Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: August 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

When Cheaper is Not Less Expensive

Photo courtesy of  Tim Parkinson

Photo courtesy of Tim Parkinson

Now that much of my time is spent developing AVL budgets for churches, I’ve spent a lot of time considering what constitutes a good value. One of the things I’ve noticed for a long time is that many churches shop based on price only. They may be comparing two pieces of equipment that do similar things and choose the least expensive. Sometimes that’s a good idea, but more often than not, it turns out the lowest price doesn’t equal the lowest cost. 

This is especially true when you begin to factor in the cost of labor. This has been one of the more fascinating thing for me to start looking at closely. Here’s an example that might surprise you.

A Tale of Two Microphones

Shure makes two mid-range digital wireless mic systems, the ULX-D and the QLX-D. Both offer similar audio performance, but the QLX-D brings several key features to the table. They also make a ULX-D dual and quad system, which is two and four receivers in a single rack space. 

Now, if you look at the line item pricing on the ULX-D Quad, you might think it’s a lot more expensive per-channel than both the regular ULX-D and the QLX-D. However, when you price it out with all the accessories you need for four channels of wireless, and consider the installed cost, the Quad actually comes out ahead. How can this be?

The big selling factor for the Quad is the fact that it’s four receivers in one space. The installers take it out of the box, rack it up, connect the four audio lines (or better, the Cat5 for Dante), connect power and two antenna lines and they’re done. With ULX-D single or QLX-D, they have four units to unbox, build into two rack mounted units (the receivers are normally 1/2 rack space), rack, wire, and then on the QLX-D, there’s the antenna distro. 

The extra time of doing all the work, especially when you go beyond four channels really tips the scales in the favor of the Quad. So we use it almost all the time. The more expensive product is actually less expensive for the church. Now, if a church wants to do all the install themselves and they have the time and knowledge, then the QLX-D is a better deal even with the antenna distro. 

Choosing Poorly

For years I’ve regaled you with tales of tearing out poorly chosen equipment that didn’t meet the goals of the church. This happens with speakers, wireless mic’s, projectors, lights, and a myriad of other gear. Often, it happens like this: 

The church has a need for something, say, new speakers. They’ll head down to the local Guitar Center or music shop or do some shopping at one of the large online retailers. They’ll talk to a salesman and ask, “What speakers should we buy?” The salesman may suggest something good, they may not. Speakers are bought, installed and everyone is disappointed. It may not be loud enough, clear enough or focused enough. Then they buy more speakers. If two are good, four are better, right? Then the sound gets worse. No one can figure out why the sound keeps getting worse. 

Finally, perhaps out of desperation, they’ll hire a company like the one I work for and we will actually do a design (for which we get paid), and take down all the “less expensive” speakers, and put up some good ones. Quite often, I’m taking down 2x as many speakers as we put back up, and people are stunned with the results. 

At the end of this road, the church has wasted a good deal of time, money, energy and may have even lost some members. The original intent was to save the congregation some money by not hiring one of the “expensive” integrators. But all they did was waste money and time. 

Doing it Once is Always Less Expensive

This is my rule; do it once, do it right. Spending money twice for a given system will always be more expensive than spending it once. This is just math. If you call me for a new PA and I tell you it will cost $50,000, then you decide to try to do it yourself with a $20,000 PA that we end up taking down in 2 years because it didn’t work, how much do you spend for the $50,000 PA? Hint, it’s more than $50,000. 

Here’s the bottom line: Get good advice. Take good advice.


CTA Classroom: Sound Checkin’ Pt. 2

Last time, we began talking about how to optimize sound check. Normally, it’s a simple matter of getting organized, staying organized and working through a set process quickly and efficiently. Before you start, make sure you are ready. As I mentioned last time, your board should be labeled and everything should be working. Now let’s get to it.

The Drum Set

I changed the way I do drums a few years back, and I’ve been pretty happy with this new method. I start with the kick, get that dialed in, then add snare. Once the snare is sounding good with the kick, I’ll add hat. Same deal. I like to get those three locked up and feeling right before moving on. I’ll then do the toms, usually asking for a hit on hi, mid, low, hi, mid, low until I have the levels balanced and feeling right. Then it’s a quick hit on cymbals before asking the drummer to play a groove on the whole kit. When the drummer is playing the whole thing, I can make some final balance adjustments and get the drums sounding like a single instrument. 

