A competent brand designer will offer more than just an icon for a client's business. A logo mill will not likely research the client's business and their market to avoid trademark conflicts or other legal issues that could come from poor design.
There is never a way to compete on price. Compete on value.
Logo mills are like clip art image galleries. They focus on cheap, ready-made products that don't fully consider what the brand's specific needs are. On the other hand, independent graphic designers carefully study how to most effectively represent a brand. They create the designs based on what the company wants to communicate to the target market. And brands who mean business don't just settle for a logo picked out from a logo mill. Logo mills may be cheaper, but a company who is serious about their brand knows that a specially designed logo has more value.
Unfortunately, it seems like the latest trend are websites that offer so called, "custom designs" by allowing a variety of independent designers to provide speculative work. The result is one deigner gets the job, the rest who have invested time in the work, get hosed. Perhaps I'm old school, but wasn't there a time when "spec work" was frowned upon? And if these website are truly being run by professional designers, why aren't they abiding by these industry ethics standards?
mclements....Any work you produce should be automatically copyrighted to you, well this is the case in Canada, I am not sure where you are.
But, you can always make a hard copy and post it to yourself, that way the work is time stamped by the post office so you have proof when the work was created and can take the logo mill to court for using your said logo.
I hope this helps a little, if you dont have time to do that show a lawyer your orginal work and take that logo mill to court for copyright infringement.
I have had designs stolen in the past and I have not been able to do a lick about it, so I am very careful where my proofs go these days.
Oh and one more thing, make a jpg of any proofs you send out and watermark them...something like "copyright blah blah blah designs"