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TRANSCRIPTION: IBM 88 | Interview with Matt Mickiewicz of 99Designs

Brought to you by: FreeAudioGift.com

Jay: Alright, on the line I have Matt Mickiewicz from 99Designs.com. We have mentioned 99Designs before in the show, it’s been a resource we’ve shared and we’ve mentioned. And we’ve gotten logos ourselves there before, we’ve used it to get different graphics for our website and for products that we’ve put out so definitely a resource that both Sterling and I find useful as well as a number of our community members have used for themselves.

So we’re excited to have Matt on the line to ask him a bit about 99Designs, maybe get some tips out of him and see what insights he can share about internet business in general. So thank you very much Matt for joining us.

Matt: Thanks for having me.

Jay: So let’s go ahead and let’s start out with the basics and have you tell us just a little bit about yourself and your experience with internet business, and as it led you up to the point of starting 99Designs.

Matt: Sure, I’ve basically been in online business for well over a decade now. I started my first company when I was still in high school. It was a website called WebmasterResources.com which grew very, very quickly once I launched it.

I had very fortunate timing and I launched that website right around the dot.com boom, right around 1998, 1999. So I had a very good ride up and that business is still around today, it’s known as SitePoint.com, it’s been over a decade now. It’s fantastic.

Jay: Yeah, and so when you were young and in high school, did you just have this entrepreneurial, what led you into wanting to start your own business like that?

Matt: I always had an entrepreneurial streak in me but Webmaster Resources basically started off as a hobby. I was learning about web design and web development and having to do a lot of research along the way because back in 1997, 1998 there was very few places to go for good quality information.

So I thought to myself if I’m having to do all this research and waste a lot of time trying to find good information, I’m sure there are thousands or tens of thousands of people having the same problem. So I basically started compiling all of the useful resources and tools and websites as I was going through this process of learning, and I put it online as its own website called WebmasterResources.com.

Within weeks of launching literally I got featured in LA Times, Washington Post, USA Today, I had Windows Magazine, which at the time had a million subscribers, do a full page write up about this website as I mentioned as a resource for their readers. So it really took off very, very quickly and I quickly found myself almost overwhelmed with the amount of work that was coming as a result of the growth of the business.

Jay: Very cool. Well I’m sure in doing business for over a decade now, you’ve run into various challenges that you’ve had to overcome, maybe some fears that you had to face, and big lessons that you’ve learned. Can you share with us one or two of maybe tips that you would share with a budding internet entrepreneur, somebody who wants to start a business of their own online? What kind of insight would you have to share with them?

Matt: So one of the big turning points in our business happened around 2000, basically the dot.com crash occurred and as that crashed 40%-50% percent, whatever it was, and all the advertising clients that we had all of a sudden went bankrupt. So at the time we had already opened an office, hired employees, I had a business partner who was drawing a salary so we very quickly needed to find a replacement stream of revenue.

And we [inaudible] what people were doing on their website and it turns out that one of the most popular things to do at the time was to print out our tutorials about web design and web development so that you can have it sitting next to your keyboard as you’re learning HTML or CSS or what have you.

So we came up with this ingenious idea of basically taking our most popular article, taking our most popular tutorial and publishing it as a print on demand book to test this theory as to whether or not people would pay us for the convenience of printing out the content on their behalf.

And the reason that we chose a print on demand model for this test was basically they wanted to find out whether or not we were right, and if we were wrong we wanted to fail very, very quickly. So the very first book that we put out didn’t even have an index, it was very slapped together, but it was a very experiment and it went on to sell over 20,000 copies at $35 a pop.

So that was one of the earlier lessons that we learned, how to test ideas really, really cheaply and also how to adapt your business model to changing circumstances. When I started Webmaster Resources in 1998, I had no idea I’d ever get into the book publishing business. But because of circumstances as well as demand from our user base, that’s where we ended up doing and it ended up being a very successful model for us for many, many years.