Work Quickly, With the Big Picture in Mind

What you want to do during soundcheck is get the levels dialed in to roughly where everything should sit in the mix. You might do some quick EQ and on drums perhaps tweak the gate or comp. But do it quickly. No one wants to hear the drummer hitting quarter notes on the snare for 15 minutes. Ideally, you’ve paid attention to where your gate and comp settings should be and have already preset them so you’re only tweaking. Same goes for gains, if you can manage it (digital consoles are great in this regard). If you have 30 minutes for soundcheck and you spend 25 getting the drums dialed in, it will be tough to take care of the rest of the band in the remaining five minutes. Get things close and move on. You can always come back and tweak settings after rehearsal gets underway.

Pre-Build Monitor Mixes

If you’re mixing monitors from FOH (and even if you aren’t), it’s not a bad idea to pre-build some rough monitor mixes before you start. I knew most of my vocalists well enough to know roughly what they liked in their monitors from week to week, so I normally started a mix before they got there. Then it’s a simple matter of tweaking. It also really helps musicians through the soundcheck process if they can hear themselves right away. Start with the gains and monitors a little lower than you think you’ll need, and work up.

Get the Vocals to Sing

There are few things as unhelpful during soundcheck than having vocalists speaking, “Check 1,2…” Guitar players constantly noodling is a close second, followed by drummers who are still trying work out the drum solo from YYZ.. I like to have all the vocals sing a chorus of a song while I dial in gains. We’ve told our vocal team, don’t worry about your monitor mix just yet, simply sing. Usually we’ll have the piano or guitar play along for pitch, but that should be the only other sound besides vocals. Have them keep looping until you have their levels dialed in. Of course, starting with rough gains and monitors makes this go faster.

You’ll notice a consistent theme running through this post; get things ready beforehand. The start of soundcheck is not the time to be peeling out the board tape and labeling the desk. By the time the band is set up, you should have completely line-checked, roughed in your gains and pre-built rough monitor mixes. Starting from scratch can be a good thing once in a while, but if you know roughly where things end up each week, starting a little below that makes things go a lot faster.

We had our soundcheck down to about 20-25 minutes, and that’s a full band with 2-3 vocal monitor mixes. Soundcheck doesn’t have to be a painful process. Take some time to develop a system that works well for you, pre-build as much as possible, then communicate clearly to the band. Soon you’ll find it going more smoothly and both you and the band will have more time for rehearsal.

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

CTA Classroom: Sound Checkin’ Pt. 1

Soundcheck time can be one of the most productive times of the weekend from an audio standpoint. It can also be one of the most frustrating. I have seen soundcheck turn normally mild-mannered and reserved musicians and engineers into angry combatants. My brothers, this should not be. As I’ve been traveling around helping more churches with their weekend sound issues, I’m amazed at the lack of organization prior to a rehearsal start. Many teams just jump right in and ask for monitor changes pretty much constantly for the next 3 hours. I suggest this is not optimal.

Soundcheck can be very efficient, productive and dare I say fun; but we have to do a little work first. Because there are so many different ways to do a soundcheck (because there are so many different church situations), I’m not going to prescribe one. What I want to do instead is offer a series of suggestions that hopefully apply to all situations, and you can create your own plan. Sound good? Here we go…

Line Check First

Few things will frustrate your musicians more than having to stop soundcheck to troubleshoot a bad cable, DI or patch. Before the band even arrives, go through and line check every single line that you’re using that weekend. Even if it’s the same cable you used last week, in the same channel with the same processing. We typically don’t check the actual DIs themselves, but we do pull the mic cable out, attach a 57 to it and make sure we have signal. If it’s an active DI, make sure phantom power is on. And don’t forget the wireless mics. Make sure those are on and working.

Declare Your Intentions

A few minutes before soundcheck is slated to start, I will get on the stage announce and say something like, “Hey everyone, good afternoon. We’re going to start soundcheck in 2 minutes, so if you could get plugged in, get in place with your ears in and ready to go, it would be great!” Once we actually start, I’ll say something like this, “Hey guys, we’re going to go through each channel one at a time so I can get levels. Once you hear the level stop changing, you can set it in your ears (if using personal mixers). If we could have only the instrument I ask for, it will make it go really quickly. Let’s start off with the kick.” Making sure everyone knows what is coming up will help them stay focused. This is important because as we all know, most musicians are very ADD. 

