In this blog, I explore why it’s important that charities share information about their budget when outsourcing work to freelancers or agencies.
Budgets are a touchy subject in the charity world. The money available is often donated by the public, so it’s absolutely right that it is used carefully.
But there is rarely a moment where money isn’t tight. Charities feel under constant scrutiny over “unnecessary” spending and “overheads”. This sometimes trickles down to staff, instilling a mindset that spending money is a bad thing, or that ‘cheap’ is the only way to get things done.
Outsourcing work to freelancers and agencies can be a cost-effective way to make the most of your charity’s budget. At some point in the conversation between a charity and the freelancer, the question of budget will come up. Budget is a major consideration in any project, and sometimes becomes the deciding factor as to how big (or small) the project becomes.
Most charities are ready and willing to let freelancers and agencies know what their budget is. But sometimes charities are reluctant to show their hand.
In this blog, I’ve gathered some common reasons that people have for NOT sharing their budget, and tried to address each one. So if you’re about to approach a freelancer or agency to outsource some of your work, but not sure whether you should share your budget, here are my thoughts.
I’m not sure what our budget is right now
That’s ok. Speak to your manager, or the person who looks after your charity’s finances, and see what they say. It’s better to have those conversations now, rather than getting the ball rolling to find out later you never had any budget in the first place, right?!
We want you to provide us with the quote first, then we’ll tell you if it fits our budget
OK, but this will just take you more time than it needs to.
Let’s say you wanted to build a website for your charity. There’s a big range of prices that you could pay. If you go out to get quotes from people, but don’t tell them how much you have available to spend, then some of the quotes may be out of your budget. Then, you’ll either have to get them to do another quote (and so spend more time), or you’ll have to throw that quote in the bin (so having wasted your time).
Even if you could afford all the quotes you get, you’ll likely get a wide range of different proposals. Some will be huge complex websites. Others will be a smaller leaner website. It may not be easy to compare the options.
Yet, if you tell people your budget, they can put forward a proposal that meets it (or decline if they won’t be able to). You’ll get a lot more ‘useful’ quotes within your budget that you can compare fairly.
I’ve got a rough ballpark in mind, is that enough?
YES, absolutely! Even if you haven’t got an exact figure for your budget, you probably have a gut feeling about what you think you should be paying.
One question you could ask yourself: “is the budget closer to £100, £1,000, or £10,000”? If you have a clear answer, then that’s a perfectly fine answer to give to a freelancer.
Our budget is so small, I’m embarrassed to say it out loud
Don’t worry about it. I know money can be tight sometimes. Great things can still be done on small budgets. Most freelancers are happy to advise how to make the most of your small budget – even if it isn’t your original plan.
We have so much money – don’t worry about the budget!
Ok, so you’re a charity with money to invest, that’s awesome! (Get in touch!)
Still, it’d be great if you could let me know roughly what you have in mind. Then I can tailor the proposal to meet your needs.
At the very least, put together a really clear and detailed brief, so the people you’re inviting proposals from have something to go from.
We’re just putting the feelers out at the moment, can you still give us a quote?
So you have a potential project in mind. Only you don’t really know what it’ll look like and have absolutely no idea what budget to put aside for it.
But instead of working that out with your colleagues, you’re asking a freelancer to do that for you? For free, with no guarantee that the project will go ahead anyway? Is that fair?
If this is you, first of all, don’t expect the freelancers/agencies you approach to put any effort into the costs (or to even reply). If they do reply, it might just be a ‘finger in the air’ guesstimate – maybe using the “is the budget closer to £100, £1,000, or £10,000?” question earlier. If that’s fine, then crack on. It’s polite to let them know that’s what you’re expecting, so they know not to put a huge amount of effort into pricing the project. Putting together a proposal can be hard work.
Secondly, if you’re not really sure what your project is (and so can’t really put a budget on it), it sounds like you need to do some more work internally to figure that out. You could even hire someone to help you out with that.
The scoping stage might even be the first stage in a bigger project you’re paying someone to do. For example, you might hire a copywriter to help you decide on the scope for a refresh of your website’s copy, which then allows them to put forward a more accurate quote for the rest of the work.
Someone else has given us a quote we like, but we just need a second opinion to compare
This is not ok. You can’t expect people to put together a quotation for work that you have already decided they don’t have a chance of getting.
We don’t have a lot of money, could you do it for free?
Right, I know money is tight, and I understand the pressures that charities are under to keep costs down. Sometimes you have to pay money to get a job done. Getting someone to do some pro bono work for your charity is nice. But it’s their offer to give, not yours to expect.
We’re trying to get the cheapest quote
Ok, I understand that money is tight. Firstly, ‘cheap’ doesn’t always equal ‘good’. Sometimes, “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. The cheapest quote might be poor quality or doesn’t achieve the results you want.
Another saying is: “if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you’ve hired an amateur.” If you’re lucky, your ‘cheapest quote’ will do a good job. But what if they don’t? It may cost you more to re-do work that you originally got done ‘on the cheap’. Is that the best use of your supporters’ money?
Secondly, it’s wasting your time and that of the freelancer/agency. Similar to the point above about getting a quote first and then telling them if it’s within budget. Sure, it could be done that way, but you’d save everyone a lot of time if you say what you mean by ‘cheap’.
Finally, it’s not a good look. Pitting people against each other in some sort of Hunger Games to win the lowest price is exploitative. It suggests you don’t really care about the people who work for you. I for one don’t want to work for organisations like that.
We’re worried you’ll pad out your proposal to max out the budget, you greedy freelancer!
First of all, if you put forward a maximum budget, you’ll have to accept that some of the proposals you get back will hit that maximum.
Does that mean that we’re ‘padding out’ the proposal to get the full budget? Does it mean that we’re taking you for a ride and charging £5,000 for something that should only cost £1,000? No.
What do you think your budget should cost? Why isn’t that your budget? (And if it’s too low, the freelancer or agency will be happy to let you know).
Here are a few suggestions.
- You could ask them to put forward a few of proposals at different price points – one that hits your budget, and one that meets a lower budget. You’ll get an idea of the scale of the potential and what the options are. And if you don’t like the one that hits your budget, you’ve always got the lower price option to fall back on.
- You could provide a really detailed brief. So it’s absolutely clear what you’ll be needing, which will make it easier for them to work out the fee.
- Ask them to ‘show their working’ – describe to you how they came to the final fee. It’s not always possible, but sometimes a proposal might be based on the number of hours’/ days’ work, which will be based on their own experience of similar projects.
More than anything, trust the expertise of the person you’re working with. If they say that their work is going to cost £xyz, it’s not nice or professional to imply that they’re lying. Like all relationships, the one between client and freelancer or agency should be built on trust. Starting with suspicion won’t lead to a happy working relationship.