The crisp scent of winter and annual budgets are in the air! Businesses everywhere are turning to their accounts departments for guidance on next year’s budget. As a community leader, it’s your priority to make sure that community programs, products, projects, personnel, and more are represented in that budget!
Nearly every business wants to foster a community around their brand or their product, but too often, budgetary allocations for community are skipped over. Depending on your community’s size, its product or business model, and where it’s most engaged, your budget will require research and careful planning.
Whether it’s your first time planning a budget with community in mind or you’re a seasoned pro, the following tips will help you craft an executive approval ready budget that fits your needs.
Assess Your Community Needs and Set Goals for Success
You should decide early on what your key metrics for success will be: do you plan on increasing engagement? Converting more leads to sales? Finding more leads to begin with? Your goals will help guide your decision about how much to invest in community management. Smaller goals will require smaller budgets, while more aggressive goals may require a bit more spending money. Keep in mind that things like in-person events can increase engagement. Some research suggests that communities with offline events have lower rates of “lurkers.” Figure out where you want to take your community in the next year, and then form an action plan to get there, keeping in mind which metrics you’ll measure along the way to gauge your success.
Your goals, of course, should align with your business values and metrics. If you’re not quite sure how to get everything aligned for the new year, take a look at CMX Pro! This action plan for measuring the value of community is a great place to get started.
Take a Glance at Last Year’s Budget
If your business has ever invested in community, it’ll be in the previous years’ budgets. Take a peek at what you’ve invested in the past, and what you aimed to accomplish with the money allotted. Did you achieve your goals within budget, or did you overspend? Did you end up with money left over? You can use this time to also adjust the goals themselves — needs shift from year to year and your goals might be different now than they were this time last year. In fact, it’s probably a good sign if they are — that means you satisfied your requirements last time and can move on to new challenges!
Depending on whether you hit your targets last year or not, adjust your budget to allow for more or less spend for your current goals.
Do you need to build a platform to host your community from the ground up? Plan to invest enough to build the best platform you can possibly afford, hiring top talent to help give you exactly what you need. Will an existing platform meet your needs? You might be able to save some budget by going with a plug-and-play solution.
Keep in mind costs often rise year to year. If you are unsure how much they may change, you can always add an annual growth of 10% in costs to cover them. No matter what your plans, keep in mind that you’ll need to get your budget approved by your company’s leadership, so plan to explain exactly how whatever you’ve chosen to invest in will improve business and help you reach your goals.
Do You Need a New Platform for the New Year?
What size is your community? Where do they gather to interact? For most businesses, the answer will be some kind of online platform, be it Facebook Groups or a closed Slack community.
If your community is already established on one platform, it’s going to be easier to continue to foster and develop it there than migrating to a homebrewed platform. If you ask your members to migrate platforms, you risk alienating community members who aren’t fully invested yet — the minor inconvenience of switching platforms could be enough to reduce your numbers significantly. Rather than risk that, engage your community where they are! Invite new members to join you on your chosen platform.
If this is your first stab at forming a community and they aren’t already established in one centralized place yet, you’ll need to choose a platform to host them. There are a variety of free options, such as those mentioned above, but depending on a few factors, it may make sense to invest in a paid platform. Take a peek at your budget, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Will investing more money in our community platform increase engagement from our members?
- Will it increase retention? Will new members find it convenient enough to return to frequently?
- Will it allow you to access new features that could be beneficial to you as admin and members, like the ability to reward super-users with badges or expanded access?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you can make a strong case for investing more heavily in the right platform. It’s an important choice, so do your research and shop around a bit before you make your final selection. Keep in mind that for highly customized or enterprise-level platforms, you’ll need to get a quote from sales teams, which will in turn need to be approved by executives, so make sure you’ve done thorough research into what your members truly need in the coming year.
Collect Feedback and Plan Ahead
The best way to measure whether or not your investments have paid off is by asking for feedback from your community members themselves. After all, nobody knows how successful your community is than its members!
Your options for how to collect feedback from your community are plentiful — you could choose anything from comment boxes with an open text field on your site to a personal email to each member — but you’ll want to make sure that you’re collecting the data that matters to stakeholders.
Your stakeholders will have business interests in mind when they are measuring your success. Did you increase engagement? By how much? How many new members did you welcome this year versus last year, before your improvements? Did that have any impact on conversions from leads to sales? Any measurable impact on revenue? These are the types of questions you’ll need to answer, but they’re not the types of questions you can ask your community members directly.
Construct your feedback collection, whether it’s a survey, a poll, an email, or some other medium, such that you’re asking about the goals your community members have in mind. Did they find what they were looking for? Were they able to express themselves freely and in a safe, welcoming environment? Did they find the platform convenient to use? What new features would they like to see in the future, and why? (The why is just as important as the what! That’s your community telling you what they value; be sure to listen!) Did your super-users feel like their enthusiasm and evangelism was sufficiently rewarded? If you can answer these questions, then you’ll know what adjustments you’ll need to make to your strategy, and thus your budget, next year.
When it comes time to plan out your annual budget, make sure that you don’t neglect your community! You’ll need to keep your goals for success in mind, but you can take a peek at last year’s budget for hints. Ultimately, make sure you’re collecting feedback from your community members to make sure that you’re on the same page when it comes to what they need and what you provide.
Don’t Neglect Professional Development
As you grow your community, you’ll likely need more education for your own career. Too often, we neglect professional development, but you are your company’s biggest community resource!
Make room in your budget for conferences, professional associations, education, and more. This can come in the form of one-time class, annual conferences, training, and books. While yes, at CMX, we’d love you to join CMX Pro — our professional membership full of education and a private community — and come to our annual conference, you should always identify the professional development that makes most sense for your career.
Get Our Sample Budget Template
Many of you will have budgetary processes and documents that your company requires you to fill out and use. That gives you a big head start!
However, if you are at a small organization, you may be creating your budgetary documents from scratch. This can be daunting. Which is why we’re sharing a sample budget that we created for the CMX Pro program. This is meant to give you an idea of what you should cover or might cover for your own budgets.
Make a copy of this Google Spreadsheet to use for own budgetary purposes.
Planning to help foster your community will help you achieve your leadership’s business-oriented goals, like increased engagement and member retention, in the natural course of managing your community. If you found this post helpful, subscribe to our newsletter for even more insights every week. Go ahead: get planning!