What is scope creep? The term might be new for you, but you’ve probably experienced it if you’re a service-based entrepreneur. Scope creep happens when you exceed the amount of work for agreed-upon deliverables to your client without an increase in pay to match. In other words, you overdeliver in a big way but receive no commensurate compensation in return.
How can you prevent scope creep or stop it in its tracks before it can get out of hand? In this episode, I talk about how you can avoid scope creep by crafting a scope of work that works for you. I also answer some of the most common questions I receive about scope creep.
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In this episode:
[01:59] – Danielle gives an example of how a copywriter can fall into the scope creep trap.
[03:41] – What’s the easiest solution to avoid scope creep?
[04:17] – Danielle offers an example of how a social media manager can specify deliverables in a contract.
[05:40] – In addition, you need to address what happens if you need to change your scope of work. Here’s a clause recommendation.
[06:29] – Keep this in mind when setting scope-of-work expectations in your client agreement.
[07:00] – What do your clients need to know about your deadlines?
[07:35] – Are you better off charging hourly or a flat rate? Danielle discusses setting fees for your scope of work.
[09:42] – Should you state upfront what isn’t included in your scope of work?
[10:38] – How should you handle additional fees for revisions?
[11:13] – Scope creep often starts as one small thing you’re okay with doing. Here’s how you can address it.
[12:14] – What if you run into a client who doesn’t think they need to pay extra?
[13:03] – Danielle wraps up the episode with today’s action steps.
Links & Resources:
Welcome to the Simplifying Legal podcast, brought to you by Businessese. I’m your host, Danielle Liss.
Many years ago, someone told me I was the least lawyer-y lawyer she’d ever met because I helped make legal easier to understand. To this day, it’s one of the best compliments I’ve received in my professional life.
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Hey there, I’m Danielle. Welcome to episode 38 of Simplifying Legal for Small Business Owners. Today, I’m talking about how to avoid scope creep.
Disclaimer: As always, before we get into today’s topic, a quick disclaimer. This podcast is meant to provide you with legal information only. It’s not legal advice and does not create any type of attorney-client relationship between us. Please don’t take any action without consulting your lawyer first. What is Scope Creep?
Before we talk about how to avoid it, we need to talk about what scope creep means.
If you’re a service provider, odds are, even if you've never heard the term before, you've probably experienced scope creep.
Scope Creep is when the agreed-upon deliverables for a project (the scope of work) are exceeded by the actual amount of work put into the project, without a commensurate increase in pay.
Let’s walk through an example. A copywriter is working with a client on drafting copy for a sales page. The scope of work is general and states that the copywriter will create the sales page copy and not a lot of other details. Then, the client asks the copywriter if they can add one other really small alternative language to a secondary sales page to do some a/b testing. Since it’s only a few changes to the language, the copywriter does it as part of the same package. This is likely scope creep if creating a/b testing options wasn’t considered when the deliverables were established.
Or, using the same copywriter-client relationship, the copywriter provides the draft for approval and the client doesn’t like it. They make revisions. Client still has changes. More revisions. This keeps happening. Now, they’ve gone through 5 drafts. The copywriter typically only does three drafts, but hasn’t charged the client for anything additional. This is also scope creep.
Unbilled lost hours aside, scope creep can be incredibly frustrating for everyone involved: if the deadline for the project is fixed, then planned deliverables may not happen on schedule as time is spent on unplanned tasks. Scope creep can lead to both unhappy clients and unhappy service providers.
To be clear, scope creep doesn’t typically happen because a client is trying to take advantage. Even though it isn’t planned, it happens a lot. When I work on client agreements for service providers, this is an area we talk a lot about because it’s so common.
Now that we’ve talked about what it is, let’s talk about how to avoid scope creep. The best way to combat scope creep is to stop it before it starts. An easy solution for preventing scope creep is to adjust your client agreement.
Let’s talk about some areas that you can improve and I’ll also include some tips on how to talk to your clients in a way that helps you avoid scope creep.
Set Your Scope of Work
If we’re going to talk about scope creep, the first thing we have to talk about is how you set that scope of work. Because, of course, without the scope, there is nothing to creep on.
Get Specific About Your Deliverables
Your scope of work should be clear about what you are going to do for your client. If there is any part of the description of your deliverables that is vague or could be interpreted a different way, how can you adjust your phrasing to ensure that no issues arise?
Here’s an example for a social media strategist who works with a variety of platforms.
Strategist will create a strategy for client’s social media.
I’ve seen things like this and it’s really vague. The client could come out of it expecting a number of things and a wide variety of channels.
Instead, using something like: Strategist will analyze client’s existing analytics and content to determine an Instagram strategy based on client’s goals of increasing visibility and follower growth. Strategist will provide a report to client with recommendations with a sample calendar with themes for thirty days of content.
Yes, it’s longer, but there is so much more clarity around what the client is receiving. Then, if the client later says, oh, I thought this was going to include Facebook, it’s a lot easier to go back and say, no, this is only for Instagram, but I love that you are looking at all of your channels and I’m happy to send you an estimate.
Address Changes and Revisions to the Scope
While it’s important to have a specific scope of work, it’s equally important to address what happens if you need to change it. Include a clause about requesting changes outside of the scope.
This is typically fairly simple and will say something like, this agreement is limited to the services outlined in the scope of work. If you would like any services not included, we will provide an estimate prior to commencing any additional work.