Jay: Those are some great tips. Now I know that a lot…I mean 99Designs sprung out of SitePointe and from my knowledge that came about kind of as an organic community thing that was happening on SitePointe, so it sounds like you’ve been very responsive to listening to your community of users, your clients along the way, the users of your site in order to find what the right move was for your business and how to find the next income streams.

So what advice could you give to our listeners about how to pay attention to that feedback or how to even get that feedback from your users or how to find those trends amongst your users that will help you identify opportunities in your business?

Matt: You’re absolutely right, 99Designs sprung out of SitePointe back in February of 2008 is when we did the official launch, but for a few years prior to that it was part of SitePointe. It was known as Design Contests, so it went through multiple phases while we tested out this business idea.

Initially it was just a sub forum in our community where project holders could request design work and designers could respond by just doing a new forum post with their submission where this quickly became one of the most popular sections on SitePointe.com.

So we decided this is interesting, let’s see if people are willing to pay $10 to post their design projects to our designer base. So that was our very first test, it took very little time to execute. We tacked on this $10 fee to see if there was money to be made in this and the growth continued, the volume of projects continued.

So the next step that we took was actually building some very basic software around this idea of Design Contests. In the initial phases there was just a bulletin forum, so it was very basic and didn’t really suite the purpose very well so we took a designer and a programmer and put them in the room for six weeks and we cranked out the first version of Design Contests.

Basically it was a slightly more polished interface for doing these projects and we also increased the price to $20. And the volume of projects continued to grow, and grow, and grow and we started generating some decent money out of it so we though to ourselves okay, well what do we do as the next step?

SitePointe is known in the design and developer community, but if we want to reach a wider base of small business owners you want to have realtors, and hedge funds, and big fortune 1000 companies using our design content model. They’re not going to find it on SitePointe.com, it’s going to stay buried under all the other different things that we offer.

So at that point we decided that we really needed a separate brand and we had enough revenue to justify the spinoff and to put some more people full time on the project. And that’s when we decided to launch in February of 2008 and it’s been a really steep upward curve since then primarily because word of mouth has been our strongest referrer of new customers and having a separate brand just dedicated to Design Contests was incredibly helpful. If we had kept it as part of SitePointe.com, it would be 1/10 of the size that it is today.

Jay: So that actually brings up a question I want to ask here in a second about splitting the brand off, but let’s go ahead and bring people up to speed who may not be…I mean we have mentioned 99Designs on the show, but just for those who may not be fully familiar with how 99Designs works, or what the design contest model is all about, can you give us a brief description of how 99Designs.com works?

Matt: So we basically flipped the traditional model of outsourcing on its head. Most people are probably familiar with Elance or some of these other sites where you put out a project description and get back bids and proposals in return. With 99Designs, you can put out a request for graphic design work – whether it’s logos, blog themes, book covers, banner ads, or what have you and rather than getting back quotes and proposals you actually get back fully completed concept designs from designers.

So you no longer have to worry about trying to sort your portfolios and bids, trying to decide which particular designer will see your vision and conceptualize that work, so basically eliminating all the risks from hiring a designer that you no longer have to worry about paying someone for work that you’re unhappy with because on average you’ll get 100 or more design concepts to choose from.

Jay: Yeah I mean I know that’s exactly the reason why I was attracted to it because it did remove some of that risk. That was one of my biggest frustrations, I mean I’ve been fortunate to eventually find a designer that I really like and I do a lot of work with but every once in a while, especially when maybe I don’t have the money to pay him what he deserves for the work that he does for something smaller, it is nice to be able to go to 99Designs, say ‘here’s what I need’ and immediately a whole bunch of ideas from a bunch of different designers of what they might do with my project rather than worrying about committing to one person like you say then ending up with a product that you don’t necessarily like.

And it is a risk, because you don’t know how that working relationship’s going to go, you might like a designer’s style but you don’t really know how that’s going to interpret or play out when it comes to your own specific brand, your own specific project. And so obviously being able to literally pick from a ton of finished products and say, ‘well this is the one I like and that’s the one I’ll pay for because it’s the best’ is very cool on the client’s side of things.