Stay Organized

Some like to start from the bottom (drums and bass) and work their way up to the top (vocals). Others work in reverse order. Personally I prefer and normally do the former, but which way you go is up to you, and depends on your situation. Whatever you do, stay organized. Don’t start with the kick, then do piano, then guitar, then snare, then vocals, then cymbals. Develop a logical order that works through each instrument and stick with it. Use the same order every week. I suggest you talk through this order with your worship leader in advance as well, just to make sure what you’re doing works for the musicians as well.

OK, that gets you started. Next time, we’ll be back with some specifics on cruising through soundcheck so fast your musicians will actually get an extra half hour of rehearsal time


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Fall Conference Update

After a week of budget posts, I figured we could lighten it up a little today. Duke suggested we give you a quick recap of where we’ll be this fall. There are a bunch of shows and conferences that you might well run into us if you’re attending, so this is your chance to plan.

Lead Lab—Sept. 21, Tulsa, OK

I’ve been able to get to two Lead Labs so far, and the response has always been great. Some of the top TD’s from churches all over the country come out to share their knowledge and insight. Duke and I will both be at that one, so if you’re around, make sure you say hi. I’m flying home the next day, but Duke will be heading to the Lead Lab in Denver the next day (Sept. 22), so for all you Mountain Time Zone folks, you can say hi to the Duke. 

SALT—Oct. 21-23, Nashville TN

SALT has been one of my favorite conferences the last two years and this year will be even better. I have the privilege of heading up the audio track (that’s right, an audio track at a visual conference!), and we have some great things planned. Duke, Van and I will be there, as will our pals, Brad Duryea and Andrew Stone. There’s no better time to visit Nashville than the fall, and there is no other conference that encourages such community and restoration. You really want to come to this one. 

WFX—Nov. 17-21, Nashville, TN

Though it’s at a weird time this year (the week before Thanksgiving?), we’ll all be at WFX. I’ll be hanging out in the CCI booth along with Duke and most likely Van, so be sure to stop by. It’s also likely that we’ll do a podcast while we’re there, so make sure you follow Twitter to see when and where we’ll be doing that. 

Bonus Supplement—Where’s Duke?

CMS Northwest—November 13-14, Seattle, WA

I’ll be commissioning a system in Omaha that week, but Duke will be hanging out with the Christian Musicians up in Seattle. Make sure you swing by and say hi. 

LDI—Nov. 23-25, Las Vegas, NV

LEDI, as we like to call it is the annual celebration of all things lighting. As our resident trade show hound, Duke will represent there as well. I’ll be sleeping off all the extrovert time from SALT, but you can say hi to him.

So there you go. Now you know where to find us this fall. As we always say, if you see us at a conference or show, please come say hi. We love to meet readers and listeners (unless I’m on an hour of sleep and already drove 4 hours, then I might be a bit out of it…). Happy conferencing!

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

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Church Tech Budgets–End of Life

Not that end of life. Photo courtesy of  Ken Mayer

Not that end of life. Photo courtesy of Ken Mayer

As we reach end of life, I think we’re reaching the end of this series. Again, I’m talking the lifespan of equipment, not tech directors. Last time, I made the distinction between capital expenses and budgeted expenses. One of the keys to staying on top of capital expenses is to have an end of life plan.

Every piece of equipment has a fixed lifespan; stuff just doesn’t last forever. That means that even the nice, shiny new equipment I’m putting in today will need to be replaced. And I’m not sure anyone ever considers that.

See, I think most churches look at A/V/L equipment as a one-time capital expense. They buy all the stuff they need once, and forget about it for a long, long time. At least until it breaks. At which point there is a sense of panic and urgency to get it fixed or replaced. 

When I was at Coast Hills, I decided fairly early on to run some end of life projections. The rationale was simple; I knew there was a lot of outdated gear to replace right now, but there was a significant amount of equipment that would needing replacement in about3-4 years. And when you start looking at the numbers, it wasn’t chump change. Take a look:

As you can see, we’re talking some serious dollars. Now, I’m just considering major systems; that is systems that have a price tag over $10,000. I figure the smaller stuff will just get rolled into the normal yearly operating budget. We will always have mics, DIs, single light fixtures and maybe even a video monitor or two to replace. But when it comes to the big stuff, we need to think that out in advance. And here’s why:

Over 10 years, the church needed to spend almost $300,000 to keep pace with their equipment’s end of life. Is that something that needs to be planned for? I think so.

Defining End of Life

This big can be tricky. We can’t clearly define “end of life.” Not all equipment will just drop dead at 10 years old. However, we do know that all electro-mechanical devices will begin failing at some point. We have to take some educated guesses as to when our systems will need replacing.

