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Winning at project budget management [agency guide]

Updated: Jul 16, 2020



Effective project budget management isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s also about achieving goals, building relationships, and meeting client expectations. Once mastered, you’ve got a powerful tool that can serve you in countless situations—think of it as your agency’s Swiss Army knife.


For the budget weary, don’t fret. Budget management is a discipline any professional can hone. All it takes is commitment and some trial and error. Before you start crunching the numbers for your next client project, consider these 4 factors.


4 factors to consider when developing a project budget that works for you and your client:

  1. Budget basics

  2. Importance of project budget management

  3. How to ask for your client’s budget

  4. Budget planning in project management


1. Budget basics


Most of us have a working definition of a project budget—anticipated costs of finishing a project by a set deadline. Typical budgets will include estimates for each part of the project, including labor, material expenses, licensing fees, operational costs, and more.


Keep in mind, your initial budget is a rough estimate of costs and should be as comprehensive as possible. It’s important that you and your client understand that budgets at this stage are fluid and can change depending on the complexity or scope of the project, evolving circumstances in the industry, and more. In short, budgets will always come down to the clock and the time it takes you and your team to complete a given project. Include realistic estimates for assigning labor and resources to meet your client’s timeline.


2. Importance of project budget management


The rewards of a solid budget plan are significant and more far-reaching than you may realize. Here are some positive outcomes when project budgets are streamlined to maximum efficacy.


Control costs

A well-managed budget gives you a clear idea where each dollar will go, putting you in prime position to allocate funds strategically. You’re better off negotiating anticipated costs and expenditures before starting a project than in the middle.


Optimize resources

More than just itemizing where money is going, your budget can become a roadmap that serves as a client brief. Ideally, the 2 documents can be used together. By breaking down each element of your project, you can alert yourself to potential challenges or unique demands and build your game plan accordingly.


Make project adjustments

As you create a plan according to client budgets, timelines, and your resources, you might discover areas that require rethinking or an entirely new approach. From streamlining content to expanding upon a feature, a thoughtful budget plan keeps you ahead of the curve and flexible when it comes to troubleshooting.


Get to know your client

Budget planning is a ripe opportunity to get well acquainted with your client. As you collaborate, you’ll develop a sense of their personality and temperament in addition to their finances. Understanding your client’s sensibility, the way they work and their communication style, can only strengthen your relationship moving forward.


Establish your M.O.

Just as budget planning allows you to get to know your client, your client is also getting to know you. Take this opportunity to demonstrate how you work. Define your terms of engagement, from your in-house chain of command to the number of touch points your client can expect.


Manage expectations

By breaking down tasks and expenses, you minimize surprises that may emerge as a project unfolds. You’ll avoid scope creep—a job slowly getting bigger than originally planned and agreed to—and minimize uncomfortable situations with stakeholders about deliverables.


Coordinate with your team

Putting together a budget often entails connecting and coordinating members of your team or subcontractors specially hired for the project. Use this chance to touch base with your team, brief them on the work to come, important deadlines, and give them a heads-up on you and your client’s expectations for the project.


Create trust

A well-planned budget is your strongest asset for creating transparency among all parties involved. As everyone signs off on key expenses, dates, times, and services, you establish a mutual foundation of trust which is vital to building healthy client relationships.


3. How to ask for your client’s budget


You and your client have much to gain from a well-managed project budget. But how do you get them to say how much they’re willing to spend for your labor?


No doubt, this can be an awkward subject to broach. Your client may hesitate or avoid the topic altogether, thinking it gives them bargaining power. Alternatively, a client may hold out for your initial quote in hopes that you’ll essentially bid against yourself. In ma