If you’re a creative type, or actually anyone on the end of a job you’re being paid a fixed fee to do, scope creep is about as annoying, frustrating or unprofessional as your client can get. It’s like kudzu. You see it growing, but put off doing anything about it until one day your entire home is covered and suffocating under it. If you’re the client, scope creep is the one thing that can earn you a black mark in any provider’s book and cause them to charge you more money on your next project!
What is Scope Creep?
Scope Creep is when a client pushes their vendor (graphic person, writer, provider etc) to do more work than they initially agreed on, without compensation or acknowledgement. For instance, a client hires me to write a white paper. Halfway through the project asks if I can also take part of that paper I’m writing and create a teaser email or sales letter that they can use to send to their client list. If I were to write that sales letter independent of the current project, I would charge $150. So what they’re asking me to do is work for free on another job just because they’ve hired me for this job! They may not see it that way. They may think of you as an hourly employee who must do anything they ask, while they’re working for you. It’s up to you to educate them about that. That’s what a contract or agreement is for.
The email was not part of the original project, but the client wants it anyway and asks me to do it without offering any additional compensation. If I agree then I’ve made the client happy (they’re saving $150 after all). But having done that, the client then decides that a landing page, with “just a few paragraphs of copy to get readers to sign up and download the white paper,” would really be awesome. If I keep doing more and more for the client without compensation, then I’m hurting myself and losing paying business. Why would the provider pay me if I’ll do it for free. But many providers don’t see it that way. They think the client will be angry or offended if they say “No,” or charge more. They feel that way because they lack or have a hard time enforcing personal and professional boundaries. They don’t respect their time or value, so why would anyone else?
With Scope Creep no additional compensation is offered when additional, uncontracted work is requested. What is happening with Scope Creep is the client is asking for, and receiving, extra value for no additional cost. If this is a new client, or a good client the provider (me) may decide to provide the extra value or services at no cost in order to generate good will and client loyalty. That’s the idea, but not the reality. Instead of feeling grateful or appreciative, the client will simply assume that this is how you work — that you give them what they want without charging extra. They don’t realize (usually) what they’re doing. However, some do know exactly what they’re doing and they take advantage of you.
What causes Scope Creep?
Lack of boundaries by both client and provider are “to blame” for scope creep if you want to put it that way. Either both parties aren’t able or willing to respect business boundaries, or neither party is even aware the boundaries are there. If there’s no agreement, terms or contract chances are there are no boundaries. If only one party has boundaries and expresses and enforces boundaries clearly, scope creep is stopped before it becomes an issue.
If the client or provider has boundaries they’ll ask for or insist upon an agreement. Why? Because they understand that expectations between providers and clients are best spelled out in writing. That way they both know that what they agree to in writing, is what they can expect to get.
If a client has good boundaries they are easily able to say, “I’d love to do that for you. What a great idea. It’s outside the scope of our current project, but I’d be happy to quote you a price on doing it as a separate project.” Or, if they are comfortable doing a little extra, even though it’s outside their current agreement, they will say, “I love that idea. You know, it’s outside the scope of our current agreement, but I think it’s something that will really help kick start your project. I’m willing to do this as a one-time gift because I’d like to be considered for your next project.”
Boundaries aren’t hard and fast rules. They’re just ways of living and relating that let other people know how we want to be treated and how we’ll allow ourselves to be treated. You can shift or flex your boundaries if you choose to. If you totally abandon your boundaries scope creep will become a real issue — and you’ll feel more like you’re being taken advantage of, used or abused and not appreciated.
So be careful. Know exactly how much you are willing to flex and stick with it. I base my ability to “flex” on a percentage of the cost of the job. One of the best tactics I’ve ever heard is, “Don’t give up something without getting something in return.” If a client wants something from me they’re not able or willing to pay for, we negotiate an exchange instead. It makes clients respect you. If they don’t like it and don’t respect you, then they leave, and you’re better off. Now you have an opening for a client that does respect you!
How Do I Prevent Scope Creep?
Start by drafting an agreement or “terms” or a contract with your client or provider. Spell out in detail exactly what you’re getting for what you’re paying.
List the terms of cancellation as well, just in case things don’t work out. I have a policy of a non-refundable deposit, plus a 15-day walk away notice. If my clients aren’t happy or aren’t getting what they want, they simply give me a 15-day written notice and they walk away from the project. They can keep what they’ve paid for, otherwise I retain the copyright. I have that same right to walk. If a client isn’t meeting their deadlines, or giving me materials I need, or is a chronic Scope Creeper, I will walk and they know that ahead of time. Good fences make good neighbors.