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Five Stages for Creating Your Audio Budget
By: Chris Huff

A recent survey on my site showed that 44% of respondents do not have an annual audio budget.  There are a wide variety of reasons that budgets are not present: there’s no money, we’ve never had one before, and we just ask for stuff and we get it.
Let's create a budget for your audio needs. Once you have a written budget in place, you can present this to your church. The goal will be to get an annual budget. If they explain it's not possible (money issues), then at least they know the financial requirements of having audio technology in the church.
The budget will be developed through five stages: preparation, draft, refinement, reality, and rollout.

Stage 1 — Preparation
The past is the best predictor of the future. Start by calculating the expenses that have occurred in previous years. Record these in a spreadsheet. For example, columns for product/service (upgraded CD player, new cables), the quantity, and cost, and the year incurred.

Next, evaluate the future. Do you have equipment that's held together with duct tape? Record replacement costs of equipment that could die any minute. Are there any upcoming needs, such as more microphones for a growing worship team?

Finally, talk with other audio techs and find out what they plan for in their budgeting process.

Once you have recorded all the potential financial needs for the future, you are ready for step two.

Stage 2 — The Draft
The purpose of a rough draft is to give you a starting point. Move all financials to one document and break into two sections: detail and top-level. The detail section is just that: two new microphones (2 @ $100).  The top-level is a dollar summation of the detail section.
Break both detail and top-down into areas: annual upkeep (like media for recording sermons), urgent (stuff falling apart), upgrades (need larger mixer in a year based on stage need growth), and replacement/repair costs (if the mixer dies, it will cost $$$ to replace).

Here’s a note on replacement/repair costs; everything isn't going to break at once. But, would you have "any" money budgeted if the most expensive piece of equipment blew up?

Stage 3 — Refinement
Evaluate the accuracy of the draft (spelling, financials, etc). List cost options, such as multiple price points for new microphones. Review equipment, cables, and current church growth trends and determine any adjustments that should occur. Adjustments might look like this: "Ministry ABC borrows two cables and two microphones more frequently and sometimes these aren't returned when needed in the sanctuary. Add line items for purchasing equipment for sole use by ministry ABC."

Stage 4 — Reality Check
You are budgeting to replace your 16 channel analog mixer for a digital mixer that costs $15,000. If your church doesn't have the financial support to do this, budget for a 24 or 32 channel analog mixer that runs around $2,000.

It's like the old saying...what you need and what you want are two different things. If you have a budget for a piece of equipment that costs 30% more than a comparable product, then you need to be able to justify it.

Handing in a budget to your church, you might get hit with a lot of reality check questions. By evaluating these questions now, you will have an immediate reply when the time comes.

Stage 5 — Roll-out
First and foremost, your budget needs to be easy to understand. Your budget is a report, so start with an introduction that briefly explains the state of the audio ministry at your church. Include a few easy-to-understand paragraphs about how the budget takes into account past needs, current needs, and future needs - especially those for repair/replacement. If you wanted, you could find out budgets of other churches your size and mention that as well, but only if it benefits you.

Next, list the budget broken down by top-level. Finally, list out the details of the financials on a separate page.

Spell-check, grammar-check, and print out copies on a brighter, heavier paper than your normal printer paper. Heavier and higher-quality paper gives the impression of a higher quality of work. Present the budget to the church through the proper venue, such as a board meeting.

Over the next 12 months, record all expenses. When it's time for the next annual budget, increase or decrease the areas as needed.

Chris Huff is the owner of Behindthemixer.com, a resource for churches and their research into sound systems.

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