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Tips for Writing a Budget for your Creative Project

Lesley Renton, General Manager at the Tron Theatre and Alice Rickards, violinist in duo High Heels and Horse Hair share their top tips for writing a budget for your creative project.

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Lesley's budgeting tips

Lesley Renton was business manager in a privately owned engineering consultancy for 8 years prior to moving into the arts sector in 2008. Since that time she has worked in DCACCA and her current role of General Manager at the Tron Theatre. During this time, she has been responsible for setting and monitoring budgets for a range of arts projects and venues.

1. You are the best person to write your budget

You know the creative vision for your project so you are the best person to write the budget. There is no right or wrong way of doing it. You need to find your own approach. Often this can be down to experience. 

2. Detailed thinking should be done early

It is really easy to get quite far down the road on a project with a simple calculation in your head of how much a project or element of a project is going to cost. Actually the reality of expenditure can be considerably more than you thought so dedicate the time to thinking through your costs early on. 

3. If you are doing something you’ve never done before ask someone who has

In the creative community there will always be someone who has done something similar. It is worth asking around for an insight, advice or support. 

4. Always have a realistic contingency

Personally, I think contingency is the most important line in a budget. If you don’t have a contingency for when things run over time or for costs you hadn’t anticipated then where else are you going to get the money from for these unknowns? The contingency is really important. What I do with contingency is not just look at it for expenditure but also income. So you can either overestimate your income or underestimate your costs. For example, with a show, as you see ticket sales build you can release your contingency at an appropriate time if it looks like it is not going to be too risky, making a judgement based on what has happened and you anticipate happening. 

5. Budgets should reflect artistic plans and not the other way round

Effectively a budget should be a written financial statement of your business plan. Where you are investing money should be the areas that are important to you and your business plan and not writing your business plan on how much you can afford to do.

Tips for Writing a Budget for your Creative Project

Alice's budgeting tips

Violinist Alice Rickards and cellist Sonia Cromarty are duo High Heels and Horse Hair. They are gifted players performing with orchestras, ensembles and trios including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. They created and are currently presenting Transplanted, a new recital programme exploring Scotland's wild plants through music.

1. Know the basics of Excel and use it because it is fantastic

The layout of your budget is important. It is important to have detail. But really keep it simple - an expenses column and an income column. I think it is really helpful to add a supplement to your budget to show all the detail.

2. Get help from at least two different people that are knowledgeable in the area

And get this help in plenty of time so that they can make suggestions and you can make changes as appropriate. 

3. Don’t be afraid to negotiate with people about finances

Even if you think what you are asking for is pie in the sky it is worth an ask because sometimes a funder or organisation will like your idea and want to go with that. 

4. While you are running your project really try and get as many quotes for things as you can

You can be amazed by the difference in costs for things between companies. So getting quotes could mean great savings in your overall budget.

5. Utilise in-kind support

Some costs, such as hiring a venue, can be a lot of money. But if the venue like what you’re doing they can help you out for nothing. It’s great, creates a nice feeling and it increases the value of your project.

This information was gather at CEO's Budgets Matter event in November 2014. Contributors Lesley Renton, General Manager at the Tron Theatre and Alice Rickards, violinist in duo High Heels and Horse Hair shared their top budgeting tips. 

Disclaimer: We want to keep you in the know, so we offer a wide selection of useful resources. But Cultural Enterprise Office isn’t responsible for the advice and information of external organisations in this document. So if you have any questions, please contact the specific organisation directly. 

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