What is a scope creep?

A scope creep is a client who wants just that little bit extra work done for them, without paying for it. It might be an extra hour of your time, another 200 words or something bigger. It might be just the once, or more likely, happen on a regular basis once you’ve given in.

You might not think much of it at first. You’re happy for the work, particularly if you’re new to freelancing and you just go ahead and do the extra work. Then it happens a week later, a month later again and again. That’s when you start to get annoyed, but how do you bring it up with a client once you’ve already done it before? A client would want to know what had changed, why it was fine before and not anymore.

It wasn’t fine before. Even when it was that one time. You were working for free. Would your client do that? Probably not. Sometimes it can be hard for bigger businesses to see freelancers as their equals because to them you’re just a freelancer, not a business owner.


How to avoid the scope creep

Be firm

Once you back down, you’ll be expected to do it again and again. You’ll be kicking yourself for doing it and compromising your business. Being firm may be uncomfortable but so is working for less than you’re worth.

Have a clear contract

Make a formal, detailed and clear contract for your client to sign. This will work in your favour and will help you avoid not being taken seriously by clients. Hopefully they’ll see that you are a professional and not bother to try to take advantage of you. Some might still try, but you can refer them back to the contract that they signed.

Offer solutions but don’t compromise

While you shouldn’t compromise, a flat out ‘no’ doesn’t give the client much to work with either. If a client wants you to add an extra 200 words to your weekly blog posts, say you can do that but for a new, higher rate. If they’re not happy with that, say that you’re happy to continue doing the same work at the same rate instead. Do not offer to do extra for free. Giving the client two options makes you look reasonable (to reasonable clients) but also shows that you’re not going to back down and get walked over.


What if you’ve already got a scope creep on your client list?

They can be difficult to shake off. You still want their business, but you want a better relationship. If you’re in a good position where you can happily turn down work without financial fears, then you might want to drop or avoid a client who is likely to cause consistent problems. However, if you don’t want to turn the work down, you have to be careful how you approach this situation.

It could be that your scope creep isn’t some sleazy character who wants something for nothing, they just don’t realise what they’re asking. An extra bit of work might not mean much to them, but to you it’s your livelihood. Sometimes an honest explanation can solve the problem.

If a client refuses to listen then the next step is to drop them whenever you are able or they’ll continue to cause you problems. They will take up more of your time and your concentration, costing more money than they’re worth. It might seem harsh, but you’re running a business.

Of course it might be a bit of a sting to drop them straight away. What you can do is find new clients, which you should already be doing. If you’re not, you’ve got a bit too comfortable. You should be marketing all the time, even when you’re booked up.

When you find a new client, it can be a new start for you. Take steps to avoid the same thing from happening with them. Get a contract and set some rules for yourself. Once you’ve replaced the income you get from the scope creep or preferably increased it, then (politely) tell them you are unable to continue working with them. Successful freelancers are always dropping their lowest paying clients for new, higher paying ones, it’s how they grow their business.

Have you had a scope creep? Let us know how you deal with them in the comments below.


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