Get funding that lets your email program contribute significantly to the company’s bottom line. Here’s how to approach your budget requests.

I was watching the news this morning, as I always do, and a commentator claimed to be surprised that the Christmas/holiday sales had been pulled back so far. I spat out my coffee and laughed.

Why the spit-take?

Because retail and email marketers on the front lines know that the holiday season is going to happen a lot sooner this year than it has in the past. We’re coming up on the third anniversary of COVID-19, which in 2020 gave us permission to start early. Nobody’s willing to give that up, especially in a down economy where every minute from now to the end of the year matters.

I also could have told that talking head that holiday campaigns aren’t the only things stressing us marketers right now. Guess what else we have to contend with now?

Friends, it’s budget time.

Yes, I said the “B” word. When I was in retail, I hated this time of year because I was already stressed from my holiday campaigns and then had to come up with a reasonable spending plan for the next year. Right now, I am working with every client helping them determine the right investment levels. Stress is at an all-time high.

As stressful as it may be, start thinking now about what next year might look like and you might end up with the budget you want.

5 budget success tactics for 2023

I always advise clients to audit email programs so they know what’s happening in their campaigns and to schedule lunch-and-learns with their teams and execs. This groundwork lets you pitch new ideas more successfully.

Here’s what I’m telling my clients to make room for in their budget requests.

1. Get a new email template

Every email design can go stale and become ineffective, whether it’s bare-bones minimalistic or a cacophony of colors and animations.

Templates break down and cause you hours of pain and suffering as you try to come up with workarounds until your designer or developer can tackle the problem. Consider switching to a modular template, assuming your ESP supports that format.

A modular template is like working with LEGO bricks, only you’re building an email instead of a model of the Starship Enterprise/Millennium Falcon. To build an email, you drag formatted blocks and drop them into position, then add images, copy and CTAs into defined spaces.

A modular template lets you build emails faster and standardize your design process. Most ESPs give you the ability to custom-load modules into their template builders.

Now, if you’re thinking, “But each email I send is a work of art all by itself!” Then skip to the next section because modular design is not for you. And good luck with all that coding and testing and tweaking.

[Insert your favorite facepalm GIF here.]

Modular design is for people who like the consistency of sending messages that subscribers will recognize immediately but with content that changes according to the campaign and customer data. That’s what’s important — not creating beautiful emails.

If you like simplicity, shorter production timelines and not losing your mind every time you have to send a campaign or triggered email, a modular template will help you out. But what if you send emails through Mailchimp or another ESP that uses modular design? You might find your template needs to be updated with new modules and more flexibility.

2. Seek a third-party review of your entire email operation

I encourage marketers to look over their email programs at least once a year (read 10 questions to ask when auditing your email program). Also, get an outside review of everything your email program includes, like the production process, results, content and more.

Look for answers to questions like:

  • How effective is our process?
  • How quickly can we execute?
  • What contingencies could an agency give us that we can’t achieve on our own?

An email audit and performance review will help you identify gaps and highlight where changes could help you deliver better results. You’re not obligated to accept all the changes. C’mon, we’re not the IRS! (Or the Inland Revenue, for our British colleagues.)

You can review your audit results to discover what will give you the greatest gain for the time and money you have to invest. You can make quick and easy changes, or plot a course for long-term improvements.

But be sure your reviewers focus on one key point as they go over your email program. Any changes they recommend must be tied to increasing your ROI, whether by increasing revenue or decreasing expenses. That’s how you can justify asking for company money to fund the exercise.

Dig deeper: Getting back to basics: Marketing ROI

3. Work up a strategy to add staff

Everybody in email marketing — in any marketing channel, really — wants more team members. The trick is to ask for it the right way. In my client-side marketing days, I rarely did it right. I just looked at my team and said, “I need more people to get the job done.”

That’s the wrong way. The right way is to specify what those added team members would do and how their work will help your team contribute more to the company bottom line. Make your executives understand why it’s in their best interests to give you more staff — how it will help them achieve their business goals.

That will take some education (again, a lunch-and-learn that shows your execs how your department works) and some good old-fashioned sales work. Plus, you’re competing against every other team that wants to add staff.

You’re a marketer. So, market yourself to persuade your execs to buy in.

4. Propose one innovative new program

Do you need to create an onboarding program or upgrade the one you have now? Refresh your abandoned-cart series? Seek out a new marketing automation vendor?

For 2023, propose one thing that will help you drive growth toward your business goals. Predict what the ROI will be. This will make your budget request more substantial. You always want to show the return outweighs the cost and could even be profitable in the first year. That makes it almost a no-brainer.

But don’t just request the funding. Include a plan for keeping your boss informed about whether your innovation is on track, whether it’s bringing in the revenue or savings that you predicted or even delivering more than you expected.

This is important to track because when you move ahead to 2024, you can remind your boss about your success. That gives you more credibility to propose another new program that could add to your gains from 2023.

If you followed my advice from my previous post, How to make the time to solve marketing problems, you should already have a list of ideas to choose from. If not, go back and do the five-minute exercise that will help you identify the one big rock that you need to move for next year.

5. Get creative with your leftover 2022 budget

Does your year-end projection show money left in your budget? Congratulations! Now, go spend it. If you don’t, you might not get it back next year.

But don’t spend it on stupid stuff. Stay focused on ROI as always. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Use it to develop or expand testing.
  • Pay it to a vendor and ask to have it applied to next year’s spend.
  • If you use an agency, ask your rep for ideas that you can play with now but sustain next year without blowing your 2024 budget.

Your to-do list can give you spending ideas here.

Dig deeper: The budget bottleneck: How to get more from your marketing budget

Get the email marketing budget you deserve

Budgets are crap because everybody always says no. We all hate getting that no. But one of the reasons the company says no is because we asked the wrong way.

Sometimes, when I was told no, my boss blamed “competing priorities.” If that’s what you’re hearing, it might be that those priorities are coming from people who did the education and groundwork I mentioned earlier or appealed more to executives’ self-interest.

I’m not saying it’s always your fault if you don’t get the budget amount you requested. But the tips I’ve shared here will help you get funded at a level that also allows you to contribute significantly to your company’s bottom line.