Unless you have the benefit and luck of unlimited resources for your web development projects, as a web master your responsibilities typically will incorporate budget management. Performing the budget dance every year can be quite a task for the web master, especially with the balancing act between web development dollars and ever increasing requirements. Budgets typically will consist of all the cost groups associated with your department or projects; in addition, if your projects are also a source of revenue, then sales budgets and income projections will be a part of the financial puzzle.

Overall it seems many IT budgets are expected to grow in 2011 and 2012, but typically, they are still very tight and characteristically are just templates of previous year’s numbers. One of the special challenges in maintaining status quo budgets is applying new technology to last year’s budget numbers. Especially when web masters are given new projects such as implementing cloud computing and mobile technology. These projects may not have been factored into the original budget.

The old saying, “Do more with less” is being heard more often than not in boardrooms especially during budget planning sessions. Being able to achieve more web design and project outcomes with the same or lower budgets as in previous years is the challenge for web masters.

There is no one-size-fits-all budgetary rule for web masters. Each client has different sets of requirements and in-house web development departments have their own organizational requirements. But there are some standard guidelines that can be followed to assist in making sure your budget matches the overall purpose and scope of the web projects expected by the client or organization.

Making the budget meet the web development project

What is the typical budget amount for a web design project for client(s) or organization(s)? Knowing how your budget is determined can help you understand the scope and where resources need to be applied. Typically many web design projects fall within the marketing budget, and depending on the industry, that can be anywhere between 0.5% and 15% of gross sales. A more accurate response is that marketing budgets can be quite flexible and these percentages are only an average. Some marketing budget levels change from year to year depending on market trends and other factors and are not always determined by gross sales figures. Start up organizations and companies promoting new products, such as pharmaceuticals, are more likely to spend more for their marketing, whereas established organizations and those with no new or trendy products are likely to have less allocated to their marketing budgets. For established web design departments, the current year’s budget may typically be based on the previous year’s actual figures, but this varies also from the organization or client.
What should be included in the budget scope? Budgets can have hundreds or thousands of line items depending on the scope and nature of the project(s) and department(s) requirements. Most budgets will have line items for hardware, software, and third-party development; moreover, I have listed some of the line items that might or might not have been considered in your web design budgets, and in no particular order:

  • Discovery and Research: Typically this includes a coherent creative scope and strategy that is aligned with the marketing and sales goals of the client or organization.
  • Search Engine Optimization: Search engine results should be a high priority for web design projects, and this can take a significant piece of the budgetary pie.
  • Social Networking: Many organizations are still new to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but are planning to create a social networking presence. Does your budget include social networking efforts?
  • Blogs: Many organizations and web design departments have adopted the blog format or added it to their web site functionality; maybe your site could benefit from one also.
  • User Experience Design: UX is gaining attention as more sites put people first as they create products that are useful, enjoyable, and usable. Does your budget have a line item for UX design?
  • Mobile Web Applications: A new and growing area is developing web sites and applications to render on and in mobile devices and applications in a clear and consistent method. Does your budget include mobile web and application development?

How do you increase your web development budget? This is the question asked by most managers and web masters who work under a budget guideline. You have to sell the return on investment or ROI for every web development project in order to get the attention of the customer, CEO, or client when asking for more funding; specifically, you create a new line item or add to an existing one.

One example of a smart ROI project could be to include a budget line item for regular email marketing campaigns. With focused emails sent to permission-based web site clientele, reaching across broad demographics and boundaries, this type of online marketing campaign can generate a significant return with little investment.

Once the web design project or specific line item is perceived as a key method to bringing in more customers, adding more repeat customer interactions, and growing the sales, this helps to open the doors to acceptance and approval, not only for that particular project, but also for future projects.

Do you have any tips for keeping within your web development budget? Please comment on any budget tips and tricks you may have to share.