How to set every design project budget in 4 steps

On a very basic level, a budget dictates how much you have to invest in a project. The quality of the creative vision should always dictate the numbers – that's what you've sold the client after all.

However, a solid budget ensures you don't overreach, overspend and end up running out of money. For that reason, the very best budgeting gets the greatest value at a creative level, while maximising profit margins at a business level.

We talk to Paul Martin, global operations director of Moving Brands, and find out how budgets work in one of the world's most celebrated agencies...

At Moving Brands, is it common to set a budget before or after the pitch stage?

Our first step, whether it's a pitch response or a request for proposal from an existing or new client, is to qualify the project: whether the client's needs match our expertise; whether their timing and budget parameters align to how we would best deliver on their objectives.

In regards to budget, we give an indicative scope and budget parameters early on to help the client understand how we would approach the work and the related cost. The reality is it will take numerous conversations to properly scope the needs, shape the team, plan the timings and project milestones.

How do you typically arrive at a final figure for a creative budget?

Moving Brands gave Deviant Art a massive brand overhaul to put art and design in the hands of its 32m mobile users

Moving Brands gave Deviant Art a massive brand overhaul to put art and design in the hands of its 32m mobile users

We build a project plan from scratch for every project, to ensure it's fit for purpose. This process involves the programme lead, the creative lead and consultant.

  1. Discuss and clarify the client needs
  2. Build the right shape team of experts to deliver on the needs
  3. Build a project plan which includes scope, timings and of course budget
  4. Share and discuss the plan with the client, until a mutual agreement is met on all aspects

Do creatives need financial knowledge, or should P&L lines be left to Accounts?

We're a creatively led business – our CEO joined the business as a design intern, our founders are film-makers and designers. We've never believed in silos and don't think that P&L lines should be left solely to the accountants.

At a project level, our creative directors are involved in scoping every project they lead, and alongside the programme directors are jointly responsible for both financial performance and creative excellence.

So yes, a good proportion of our creative team need an understanding of the financial aspects, because it's part of being able to effectively scope and deliver on all briefs, and to run a successful global business.

Words: Tom Dennis
Illustration: Jo Gulliver

The full version of this article first appeared inside Computer Arts issue 244: Earn More as a Designer – packed full of financial tips for creatives – on sale now.

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