Enforcing this clause can feel tricky for some service providers, but I don’t think it has to be. If you are familiar with improv, one of the rules there is to say “yes, and…” to your scene partners. Use that attitude with your clients if it is a service you can perform. Yes, I’d love to assist you with that and I’m happy to provide you with an estimate.
Set Realistic Deadlines in Your Scope of Work
Deadlines are hard for a lot of service providers since you are wrangling your side and the client’s side.
First and foremost, please make sure you are setting realistic deadlines for yourself. If you are making them too tight and you’re going to your client for extensions, they will expect the same from you and will assume it’s not going beyond the scope to make the request. Even if it is potentially changing the project timing.
Next, talk to your client about what reasonable deadlines look like for the services. This might mean that you need them to review things within a particular time. Tell them that. And be clear that a delay might result in changing timelines.
When you send drafts to the client to review, give them the approximate due date and then send reminders if needed. Please don’t be afraid to manage your client. Projects that go well beyond the anticipated completion date can send your calendar off track with no additional compensation, so it’s important to do what you can to avoid this.
Set Your Fees to Avoid Scope Creep
Next, let’s talk about your fees.
Of course, your scope of work and setting fees go hand in hand. Your scope of work should absolutely dictate your fees.
I hear a lot of service providers who discuss moving away from hourly work and offering flat fees only. This might be through set packages or providing estimates.
However, there may be times when you should consider charging hourly.
- First, if you take a project that just doesn’t seem to fit into one of your existing packages, hourly might make more sense. For example, is it a new service and you aren’t sure how to price this type of package yet? Don’t be afraid to offer it hourly so you can get a better idea of what will be included. You can always later modify it as a package.
- Next, if you want to offer unlimited revisions, it might be a better financial solution to do so at your hourly rate. Just in case you have a client who has a large number of revisions. But, honestly, I’m not a huge fan of offering unlimited revisions at all since that can potentially cause delays.
Another option to consider is a hybrid of flat fee and hourly pricing. I’m a big fan of letting your clients know that certain additional services will be offered at an additional hourly fee. An example of this is:
The price of the project includes 2 rounds of edits. If you want additional edits, the cost is $x per hour. We will send you an invoice for the total after the task is completed.
If you adopt this approach, it’s a good idea to advise your clients that they are about to move to hourly billing. If they request more revisions, you can respond with something like:
Yes, I’m happy to make those additional revisions for you. The pricing included 2 rounds, so these will be at my hourly rate and I will bill you once we’ve completed everything.
Common Questions about Scope Creep
These are a few of the things you can do to help avoid scope creep. I also want to address some of the most common questions that I receive about the topic.
First, in my scope of work, I am specific about what is included. Should I say what isn’t included?
The answer to this is the lawyer-y answer of maybe. I think this heavily depends on the type of services you offer and if this has been a recurring issue in your business.
For example, if you have clients who regularly request that you tackle certain things and they’re just not on the menu, then I think it makes sense to add it.
For a virtual assistant, that might look something like:
The services include calendar, inbox management, and client welcome calls. Please note that this does not include any type of sales calls. Intake calls are for existing clients only.
The next question is how to handle additional fees. This may depend on the type of fee you have listed, like for additional revisions, etc. But, no matter what type of fee, if you’ve included it in your agreement, you can also address how it will be handled.
If they are requesting changes that are outside of the scope, offer to send an estimate and advise them of the invoicing if they accept.
If you have hourly billing that kicks in for certain tasks, like extra revisions, advise them when the hourly time will start and state in your agreement that they will receive an invoice.
Another great question that I hear a lot is what if a client asks for one exception, but I don’t want to set a precedent that I am going to allow it going forward?
This is definitely the start of scope creep. It often starts as one small thing and then you see more and more requests coming in. If you are okay allowing it, then approve it and then set the boundary.
For example, your client requests one additional set of revisions that are relatively minor and you decide not to charge them. Here’s a way to address it with the client.
Thank you so much for sending. Our agreement provides for 2 rounds of revisions. Since these revisions are minor, I’m going to make an exception to that policy, but keep in mind if there are any other changes, it will be $x.
This allows you to make the exception, but you can still charge them moving forward.
The last big question I get is how to handle when a client doesn’t think they should have to pay extra. What should you do?
First, I would look closely at the request the client is making. Is it something minor or major? Then go back to your scope of work and determine if the scope is clear. If there is room for argument and it’s something minor, you may want to complete the task if it helps keep the client happy.
But, in some cases, it’s excessive and the client is crossing a line. Then I go back to the improv “yes, and…” strategy. Yes, I’d be happy to do this, and here’s the estimate or invoice. Then give an explanation that it’s not included and would be subject to the additional fees. If your agreement and communication are clear, don’t be afraid to enforce this with your client.
This wraps up our overview of how to avoid scope creep. Now let’s talk about today’s action steps.
- First, if you’ve experienced scope creep in the past, make a quick outline of what happened. Then, brainstorm ways that you could potentially avoid those issues in the future. For example, if you have a client who requests additional drafts, could you modify your agreement to state how many drafts are included and include a price for additional drafts beyond the agreed upon total?
- Next, your client agreement is going to be your best support for avoiding scope creep. Based on the areas I discussed, do you need to make any adjustments?
- Last, as always, if you have questions on how to adjust your contract, please talk to a lawyer. I regularly work with my clients on setting boundaries and avoiding scope creep in their client agreements through my law firm, Liss Legal and I’d love to talk with you more. I’ll include a link in the show notes.
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