8 Simple Hacks to Prevent Project Budget Overrun

July 26, 2022
3 minute read

Originally published on February 22, 2017, updated July 26, 2022


In a creative agency, a few problems can spoil your day like a blown budget. Exceeding your project’s budget erodes your client’s trust and your agency’s profitability. Like many kinds of trouble, budget problems are easier to create than to solve; you must keep your project within budget if you want to be successful. But before we begin, let’s clarify what cost overrun actually means.

Cost overrun meaning: when a project unexpectedly goes over budget due to unforeseen costs.

Now, let’s dive in!


How to prevent a project from going

over budget:


1. Review similar projects

Start with a solid plan by building a budget template based on a similar project that you completed previously. Be sure to cover all of your expenses, including less obvious costs like postage. You can then modify your template based on your most recent project so that future projects can be even more precisely budgeted.


2. Estimate accurately

Even with a budget template, you will have to make assumptions and estimates specifically for your current project. Prepare an accurate estimate by including all of the resources that you will need to finish the project, assuming that they will only be productive 80 percent of the time. Account for exclusions and constraints relevant to the project as well.


3. Factor in tax

Always include tax in your project budget. You may find that your client does not have to pay for the withholding tax, but planning your budget as if the client does pay this tax, will help you to avoid any discrepancy between budgeted and actual revenue. This will also provide you with some cushion in your budget in the event that the client doesn’t have to pay because you will have factored in the extra expense.  

4. Plan your work

Why do small projects have budget and schedule overruns?

It’s not only the big projects that require careful planning. Often, it’s the small projects that end up having a cost overrun simply because they are not given the necessary planning. For both big and small projects, separating your project into tasks with a work breakdown structure will help you accurately assess the costs associated with each step. You can also create a reasonable schedule and manage individual responsibilities for meeting deadlines to help prevent project overrun.


5. Manage scope

What do you do when a project is over budget?

Budgets inevitably balloon when you do more work than planned. Document your project’s initial scope and record every subsequent deviation that the client requests. If the client continuously changes deliverables or asks for completely new work, you will then have a paper trail to support your request for a change order. Tell your client that you will need additional funds to cover the unanticipated work or that you will have to scale back the project to fit within the original scope.

6. Continuously forecast

Midway through a project, you’re likely to ask yourself, ‘How to deal with project cost overruns?’ Updating your budget frequently will tell you actuals versus estimates. Tell your team members where you are relative to projections and discuss upcoming expenditures with them so that you can prevent budget overruns together.


7. Reassign resources

Experienced team members obviously are more expensive, but you might benefit from having them work on your project. Depending on how much time you would save, they could cost you less if they can complete the work more quickly than inexperienced colleagues.


8. Leverage technology

Again, the best way to get out of trouble is not to get into it. Creative project management software can help you meet your budget targets by allowing you to track progress in real time and receive notifications of possible problems so that you can address them proactively.


Project cost overrun examples

Now that we’ve discussed how to avoid project cost overrun, let’s talk about some cost overrun examples that can happen in day-to-day agency life.

  • Your usual designer goes on sick leave and a much more pricey freelance designer needs to be hired to complete the project in time. 
  • The software you relied on to keep track of your project isn’t working as planned and non-billable hours are wasted trying to remedy it.
  • You share the final deliverable with a client, only to discover that it’s not what they had in mind. You don’t want to lose the client, so you end up going over budget to cater to their needs.

With deadlines, employees, and clients to manage already, you don’t need a blown budget to make your day even more stressful. 

Workamajig’s project management tool is purpose-built to keep projects on budget, freeing you up your time and cutting out stress. With automated billing, easy time tracking, and a super handy range of project templates, Workamajig simply nips the budget overrun problem in the bud. 

Keep on top of those projects–no sweat.

Related Posts

Run Better Projects Sign up for our free project management resources.

Get all our templates, tips, and fresh content so you can run effective, profitable, low-stress projects in your agency or team.