Getting the most out of your consultancy before the financial year end

By Posted in - Budget on May 13th, 2015 0 Comments

Many of our clients in the education sector – particularly those in higher education – see their financial year come to an end on 31st July. As we hurtle towards the day when budgets get reset and surplus is taken away, we share our top ten tips for making the most out of end of year budgets.

It’s perhaps no surprise if I were to tell you that July is always our busiest month at Pickle Jar as our clients:

  • hurry to achieve tasks that they had budgeted for in the current financial year but hadn’t quite yet got around to working on;
  • try to spend surplus budgets on useful tasks that they hadn’t planned for but now see as essential;
  • have new tasks sprung on them in preparation for the new academic year that hadn’t been planned (or budgeted for, but that cash you’ve just found down the back of the sofa could be used for…)

Sound familiar?

So, if you’re starting to think ahead to the financial year end (you are thinking ahead, right?) and outsourcing work with remaining budgets, how can you make sure that you get the most out of your agency or consultancy and your remaining budget?

1) Check your budget and think about what you could do with it

Knowing how much you’re working with is a good start to being able to plan the best use of it. Here’s an idea of the kind of things that you might be able to get out of different levels of budgets:

Less than £500 Attend a conference, seminar or workshop
£500 – £1500 Have something “expert” reviewed for you, have some content created for a campaign, or consider planning a half-day professional development or planning workshop
£1500 – £5000 Organise full day workshops and away days, commission an audit of your work, conduct some light touch audience research, commission a recommendations report or an emerging trends report, buy-in extra manpower for creating great content from your graduation ceremonies or end of year celebrations
£5000 – £10000 Get external support with planning and executing an upcoming campaign or strategy, commission a detailed piece of audience research, or the development of a content plan
Over £10000 Commission a strategy or plan that you really need but just haven’t got around to producing, have a key section of your website reviewed and redeveloped, commission a bespoke professional development training package for your team

 

2) Look back over strategies, plans and appraisal documents and work out what you haven’t yet achieved

We all start each year with a priority list for what we need to achieve. Is there anything still on that list that you just haven’t quite yet got around to doing yourself because – ya’know – the day job got in the way? Now might be the time to outsource that work.

3) Start talking with consultancies right away, even if you haven’t quite yet confirmed your brief

You have your budget, you know what needs to be done, but you just don’t have time to prepare the brief. Don’t worry. Most consultancies worth their salt will work with you to shape and prepare a brief. The really good ones prefer to work that way as they get to apply their expertise to helping you understand your needs.

4) Get ahead of next year’s strategy and plan

Maybe next year is the year that you’re going to crack that content strategy, or really nail a new brand strategy. Or is next year the year when you’re going to develop that amazing, joined-up content calendar? Take a look at what you’ve got planned for next year and see if you can give yourself a head start by outsourcing some of the early essential tasks such as audience research, audits of existing activity, competitor reviews or stakeholder interviews.

5) Have a chat with your colleagues and see if you have any common professional development needs or requirements

Investing in professional development can be a great way to make good use of budgets, and the summer is often a good time to schedule sessions in. Can you bring an expert, workshop leader or facilitator in to deliver training to a cross selection of people?

6) Give yourself time too

Recognise that money is not all you need at the end of the financial year. Great consultancy and agency projects are ones that work in partnership with the client. This means that you may have to invest some of your own time into the work, so make sure you schedule that in now too so that you have time to support your consultancy or agency and get the ball rolling.

7) Get purchase orders raised quickly

For so many of us, the finance paperwork is a necessary evil. Getting it out of the way early will save you the hassle of last minute PO requests on 31st July then your favourite accounts payable rep just happens to have disappeared to Bali for two weeks.

8) Use the last few weeks of term wisely

Think about how you can make the most of students winding out to capture great content or do some audience research with them, or take advantage of academics suddenly being “off timetable” to work with them. Take advantage of the beautiful Spring and Summer weather to also plan and create great content of your campus looking stunning.

9) Start measuring this year’s performance now

When 1st August hits and you’re suddenly asked to report back on the return on investment from the last financial year’s budget, will you already have that data and those insights ready to share? If not, now might be the time to use some of that end of year budget to commission some measurement and evaluation activity. Why use next year’s resource and budget to evaluate this year’s performance?

10) Don’t spend needlessly

 Just because the budget doesn’t stay in your cost code doesn’t mean that it disappears. The funds still exist, they just go back into the university’s own reserves and may well get spent on something else in future that they’re really needed for. So, don’t be frivolous just because you have a little budget left and make sure that if you do spend it, you spend it on something that will truly make a difference.

 

Get in touch if you’d like to discuss how the team at Pickle Jar Communications can support you over the coming months – or at any time, for that matter.

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