We also have to guess roughly how much it will cost (in today’s dollars, anyway), based on equipment I know that is roughly comparable today. Obviously, there are a ton of variables in this plan, but it’s a best guess, Mr. Sulu. 

It’s important to keep in mind that these are not budgets, they’re not completely spec’d out systems and you don’t want to be held to these numbers. Rather, it’s an estimate for planning purposes. And, you may be able to stretch some of the equipment life to even out the graph if yours looks like mine did.

Making a Plan

Once you map it out and see what your situation is, you have a basis for coming up with a plan. It’s very possible that to strictly follow an EOL plan, you would have to spend more money than the church has. So that means you have some decisions to make. You can stretch the life of the gear, but you need to know—as does leadership—that you’re running on borrowed time. You can also change the way you do services. If you have traditionally relied on a lot of moving light effects during your service, and your moving lights are beginning to fail, you either need to plan to replace them soon, or go for a different look. 

These are conversations you can have with leadership once you’re armed with information and facts. The beauty of this process is that it takes all the emotion out of it. And, you don’t look like a child constantly asking for new toys. When you present the information this way, your stock goes way up and the conversations tend to be much more civilized and productive. 

It also removes the burden from you as things start to fail. When you clearly present the problem and give leadership the responsibility of figuring out how and what to pay for, you won’t be held accountable if things start breaking. You’ve done your job—pointing out the reality of the situation, and they have to decide how to allocate funds. If you go passive-aggressive and just wait for it to break, you’ll look incompetent. Always be proactive about this. 

Well, I’m not sure this was the exhaustive, definitive guide for tech budgeting, but hopefully it’s been enough to give you some ideas on how to get started. If you have further questions, or if there are others areas I need to develop, let me know in the comments. And now, it’s time for something completely different…

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Church Tech Budgets–Capital Expenses

Not that Capital. Photo courtesy of  Ed Schipul

Not that Capital. Photo courtesy of Ed Schipul

Over the last week we’ve been talking budgeting. As I wrapped up last time, I realized I hadn’t made the distinction between equipment upgrades and capital expenditures. How we plan for those should be different because the way they get accounted for is different. Right off the bat, I want to tell you that I am not an accountant and I’m not giving accounting advice. Talk to your finance people about this to see how they want to do things. You score a lot of points when you engage them early and find out the best way to accomplish what you need to do. 

Capital vs. Budget

Typically, capital expenses are big ones. A capital expense cannot be written off in one year because it’s useful life is greater than one year. A CAPEX is something like a mixing console, dimmers, a PA or a projector or video wall. These items will show up on the balance sheet as assets and will be depreciated over the course of multiple years. 

Now, you might be wondering about things like microphones. Surely a mic has a useful life of more than a year, so why not make it a CAPEX? Well, it comes down to drawing a line somewhere. For smaller purchases, most accounting folks don’t want to go through the paperwork hassle for a $100 mic. Again, talk to your accounting department and find out how they want to handle larger purchases.

For example, we purchased some high-quality radios at Coast, and while the total bill was almost $800, each piece was under $250. So those were just expensed. However, we found a great deal on 13 Elation Impression 90s. I think we paid something like $700 each for them, but because bought 13 of them, it was a significant expense. Because they work together as a system, and the total was $9,100 or so, it was worth it capitalize. So now, there is a line item on the balance sheet that says, “13 Elation LED Lights” with a value next to it. That value goes down each year according to a schedule. 

Planning for Capital Expenses

Most churches—smart ones anyway—have a capital expense budget every year. That budget pays for things like parking lot repaving, air conditioner replacements, new carpeting, chairs and tables and things like that. The trick is to get leadership to think about large AVL purchases as capital expenses just as important as the parking lot. 

And think about it; if you are working in a production-heavy environment where the expectation is that the sound is high quality, the lighting looks good and people can see the lyrics and video on the screen, the equipment that it takes to make that happen is important. If it’s important, it deserves to be a capital expense. 

The upside of having things like a new mixing console added to the capital expense budget is that it doesn’t come out of your operating budget, and it’s approved differently. The downside is that it may take a few years to come up high enough on the priority list. Which is why planning is so important. 

