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February 25, 2020

Freelance Scope Creep: What It Is & How to Deal with It

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Perhaps you're familiar with the term "scope creep." Perhaps not. In a nutshell scope creep refers to the incremental changes and add-ons that often occur naturally during the life of a project. For example let's say you finish a project for a client and you followed the original specifications to a T. However, during that time the client sent you dozens of e-mails requesting changes and ideas for new features because he didn't fully understand the project's scope prior to hiring you. He may say things like "It would be much better if you added this feature, don't you think?" or "On second thought, it might look better if you did this..." Often these add-ons were never included in the original project specifications, but you end up doing them because you want please the client.

Scope creep is a common occurrence in the professional world, regardless of whether or not you freelance. If you have worked on client projects before, then I'm sure you're familiar with it. If you haven't, then be careful because it can ruin an otherwise good project.

Protecting yourself from scope creep, or better yet, planning for it in advance, can greatly increase project revenue. While I'm sure this sounds great, you may be asking whether it's fair to the client? It's important to understand that you aren't actually taking anything away from the client by preventing scope creep or by properly dealing with it when it arises, but rather you are simply ensuring that you are not taken advantage of and receive the income you deserve.

Let’s say you’ve already done five additional revisions on a project that were not planned for. Unfortunately you also failed to establish procedures for dealing with these situations prior to starting work on the project. Now the client is asking for yet another revision. What do you do? What do you say?

First and foremost, you have to politely, yet sternly, let him know that your customizations and revisions have reached their limit. Tell him that you would love to do another revision, but that it will come with additional charges. Mention that it isn't anything personal, but you need to be fairly compensated for your efforts. You may want to explain that you have calculated all of the time that you spent on this project already and that every revision ends up cutting your earning potential since you cannot work on other projects during while you are working on this one. Remind him that you have to support yourself, so you have to set these limits!

Don’t chicken out now. You really have nothing to worry about. No one has ever gotten angry at me after I sent out an email like this. The client will probably just ask for a final revision or offer to pay you for more changes. Either way, you win.

Now that you are done working on that seemingly endless project, what can you do to make sure it doesn't happen again in the near or distant future? Read on…

Protecting Yourself with a Contract

Prior to starting your next project make sure your contract includes a provision for changes or project modifications that go beyond original project specifications. Specify the limits for the scope of the project and explain in clear language that any changes made beyond that limit will cost extra. You may even want to highlight this section to ensure it’s clearly understood.

Believe it or not, most clients aren’t scared of contracts, even though many freelancers think they are. Clients are in business and understand that contracts are simply part of the process of doing business. Having a client sign a contract can also make you look more professional in their eyes, so it can be a win-win situation.

Documents of Completion

Once a project or milestone is completed be sure to have the client sign a document of completion stating the project or milestone is complete, and that any additional work after that will be charged for accordingly.

Charge by the Hour

Another solution to dealing with scope creep is to simply charge by the hour. If you’re working by the hour on a project, then you should welcome all the scope creep the client can dish out since it will only make you that much richer.

In the end regardless of the method(s) you use to battle the inevitable, just being aware of scope creep will prepare you for dealing with it when it arrives.

Remember too that clients are not inherently interested in making your life difficult just for the sake of doing so. Accurately determining the scope of a project prior to starting it is a difficult task, and we are all fallible human beings. But that doesn’t mean you have to lose when a project’s scope expands. If you are properly prepared, then you’ll know what to do when it arises, and you’ll more than likely make a few extra dollars doing so. Regardless, you should come out on top.

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