Unless you have a real flair, you’re better off hiring a professional graphic artist to design your logo. It’s money well spent.

When Paul Robinson, a Dallas air conditioning contractor, started his business, Mechanical Solutions, he watched every penny. Yet Robinson was smart enough to spend money where it counted. Hiring a graphics artist was one of those areas. He hired a good designer and the logo was crisp, clean, and bold. The graphics didn’t add to the name, but neither did they detract from it. The graphics added visual balance, but were not strong enough to draw the eye away from the name.

Robinson is also the only example I’ve heard of where the crisp, clean look of the logo on his service vehicle was directly responsible for sales. A large property manager from out of town was desperately trying to find a good mechanical contractor to service a number of properties in Dallas. He spotted one of Robinson’s trucks on the highway. The logo jumped off the truck. He liked the clean professional image it conveyed, caught up to it and called the office from his cell phone. Robinson was amazed when the property manager told him why he called. To state it simply, the property manager liked the logo, design, and it’s appearance on the truck.

With that one call, Robinson paid for the cost of the graphics design 100 times over. I’m sure it’s not an isolated example. Other companies probably get called for no other reason than the design of their logos though they seldom find out. In some cases, the customer never tells them (partly because most companies never ask why a customer calls them). In others, it’s probably not even a conscious decision. Yet, the fact is that the logo design is not an area where you want to economize.

Fortunately, good logo design doesn’t need to cost a fortune. If you don’t have the money for a professional graphic artist, you can get the next best thing, an artist in training. Most universities and high schools have art classes. Call an instructor and tell them that you want a promising art student to design a logo for you. Explain that you’re quite willing to pay for it. My guess is that you’re going to be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Some companies open up the design of a logo to the world at large, by having a contest and awarding prize money to the winner. This has the added benefit of generating publicity about your company. The contest itself is newsworthy. So is the announcement of the winner. You can probably get a reproduction of the winning entry printed in the local paper, generating enough free exposure to equal or exceed the cost of the prize.

Contests aren’t just for small businesses. There are some very large companies that have used logo design contests as a means of generating public relations and increasing the number of logos available. NBC used this approach at one time. The Texas Lottery selected its logo through a state-wide contest.

Regardless of whether you’re working with a professional, a student, or hosting a contest, it’s important to communicate what you’re looking for in a logo. Describe the image you want to portray and how the logo will be used. When you’re hiring an artist, you’ve got the advantage of being able to sit down and explain things one-on-one. Take advantage of that opportunity. If it’s a contest, explain the criteria that will be used to select the winner. The better the explanation, the better the odds are that you’ll get what you want.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.