What to do when a project runs over budget. Asking for more money or absorbing costs?

Nobody likes asking for money, certainly not me. There can be a stigma attached to asking for money, and the effect it has on people is an odd one, but when it comes to business the gloves come off. Your time has a value attached to it, reflective of your skills and experience, or the level of service you provide.

But what happens when you realise that you have massively underestimated a job, or you ran way overtime on something? Do you ask for more money? Accept you messed it up? Absorb the costs for the bigger picture? Well, that’s down to you and how you want to run your professional life. But to help you make the right decision for your business, I’ve put together some points for consideration, based on my 12 years’ of experience working in the creative industry.


Over the past 12 years, I’ve worked as a professional designer and Creative Director, I have been in and seen a lot of situations where time vs money have been a hot topic. The number one rule, in my opinion, is always set the expectations with the client from the outset. This is where a lot of the problems stem from when communication is not clear about exactly what the client is getting for their money. At the end of the day, it’s sometimes (not always) is business first, friends second, and so for an agreed cost, it needs to be explicitly clear what they will be receiving at the end of the project.

This works both ways though, with the client and with your own team, it needs to be clear what needs to be done and when so that you can track and plan projects efficiently.

You have heard the phrase, ‘Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance’ before? I’m not teaching you how to manage projects, but ensuring the correct processes and systems are in place to manage projects and track their progress is essential. If scenarios with clients become strained, then having reporting systems and data to give you a paper trail to fall back on can help put out that fire.

Having timelines such as Gannt charts shared with the client and internally can be key to making sure everyone knows where the project is in its completion. Which leads me onto transparency.


Avoid trying to pull the wool over your client’s eyes. Be transparent from the get-go about your costs and your time, depending on the project and relationship with the client, you need to be clear from the beginning how much you are charging, but also what happens if the project runs over.

There are lots of different factors why a project may run over budget, but you need to identify if it’s the client’s fault or your own. For example:

Has the client run over the agreed number of amends and is now asking you to go ‘above and beyond’ the scope of work initially agreed?

This can happen from time to time, and so being clear from the outset that additional rounds of amends, over and above what was originally quoted for, will bring with them an additional cost.

Has the client decided halfway through to change the direction of the project?

Depending on the scale of this change, the scope has now been completely reset and so a discussion needs to be had about how much time is required to correct this change.

Has your design team taken too long to complete tasks and therefore your internal costs have gone over?

The question is why, is it because they have explored creative routes that have taken too long, or have they just not stuck to the timeline strictly enough. In this situation, you need to consider if this is a problem or a positive. Can you bank the work for a future client, can you present the work as you going above and beyond to impress the client, or has it just been a waste of time and effort and so this time needs be absorbed as an error/training/new skills.

I like the word absorb

Absorbing cost is an interesting concept, it can suck, but it can be the best thing to do. You have to ask yourself if there is more work in the pipeline or potential to work together more in the future, in which case absorbing costs and not having the money chat with the client could be a much better option. Consider it an investment in the relationship, that will no doubt be repaid in more work down the line.

If it does come to asking for more money, really consider whether you need to do that, and what caused the project to run over budget?. If you have under-scoped, then I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is, the client is not required to pay / responsible for your mistake. If the scope has changed, then you are more than entitled to discuss the option of more money. Nobody works for free without wanting something.