11 Guidelines for Budgetmeisters for Planning Season – and Beyond
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With no standard budgeting model for language teams, budget managers and directors continue to consult CSA Research on how to win more funding and, conversely, how to avoid budget cuts. Many continue to scramble to stretch flat budgets to cover an expanding number of markets, products, and publishing platforms each year. Here are 11 guidelines for budgetmeisters this planning season – and throughout the year.
Budgeting Encompasses Management of Diverse Stakeholders
Funding models may be top-down, bottom-up, or a hybrid. However, in all cases, most translation and localization budget managers answer to multiple stakeholders and decision-makers from different parts of their organization throughout the budget planning process. To be successful, they must build trust with all financial counterparts and inject wiggle room into their models.
- Wield your budget as a strategic tool. Shift the discussion to revenue enablement rather than spending. Upgrade your own way of thinking by focusing on language support as an investment in the global customer experience, casting yourself in the role of entrepreneur, linking your team’s performance to corporate strategy and KPIs, and harnessing LSP innovation to get the most out of your budget.
- Seek to own your funding – doing so equates to power. Those new to the process should focus on recruiting an executive champion, cultivating their finance team representative as their best friend, and recognizing that they know more than they think they know. Those with more experience can benefit from securing the right planning and forecasting tools, finding ways to manage funding in a more agile manner, and completing the journey to attain 100% control of their funding.
- Develop a big-picture budget. This “back of the napkin” version is the high-level summary of your requirements and challenges for the year. Populate it with the projects that everyone expects to deliver, based on approximate dates and generous spending amounts. Use it for strategy discussions, early identification of possible bottlenecks or inadequate funding, recruitment needs, and technology pitches.
- Create a rainy day fund. Build your reputation as a crisis-solver. Emergencies are expensive, so assemble a reserve and use it. However, it doesn’t always have to be cash. Sometimes it comes in the form of favors returned or simply contacting the right people at the right time to solve a problem. A big deal for others often turns out to be a minor inconvenience for you. Most people remember when they have been helped and will be happy to return the favor when you knock on their door.
- Never, ever fail finance. Consult financial colleagues for tips on how to be a better budget manager and how your team can make their job easier. In return, your department will spring to mind as efficient, timely, and a good return on investment when they uncover extra money to be awarded.
Budget Flexibility Requires Creativity
Oftentimes, language managers and directors do not own or control their budgets 100%. They find it necessary to ensure flexibility with the initial amounts assigned at the beginning of the budgeting cycle. You can accomplish the same by building variance into initial estimates, reallocating funds between projects and stakeholder groups, stretching quarterly boundaries, and recalibrating your budget mid-year.
- Move money between groups. You may have the freedom to switch funds between projects, products, languages, business units, and even geographical regions. Depending on the amount involved, the budget owner, and corporate governance requirements, these swaps may or may not require approval at the executive level. It is common for translation managers to maintain a laundry list of plans in the pipeline to be funded whenever extra budget becomes available. This work often includes projects related to automation and staff training, enabling managers to be more strategic in how they spend their money.
- Stretch quarterly boundaries. In those companies that enforce a “spend it or lose it” edict, localization managers can coordinate with language partners to “submit it forward.” The latter expedite projects through applying more resources and thereby allowing invoicing for as much work as possible within a given quarter. In organizations that allow more leeway, managers take advantage of quarterly business reviews or rolling forecasts to readjust spending requirements. Some firms allow funds to be moved to a later financial period when the launch of a major new product or service slips, but not all do.
- Reboot at mid-year. When unforeseen projects or initiatives become priorities after budgets are in place – think public sector contracts or new market entry – two typical scenarios generally ensue. If significant investment is involved, it often requires a business case from the translation group or a business unit for approval up the chain to at least the VP level. Or executives may decide to release funds without making managers jump through hoops. Some companies keep funds in reserve for this purpose – don’t be reluctant to ask when an unexpected expense is necessary.
- Go back to your funders. Some localization managers enjoy the luxury of being able to go back to their stakeholders – a VP of marketing, a general manager of a business unit, a product management director, or a country manager – when they need more money. Others collaborate with finance to uncover sources for increased funding.
- Filter stakeholder requests. Budget managers sometimes forget that they’re not alone when prioritizing spend. One way to engage stakeholders in the process is to let them decide what’s a “must-have” versus a “nice-to-have” or a “not really necessary” when there are too many requests vying for funding during the same time period. It’s an effective method for determining what really needs to be localized – especially when stakeholders must fund the additional work.
- Share costs. When a localization-related service, such as a subscription to data services, expert advice, or market research, benefits more than the localization team, consider asking other groups to contribute. They may be happy to pay a share of the costs for something that provides a value to the company as a whole.
Budget management will take up less of your time when you follow this practical advice. If you don’t yet exercise 100% ownership and oversight of your funding sources, use those extra hours to develop a plan with your executive sponsor to gain that control. If you are already the master of your funding fate, take advantage of the extra time to think big. How would you invest differently to enhance your company’s current global customer experience if you headed global operations? There’s always room to improve.
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