Now I have to say, and I’d like to get your feedback on this. I mean personally as a client I love it, now I have designer friends who when they find out I used 99Designs I get a little flack for it. I’m criticized a bit because they feel like it cheapens the work of the designer or that in fact the client does not get the kind of work that they deserve in the end, the kind of product that they deserve. So what would your response be to those people who criticize the model in that way?

Matt: I think we’re opening up design to a whole new segment of people. A lot of businesses simply get clipart done or use an online local maker to create their business identity because the business owner or entrepreneur doesn’t feel qualified enough to judge a designer and pick one they’re comfortable with. So I think we’re opening design to a whole new segment of people. We’re also very much democratizing the process of design, it doesn’t matter now whether you’re 18 or 60 years old, whether you live in the U.S. or if you have a fancy office, whether you present well in person – each designer’s only judged based on their skill, not based on their college degree, their client list, their age, or what country they live in.

So I think we’re really opening up a lot of opportunity to designers who otherwise might not have had it. Just as an example we had pastor Rick Warren who wrote The Purpose Driven Life run a design project for his new book cover on 99Designs. He obviously has a big book publisher, and the traditional way of getting a book cover done for a book that will sell millions of copies will be to go to one of the big design studios in New York, paying tens of thousands of dollars for a couple concepts and call it a day.

But he decided to open up this project to the 99Designs community, he had 5,100 covers to choose from and the winning designer actually is a design couple living in Italy. So they had the opportunity to do this book cover for a New York Times bestselling author that they never otherwise would have had simply because they weren’t in New York City, they didn’t have a fancy office in downtown Manhattan and all these other trappings that come with the design industry in many cases.

Jay: Yeah I love that, that’s a great story. You’re right, that’s exactly what it does is it has leveled the playing field, it has offered a lot of opportunity as small businesses that might otherwise might have been intimidated or felt like they didn’t have the resources to pursue professional design. And it’s given very talented designers who may not have been able to build up yet their recognition or brand, to show their work and make some money for it, and start attracting those clients.

So in a free market sense in seeing the pains on both sides of talented designers without the recognition that they needed yet and clients who needed good design and didn’t have the resources yet, you’ve solved the pain on both sides. And I think that’s a great model for any business is obviously when you are solving an urgent pain that a market has.

Matt: Exactly, and the other thing that people don’t realize is that many of the designers in our community use our marketplace as a leads generation tool. So rather than going to networking meetings or putting out yellow page ads, they’re doing what they’re best at which is designing. And about 50% of the projects on 99Designs leads to following work outside of our system.

So someone might come to 99Designs, get a logo designed, and hire that designer one on one to get their business cards, and stationary, or whatever designed on the side. So it gives the designers a way to market themselves and many designers may not be good at in person sales or what have you. So they wait for them to get noticed and to gain clients by doing what they’re best at.

Jay: So let’s say I’m a small business guy, I’m trying to get my new internet business going. I maybe installed WordPress on my site, I’ve chosen a company name for myself so I’m going to need some various different design work potentially. What kinds of things could I go to 99Designs to get designed for me given that I’m trying to launch a brand and a new website?

Matt: Some popular things to get designed would be logos, web pages, blogs, banner ads, business cards, brochures and other marketing material, book covers, product labels. We’ve had many water brands and energy drink brands use us for their packaging and branding. We’ve had companies use 99Designs to get fashion designs done.

We had jean brands that had like the back pockets stitching designs to our community. It’s very wide open, so anything that requires a lot of creativity and that you want to open up to a wide audience of designers, you can use our marketplace for.

Jay: So very cool, so I can find a designer for any of that stuff then.

Matt: Exactly.

Jay: Awesome. So how much could I expect to….so let’s say I want a logo. I know that’s something early on a lot of our students and listeners when they start a website, they’re like, “Well, I need a good logo to put on my website, to put on my business cards,” or whatever. What kind of price range am I looking at if I turn to the 99Designs community, how much can I expect to spend on a logo?

Matt: You’re looking at about $200-$300 or $400 for a logo design. The great thing about our model is that rather than bids, you actually send the price up front and then designers who are interested based on your budget level participate in your project. So the more money you offer, the more designs you will get.

