Budgeting: the million dollar question

As we approach the new financial year, agencies up and down the country are starting to dream about what their clients might be spending over the coming 12 months, and wondering how far they can pry into the ins and outs of that budget sheet.

It has always been a taboo area and one that is often side-stepped with great skill and precision by clients, and perhaps not pushed enough for by agencies. The moment the ‘b’ word is mentioned, the eggshells beneath your feet begin to crack and you can quickly bow out of the conversation none the wiser, and unable to ask again.

However, what is a relationship without a few awkward conversations? The key is to ask with confidence and purpose. It is extremely hard for agencies to do their job, and demonstrate value, without a clear understanding of all parameters – for example, a budget is just as important as a deadline when understanding if a job is achievable, particularly to your standards.

Think of it this way: would you create a brand without a proposition? Or a film without a storyboard? Or a website without wireframes? No? So why create a proposal without a budget?

Depending on the type of character you are, you’ll want to tailor your questioning tactics so they feel natural. Here are a few approaches that have worked well across multiple sectors and situations:

  • How much do you feel comfortable investing at this stage?
  • To make sure our ideas are feasible budget-wise, can we agree a cost bracket now?
  • We did a very similar job for [relevant client name], and it cost [price]. Does that feel about right for you?
  • Where would you like us to draw the line budget wise?
  • If we can agree on a budget now, we can tailor our approach/deliverables accordingly
  • Jobs of this nature tend to cost between [price] to [price] – where on that scale is right for you?

As tried and tested as these are, their success depends on who is on the receiving end and how important you make the questions feel. Whether you are discussing a brand strategy, a creative campaign or digital content, it’s vital to not fall into the trap of the phrase ‘well how long’s a piece of string?’. The more insight you gather now, the better your success rate at proposal stage.

For this reason, a strong relationship is always going to generate a better response, so why not ask your clients exactly what they do and don’t feel comfortable with? You never know, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Claire Critcher

15th March 2017