Dartford manager Alan Dowson doesn’t know if he’ll be able to repeat a top-seven finish next season.
The Darts bowed out of the National League South play-offs on penalties for the second successive season - and the third time in four years - on Sunday at home to St Albans.
It meant Dartford’s second-placed finish in the league campaign ultimately counted for little.
With big teams coming down in Torquay and Yeovil, Dowson admits the challenge to earn promotion next season is going to be more difficult.
“It will be a lot tougher next year so can we compete in the top seven again? I don’t know,” said Dowson.
“I’ll have to go away in the next couple of days and think about that. The league will be stronger, we haven’t got the budget of other teams as you know, there will be teams with bigger budgets than us.
“Sometimes you have to look at yourself as well and think can I do it again? That’s what I’ve got to think of.
“I believed we could get a team in the play-offs this year. Can we do it next year? I think it’s going to be a lot tougher next year to be honest, especially with the money we pay.”
Dartford are seen as a big club at step 2, given their solid finances, excellent facilities and depth of support.
But Dowson insisted they’ve still got plenty of room for growth.
“I don’t know where the term big club comes from,” insisted the Dartford boss.
“We get watched by 900 people, we’re probably mid-table in the budgets so I think the lads have done very well. We’ve got to try and make it a big club. I’ve got to sit down and see what the budget is, and see if I can do it with that.
“I thought the budget I had this year I could get them in the top seven, I didn’t dream of getting in the top two, to be honest. Can we do it next year?
“That’s what happens every year, we get into the play-offs and fail. I haven’t done much different to the last guy (Steve King).
“It’s miles harder (next season), Yeovil and Torquay are coming into it and Weymouth stayed up. There will be tough sides in it, ones who are full-time.
“I didn’t think it would be tough this year and it wasn’t but next year is going to be tougher. We’ll always lose players to [the likes of] Welling and Maidstone, things like that, so unless anything happens I can’t see that changing.
“I think we’ve got to look at ourselves as a club as well and see where we want to go. I’m proud of the players and what people have done but at the end of the day it’s disappointment isn’t it.”
Dartford will remain part-time next season and their sustainable budget means Dowson can’t splash the cash on one or two marquee signings. That’s not stopped the Darts boss already making plans for his moves in the summer transfer market.
He added: “The board would like to get promotion but we haven’t got the funds to go full-time or get a player on £600 or £700 a week, things like that.
“We just haven’t got the money to do that. We’ve got to try and find the best ones that we can, it’s still early doors.
“They would have got tapped up by a few clubs and I’ve talked to quite a few players to be honest over the last three or four weeks. The quicker I can get to work, the better.
“I’ll just crack on with it, that’s all you can do. Somewhere along the line we’ve got to get some players in, get some out and work with the budget.”
Darts skipper Tom Bonner and midfielder Samir Carruthers were both named in the National League South team of the season.