The Hidden Costs of Creative Work (and How to Budget for Them)

Erik Devaney
Erik Devaney



hidden-piggy-bankEver take an educated guess at something, only to find out that you were way, way off?

Yeah, that was me trying to come up with line items for a “Branding & Creative” budget template. As it turns out, modern creative teams that want to stay on the cutting edge of design, video, and other multimedia need more than a copy of Photoshop … a lot more.

Let’s take a step back for a second. This whole revelation about the hidden costs of creative work came about as I was putting together a collection of Excel budget templates. The templates cover several disciplines within marketing, including product marketing, paid advertising, content, PR, and -- of course -- branding and creative.

My strategy for creating these budget templates was simple. First, I’d wrack my brain and come up with some line items for each template based on my own knowledge and experiences. Then, I’d do research to fill in the gaps and edit as needed. Finally, I’d reach out to HubSpotters who were masters in each discipline so they could help me finalize the line items.

And while all of the experts I met with gave great feedback (thanks!), it was the feedback from HubSpot’s head of creative & design, Keith Frankel, that helped me come up with the list of expenses below. Let me know what you think, and read on as I explain where some of these line items came from.

(Want to download the full “Branding & Creative” Excel budget template? Click here!)


Design Software Explained

In my first draft of the “Branding & Creative” budget template, I had three items under the “software" heading: design software, photo editing software, and video software.

In my mind, design software (e.g. Adobe Illustrator) was primarily for creating custom graphics, while photo editing software (e.g. Adobe Photoshop), was primarily for -- you guessed it -- editing and manipulating photos. But as Keith soon informed me, "This is a common misconception. In reality, there is actually a lot of overlap for all of the Adobe products.”

One of the designers on Keith’s team, for example, does everything in Photoshop, from marketing collateral to web design. “Calling PhotoShop just 'photo editing software' is a little off," he explains. "While there are certainly some projects that you should use a certain program for, a lot of it comes down to personal preference. In fact, it's not uncommon for a designer to start mocking something up in one program (simply because they're more comfortable or efficient using that program), but actually create the final version in another."

The bottom line: Most creative teams will want a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, which includes Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as InDesign (for page design and layouts). You can see a full list of the programs included here

Video & Animation: Two Different Animals

So it turns out that if you use video editing software, like Final Cut or Adobe Premiere, you’re pretty limited in terms of animation. This was something I completely overlooked in my first draft of the budget template.

If you’re looking to do complex motion graphics in your next video (like the cool stuff you see in last year’s INBOUND 2013 opening video), you’re going to need the proper software, like Adobe After Effects or CINEMA 4D. "That's how we do all of our animation,” Keith told me. "Final Cut or Premiere are our programs of choice for non-linear editing, but those aren't robust enough for the kind of animation we want to include. The real polish comes when we jump over to a real motion graphics program.”

When budgeting for motion graphics software, keep in mind that you may need to dole out some extra dough for plugins. As Keith noted, "We spend a good amount of money buffing up our capabilities by purchasing such plugins. While we could certainly create the desired effect from scratch, the truth is that in order to keep up with an inbound pace, it can be really beneficial to leverage the work of the greater creative community."

More Software Considerations

Creative teams do more than simply create. In addition to design, video, and motion graphics software, designers and video specialists may also need tools for collaborating (e.g. Basecamp), wireframing (e.g. Balsamiq), and prototyping (e.g. InVision).

While Photoshop may get all the glory, these “behind-the-scenes” tools are crucial for brainstorming, scoping, and successfully executing projects.

Give a Hoot About Hardware

In my original draft of the “Branding & Creative” budget template, I almost completely neglected a very, very important component of a creative team’s arsenal: hardware.

“Design and video software is often too demanding for just the average computer,” Keith explained. “At its most basic, the industry standard that almost every creative professional uses is a high-end Mac."

Having a high-end display (or monitor) to go with that computer is also important. On our Brand & Buzz team, for example, everyone has a Thunderbolt display, which offers higher screen resolutions than most standard displays.

But perhaps the most notable omission from my first draft of the template? Storage drives.

"The most overlooked aspect of creative work is organization and file management. In particular, drives for storage and information archiving are by far our biggest hardware cost,” Keith noted. "In my experience, the best file management system includes a lightweight and easy-to-maneuver 'working drive' (like a LaCie Rugged) and a stout, heavy-duty backup drive (like a multi-terabyte Pegasus) for longer-term storage."

In the past two years, HubSpot's Brand & Buzz team has recorded more than 50 terabytes of video. (To put that in perspective, 1 terabyte can hold 1,000 hours of digital video.)

Odds and Ends

There were also several smaller (but still important) expenses that are worth mentioning, most of which ended up in the “Miscellaneous” section of the budget template.

For starters, there are premium typefaces or fonts -- you don’t have to rely solely on the typefaces that came with your computer when doing design work. There are tons of beautiful, high-end typefaces out there for you … provided you’re willing to pay for them.

Also worth mentioning are “old school” hand tools and art supplies. I’m talking stencils, geometric compasses, pens, pencils, markers, graphing paper, sketchpads … yes, graphic designers still use this stuff!

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Topics: Creativity

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