At a price point of about $300, you can expect anywhere from 70-150 logo concepts made just for you. And there’s some tips I can get into a little bit later about how to maximize designer participation in your project as well.

Jay: Alright, I’ve got to say, I mean that sounds like a great deal and I’ve certainly gotten a good deal on designs. I’ve been very happy with, I mean $200, $300, $400 or $500 for a logo is actually pretty reasonable and you can very easily for the quality of logo or design that I’ve seen come out of 99Designs, I could very easily see somebody spending $1,000 or more dollars on that kind of a thing.

So yeah, it does turn out to be a very good deal. Okay, I want to go back really quickly to a question that kind of interests me because you mentioned that having the separate brand of 99Designs has helped that logo contest thing really take off exponentially. How did you go about making that decision of going you know what, this does need to be it’s own separate thing, this is no longer under the SitePointe umbrella per se, it needs to have it’s own brand?

Because I’m sure there’s people listening who have…I mean I’ve hit that in my own business, I’m sure there are people listening who will or have hit that as well where all of a sudden there’s this new opportunity and you have to make the decision, is this it’s own brand, or is this just something under the umbrella of my current business? So how did you make that decision for yourself?

Matt: I think the key turning point was thinking about what a typical user for 99Designs will be. And we realized that a much wider market goes beyond just people in the internet industry and this model could be used by realtors, by plumbers, by mutual funds, by food companies, by all sorts of businesses who would probably never find us if we kept this design contests thing hidden under SitePointe and covered up by all the other different things that we offer under that brand and under that URL.

Jay: So it was a big enough shift in the target market, you just asked yourself okay, who’s the target market for this? And it was a big enough shift that you felt like yes, this needs to stand on its own as its own brand?

Matt: Exactly. We thought that word of mouth would never exist if we had kept it as part of SitePointe.com. We could have told someone, go to SitePointe.com to get a logo, they put SitePointe.com in their browser and they get tutorial about PHP. They would just leave right away.

So we thought that having a separate brand that’s very much focused on providing a single service would help a great deal with the word of mouth aspect and open us to a much, much wider audience.

Jay: Very cool. Well that concludes the first part of the interview which is for the free podcast, and so I guess I would just say to those who are listening definitely, if you’ve got any kind of design needs whether it’s something as simple as a new logo, or something more complex – a more full on WordPress design template that you want put together or a full branding and identity package for your business – it’s definitely worth checking out 99Designs.

And my recommendation would be go there, look around at some of the projects and types of things that are posted and get an idea for the quality of work that’s coming out of that and the kind of prices that are being bid or offered I should say for the contests. And I certainly can give my endorsement that I’ve been pleased with what I’ve gotten out of that.

And I think you’ve given some very interesting insights when it comes to the internet business in general and what people can expect from 99Designs. So thank you very much for that Matt.

Matt: Thank you.

Jay: Alright, so let’s go ahead and proceed. I’ve got some more questions now for the Academy and for those who are listening to the free podcast, if you are a member of the Academy, you’ll be able to find…I’m going to dive into some more specific tips about what people can do to maximize the quantity and quality with the most participation and really get the most out of their contest that they post to 99Designs.

Those tips will be available inside or the Academy, which you can find our more information and get a risk free trial of that at freeaudiogift.com. So my first question for this premium part of the content would be…you mentioned earlier in the free part of the podcast that for a logo, even $200-$400 or so dollars you could get end up with a good product out of that.

But obviously there’s a number of different types of projects I can post a contest for, so what’s the best way…that was one of the things I ran into when I first started using 99Designs. I was just like well, how much should I bid? I just really don’t know how much I should offer for my contest. So what advice would you give somebody for determining for their particular project how much would be appropriate for them to offer up for their contest?

Matt: Sure, that’s a good question. So there’s two ways to go about it. First is to simply go to 99Designs, click on browse projects and pick the category that you’re interested in and just have a look around what other people are offering and what’s the results they are getting so you can put in a competitive price.

