So, you need a new laptop because your old one still has the Windows 8 sticker on it and can’t hold a charge? Or do you want a team subscription to the software you’re using because the free trial version just isn’t cutting it? Are you looking for a stock images subscription? A conference ticket?
Chances are, you’re going to have to make a business case for something you want for your L&D team at some point in your career. Whether it’s hardware, software, or professional development opportunities, you’ll need to be able to prove that it’s a good investment for your organization or client, or you’ll have to deal with getting a less-than-ideal answer. But – how do you convince your boss that you have a good business case?
Creating a Business Case
The first step in creating a business case for something is to think about its purpose. What is the reason you are asking for this thing? What is the intended goal of what you’re going to do with it? Once you’ve thought about the purpose, you can use it to build the case.
Benefit – What good will this thing do? Will it increase your efficiency or productivity? Will it help you save money? Will it help you to be more organized? Will it allow you to be more creative? These are the selling points that will make it clear, from a business perspective, what this thing will achieve. It’s important not to rely too much on your individual benefits but really focus on how it will benefit everyone.
Cost – How much will the thing cost? It’s important to provide as much detail around this as possible and account for everything. If you’re looking at a new software, will it cost money to help you implement it? If it’s hardware, will it need accessories? If it’s a subscription, are their discounts for paying annually versus monthly? Make sure you have all the information and can create a budget range that accounts for a little higher and lower than your calculations.
Risk – What are the risks of NOT purchasing this thing? Why would it be a mistake for your boss to ignore this plea? As important as it is to share the benefits, sometimes people forget to share the risks as well. Perhaps the risk of not switching to a new software is that the old software is being discontinued and you’ll lose data if you don’t switch soon. Maybe the risk of not providing the resources needed to increase project speed is that you’ll need to hire an additional contractor to get things done on time and within budget.
Alternative Options – As with everything, you should provide a few options. Do your research. Not only will it ensure that you get the best thing, but it will make the leaders at the organization happy that you took the time to find out enough information to make the business case. And provide different options – ideally spread across the cost spectrum – including lower, medium, and higher cost items because that will increase the likelihood that you get approved for one of them. Having alternative options increases your chance of success, but it also increases the chances that you won’t be stuck with what you’ve got, which may not be working at all.
You want to be as proactive as possible when putting forward your request. Don’t wait until you can no longer do your job successfully to ask for what you want. See if there’s a way to get included in future budget plans – leaving you plenty of time to do research and find something that has a greater chance of being approved. At the end of the day, you should make sure that this is something you really want that will make an impact on how you work before you request it. You also want to decide how far you’ll push the issue if you’re told “no.” Do you have a back-up plan? Is there something else you could use or request? Why aren’t you using that thing instead? All of these questions will determine how you present the business case.
Presenting Your Business Case
Before you present your business case, you may want to find out how others before you have gone about making the case for what they want. If there are standard processes for making budget requests, research them and make sure your business case will meet all the requirements. Ask people you know from across the organization, friends you have in the L&D industry, or even other people you know outside of L&D for advice on how they made a successful business case for what they needed. You can also speak to your boss to find out if there are any processes in place, what they would recommend, and the best way to approach the conversation.
Type up your business case. Set up a meeting to chat with your boss and verbally present the business case. It’s likely that they will still ask you to send them some type of write-up, so while you’re building the business case, take note of the benefits, cost options, and risks.
Consider what your boss, as a human being, cares about. Do they care about the status and reputation of the department or team? Are they always trying to find ways to cut costs? Are they more logical in their approach to decision making, or do they lead more with their heart? When you present other plans or projects to them – do they prefer something highly detailed or something concise?
Make sure the timing is right. Setting up a meeting the day after the department has announced a hiring freeze due to budgeting issues may be a bad idea, especially if you don’t have insight into your team’s budget. You also don’t want to make the pitch in an email if the cost is significant (depending on the culture, you might be able to email for small team requests). Asking for what you want on a call will also allow you to answer any questions and quell any fears that might come up.
How you speak to people matters. You don’t want to do anything that is going to make it sound like you need this thing because someone else or someone else’s work is rubbish. You may want to focus more on the benefits of the new thing as opposed to the drawbacks of the old thing if your boss was responsible for implementing the old thing. Read the room. Get a sense for how receptive your boss would be.
Dealing with a “Maybe”
Ask if there’s anything else they want to know that would help them make the decision. Is there more information you could gather? Would they want to see a demo? Do they want to speak with someone else about the solution? Find out if the hesitancy is from a lack of information so that you can work on gathering that info.
The hesitation may not be from a lack of information but rather needing more time to come to a decision. Maybe they need to speak to some other internal teams. Maybe they need permission. Maybe they need to run some budget numbers. Let them know when you would ideally like the new solution in place and why and ask if you can contact them at a specific time before then. If they seem hesitant, ask for a time period when you can follow up.
When it’s time to follow up, whether you do it in writing, on Zoom, or in person, make sure that you remind them what you’re following up about and politely remind them that they gave you this time frame. Highlight the key points of your business case one more time, including the benefits, risks, and cost. Finish by reminding them the need and why it would benefit you to have the answer ASAP. Let them know that you can discuss any further questions they might have. Keep it simple and brief and to the point.
Dealing with a “No”
If you get a no because of money, is there any other option that would be more affordable – even if it isn’t ideal? If you can bring back something that costs less, you might be able to make the case for it.
What if you get a no because the person is not convinced that you really need the thing you’re asking for? Maybe they think the current thing is sufficient. You will need to start to think about what data you could collect to show the gaps with the current thing. Are there time records that you can get? Can you start tracking how long it takes your team to do certain things? The cost of how you’re doing certain things? If you can keep track of the extra time, money, or performance issues caused by not doing the thing, you can come back later and show how the consequences negatively impacted the team – and this will hopefully help leaders to see they made the wrong choice.
Negotiating for a “Maybe Later”
If you get a no, and you can’t get your boss to budge, maybe you can negotiate for a
“maybe later.” If you were told no due to budget, ask if there’s a way your request can be considered when the budget starts over. If you got a no because the need was questioned, ask if you can gather some data to try to change the person’s mind – as mentioned previously, you can provide data on the negative consequences of not doing the thing – the time, money, and performance impacts. This can help to turn a “maybe later,” into a “we should prioritize this.”
Don’t be disheartened with any push back. Nothing is guaranteed in business. It’s part of a manager’s job to make the most of their budget, avoid waste, and mitigate risk. If your manager approved everything you asked for without asking questions or doing a cost analysis, you probably wouldn’t have read this far. So with that in mind, expect to have to sell your ideas and negotiate for every request you make.