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Marketing Pricing and Costs: How to Discuss Budget When You Buy Marketing

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The budget discussion is one of the most important you’ll have in the process of buying marketing from a consultant. It determines the scope and quality of what can be done; trying to sneak in the conversation right at the end doesn’t bode well for the success of your engagement.

So far, as we’ve been discussing the cost of marketing, we’ve gone through what some of the costs of doing business at all will be, we’ve looked at a few of the most common marketing projects to get a feeling for what the cost of a strategy might be, and we’ve drilled down deep into the cost of a brand project to gain a better understanding of what goes into scoping work for a client. Now, finally, let’s talk about talking about price.

Budget is the elephant in the room. Here are three tips for talking about it intelligently when you’re buying from a marketing consultant.

Be prepared before having the budget conversation

If you’re working with a marketing consultant for the first time, you might not have the firmest idea of what a reasonable marketing budget looks like. That’s fine. You don’t need to walk into your consultant’s conference room with a precise dollars-and-cents budget already in hand, and honestly it’s probably better if you don’t. Why?

Because the budget should really be a conversation between marketing consultant and client based on the marketing needs of your business and the fiscal flexibility available to you. Plenty of the time, when we start working with a new client at Element Three, we’ll actually take the lead on the budget conversation and help guide that client to the right number. And if you’re dead set on a very specific budget before that conversation, it can lead to friction.

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On the other hand, if you walk in not knowing whether you’re going to be able to invest $50k, $100k, or $1 million in your marketing, that’s an issue. Do the homework beforehand—if you’ve discussed potential strategy or tactical execution, figure out approximately what that might cost; and look into your overall business budget and see what might be reasonably committed to marketing. Have a range in mind before you have the conversation with your consultant. This way, together you can tailor your marketing approach to the resources that you have available to you.

Be honest and transparent about your budget and resources

Every good relationship is based on a foundation of trust. And that trust needs to be there from the beginning. It might be tempting to play things close to the vest, but in terms of your marketing budget, it’s a really bad idea. Marketing isn’t something that you order off a menu—your solution is going to be customized, and being transparent about your budget from the jump is going to help your consultant craft the most efficient possible marketing solution, and possibly save you money in the long run.

There’s no good reason not to be transparent, either. Any concerns about privileged information getting out should be assuaged by an NDA, if necessary. And it’s not like your marketing consultant is going to judge your budget or make fun of your business for not spending more. If your budget doesn’t end up matching up with the consultant you’re speaking with, they’ll likely help you identify your next steps. Do you need to simply bite the bullet and spend up to get the help that you need? Or is there another potential partner who can meet your needs within the budget you have?

When a potential Element Three client relationship won’t work due to budget, we have a number of other firms that we know do amazing work that we love to recommend. Budget might keep us from working together, but it shouldn’t keep you from getting the marketing help you need.

Think business first—not just about flash or style

Marketing is pointless if it isn’t helping your business reach its goals. And unless your budget conversation ends with the word “unlimited,” you’re going to have to make some choices about what you can and can’t do, at least immediately. That means prioritization—you and your consultant will need to determine what work is critical to your business and the success of your marketing, and what would just be cool to have or can be delayed.

Think about your marketing like renovating your house. If your unfinished basement floods every time it rains and there’s a gap in your attic that drives your heating costs sky-high in winter, those are probably the first things you’d want to look at. Then, if you can afford it, it might be worth tearing out the carpet and replacing it with hardwood floors.

So if you’re trying to decide what to tackle first, think about what’s most urgent and what’s most likely to help you achieve your business goals. You might hate your website, but if it doesn’t actually contribute to your business’ revenue, it’s probably not worth the expense to invest $200,000 in rebuilding your website. On the other hand, if the marketing strategy indicates that turning your website into a lead generation tool for your sales team is the way to go, that changes everything. The question isn’t “are websites worth the cost,” it’s “is a new website worth the cost for my business right now?”

A project’s importance to your business’ overall marketing strategy is the first thing you should look at when deciding what to tackle and when—as well as how much you should budget for that work.

Setting the right marketing budget

Marketing is not a problem that can be solved simply by throwing money at it. It requires smart strategic thinking to take a business to the next level; without that, you’re in a boat without paddles, hoping for the best in a swiftly flowing river. But it will cost money to fix marketing problems, and your marketing budget is as important a strategic piece as anything else.

Talk to your marketing consultant early about budget. Be ready for the conversation, and don’t get caught off-guard by what comes. Because only by working with your marketing consultant to craft a budget that works for the both of you can you actually achieve marketing success.

Thomas Wachtel Team Photo at Element Three

Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.