What is “scope creep” and how can freelancers handle it?

Maybe it’s happened to you: a family member asks you to come over and help him move a piece of furniture, so you head over early Saturday morning to knock out the task. Six hours later, you’ve rearranged his entire house, helped him trim his trees, and washed his car. It’s called scope creep – when “just one more little thing” becomes a cascade of new tasks, none of which were included in the original project goals, plan or budget.

Scope creep often plagues freelancers who fail to follow these essential guidelines

Create a detailed estimate and contract

Never submit an estimate or contract for freelance work without an itemized list of project aims. For example, if you’re a web designer and a client hires you to build a website, don’t write “Create Site” on your contract and submit it for the client’s signature. Instead, itemize the project in detail, adding information such as:

  • Design vector logo in black and white and two-color
  • Create website header/masthead with approved photograph and logo
  • Make six pages for the website with approved mock-ups

If a client asks you to add extra tasks to the scope of the project, inform him or her that you must adjust the contract or prepare a new estimate. This reduces the potential for misunderstandings and helps you avoid contributing free work to the project.Price your Services Correctly

If the resources expended on finalizing a project exceed your pre-determined hourly average hourly freelance rate,  you have failed to manage your business correctly. To avoid scope creep you must not only define the scope of work, but also have a crystal clear understanding of your worth.  Not sure how to establish your hourly rate?  Check out the Payoneer Freelance Income Survey to find out what freelancers in your market/ field are charging.

Obviously your pricing method will vary depending upon the nature of your business and the way in which you choose to approach the work; however, the key is in breaking down projects into bite size pieces and ensuring that everything is accounted for. Once you’ve done this, you can assign the required time/ cost to each individual portion of work and come out with a conservative cost estimate.

I would also advise that you include a contingency within your pricing in the region of 15%. This isn’t to allow for scope creep — it is an insurance policy to account for potential discrepancies in your estimate.

Refocus your clients

The trick to preventing scope creep 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. Be sure to offer solid alternatives so that the client has concrete choices for how to proceed.

For instance:
“Our current agreement is for a weekly blog post which includes 300 words at a cost of $40. You’d like to move to 500-word posts…I’d be willing to do that for $65. Or if that’s outside your budget, we could stick to the original length we agreed on.”

Decide what constitutes an extra charge

Before you are faced with scope creep, determine what you are willing to do for free and what requires an additional fee. For example, if a client asks you to change the font on a website design, you might not ask for extra compensation because it’ll only take a few minutes of your time. On the other hand, if he or she requests a redesigned logo, you don’t want to give away six hours of work for free.

Prepare to walk away

Cloud accounting firm FreshBooks advises freelancers to set boundaries for their businesses so they don’t become victims of rude or disorganized clients. If you feel that you are enduring more stress and work than the compensation is worth, feel comfortable enough to walk away from the project. Losing a client hurts, but it opens up your schedule for more profitable and enjoyable ventures. Don’t work with a client who expects you to slave over a project for free or complete last-minute changes in his or her time frame.  If you are working via a freelance marketplace, be sure you understand the rules of your relationship and when you are able to walk away from a project BEFORE actually doing so.

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