The second method of determining how much to pay, you can actually quote through the launch process, through our checkout process. And even before you submit payment, you’ll see a screen that says based on this budget you can expect this many designs. So we actually average out the designs and give you an estimate as to how much designer participation you can expect in different categories and at different price points.

Jay: Alright, cool. I think that must be a newer feature since I’ve last used, or maybe I’m forgetting. I really like that, it gives you an idea of how much…I mean clearly the more you offer for a contest, the more quantity and the more people you’re going to attract to be interested in trying for that money and then the more that you offer the higher quality designers will be willing to spend time going after that money as well.  So those are some good tips.

Matt: So we recommend a budget as standard and a premium price point for each of our different categories, but you also have the option of going custom, which is something that I recommend. For example in the logo design category, there’s certain breakpoints that you’ll notice if you’re going through the projects, for example a lot of people are offering $295 for a logo. So if you choose a custom budget and enter $301, or $310, you’ll show up above their projects for very little extra money.

Jay: Gotcha. Yeah, that’s a really good tip. So let’s say I pick a price point for my contest, but now I want to ensure that it has maximum visibility so I get as many people responding to it as possible. So beyond setting the right price point, what other things can I do to maximize the visibility that I get for my contest?

Matt: We offer some optional upgrades to highlight your project or push it to the top of a category page, which can be well worthwhile. But there are a few other things that designers really look for when they’re trying to decide what project to participate in. The first one is actually the headline or the title of your project, so when designers are browsing 99Designs, they see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of available projects.

So the title is the first thing that they see and it needs to stand out and grab their attention. So it’s a really good opportunity for you guys to practice your copywriting skills and put that into practice to get a designer’s attention, get them to click through and read your full project description.

If you need some tips on writing good headlines, there’s an excellent blog called CopyBlogger.com and they have tons of posts and tips on how to write great headlines so you can apply some of those skills to making a project stand out.

Jay: Yeah, we definitely recommended CopyBlogger.com before for learning some of those copywriting skills. And it’s interesting you’re right, and I remember thinking that when I posted my first one, I was like well, this is like a headline just like on the top of a sales letter, or just like a title of a blog post – it needs to get people’s attention so that they’ll click and look at the rest of it.

And so that’s a great tip. And have you found that there are particular types of phrases or particular types of things that the designers do like to see inside of those headlines that seem to get their attention? I’m not sure if you’ve seen any trends along this respect.

Matt: One thing that really stands out is contest holders or project holders I mentioned that their high profiles tend to attract more designers so if you put a headline that says ‘Logo for New York Times Bestselling Author’ or ‘Logo for Speaker Seen on CNBC,’ that will attract a lot more attention.

Likewise projects I mentioned, traffic numbers also tends to do well. So someone has a project on our site right now that says ‘Web Page Design Will Be Seen By Two Million People A Year.’ That really works well too.

Jay: Awesome. I like that. And were you going to say something else?

Matt: Yes, I was just going to mention that the overall idea is to try and give the designers some sense as to whether you’re famous, well known. If it’s a product that’s going to have nationwide retail distribution, stuff that like works really well to attract designers.

And the other thing that works well is promises of future following work, so early on I mentioned about 50% of the projects leads to following work outside of 99Designs. So if you are in fact going to be hiring a designer to do work on the side for you, if you mention that in your title or subtitle, that’s very appealing to them as well.

Jay: Awesome, I’m definitely taking notes there. That’s some good stuff, so to sum up basically either show them your high profile because that’s going to beef up their resume for them to be able to say, ‘hey I worked for this popular author, I worked for this great high profile business,’ or promising follow on work so they know it’s going to lead for more work afterwards. Or if you’ve got a lot of traffic so they know that will give them exposure to other potential clients. So yeah, those are three great tips if you can work those into the headlines, that makes a lot of sense.

Matt: We’ve also had people do things with a winery doing wine [inaudible] design in 99Designs and he offered a case of wine to the winning designer, and a bottle of wine to the next three favorite designers. If you have a physical product that you can mail to the designers as an extra bonus, that’s pretty cool as well. You can get really creative and incentivize to participate.

