“I’d like to add just one small detail…”
Often, that’s how it starts. The “small ask.”
Sometimes it is indeed is a small detail like a quick edit, and other times it’s a labor-intensive addition. Any way you look at it, it’s scope creep through and through.
Scope creep occurs when a client starts asking for things outside your predetermined agreement. It can happen very subtly which is why freelancers need to be savvy and be able to spot it when it starts to happen.
The creep may not seem like such a big deal, and sometimes it’s not (more on that later). However, if you take a good look at scope creep across multiple clients and in varying degrees, it can be awfully detrimental to your business as a freelancer.
It can be all too easy to lose track of those “small asks.” By the end of scope creep-laden project, you may find that you should have negotiated for more at the start of the project.
No Ill Will
Sure, scope creep can be a result of a selfish client trying to get more bang for their buck, but more often than not, it’s not an intentional act.
Sometimes the creep is a just result of an uninformed client. Perhaps they didn’t fully understand exactly what they wanted when the project began and as time progresses, had some new ideas.
Regardless of why it happens, scope creep is something a freelancer needs to keep in mind to protect not only their bottom line but their time as well.
Let’s dive into some great strategies you can employ to stop scope creep in its tracks.
Clear Contract Language
Before starting any new project, it’s always advised to draft up a contract. The type and level of detail of a contract are individualized to your and your client, but to stop scope creep from happening, be sure to have a written agreement, including precise terms relating to scope.
Use clear language and have your contract lay out exactly what services you’ve agreed to. Detail out work type, length, frequency, as well as any other pertinent services you’re providing.
Especially when dealing with a new client, making expectations for both sides as transparent as possible is incredibly important. When terms are crystal clear from the start, it pays off in spades down the line when clients start asking for more.
Since it’s in writing, you can quickly show a client what is part of the agreed price and what’s not.
Cover the extras
Aside from outlining the basics of the services you’ll provide such as how frequently and for what amount, consider adding an addendum for “extras.”
By providing a client with a list of additional services (such as image sourcing, social media management, etc.,) you clearly outline what each “small ask” will run a client, so there are no awkward surprises. It also ensures you have a pain-free way of dealing with those pesky scope creep asks because it’s already laid out for them.
Also a bonus, a service list offers you a chance to upsell. Your client may not know you provide other services or that they may be something they’d want. It’s a win-win.
The Devil Is In The Details
When drafting up a contract or proposal, try to break down as many aspects of the project as you can, in detail.
For example, if you’re offering images be sure to list how many are providing. If you include edits in your agreement, be sure to define how many rounds you’re willing to do for the contracted amount.
By setting clear expectations, you can both build trust with your client (so, so important guys!) and protect yourself at the same time.
Another good bit of advice for working with new clients is to start with shorter term contract. Many freelancers will opt for a 60-90 day contract to help “get a feel” for the clients’ work style and their overall understanding of the project.
As we mentioned, sometimes scope creep happens because a client isn’t quite sure of what they want or need to begin with. It could be as simple as they themselves don’t know the scope of the project, which in turn leads to later “small asks,” aka scope creep.
A short-term contract will help you work closely with a client to ensure both that the client gets what they ultimately want and you get paid fairly for your work.
As they say, “the best defense is a good offense.” However, they also say “hindsight is 20/20”.
So what do you do if you don’t have a contract (stop reading this and draft one up right now) or you didn’t have scope-specific language built in? Even more annoying, what if your terms are clearly laid out but the client is still asking for more?
No worries, you have some options.
It’s worth taking a look at how much effort will go into the additional work. If it’s a quick fix that won’t sap your time, it may not be not the end of the world to keep your client happy.
However, you have to be very, very careful. It’s a slippery slope!
If you’re okay with putting in the extra work this one time, consider dropping the client a line to add it to your contract going forward. (Side note: this is where your additional service list can come in handy!)
“Usually XYZ is an add-on service I provide, but I can squeeze it in this time. Would you like me to add this on to our contract for the future?”
If you’re not comfortable with the addition, (and that’s totally okay!) you can simply ask to renegotiate the contract or agreement. It may seem daunting, but trust me, it’s do-able.
Try phrasing it as a choice the client can make.
“The XYZ you’d like to add is a bit outside our original agreement, we can add it to to the contract for X-amount, or we can keep the arrangement as is for this project.”
By presenting a choice, you let the client know that your time and work is valuable in a low-pressure way, while still valuing them as a customer.
Draw the Line
Well, my friend, now is the time to get brave. For many, it can be inarguably unsettling to have to “stand up” to a client. Many fear pushing back will cost them a job.
However, you’re a freelancer running a business, and you need to treat it as such. It’s okay to say no. Your time is valuable, that needs to be clear.
If a client isn’t willing to renegotiate the contract or leave the project as it was outlined, then that’s not really the type of client you want on your schedule.
Being taken advantage by one client means your time is being taken away from other clients (or pitching for new ones). By ignoring the problem, you’re only hurting yourself.
Don’t be fooled, scope creep doesn’t discriminate. It happens to newbies and veterans alike. A brand new client will do it just the same as your longstanding ones. It’s not personal, but it happens and you have to recognize it when it does.
The bottom line is that you keep your eyes open and be your own advocate. So much of success as a freelancer, if not all, depends on you.
If you don’t protect your time and your business, who else will?