How Can I Avoid Scope Creep?

When a client calls to ask you to do one more quick edit to a design after they have already approved it, do you quickly answer ‘okay’? What about if a client calls and asks you to add three new features to a design that you weren’t prepared for? Completing one extra task after another can quickly lead to you spending time on a project without getting compensated for it.

Scope creep is a very real phenomenon even for the most experienced freelancer. Here’s how to stop it.

What Is Scope Creep?

You might call it something different, but scope creep is the general term for when clients start to ask for tasks, revisions, or extras that you did not prepare for or schedule into your calendar. Scope creep happens to the best of us, and it never ends well. Scope creep can lead to you feeling underappreciated and overworked, all without being paid for your extra efforts.

Start with a Strong SOW

Scope creep can’t happen as often if you begin a project with a strong scope of work document, which should be completed during the estimation phase of the project. This document outlines the project details, including how much time each task will likely take. Your SOW works together with your contract so that you can set the boundaries you will need throughout the project timeline.

Your scope of work document should also include details like:

  • How many revisions you will complete for the client
  • How many changes the client can make throughout the project process
  • How many hours you allocate for responding to client emails and phone calls per week

These boundaries are laid out clearly so you and the client know what to expect during the process. You should also include your hourly rate for items completed outside of the SOW so that you can be compensated for your work not included in the agreed-upon scope.

Practice Saying No

Beyond a strong scoping process, perhaps the biggest thing you can do to stop scope creep from happening often in your business is to practice saying ‘no’. It can be especially difficult for freelancers to tell a client ‘no’; after all, freelancers rely on income from happy clients. However, people-pleasing tendencies can only contribute to scope creep.

Practice saying ‘no’ to requests that are not within the scope of work. You can still complete the tasks requested by the client, but you should be paid for it. Try using phrases like:

  • I’d love to work on this for you, but since the task isn’t in our scope of work, I’ll bill the time hourly. Will that work?
  • I’ve completed the three revisions we agreed to in the scope of work. I can make these extra revisions for you next week when I can schedule it in, but it will be charged at our out of scope fee. Please confirm.

Point Out Final Milestones

You can also avoid scope creep by making it a point to tell clients when they are reaching a certain limit in the scope document or as you submit a final milestone. For example:

  • Just wanted to give you a heads up that this is the third and final revision for this page as per our SOW. Take extra time giving your feedback so that we can get the page just right.
  • I know we have a conference call coming up this week and I’ve already taken three additional calls this week regarding your project. Any call after our conference call on Thursday will be out of scope and billed at an hourly rate.

Remember, scope creep happens to everyone, but you can make solid efforts to make it happen less frequently to you. Establish good boundaries and guidelines in your scoping process, learn to say no, and keep clients on task by pointing out final milestones. You deserve to be paid for your time!

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