Over the years, I’ve experienced many different types of budgets: from loose to tight, from robust to non-existent. I’m proud to say that Buffer has developed an organized, clear approach to budget-setting. We’re much further toward the tight and robust side of the spectrum than the loose and non-existent (though we’ve been on that end before, too).

Here’s a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at our process and how we went about budget-setting for 2020. If you have any questions, let me know. I’ll be happy to answer.

Step one: Choose a strategy

Choosing a marketing strategy is not unlike choosing a character in Super Smash Bros.

There are a million different marketing strategies to choose from, strategy templates to use, strategy ideas to borrow. Rather than working from the budget, outward, I believe you start with what you want to achieve together and how you want to achieve it.

For Buffer, that was:

Main objective:

We want to become a leading social media platform for DTCs.

Bets for how we’ll get there:

  • DTC Acquisition: We will think DTC-first with our awareness and acquisition efforts.
  • “One Buffer” Experience: We will simplify the customer journey to create a cohesive, intuitive experience around the Buffer brand. 
  • Lifecycle Marketing: We will be industry leaders in the way we communicate with customers throughout their user journey (email, in-app messaging, community, and content).

Step two: Decide your key activities and channels

Once you know what you want to achieve, then you decide how you want to achieve it. For us, this means choosing the channels and activities we think will get us closest to our objectives.

When I think of channels, I often refer to the list of traction channels from the book Traction. There are 19 of them:

  1. Viral Marketing
  2. Public Relations
  3. Unconventional PR
  4. Search Engine Marketing
  5. Social & Display Ads
  6. Offline Ads
  7. Search Engine Optimization
  8. Content Marketing
  9. Email Marketing
  10. Engineering as Marketing
  11. Targeting Blogs
  12. Business Development
  13. Sales
  14. Affiliate Programs
  15. Existing Platforms
  16. Trade Shows
  17. Offline Events
  18. Speaking Engagements
  19. Community Building

At Buffer, we do Public Relations, Unconventional PR, Search Engine Optimization, Content Marketing, and Community Building. (We consider podcast, video, and social to be part of content, along with our blogs.)

In 2020, to meet our goals, we want to test and learn with Search Engine Marketing, Social & Display Ads, and Engineering as Marketing.

Step three: Figure out what you have and what you need

Once you know how you want to achieve your goals, then it’s time to turn your attention to your current resources. There are a couple aspects to consider:

  1. Is there anything we’re currently doing that we want to do more of?
  2. Is there something brand new that we want to start doing?
  3. Is there anything we’ll stop doing?

This often takes the form of a Keep / Start / Stop exercise. We ran through an exercise like this before our 2020 budget planning. Here’s a screenshot of a Trello board template we’ve used in the past:

For the 2020, we identified the following:

  • We’d like to do more podcasts. This means additional budget for podcast production and consulting.
  • We want to invest more in content and SEO. Rather than hire, we want to start with tools and agencies to see if we can achieve results that way.
  • We’re starting fresh with a focus on ads in order to build a new audience. We’ll need additional funds for that.

Step four: Make tradeoffs with the team

Once we’ve decided what we need and what we’d like to have, then we talk to all the other teams at Buffer about their budget requests.

Together, we come up with the full budget amount and then talk about tradeoffs. If I want a certain amount for ads, does that mean we can’t grow our product team? If we can only afford three major new tools, then how can we work together to figure out which three it should be?

We get to these answers eventually. A huge amount of credit goes to our finance team for understanding the complexities of the budget and helping us make sense of the tradeoffs.

Step five: Here’s your budget


Here’s a look at how things changed for us this year compared to last year.

2019 budget

2020 budget

As you can see, the overall percent of marketing budget has shifted a bit more toward advertising and freelance. (We still have the same number of people on the team; it’s just that the overall marketing budget grew in 2020, while team size will remain the same.)

Any questions?

Let me know! I’d love to answer them.

Posted by:Kevan Lee

VP of marketing currently living in Boise, Idaho. I work with the lovely folks at Buffer. You can join my email list to get an inside look at marketing and branding and team-building in tech.