I've learned that the key to a positive planning experience always comes down to good communication and managing client expectations, especially when it comes to budget planning. To help make those sometimes uncomfortable budget conversations between you and your clients easier, we're diving a bit more into my own budget planning process and how I introduce the budget to my clients with the goal of making sure that all parties (including the bride, groom and anyone who is responsible for decision making when it comes to planning) are all on the same page.
Introducing Your Clients To The Budget
Once I've determined my client's priorities, created a preliminary budget, and have released it out of planner prep mode, my next step to keep the planning process moving full steam ahead is to introduce my clients to their budget plan. I prefer to keep all of my conversations throughout the planning process documented within Aisle Planner, so I'll head over to my planning checklist for their event, locate the checklist item "Discuss and set a budget" and send them a quick note via the comment stream for that checklist item to introduce the budget, and ask that we schedule some time to review the budget from top to bottom, whether it's in person or over the phone.
"Head on over to the budget tab to have a look at the custom budget worksheet I've created for you! This budget is going to make sure that we have a good understanding of what we have to work with as well as how the budget may be spent. I’ve based these numbers off of my professional experience and (most importantly) your priorities..."
I also make sure that my couples aware of anything in the budget that might change along the way.
"Since we are still in the early stages of planning, we may need to add in additional categories as we finalize details (valet or additional shuttle for guests, depending on venue selection, etc.)"
If staying on budget is a priority for my clients (which is usually the case for the majority of my clients, whether their budget is $35,000 or $80,000), a good introduction to a budget will play a big role in setting expectations and responsibilities for decision making. I want to be 100% certain that my clients know that it is ultimately their responsibility to make the right decisions that will keep them on budget.
As I review the budget in detail with my clients, it's also important that they understand how budget planning works, and their options when it comes to ensuring that their wedding or event remains on budget. I am always crystal clear of the fact that this is a preliminary budget plan for spending and that it does not reflect final costs. The reason being, your clients need to understand that budget planning is ongoing and that the budget is a living document that inevitably will get updated as we move along through the planning process.
"As vendors are confirmed and details are finalized, I’ll be plugging actual expenses into this budget worksheet and keeping you updated so that we can easily keep track of spending and make sure that you are comfortable with everything. The budget is a constant work in progress so you'll see estimated numbers shift and change as actual quotes come in and decisions are made. Your final budget/expense will greatly depend on the decisions you make along the way, since obviously, every dollar adds up and adds up quickly!"
I often follow that sentiment with:
"As quotes come in for specific items and if they are over what we've allocated in the budget, we have three options that will keep us on budget:
- Pull budget dollars from another area of less priority
- Look at other vendor options (or go with a vendor that may not be your first choice, but is more economical)
- Increase your budget if you decide if it's really worth more to spend additional in each area."
Inevitably, there will be times when (no matter how I cut it), I know that based on my preliminary run of numbers, chances are that we'll be over budget. And, if that happens I am always sure to be very up front with my couples; letting them know that based on what they want, estimations show that we are likely to be over budget.
"Based on average costs and keeping your $50,000 original target budget in mind, my estimates show us to be over budget. I increased the budget by the extra $10,000 we had talked about to give you a little more breathing room so that you would have more options to choose from, rather then going with the least expensive vendor…”
Often times, they'll look at my preliminary budget and share that it's no big deal and they'd rather get what they want for their wedding (phew). Now I know their budget has some wiggle room and I'll work to define how much wiggle room they actually have when it comes to their budget. But more often than not, we'll come to the conclusion that being over budget is not an option. Either way, it's good to know where we stand when it comes to budget spending. For those couples that can't spend a dime over their determined budget, we'll work through the budget together to scale back in the areas that aren't as important to them, and as we finalize their official budget, I'll reiterate the fact that "budget responsibility" is in their hands, so they're fully aware that we can remain on budget but they'll have to make decisions that keep things on budget.
"Your final budget/expense will greatly depend on the decisions you make along the way, since obviously, every dollar adds up and adds up quickly!"
There are lots of ways that you can work through the process of presenting a budget to your clients and this is just one way that I've found works well to laying a solid foundation and understanding of the budget planning process with my clients. I'd love to hear how you go about sharing things with your couples as well as how you guide them through the budget process. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!