Next time, I want to talk about end of life—not yours, but your equipment. We all know that equipment has a lifespan, and at some point will not be truly functional anymore. Planning for end of life for the gear is critical to maintaing high quality production systems, and I’m pretty sure no one else is going to do it for you. Stay tuned


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Church Budgets–Building Trust

Photo Courtesy of  Simon Cunningham

Photo Courtesy of Simon Cunningham

I’ve said this over and over in this series, you have to build trust with leadership when it comes to budgets. I remember coming into a new church some years back and after about 3 months went to lunch with the senior pastor. After I spent 45 minutes telling him what I found—basically the place was a mess and almost everything needed to be replaced—he said, “Mike, I’ve dealt with a lot of tech guys, and they all say the same thing; ‘The last guy did it all wrong and we need to change it.’ Why should I believe you?” I started in on what I thought would be another 45 minutes of explaining my position with as many facts as possible. After about 15 minutes he stopped me and said, “Ok, ok, I get it. I believe you. What is it going to cost, and how long will it take?” 

That was the beginning of building trust. I didn’t go in saying, “I don’t like EAW speakers or NSI dimmers.” I explained, with as many facts as possible that our PA was not designed nor installed correctly and as a result, most of the room was not being covered properly. I shared with him my findings, complete with pictures, that the dimmers were dangerously overloaded and were going to fail—soon. 

This is God’s Money

Whenever we talk about church budgets, it’s important to remember where the money comes from. In truth, all the money is God’s, but He lets us use some. The money that comes in to the church bank account is given by the people of the church. They worked hard for that money and for many, it’s a sacrifice to give it. They are often doing without personally to give to the church. They give it with the expectation that it will be used to spread the Gospel more effectively and make an impact on their community and world. 

This is why it’s so important that we spend it wisely. Every dollar should be considered carefully. This is not to say that you shouldn’t spend it, or even spend it on things that make your job easier. When I was new as a TD, I struggled with buying things that made my life easier. Eventually, I figured out that if I was more productive, more got done and I had more time to spend with volunteers. Or I just got to go home on time, which kept me from burning out. It’s a balance. 

Pay Attention

I told you that I had a spreadsheet that tracked every dollar spent from the tech account. About half-way through the year, I made an appointment with the accounting department to go through, line by line, and audit our expenses. Often, I found they had accidentally charged expenses to my account that should have been someone else’s. Occasionally, they found one or two I didn’t have in my sheet. Our finance guy told me I was the only department head to ever do that. He was surprised and thrilled I would take the time to do it. 

During weekly meetings with my boss, he might ask me where were with the budget. Initially, he would say, when you get a chance, shoot me an email. But I could pull it up on my iPad and tell him to the penny where we were. I could tell him, “Well, we have 61% of the year left, and I’ve used 32% of my budget, so overall we’re good. Equipment is a little high, but that’s because we front-loaded some expenses for the summer when we were slower. That will drop off and of course, in a few moths, we’ll blow a bunch of rental.” That buys a lot of trust, especially when most of the department heads have no idea where they are. 

Be Smart

Most finance guys don’t really care if you go over in one category as long as the overall budget comes in on target. So if you plan really well and do a good job of managing expenses, you might have some money left over at the end of the year. I used to use this surplus to accelerate my new equipment purchases. 

Typically, with a few months remaining in the year, I’d look at my budget and see where I stood. If I had some funds left over in a category that wasn’t likely to be used up, I would check with finance and say, “Hey, can I move $6,000 over to equipment and get a few new things we were needing anyway?” Usually the answer was, “Sure, I don’t care, as long as you come in on budget for the year.” 

I maintained a running list of things that needed to be replaced or purchased, and when there was extra money, I got that done. Sometimes, I was able to take advantage of a big sale or special deal to save even more. Always talk about the savings. You don’t have to beat up your suppliers (they get sick of that real quick), but when there is a deal to be had, take advantage of it. And tell your boss. 

Continuous Improvement 

Each year, your actual expenses should get closer and closer to the budget. The first year you might be high or low, perhaps by a lot, because you didn’t know. Year two should be closer and by year three, you should be within a few hundred dollars of your budget numbers. 

It’s important to not come in crazy-low with your actual spending. If you do, leadership will wonder if you just padded your budget like crazy because you don’t know what you’re doing or you just don’t care enough to figure it out. Getting more will be hard in the future if you do that. 

I was routinely told that I was one of two or three department heads that came in right on budget each year. Do that for a few years, and you will get very few questions on your budget submission. Of course, you should have written rationalizations for why you are requesting what you are. Submitting that with the budget goes a long way toward convincing leadership you know what you’re dong. 

OK, I just realized we didn’t talk about capital expenditures and end-of-life funds. Looks like we’ve got some fodder for next week!

