I hate spreadsheets. In fact, for many years I warned friends that if you send me a document in Excel, the chances of me actually reading and digesting it are about 50 percent. But no matter how mind-numbing you find formulas and pivot tables, there is no avoiding them come budget season. The good news is that with advance planning and perhaps some technological assistance, building your 2018 budget doesn't have to be painful. In fact, it can be a good opportunity to think strategically about your priorities and how you're allocating resources.
Don't Lose Sight of the Forest for the Trees
When you're fielding dozens, if not hundreds, of small requests--$250 for a conference here or $500 for branded swag there--it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. Take a step back and remember your priorities for the year. Are you focusing on deepening relationships with existing clients, or are you on a mission to build your brand in a new city? Is the firm working to boost an emerging practice area or pushing for more client site visits? As budget requests roll in, evaluate whether and how they align with your larger business development strategy.
Automate What You Can
Inevitably, a large chunk of our budgets carry forward from year to year. To the extent you have the support, try to make budgeting less labor-intensive by leveraging technology. Consider a process whereby attorneys and staff can easily resubmit requests that were approved in years past rather than starting from scratch. Think through whether there are button-click options or drop-down menus that allow your colleagues to select supporting rationale for their budget asks, rather than typing a lengthy narrative. The more user-friendly the process, the more timely and complete the requests will be.
Use the Budget Process to Incentivize Good Behavior
Have you been nagging your attorneys to prepare written business development plans for themselves or their practice groups? Have your efforts to...