“Damien, I need help. I don’t know how much to ask for!” Exclaims a panicked senior postdoc.

This is usually how my conversations start when I discuss negotiation strategies with my clients.

Invariably, I receive a myriad of documents and spreadsheets which encompass a variety of numerical costs and associated line items, or services. However, after probing deeper, asking clients if this budget meets their needs, they usually shrug their shoulders, nervously saying, “I don’t know.”.

Most often, I find that my clients lose the idea that a budget is supposed to serve their specific goals. Especially when a financial plan is created previous to an interview, I find they tend to create a budget to meet the needs of the negotiating institute’s financial administrators, with the aspiration of looking like a more attractive candidate. More often than not, when this happens, investigators are at the short end of the stick and lose much more than money; their time, their efforts, and even their career.

A budget is a flexible tool that can take on a different meaning depending on one’s intentions or needs.

The official definition is “an estimate of income and expenditure for a set period of time.” While that definition may serve as a good starting point, it doesn’t really serve to help in understanding its meaning.

The word “budget” is also much too associated with negative meanings for startups, entrepreneurs, or innovative discoveries. It doesn’t take much experience to know that these exploratory ventures usually entail a large deal of “waste” from the necessary trial and error required to succeed. This strategy, however, tends to be a nightmare for accounting or financial administrators whose job is to create balanced books and sustainable practices for the business/institutes.

When this dichotomy reaches its tipping point, business administrators or investors start applying restrictions to resource requests, often meeting investigators with conflicting arguments against their ideas, rather than a willingness to support them.

Remember that a budget is a flexible tool, and if we can arrange its meaning so that ambitious innovators can relay their messages in a more compelling way, then investors or supporters will be willing to fund their endeavors.

So my proposed definition (or solution, some might say) is a “resource list” (or some even call it, a “wish list”!) This allows, investigators, to see “budgets” in a light where they are more supportive rather than restrictive. This helps to identify the actual resource needed to run projects and still allows financiers to know exactly what they’re supporting.

By changing the definition, we align the meanings.

When asking for a budget, we are looking for a resource list which has all of the planned supplies and equipment to support research goals. It’s kind of like a grocery list for the week.

Depending on what you’re planning on making for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and for how many people- You start planning accordingly. Once you’ve written them all down is when you start figuring out war made it all costs. This is where you start your negotiations for what meals you can realistically afford and which ones you will not sacrifice.

You wouldn’t tell your loved one you’re no longer making their favorite dish this week.
Instead, you plan for it, and you budget for it.

If we can get on the same focused goal, we’d all know what our roles are supposed to be. However, we’ve found that all too often many of us are more focused on the processes and the how, rather than driving toward a shared goal and the why.

So whatever way we do find strategies toward a shared goal, the challenge should always be directed toward getting there, rather than quibbling with the semantics, and logistics.

Are you interested in seeing what one of our budgets look like? Feel free to click here.

What is your definition of a budget?