If you’re like many of our readers, you take pride in your work. You built a great business based on your skills. You enjoy making money doing what you love. You want your clients to appreciate the time and effort you put into providing your service.
But somehow, the numbers aren’t adding up. You provide a quote at the start. Then you end up so far over in hours that you know the client won’t pay. Or your fixed price is no longer high enough to make you a profit (or break even).
Don’t worry – you’re not alone. And you can fix it.
What is Scope Creep?
Scope creep is a term used to describe the expansion of the deliverables on a project slowly over time. You start out expecting a certain amount of work, but the client keeps adding things that will “just take a minute” or “aren’t a big deal."
The scope of a contract or project (sometimes called “scope of work”) is the overall description of the services provided. The scope includes everything you need to do to finish the project.
How do I stop Scope Creep?
The key to stopping scope creep is to be as clear as possible in defining exactly what you need to do and deliver on a project from the very beginning.
This starts with having an in-depth conversation with the client about their expectations. Summarize this conversation in an email after the conversation to make sure you’re on the same page. Make sure you’re basing your quote or pricing on everything the client is expecting.
When you draft your contract or letter of agreement (if you don’t have one, you should), be careful to include all aspects of the project in as much detail as possible.
If you are a copywriter, those details would include things like the maximum number of words (or space to be filled) and the maximum rounds of edits. If the client sees the copy and decides they want it longer, you can point to the contract and say, “Look, we agreed to 300 words max. Now you’re asking for 800. I’m happy to do it, but it will be an additional charge.”
If you’re a virtual assistant or ads manager, your contract could specify a maximum number of hours per week or month. When the client asks for additional deliverables, you can say, “Yes, I can provide that service, but as it says in our contract, it will cost $X per hour extra.” Or, if you need to, you can decline the extra work because it goes beyond the scope of what you agreed. You can explain that you planned your workload based on your agreement and just can’t do it at this time.
You should also be clear about the things that aren’t included but that the client might expect or want. A photographer’s client might expect to receive all the raw images from a photoshoot while the photographer expects to only deliver the best 20.
When you are clear on the scope of the project in the contract, you have a basis for going back to the client and asking for more money (nicely) when the client wants more work. Or for declining the extra work if necessary.
It also won’t be a surprise to the client if you have to decline or increase the cost. They won’t be able to say, “Oh, I thought that was included” because it says right in your contract that it isn’t.
The client can then decide if changing their mind is worth it. But you need to have that agreement hammered out ahead of time so you have a place to point to.
Scope creep will sap the fun and profitability out of your business if you let it. Protect yourself and manage client expectations by having a clear, detailed discussion about the project’s scope at the very beginning. You and your client are both happier when expectations are clear.