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5 Weapons for Fighting the Evil That is Scope Creep

Carol Tice

Businessman with too much workDoes this happen to you? You get a freelance writing gig, and it sounds great.

But as you start to do the project, things begin to change.

You thought you’d be writing one 300-word blog post a week, based on a little quick research. Now, there’s pressure to do interviews, ghostwrite for team members you need to talk to first, and they’d like 1,000 words per post, please.

Or you thought there would be little rewriting involved, but now you seem to be saddled with several different editors who’d each like you to revise it to their specifications.

Or you signed up to write a 500-word article with a couple of interviews involved, and now they’d like a 200-word sidebar with a third source. At no extra charge, of course.

What happened here?

Scope creep happened

You thought you had a great hourly rate going on, but now it’s being driven down toward minimum-wage territory.

If this has happened to you, don’t feel bad. I hardly know a writer who hasn’t encountered scope creep at some point in their writing career.

Because let’s face it — there are some pushy, needy clients out there. They don’t respect boundaries. They’re out for whatever they can get.

If you let them get away with it, they will wring more and more work out of you, for the same money.

The only way to stop scope creep

Just like they say about forest fires, only you can prevent scope creep.

Stop waiting for clients to grow ethics and pay you what you’re worth.

User-type clients will not one day wake up to the wrongness of their attitude and simply volunteer to pay you more money.

There’s only one way the situation will change.

It’s up to you to draw a line.


Confrontation is stressful

I know. It seems pushy and rude to bring up how they’re screwing you, doesn’t it?

Even though they’re really the rude ones.

But you can avoid scope creep without ruining your relationship with your client.

Here are my five tips:

  1. Have a contract. In nearly every bad case of scope creep I’ve ever seen, there was no written agreement. When you have your agreement memorialized and signed, it tends to discourage scope creep right off the bat.
  2. Have clear contract terms. When you’re writing up your contract, don’t stint on the specifics. You agree to write an article of X length (or X-word blog posts three times a week) by X time. Specify if interviews will be required. Payment will be due X days after you turn in your work. Spell. It. Out. Don’t leave unresolved holes in this written understanding, or a sleazy client will later happily drive a truck through them later.
  3. Don’t do more. This is key. The trick is to stop in your tracks, the very first time the client suggests that you do a more work for them than you’ve agreed upon. Refer them gently back to the terms of the contract they signed. If you don’t have a contract, simply point out that this is beyond the terms of what you discussed. Once you’ve delivered more work for the same money, it will be hard to rein this client in, and that scope may well keep creeping and getting bigger, just like a nasty green fungus that’s eating up your earning power.
  4. Offer constructive solutions. Once the elephant in the room has been named, quickly offer alternatives so that the awkwardness doesn’t linger, and the client has concrete choices (that you find acceptable) for how to proceed. We’re not here to point fingers or be nasty, but to find a way to move forward and continue to do business together. For instance:
    “Our current agreement is for weekly 300-word blog posts at $50 apiece. You’d like to move to 500-word posts…I’d be willing to do that for $75. Or if that’s outside your budget, we could stick to the original length we agreed on.”
    Yes, it’s just like toddlers. Two choices is all you want to present, so it’s not too confusing. A or B. Based on their response, you’ll move forward in one of those directions — or they may have their own counter-proposal you can agree to or no. But you’ve laid down some parameters and they get that they’re not going to be able to walk all over you.
  5. Ask for a raise. Sometimes, scope creep just plain creeps up on you, no matter how hard you’ve tried to prevent it. You feel used. That’s when you want to finish the project you’re on as quickly as you can, and ask for a raise with the next one. I personally like to write 60-90 day initial contracts so that there is a natural point at which to raise the pay issue again with new clients, after I’ve had a chance to see how much work is really required. Again, offer a couple of options. Would they like to pay more for what they really want, or go back to the original terms and budget? Keep your tone friendly and helpful as you present these alternatives, and they’ll often go with one or the other of our choices.

Bottom line: It may have taken a bit of courage, but you can stop the scope from creeping. And you need to do that to earn a good living.

Remember, it’s just business. Be professional about it, and you’ll earn clients’ respect…or you’ll part ways, and find a client that sticks to what they agreed. Those are the clients you want.

Have you had a problem with scope creep? Tell us how you dealt with it in the comments.