Jay: Wow, I like that a lot, that’s very cool. And that makes a lot of sense to kind of give a promise of taking care of the follow up people because really you kind of get some friendly competition going between the people but then also people know it’s like well if I don’t get the top prize there’s still these other really cool things. I mean that’s very cool, I like those ideas a lot to incentivize people.

So what are some of the biggest mistakes that you’ve seen clients using 99Designs make, and how can we avoid those mistakes?

Matt: I think the biggest mistake by far is a lack of feedback to the designers. So when you’re winning a project on 99Designs, I highly recommend that you log in at least once a day to check on the new concepts that have been submitted and then provide feedback to those designers.

You can do so by giving them star ratings or actual written comments, feedback is what the designers thrive on. And the more engaged in the project you are, the more the designers become engaged. They absolutely love to revise their work and their concepts based on your suggestions, so if you want a different font, a different color scheme that you want, then to move something in your logo from the left to the right, whatever have you – they’re more than happy to listen to you and take on board your suggestions. So providing daily feedback is absolutely key, if you just post your projects and leave it for a week and come back, you’ll probably be disappointed with the results.

Jay: So yeah, I’ve definitely noticed that it increases the number of entries I get and I’m happier with entries when I give that feedback. And from the perspective of the designer, I can see why obviously they’d love to win the contest but if they’re going to spend a lot of time shooting in the dark then they’re just kind of like well whatever, I’ll put this up and that’s it.

But if you give them feedback and they know they’re headed in the right direction, that’s going to increase the chance that they’ll actually give you something that might win the contest, then clearly they’re going to be more incentivized to put the time and effort into improving and really hitting the mark on what it is that you want.
Are there any other tips you can think of that somebody can use to make sure that they end up with a product that they really like? So give plenty of feedback, anything else?

Matt: Definitely, the last tip I’ll offer is to guarantee your project. So by default on 99Designs, we have a 100% money back guarantee which is something that no freelancer or design agency in the world offers as far as I know. If you’re unhappy with any of the designs for any reason, we’ll give you every last penny of your money back even if you have 500 logos to choose from and you don’t like any of them, we’ll still give you your money back.

But to counteract that, we have an option that allows you to guarantee your project. Once you hit ten designs or more, you can say alright, I’m happy with the direction this is going in and I’ll definitely be awarding a winning designer. So you click this button, you forfeit your rights to a 100% money back guarantee and then in turn you make the designers a lot more comfortable to submitting to your project.

So the most popular projects on 99Designs are at one stage or another end up getting guaranteed, which results in about 40% more design submissions. It’s very worthwhile.

Jay: So in that case it’s kind of like you’re committing the money, that’s kind of being put in an escrow, maybe that’s not the right word but you’re committing that you’re putting that money in there and the designers know that the money has been paid and is there to be given to whoever is the winner.

Matt: Exactly, it means you’re forfeiting your rights to a 100% money back guarantee and you can do this at any stage of your contest. You can do it on day one or on day five, obviously the earlier you do it the better. But it gives you an opportunity to get comfortable with the process, get comfortable with the quality of the designs and at one point say okay, that’s it, I’ll definitely be paying out a winning designer and you get 40% more designs to choose from as a result which is really, really cool.

Jay: Excellent. So when I post a contest, there’s a number of questions that are asked. We already mentioned how you’ve got a title which is like a headline, and it asks or a few other things as well. So what kind of tips could you give as far as what to include in your contest itself, the kinds of information that I have to enter in at that point? Are there things that you see people leave out a lot, or things that you find that when people put that in, that they get a better result or they get more submissions? What should I make sure that I put inside of my design contest description?

Matt: Sure, there’s a few things that are important. First and foremost is the target audience, so you want to tell the designers who will be viewing your logo, your web page, or your magazine ad. Where is it going to be published and what context is it going to be used in? Are you targeting corporate law firms or are you targeting 18 year old girls?

You have to give the designers an idea, a style, and direction you want to go in. Another thing that’s really helpful to the designers is providing examples as to things you like or don’t like. So you can provide links in your creative brief to other websites, to other logos, to other people in your industry to give the designers a little bit more context as to what you’re looking for.

