are a student or working a different job during the day. Just because they won a contest doesn’t mean that they will be available when you need them or ever again.

3. Files are built incorrectly
You’re ready to start using your logo. You assume that designer has given you all the files you need until you actually need them. You are making a sign and your sign maker needs an “eps” file, your web designer needs a “png” file and you want a “jpg” for facebook but it has to be at a particular size. You comb through what your designer sent you can’t find what you need. Depending on the designer, they may have also taken some shortcuts and a specific file type you need isn’t available without a lot additional work. In order to get something accomplished, you may need to find a designer who can manipulate files if you don’t know how to do it yourself. In a worst-case situation, designers may need to re-build files that you’ve already paid for once before.

4. Your logo isn’t really yours
You think you have the perfect logo and then you find out that it has been stolen from another company. You are told that you must stop using your logo after you have already launched your brand. Now, you need to start from scratch, not only with a new logo and new collateral but all the time you spent to build your brand has been wasted.

5. It’s just not ethical
Design work should be paid for like any other service. You don’t go to a mechanic and say “work on my car and maybe I’ll pay you if I think you did it better than the shop down the road.” Designers, like other professionals, have been trained, either by trade or in school and most have a degree.

Designers, now I’m talking to you: You think that entering a contest can be fun and can build your portfolio. What you might not realize is you are undervaluing your own work and talent and hurting the design industry as a whole by participating in a contest that does not pay you for your effort or work.

Anonymity does not help your business, it hurts it. You should want to know who you are buying from like you want to know who you are selling to. You don’t know if the person on the other side of the computer is a high school student, a crook or a down-and-out designer looking for some cash. You don’t know if they can build a file correctly or if they are just winging it. The bottom line is this: Don’t let the low cost of a design contest lure you in at the risk of hurting your brand, your business and wasting time and money in the long run.