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Developing Your Church Tech Budget

Photo courtesy of  Tax Credits

Photo courtesy of Tax Credits

Last time, we started to look at the various categories that make up a church tech budget. Today, we’ll consider how to come up with the amounts that should go in each category. Before we start, I want to acknowledge that not every church will have a real church tech budget. Many small churches struggle to get by each month, and the tech teams there just do the best they can. I get that. My first church was that way. 

However, I would suggest that if production technology is at all important to the mission of the church, there should be some thought given to how it gets paid for. As individuals, we typically don’t reach financial goals without doing some planning. The same is true for organizations. Not having money to invest is not an excuse for not planning for retirement years. You still need a plan to get there. Start somewhere; anything is better than nothing. 

Establishing the Budget

There are many ways to go about this. Some would suggest a flat percentage of the total budget, and I’ve heard percentages ranging from 1-5%. For a church that relies very heavily on production, that number might be even higher. For churches with very large budgets, the number might be lower. But that is a rough starting point. If you are using this method, you’ll typically be allotted an amount, and it’s up to you to spend wisely. 

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this as it can lead to government-style spending. “Well, I was given $50K and if I don’t spend it this year, my percentage will get cut next year, so I have to spend.” It might be a little less work, but I prefer need-based budgeting.

I’ve found that the needs for tech don’t always track flat every year. In other words, some years are rebuilding years, others are maintaining years. I would rather spend what I actually need each year, not whatever random amount was allocated. And for those who think it’s really hard to go from maintenance (a low spending year) to rebuilding (a high spending year), I can tell you it’s a lot easier when you do a great job tracking, maintaining and making a case for the need for new equipment. Take this advice—it’s more effective to ask for more when you’ve built trust. And you build trust by taking this very seriously. 

Track Actual Expenses

When you come into a new church, hopefully they have some historical data you can look at to establish a baseline budget. In every situation I’ve been in, I started with previous budgets and always requested reports of actual expenses to start to see what it actually costs to run the department. Typically, I’ve been able to go in and make some tweaks right away that make things more efficient and thus more cost-effective. 

Once you know what it costs to run the department, you can begin to assess what you need to upgrade and update. Unless you’re in a very special situation, you’re not going to get carte blanche to spend whatever you want to upgrade everything at once. You’ll need to develop a plan. I always attack major pain points first, trying to land some big wins right out of the gate. That builds credibility and makes it easier to keep getting more. 

Best Guess, Mr. Sulu

Sometimes you don’t really know what your expenses will be. At that point, you have to take your best guess. For the equipment category, I added up the gear that I wanted to buy in the coming year, found some rough pricing on it, and used that as my budget line number. Supplies are similar; how many rolls of gaff tape might you need? How many batteries do you use a weekend, do some math and there’s your number. Of course, you should be using rechargeable batteries and that saves you a ton of money, but you need to buy chargers and batteries to start. How much will that cost? 

For some categories, food for example, pick a number that seems reasonable for a month of taking your team out for lunch, coffee and bringing in snacks as needed. Multiply by 12 and you have it. Don’t go crazy with it, though, or it will look like you’re just trying to get your lunches paid for. I usually made do on $50-60 a month with my smallish team. 

Sometimes it can be hard to guess how much gear you’ll rent for Christmas, especially when you have to submit your budget in March and you have no idea what the Christmas production needs will be. This is where historical data and just a gut check will come in handy. Still, it can be just a guess.

Getting It Wrong

Sometimes I hear from guys who are super-stressed out about getting their budget perfect. They are deathly afraid of under budgeting for something then going way over. Let me try to assuage those fears—it happens. Look, when you’re trying to come up with 12 months worth of repair spending, you have no real way of knowing what’s going to break. You’re not likely to get fired if something goes horribly wrong and you’re short on budget—that is if you can demonstrate that you did your best to get it right and you either A) just didn’t know the true costs of doing this or B) there were things out of your control. 

For example, let’s say you buy a new bulb for your projector and it turns out to be defective. Not only is it defective, but it explodes inside the unit like a fragmentation grenade and destroys the LCD panel and half the cards. That might blow your entire budget, but it wasn’t your fault, and you had no way of knowing that would happen. It happens (it happened to a friend of mine). Remember the post I wrote a while back, Trust God and Do your Best.

There are no hard and fast rules for this as every church and situation is unique. Hopefully this gives you some guidance that will help you come up with your plan. As we continue on with this series, I’ll be stressing how important it is to pay attention to this and build trust. That cannot be overstated. More to come!


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