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How to Handle the "Budget" Talk with Your Client

Strategies to make the budget-talk process simple, straightforward, and stress-free

Money is a sensitive topic for many, so event professionals must navigate the delicate balancing act of discussing a client’s budget with poise and respect. Doing so is the key to developing strong client relationships and producing successful events.

While these conversations can seem complicated, the right preparation can turn an awkward interaction into a fruitful discussion that deepens the trust in your expertise. Mastering the art of managing budget conversations will elevate your professionalism, enhance the client experience, and set up both parties for success.

From setting expectations to reading clients’ reactions, here are some expert tips to help you confidently approach your next budget talk.

Set expectations with education

Most clients have little knowledge about the industry beyond what they’ve seen on social media, which is a recipe for unrealistic expectations. Thus, treat the budget conversation as an opportunity to clarify, educate, and explain. Your clients booked with you because they trust your expertise, so use it to level-set their expectations respectfully.

“At the end of the day, a big piece of the job is educating our couples,” confirms Juls Sharpley of Juls Sharpley Events. “It's very easy to see snapshots online of beautiful weddings and have no idea what things cost.”

Instead of discussing abstract figures, Kelley Nudo of Momental Designs recommends walking clients through concrete numbers for their event. “Clarity is key when it comes to cost sharing, so having a detailed estimate or contract that outlines all of the products and/or services that are included is extremely important,” she says.

Broaching the subject early and often can assuage disappointment and provide a segue to exploring cost-effective solutions to achieve the end goal.

Lay out the essentials

Navigating a client’s budget is an exercise in prioritization. The key is investing in the must-haves and adjusting everything else to fit the budget, but you must first uncover a client’s top priorities.

“Each [couple] has unique and important vendors, so it is important to nail those vendors right away,” explains Twickenham House & Hall’s Kelsey Strickland.

For instance, if their essentials include great food and music, a significant portion of their budget should go to an excellent caterer and live band.

Once you’ve settled on the top three priorities, Chandai Raghunauth of Chandai Events says it’s time to start putting numbers together. “Review all the main vendors needed for the wedding,” she suggests. “Once you know an average for each selection, you can process a realistic budget.”

By starting with a client’s must-haves, you can demonstrate how allocating more of their budget to those categories may take from other areas. However, if the top priorities are met, they can trust that everything else will fall into place for their ideal celebration.

Highlight value over cost

It’s common for people to look at pricing first, but a dollar amount without context can lead to sticker shock and disappointment. So, instead of leading with pricing, focus on the value afforded by the cost.

“It comes down to the level of time a professional is going to invest in them, their experience doing these events, and the quality of equipment being used,” explains Troy Adams of Make Your Business Dance. “A vendor who doesn't invest much time in them may cost less, while someone who really gets to know them and puts considerable time into their event costs more.”

Again, this conversation requires you to explore their underlying priorities. They might believe good food is a priority when they really care about how well their caterer communicates about the menu. A cost is justified by both final results and client experience, so be sure to emphasize the latter as much as the former.

Bite Catering Couture's Vijay Goel recommends “changing gears to lay out value drivers for an event and prioritize them, which allows us to allocate spend in those areas first.”

When you focus on selling a stellar experience, your clients will have a deeper understanding of the price tag and adjust their expectations accordingly.

Gauge their gut reactions

It’s impossible to make progress with a client that refuses to accept what they can afford, so it’s important to tease out their true feelings about costs.

“Encourage them to be transparent about their ‘financial comfort zone,’” says Jacqueline Vizcaino of Tinted Events Design and Planning. “The client will instinctively know what makes them uncomfortable investing higher sums of money versus what they feel they could do without.”

Even if they don’t explicitly express discomfort with a price point, you don’t have to be a body language expert to read the signs. As you discuss the budget, look past their words for physical signs of displeasure, like frowning, flinching, sighing, or slumping shoulders.

Prepare alternative plans

People don’t want to hear “no,” so the best way to let a client down gently is by saying “no, but.” While a flat denial breeds disappointment, offering an alternative solution can soften the blow before it lands. 

“It's not your fault they may have champagne taste on a beer budget,” assures Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss. “Provide them with alternatives or cost-saving options to make it all work, but have the conversation and have it as early as possible.”

Discussing alternative solutions returns to your role as an industry expert and educator. As you explore other options, event planner Penny Haas says it’s vital to “help the client navigate and allocate their budget by offering information on industry standards and helping keep track of estimates for the wants vs the needs.”

You may never consider the budget talk “fun,” but these strategies can make the process simple, straightforward, and stress-free. Ensure your client feels heard and understood while pointing them toward cost-effective solutions to achieve their goals.

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.

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