What to do with a Shoestring Budget from a Client

In this day and age, budgets are almost always at least a little bit tight. But there are a few things we can do when a client shows up with an itsy-bitsy budget. Read our tips in this blog post. 

Talk to any ad executive who’s been around long enough, and they’ll regale you with stories of the good old days: A lavish budget, shoots in exotic locations, extravagant client dinners- the works. Alas, the reality today is somewhat different. Overall trends in the industry, along with the demands of the digital age have led to tighter and tighter budgets across the board. But clients still expect first class work form their agencies, and it’s still our job to deliver. Navigating the space between the budget and the client’s expectation is perhaps the greatest challenge marketers today face on a daily basis. It can at times be like pulling teeth. But there are a few things we can do when a client shows up with an itsy-bitsy budget.


Honesty is the best policy

You’ll never regret keeping it real with your clients, or yourself. If you know an ask is impossible, say so as soon as possible. Make it a good-faith conversation, and don’t assume your client is trying to exploit you: Clients aren’t always experts on production, and they may genuinely not know what their money can, or cannot buy. It’s better to have the conversation early than to run out of money before a project is complete.


Be results-oriented

We measure the quality of our work in different ways. But results are the one completely indisputable measure of a campaign’s success. Ask yourself what the ultimate goal of the project is and use data to evaluate your deliverables. Do you need a full campaign? Or is a one-off good enough? How many speaking parts do you need in that video? etc. By asking yourself exactly what you need to accomplish, you can trim the fat, and focus the budget that you do have on a more curated, effective approach.



Think outside the box (and inside the budget)

Plato famously said “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In fact, many artists have produced their best work under threadbare conditions. Advertising is no different. Limitations force us to come up with unconventional solutions, which is often how we create truly novel work. Don’t underestimate your creativity or problem-solving capabilities, and don’t settle for your first few ideas. Instead, challenge yourself to think about your project from as many angles as possible. Especially the least expensive angles.


Lean on your networks

Sometimes an idea is just too good to give up on, even when the money’s not there. This is when it’s time to get out your rolodex (do people still use those?) and start calling in favours. Often, people are willing to donate their time to a project with potential. However, there’s a few things to watch out for here: First, if you’re approaching a vendor for a “freebie”, make sure they’re getting something concrete out of it – ideally a reliable guarantee of paid work in the future or a promotable contribution. Second, be cautious of “spoiling” your client. If they don’t know you had to call in a few favours, they’ll expect the same level of work, for the same price, on future projects. It’s up to you to decide how to manage that risk, but be aware of it going forward.


In this day and age, budgets are almost always at least a little bit tight. But the good news is, you’ve got options. Think strategically, creatively, and collaboratively, and you’ll likely find a way to make it work. Ask yourself what your own goals are with the project, and find a way to balance them with your client’s. In the end, you’ll probably find a way to make everybody happy, and within that shoestring budget.