Do you have a budget in mind to complete this project?

As part of our business we ask one daily… Do you have a budget in mind to complete this project? Okay I agree, asking somebody's weight or age is far more personal but asking for a project’s budget can be as tricky or even offensive when dealing with new project enquiries. The idea of starting a business relationship with the wrong foot springs to mind.

We all tend to provide answers to difficult questions depending on context. If a doctor asks for your weight, more likely it is because of a health-related concern and it will be in your best interest to answer. A totally different scenario is if this question comes from someone you just met: Why is he asking that question? Is he calling me fat? How is he going to use my answer? I think you get the drift.

01EX specialises in designing and manufacturing bespoke exhibition stands, retail spaces and interior work environments. Like for any other business requiring creative thinking, a client’s budget is an important part of the solution tailoring process. It defines the scope of work that can be offered and the financial viability of the project, to say the least. Hence our need to ask this question.

However, it is undeniable that there are two schools of thoughts to be considered when it comes to providing an answer to “the budget question”: Those who say no way and those that say why not, so let’s look at some of the arguments.

Why you may not want to provide a budget.

Among many reasons, the ones I have encountered more frequently are:

• You are not sure that you will be getting the best price possible if you give a budget.

• Providing a budget may weaken your negotiation strategy.

• You had a poor experience with a contractor that took advantage and didn’t provide the value for money return that you were expecting.

• In your opinion it is none of my business and shouldn’t ask.

Why you may want to provide a realistic budget.

Regardless of any valid reason you may have for not disclosing your budget, there is always another side to the proverbial coin. It is then important to consider:

• Your answer will provide a rough idea of what needs doing. In my experience, big discrepancies between a quote and the cost I had in mind are due to misunderstandings or lack of communication instead of the most commonly considered... profiteering.

• A fair budget figure or ballpark range will help you. A real expert will use it to come up with the right design and options to satisfy your expectations and affordability.

• In the long run it will save you headaches and unnecessary meetings. By no means I want to be rude, but I will be doing you wrong if I hide behind the curtain of what is “politically correct” and don’t say it… everybody’s time is valuable, so you will be better off asking other suppliers if the company you are asking can’t make it for the money you have allocated.

• Have you done your homework? A budget implies that you have invested time and effort on your project, hence have a clear idea of what you want or wish to achieve. As professionals in our field we will guide all our clients through the different stages of a given project, from concept design to fitting, so an extensive knowledge is not required but success is always linked to understanding what you need, want and can afford.

• If this is the first time your company is attending an exhibition, creating a retail space or a showroom, fear not and just tell us. We want and need your business and will be more than happy to offer our guidance so that you can work out a fair budget for your project.

• Yes, in general quotes will try to make the most out of your budget and use it all. However, this is not bad, it is just business. If you know what you want you can assess its value for money and, why not, just plain challenge the quote.

Like for many other life conundrums, there are not silver bullets to solve all our problems. However, I would like to try and offer my view so that you can reach your own conclusion based on its merits.

In my opinion, when it comes to answering “the budget question” it all spins around how well in detail you know what you need, want and can afford. If you know exactly what it is required (because it is simple or have done it before) my suggestion will be to keep the budget to yourself. The drawback is that you will be expected to produce a detailed document (or brief) describing what needs doing, with examples if possible. Also, you should be aware that design creativity will be somehow constrained by details, the more details in your brief the less room for creativity. Additionally, you may need to be more involved when it comes to answering additional questions and evaluating the appeal of potential options, just to minimise any assumptions that could influence the resulting quote.

On the other hand, if you are not entirely sure about your options or would rather stimulate a creative design process by setting it free, I will strongly suggest that you provide at least a ballpark range budget figure. The reason is simple, you are giving permission to dream but dreams can be expensive. As an example, consider a top of the range luxury car versus the most cheap and basic vehicle in the market. By design, they both will take you from A to B, but the ride and overall experience are very likely to be different, I hope you will agree.

Perhaps your reasons to avoid answering this question are just down to a previous bad experience where honesty and trust were betrayed. It is difficult to admit that it happens but it does and a few spoil it for all. However, it is also true that not all companies are the same. In this case, I can only suggest that you strengthen your supplier selection process by considering the following general points:

• Evaluate the quality of the communication between you and the potential supplier. Have they managed to create a positive rapport with you? Can you get answers when you need them? Are they in the same wavelength than you?

• Price (should) reflect quality. This is not always the case you may say, but this is where you need to be ready to question quotes. Experience tells me that in many cases it is just down to communication, as an example consider that a display unit finished with decorative laminate is more expensive than one just emulsion painted. Ask, be aware of your options and go with what you feel is enough for what you need.

• Look after your budget and invest it where it counts. Most shows and exhibitions only last 2 to 3 days and stands should be manufactured accordingly. If you are building a showroom or a retail point go for lasting materials (e.g. plywood). However, stands have a very tough life as they need to be in and out very quickly (sometimes installation and dismantling lasts only a few hours) hence a lighter cheaper to build and repair construction is what should be used.

• Check for credentials. In our case we are part of ESSA, our industry association, and they provide additional guarantees to companies working with its members.

• A simple but often forgotten advice… get your quote and any subsequent modifications in writing.

• Make yourself available. Particularly with shows and exhibitions, things happen quickly and last-minute changes can be very costly, so make sure that there is someone from your side available to be part of the decision making process.

• These days it’s not that difficult to carry out a credit check, so why not. Imagine finding out that the supplier you selected went bust and can’t deliver your project just days before is due. If you can’t do a credit check, I would suggest you at least ask how long they have been in the market. Although not bullet proof, it is a good sign if they have been through recessions, times of political instability, etc. and are still standing.

• If you have an opportunity, go and visit the supplier premises. Do they have the right setup? Can they live up to their promise?

• Finally, ask for a portfolio showcasing previous work. It will give you ideas for your project and, at the same time, provide you with the reassurance that they have done it before.

Written by: Eduardo Arvelo

Photo by: Fabian Blank