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How to hire a great app artist / designer on oDesk

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One of the toughest parts of publishing apps is finding people who have the talents that you don’t. As an app producer (regardless of your background) there are some things I would not recommend outsourcing until you have a very well established team.

1. Market research – choosing your app category and researching competitors
2. App strategy – putting together a plan of what, when and how
3. Hiring – finding great people to work with, who are AAA players, easy to work with and make you feel happy every time you interact with them
4. Monitization strategies – working out the monitization strategies that are working for the most successful apps in your category
5. Analytics – A/B testing, eCPMs, downloads, click throughs, Flurry reports, etc.
6. Metadata – you need to become a keyword ninja and know how to use the various online solutions like a pro

So whether you are a programmer, an artist, a game producer, a landscape gardener, a writer or concept creator, these 6 things need to be on your to do list. These are all the big things that will actually drive growth and profit in your business. If you understand these well, you have probably the most profitable and valuable knowledge a company owner can have.

The rest – creating graphics, coding apps, making a website, etc you can hire people to do. But you don’t want a bad team. You don’t want a team for average players either. You want to put together a team of ROCKSTAR PERFORMERS.


Over the last two weeks I’ve been looking to find some new artists and developers on oDesk. I’ve just hired 3 new devs and artists this week, so they are looking great. Here is what I did to find AAA artists.

Artists / graphic designers:

Finding great artists on Odesk is both easy and difficult at the same time. It’s relatively easy as you can see their portfolios and get an idea of their standard. It’s really difficult as a lot of the portfolios on Odesk are either empty, awful, or average/fine. Here are some examples. What I want to happen, is when I open their portfolio, I say the word ‘WOW’ without thinking.

These are ok, but do they make you say wow? Will they make killer art & screenshots for you?


Then here are some that are really nice… and what you find is that the ones that are bad, or average, are often the same price as artists that are great.


1. I post up jobs on oDesk, sometimes up to 3 new jobs every day. I found if I posted at the weekend I didn’t get as many replies. When I post looking for people in Eastern Europe or Asia during their weekends or outside their working hours, I didn’t get as many replies either. So if you put up one post and don’t find anyone, don’t panic. I put up about 25 posts in just under 3 weeks, and from this found 8-9 great artists, 5 of those which were interested in working with me.

2. Keep things vague AND exciting. Right now I just want to see great art. So I put up something like “Looking for the best games artists on oDesk” and then two or three sentences saying “I want a great 2D artist, have a few small games coming up and this is a great opportunity to join a fun growing team.” In the keywords field, only put ‘adobe-photoshop’.

3. I had a few posts up for $80/90 but I found you get many more replies when you increase the price a little. But remember, just because you have posts on Odesk, you do not have to hire anyone. What people bid bears no relevance for now as they have no idea how big or small your game is.

4. You’ll need to be prepared to spend 30 mins on oDesk every day or two just searching through peoples portfolios. It’s worth it when you find someone incredible.

5. As well as being able to create great art, you need to find an artist who has created the style of great art you need. Some artists are great at fantasy and not that good at kids cartoons. Some are 3D experts and don’t really want to work on game UIs. So be aware just because they have great art, it also has to be the type/style of art that you want for your app or game as well. So – at a more basic level – if you want a games artist, make sure they have done art for games before. Don’t choose someone with lots of well designed brochures in their portfolio. Look for artists that use light and shadow in their work, and which include little details in their art.

Once I find some artists that made me say WOW, I then drop them an email, usually saying I’m developing a kids/arcade/puzzle/etc type game, and I’m looking for a great artist. If there’s a particular style or price or art I want to see, I’ll ask them to send me more art or send me a link to their online portfolio/website if they have one.

If all looks good, then I’ll shortlist again. Usually at this stage everyone on my shortlist is a super artist, so now it depends what art style suits the game I had in mind.

So I’ll usually email one or two more info about the game. I’ll send them a link of a few games with similar art styles. I’ll give them more information about how many graphics I need them to create. I’ll ask them to review all this, and then I’ll get this on a text Skype call.

During the Skype call, I’ll ask them a few questions. You want to get to know them better. What projects do they like working on best? Are they busy right now? Have they made many games? Do they work alone or with a team? What do they like about their job? What type of clients do they like to work for? Give them time to reply to each question so you can get a good idea of them. After that, then ask them if they have any questions for you. Usually they want to know your background, app history, etc.