You can also give them specific instructions for example if you have any color preferences or specific colors that you want to avoid, you can mention that. If you’re going to be using your logo for example, a website with a blue background, you can tell that to the designers because it will obviously affect their design work.

You can also tell designers where you will be using your logo. Are these only going to go on your blog or are you going to use it on t-shirts, on billboards, at a booth at a conference, on a mug? Give the designers a little bit of an idea as to what context the design will be used in.

And you can also tell the designers what file types you need. So if you want an Adobe Illustrator file, or a Photoshop file, a PSD file, you can tell that to the designers as part of your requirements and they’ll provide those files to you once you declare them the winner.

Jay: Excellent, those are all great tips. And this is kind of a question out of nowhere, so you’ll have to let us know if you don’t have an answer but I’m kind of curious if there’s ever been a really surprising project that got posted to 99Designs and you’re just like wow, I never expected to see something like that. You mentioned there was Rick Warren, a really high profile person writing a book and actually instead of going with the usual firm when to 99Designs. Has there been any other big surprises in the last year or two that 99Designs has been around?

Matt: There’s tons of cool projects posted almost every day. Yesterday for example Tivo posted a project for banner ads design worth $3,000 prize, which is another really cool example of big companies utilizing crowd sourcing and design contests.

Another really cool project that stands out is we had a guy by the name of Jonathan who wanted to propose to his girlfriend and he utilized 99Designs to basically have a blanket designed which said ‘Will You Marry Me Jill?’ So he took his girlfriend for a picnic, unfurled this blanket and proposed to her on the spot, and that blanket was designed by our designers; so you can go and do really cool stuff like that as well.

Jay: And how long does a project even after a contest is finished and everything, how long does a project stay up there in the archive if people want to go back and look at past contests and things?

Matt: So all contests are accessible directly through a specific URL, but once a project finishes which is particularly after seven days it actually disappears from our contest pages because otherwise it would just be too long as too burdensome. So if you go to 99Designs and you click “Browse Contests,” you’re only seeing the contests that are currently active and accepting submissions.

You’re not seeing the 36,000 other contests that have already completed. But if you’re looking for examples of past work done you can actually go to 99Designs.com/Search and that will allow you to search through all past contests of 36,000 projects that we’ve completed. So if you’re looking for other people who have done logos for non-profits, or people who have done energy drink bottles, or branding, or companies that have done clothing, with jeans designed. You can browse through those projects and get an idea as to how things went for them.

Jay: Very cool. We have a question that came in from Facebook from one of our listeners. He wanted to know what the biggest complaint or request is that you get from users of the site? And I guess that will give us an idea of maybe some things that might be upcoming on 99Designs that we can look forward to.

Matt: So one of the more common questions that we get from potential customers is people want to combine multiple projects into one. So for example, someone wants their webpage and their logo designed at the same time. We always suggest that they split it up as two separate projects and there’s a very good reason for that.

We have a lot of logo designers that do not do web page design projects. So if you try to combine the two, you’re actually leaving out tens of thousands of potential designers from participating in your project and you’ll get a lot fewer design options to choose from. So in general the guideline is one task, one project than to try to combine two many things into one project, you’re really hampering the process.

And you also introduce a lot of complexity, what if you like a local that’s done by one design and a webpage that’s done by another designer, but you’ve combined them into one project. It just gets really messy and doesn’t work, and the entire thing breaks down. So we always recommend one task, one project.

And I should also mention that people who use 99Designs for web page design, and the best way to go about that, my suggestion is always to hold a project for a single web page such as your product page or your home page, pick the designer you like the best as the winner, award them the prize money, and then you can hire them one-on-one to finish all the rest of your website.

And the reason why this is the best way to go about it is if you ask the people to fill out a ten page website that could take them several days of work and a lot fewer designers are willing to invest that amount of time into the hopes of winning your prize money and being awarded the winner.

