All freelancers hate it.
Why? It’s the equivalent of one of your clients waking up and saying “five more minutes.” Then five minutes later, they beg, “five more minutes.” And it becomes a cycle.
It’s called scope creep, and it’s one of the most insidious demons that will enter your freelancing career.
Scope creep occurs when the scope of work (SOW) isn’t properly defined. As a result, the requirements keep creeping up, hence the term scope creep. It can cause you to lose both time and money, so it has to be avoided at all costs.
Here’s an example of scope creep:
Maybe you agreed to write front page website content for a small business. You decided on a $200 flat fee for the whole project. After you’re done, the client asks for an edit, because it wasn’t exactly what they had in mind. Five revisions later, it’s still not quite right. And now they’re saying that “front page website content” includes a revision of their slogan, which you didn’t even write. Then a week later, they want you to write their “About Us” page instead of the front page.
This sort of wishy-washy mind changing is enough to make any freelancer want to tear their hair out. While scope creep can drain a project of its life, it’s also easy to avoid.
Causes of Scope Creep
Often, scope creep occurs when the client wants to get more out of the project than what they paid for. The above example illustrates this well. Other clients have a hard time making up their minds and keep changing their requests every few days.
Sometimes, scope creep is the freelancer’s fault. The freelancer is the one who should establish project boundaries. If that’s not done, then the client has free range to request almost whatever they want. It’s important to outline the SOW to prevent scope creep and create limits that the client understands and is aware of.
How to Talk About Scope and Prevent Scope Creep
1. Define the essentials.
Time, budget, results, and expectations are all vital elements of project scope. Usually, scope creep occurs when one of these elements is out of whack. By setting each of these areas in stone, you’ll have rigid boundaries to work with.
Asking for approximate word counts or page lengths helps immensely here. Be sure to specify that you’ll include X number of revisions in your quote to prevent clients from requesting unlimited revisions.
Budget is important as well. Once you’ve chosen between an hourly or project fee, move on to discussing results and expectations. Make sure that what the client wants and what you’re planning to do are the same.
Tip: Don’t settle for vague answers. “A few weeks” isn’t a good time frame. 21 days is much, much better.
2. Reiterate the SOW.
Once you’ve established a SOW, send it to your client in a contract. You’ll also want to email them about it and plainly tell them what you’ll be doing. It’s your job to inform the client to ensure their expectations are in line with your performance. Make sure they sign off on it and are fully aware of the SOW.
Again, firm figures and statements will help here. Use exact numbers and times. If you’re using an hourly rate and you only want to work from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M., then outline that in the SOW and the follow-up email.
Tip: Ask the client if they have any questions about the SOW. If they’re confused about the tiniest thing, scope creep can occur, so cover all the bases before you begin.
3. Make it a conversation.
This helpful tip comes from this Reddit thread. Instead of asking pointed questions about scope, invite the client to participate. Ask them what they’re looking for, be specific, and explore different options with them. Sometimes, clients aren’t aware that they actually need more help.
Talking openly with the client will increase the likeliness of a defined scope. By working with them and coming to an agreement that benefits both parties, you’ll increase your chances of the project going smoothly.
Tip: If emails are proving to be frustrating, try calling your client for a more flexible discussion.
Eliminating Scope Creep
Scope creep is tough to completely eliminate from your career. However, with solid project management on your part, it can be mostly avoided. The trick is to create a fluid, two-sided conversation with the client to clearly define expectations. If you follow these guidelines, scope creep will be crawling away from you in no time.