After all that, you can ask them to send you a price for the work, and also a date when they could start and how many days it will take to complete the work. Thank them for their time & that’s the skype call done. What you were looking for was

1. Great English
2. A passion for what they do
3. A sense of fun. If you can’t have fun making apps then when can you :)
4. If your gut says they are ok, average, fine, ok, then they might not be right for you. If you feel excited after the call then you are on the right track. You will actually know that someone is an AAA player before you hire them. If you don’t get that feeling, move on to the next person. Do not settle for anyone who is less than AAA. If you want to make a great app which gets lots of downloads, you NEED an AAA player.

In terms of agreeing to work, make sure the know the full scope of the work. It’s also a good idea to ask them to do your screenshots and icon (1024×1024) for iTC as well. Once you both agree on the price, set up a fixed price contract and work out a few milestone payments along the way. As a rule don’t pay an upfront fee. The only exception would be if it was for under $90, to be used more as a show of goodwill than anything. On the flip side of the coin I’m sure a lot of artists have been burned by crazy clients who leave them without payment as well. The best way I’ve found is to agree on milestones. For example for a $300 art project, you can pay $100 after the first characters and one background is done. Then $200 when the remaining app artwork is sent to you and looks great. And then the last $100 when the icon and 5 iPhone and 5 iPad screenshots are sent to you.

One of the best artists I am working with, told me he was positive I would love his work. He did not want to be paid any money until he had completed ALL the work and I was happy with it. That is an AAA player. Great artists will take your ideas, and send you back something much more incredible than you had in mind. They really do add so much QUALITY to your app. Apple and your future customers LOVE incredible art quality. It’s one of the biggest keys in maxmising your downloads.

Once you’ve hired your team then remember you are working together. Communicate daily to see how they are progressing. Answer all their emails before you go to sleep every night.

And most importantly, if they are doing a great job, its really important to let them know that you appreciate their work. Everyone appreciates being complimented for their work. A ‘thank you’ means a lot. You are building a team so look on this as the beginning of a positive and fun long term working relationship.

Do you have 3 friends who need help finding great artists on oDesk or eLance? Share this post with them and help them out.

P.S. I’m getting ready to release a new premium training course that I’m really excited about. More details soon…!

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Elaine Heney is an online entrepreneur, triple #1 best selling author and international keynote speaker. Elaine is an Amazon FBA ecommerce advisor, investor, Hollywood movie producer, online business consultant and CEO of Chocolate Lab Cashflow. Elaine has also published over 300 mobile apps across Amazon, Apple & Google, and enjoyed over 20 million app downloads and over 50 #1 apps worldwide.

{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Andre Priyono May 23, 2013, 6:14 am


    How about telling us who is that great artist you hired on oDesk?

    Success for your apps!

  • Mark July 13, 2013, 6:04 am

    What is iTC? Thanks.

  • Elaine Heney August 18, 2013, 4:56 pm

    iTunes Connect. This is the website where you upload your final app to, and where you enter in all your metadata (description, icon, etc).

  • Andrew Hubbard September 1, 2013, 10:55 pm

    Great post Elaine! I’ve just finished my first reskin and wasn’t happy with the designer at all. I’m sure if I follow this advice next time I will get better results.

    I have a question for you. Do you usually get the designer to integrate the new images into the game for you, and then use something like testflight to see the results? Or do you just get them to send through the files and integrate them yourself?

  • Elaine Heney September 2, 2013, 2:31 pm

    Hi Andrew, designers would not usually integrate the graphics, as they (usually) have no knowledge of programming. So my designers send me the art. Then my developer or I, will put the art into the game. If my developer does it, then he’ll testflight the game to me.

  • William September 4, 2013, 8:29 pm

    Hi Elaine,
    I was wondering if you do skype with text or is a skype voice call necessary. And do you typically use the same artists and developers for multiple projects?
    Thanks for your time.

  • David Fallarme September 6, 2013, 9:11 am

    Thanks for this Elaine!

    When you start a project, how do you decide how much you’ll spend on graphics?

    The answers I get for this are all over the map. For example, Some people dedicate 50% of their budget to art, while other people try to keep it as low as possible. I’m sure we’d love to all hire the best artists on oDesk but sometimes their rates don’t allow that :)

    What’s your approach?

