Have you ever agreed to do a project for a customer or client, only to have them add on “one extra little request” once you’ve started work? You’re kinda annoyed, but you let it slide and do the extra thing. Got to keep the client happy, after all! But they soon come back with just one more tiny little extra… and then another… until, next thing you know, the project is completely out of proportion with what you initially agreed to do.
If so, you’ve been a victim of the dreaded scope creep.
Scope Creep: What is it?
Scope creep, also known as project creep (or Kitchen Sink Syndrome) is a term for increased requirements or deliverables over the lifetime of a project. For example, you agreed to build a website for a client and they requested five essential features. But now they’re adding a sixth and a seventh, and oh they’d really like a mobile app as well. Suddenly, those five requirements have become ten. Of course, they’re not offering to pay you any more for all this extra work, and they still expect it to be completed in the same amount of time.
Why it’s toxic
Scope creep is a huge problem for freelancers, contractors, and small business owners. We rely on our clients to make our business work and to pay our bills. Therefore, keeping them happy can seem like the most important thing, no matter what the cost.
But scope creep is bad for everyone. As the provider, it can leave you feeling stressed, burned out, and resentful. You’ll probably end up feeling taken advantage of, since the client is getting far more work than they’re paying for. Ultimately, it harms your business and your bottom line. All those hours you’re spending doing additional work for that overly demanding client could be spent working for someone who values your time.
It’s also bad for the client and the project! Scope creep is likely to result in delays, messing up the project timeline. This can spell disaster for the viability and profitability of the project. They might also get a reputation for being a nightmare client, which will put other freelancers and contractors off working with them in the future.
So now we know what scope creep is and why it’s bad news, let’s have a look at some practical strategies for avoiding it.
Push back politely
It’s totally possible to push back or say no without burning a bridge with the client. The trick is to be polite, but firm.
Here’s a useful script: “As this is beyond the scope of what I quoted for, adding that extra feature will cost an additional £X. It’ll also push the delivery date back by Y days. Would you like me to proceed?” At this point, they can either accept your terms or keep the project within its original scope.
It’s easier to say no straight away
If you say no to the first or second request for an extra you didn’t agree to, you set the tone for the relationship. At this point, the client understands that if they want extra features or deliverables, you’ll charge accordingly. Whatever they decide, you’ve maintained an appropriate boundary and protected yourself from scope creep.
It’s much easier to set this expectation at the beginning. If you say yes to the first nine requests then push back against the tenth, the client will wonder what suddenly changed.
Value your own time
If you don’t value your own time and skills, nobody else will! I understand the impulse to keep clients happy at all costs, but a client who expects ten hours of work while only paying you for three isn’t a client you actually want to keep.
Being willing to push back when you need to means being willing to walk away if you have to. Yes, this should be a last resort. But you should walk away rather than be walked all over.
Get it in writing
If you don’t have what you agreed to in writing, it’s much easier for a client to be overly demanding or claim you implied something was included in the price. You can mitigate this by getting your agreement in writing at the start of the relationship.
Depending on your business and the nature of the project, you might have a written contract that you and the client both sign before any work begins or any money changes hands. You might also just have a short statement of your terms and conditions that the client needs to agree to before you get started. Sometimes, an email exchange agreeing the project specifics, price, and timescale is sufficient.
Whichever method you use, be very clear about what’s included. That way, it’s harder for extras to start creeping in
Deal with one named contact person
If your client is a business, establish who your contact person is and deal with them consistently. Otherwise, you risk ending up being caught in the middle of stakeholders with differing opinions all giving you conflicting instructions on how the project should go. By dealing with one person, you force the stakeholders to hash this out on their time – not yours.
If you’re working on a large project for a client, you should be checking in with updates regularly anyway. By communicating regularly, you help ensure that you’re all still on the same page and that they’re not suddenly going to dump huge changes on you out of nowhere.
Breaking the scope creep cycle
I get it. You want to be known as the freelancer who can’t do enough for their clients. That’s a great thing to strive for! But it shouldn’t come at the cost of your mental health or your business.
By following these simple strategies, you can keep great relationships with your clients without getting sucked into the scope creep cycle.