On the other hand, you could allow designers to invest three, four, or six hours to do your home page with the idea that they’ll get further follow on work from you in doing the product page, the contact us page, and the about page after your project is wrapped up.

Jay: Gotcha, really, really good tips there. Alright, well that’s just some good stuff, I know I’ve taken some good notes here at some new things I’m going to do differently next time I post a 99Designs which will for sure be happening because it’s served me well.

And I guess one last question I would have for myself is, and it may or may not make sense for your business model, but have you guys ever thought about having an affiliate program?

Matt: It’s definitely in the cards, so yes.

Jay: Awesome. This whole time we’ve been pimping 99Designs and telling people to use it, and we’re happy to do so because we love telling our users and listeners about sites that we really like and services we really like. But we always like to make a piece of the action if at all possible too, so I guess that would just incentivize me to even more people. So I’m definitely happy to hear that.

Matt: It’s definitely in the cards, right now we’re only working with two distribution partners so to speak. We’re integrated into a Quickbooks product and we’re also integrated into NetworkSolutions.com, they’re a domain registrar. We’re obviously looking into a more public affiliate program open to anyone who wants to promote our services to their audience and their listeners and their readers.

Jay: Excellent, I like hearing that. Any last words you want to share with our listeners before we go?

Matt: I just want to share a couple cool things that I found lately that people might find useful. First we talked a little bit earlier on in the interview about branding and spinning off separate brands. A lot of entrepreneurs are very confused about aspects relating to brand building, naming a brand, and so on and so forth.

And there’s an invaluable book called The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. I highly recommend that every entrepreneur read it, re-read it, and have it on their bookshelf. It has a lot of very basic mistakes that are still being made even though we should know better based on other companies and their failed efforts when it comes to branding and brand extension, and brand naming. So that’s one tip.

Number two, I wanted to let people know there’s a really cool tool out there that’s completely free of charge and I don’t get paid for recommending it because it’s free, but it’s called GoMockingBird.com. And it basically allows you, the entrepreneur, to do really quick and easy mockups of things like web page designs.

So if you’re trying to communicate with a designer, it can sometimes be really hard to put things into words, but with this tool GoMockingBird.com you can basically do a basic web page layout, show to the designers, and have them flesh out the concept and make it look pretty. But it’s a fantastic way to bridge the gap between us the entrepreneurs and the designers and how do you communicate with them in a clear way, especially when it comes to things like web page layout or blog layout, stuff like that.

Jay: Well that’s awesome, I hadn’t heard of that and I’m looking at it right here. And yeah, this looks incredible. We teach our people a lot to, as much as possible, I mean obviously hire designers and stuff or maybe a lot of people we teach to go and hire like a full time designer or a full time Virtual Assistant in the Philippines, or India and stuff like that.

And having to communicate what you want is one of the challenges of that working relationship, and I can see this tool GoMockingBird being very useful whether you’re using a site like 99Designs or whether you’re communicating with a full time virtual employee of some sort, this is awesome. So yeah, thank you very much for sharing that with us.

Matt: Cool, and I’ll leave you with one final really cool resource I’ve run into lately and that’s a website called AttentionWizard.com. So internet marketers obviously spend a lot of time on trying to maximize conversions and develop great landing pages, but the big companies have done for ages and ages is do eye tracking studies which costs tens of thousands of dollars.

With Attention Wizard, you can actually do simulated eye tracking on your own web page designs and see what works and what doesn’t for a tiny fraction of the cost, like $20 or $30 to have a web page with the simulated eye tracking on it. Just really cool if you’re trying to increase conversions on your landing pages and build more effective websites without being a Fortune 1000 company who can do real eye tracking studies with all the headgear and all that stuff.

Jay: Absolutely. Awesome, wow. Well that’s very cool, thank you very much for all the awesome tips, all the great resources that you’ve shared. I’ve really enjoyed doing this interview with you Matt, I’m glad you contacted us about having you on. Again, I’m a big fan of your service and what you do, so keep us in the loop on the new things from 99Designs and I’m sure you’ll be seeing us and plenty of our listeners over on your site using the service as well. But we appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today.

Matt: Thank you for having me.

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