  • Elaine Heney September 6, 2013, 9:56 am

    Try to get it for about $250 for a small reskin, no more.

  • Kym September 14, 2013, 3:56 pm

    Hi Elaine, I don’t mean to self promote here. I’ve checked out your Contact page and found that it’s better to leave a comment on your blog than email you directly if it’s regarding advice and partnership.

    Technically speaking I’m a designer and illustrator. I’ve thought of becoming an apprepreneur after learning Carter Thomas’s “app flipping” idea but soon discovered that I STILL love doing what I’m good at – designing and illustrating. I’ve seen many apprepreneurs struggling to get a good app artist (I believe you’ve seen that too that’s how this article comes about) and hence decided to offer our skills to this community.

    I’d love to design or re-skin your app for free. I work together with a friend (she is an expert in illustration and animation) so we are able to take 1 – 3 free projects.

    The reasons we want to do it free are because:
    1. You’re awesome!
    2. We are building our best portfolio right now than needing money to feed ourselves desperately.
    3. We want to excel our designing skills in app industry and the best way to start is to work with some leading experts like you.

    I’m able to send you some samples if you’re interested.

    Should you find this comment is not appropriate here, please let me know and remove it from your website. I respect and care about your reputation like how I care about mine. :)

    Otherwise, please get in touch with me!

    Thank you!

  • Clemens September 15, 2013, 8:34 am

    Hi elaine,

    What would be considered a large project for reskinning? Specficially how many images would be considered a large project? Also how much would you usually pay for it?

    From David’s post, i understand that a small reskin would cost around $250. So how many image files would you consider a small reskin then?

    I just want to know the estimation before I jump into hiring designers.

    Thank you so much. I really appreciate all the info you have provided for all of us.

  • Elaine Heney September 16, 2013, 8:46 am

    Clemens – basically you want to keep your costs as low as you can. Look for great artists, then bargain to get the best price.

  • Derval O'Neill October 10, 2013, 10:18 am

    One challenge I have with oDesk is when you get on a Skype call with a potential designer, the person you get is not the person in the profile. This has happened to me a few times, particularly in India/Pakistan. It seems that a bunch of people tag behind one good profile but you’re not actually getting the person you thought you were.

    When I’ve questioned it, I get these kinds of answers: “ah yes, she is not comfortable on Skype” or “ yes, we are all part of the same team…”

    This is not exactly ideal.
    Do you get that Elaine? If so, how do you deal with it?

  • Elaine Heney October 15, 2013, 12:45 am

    I don’t skype people very often. But yes if someone different comes online that’s a bit weird alright.

  • Ally October 30, 2013, 6:20 am

    Hi Elaine,

    How about in-app music and sound effects? Do you hire musician to compose it or find free resources online? Is it legal to use free resources online for commercial use?

    Thanks for the tips.

  • Elaine Heney November 1, 2013, 11:37 am

    HI Ally, you can buy music & sfx online to use in your app. I like audiojungle a lot.

  • Ally November 8, 2013, 6:26 pm

    Hi Elaine,

    Thank you for your last response.
    I have another question. Say I hire a developer and she delivers me an app and I pay her. But later users find some bugs and I need to get back to her to fix them, how would she charge for bug fixes and new feature addition? What is the normal practice?

    Thanks in advance.

  • cz February 6, 2014, 4:18 am

    Hiya Elaine, nice post the art above were awesome. I’m interested in hiring an artist too. I was wondering. For the game “Tiny Dino” (above photo)
    How much do you think it cost? Great Art!
    Is 250 enough? or for every image it is 100?


  • vikash jha March 19, 2014, 8:46 am

    Hi Elaine,
    I am Vikash. I am a freelance game designer and working through odesk.
    I can do work for all types of 2D games. I can develope/reskin your ideas.
    You can see my portfolio on my facebook page which is already published on app stores.

    And I am also sharing my odesk profile. If you are looking for 2D game artist then you can mail me on “[email protected]

    Here is my odesk profile

    Thanks :-)

  • Dari December 3, 2014, 4:54 am

    Hi! i’m a designer, and recently someone asked me to do the illustrations for a Game app that would be on google play store, i was wondering, how much should i charge for this??

    I really really need help with this, would any of you please give advice??!

  • Elaine Heney December 3, 2014, 9:09 am

    Ask them how many device sizes they need, and the wireframes. Then estimate the time required & plan accordingly. Good luck!

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