The Ace Freelancer’s Guide to Dealing With Difficult People: The Scope Creep

Boldly we charge ahead in our mission to deal with those that prove most difficult to our hero, The Freelancer!

This week: managing the Scope Creep, he who yearns for additional work without extra payment or adjustment of deadlines.

Hey, Scope Creep. I’ve got your number and I’m coming for you.

Scope Creep, aka “Mission Creep”, is the slow but steady accumulation of additional tasks, variables and requirements to a job that once seemed simple. It is usually done at the behest of a client who has become convinced that these “extras” are now necessary parts of the job she originally hired you to do.

By Texas.713 via

By Texas.713 via

There is no promise of additional pay or a relaxed deadline with the Scope Creep. There is just the demand for more work.

Unfortunately, the disease of Scope Creep can strike any client at any time. It is important to be vigilant and address the issue as soon as the first symptoms arise. The only known reliable preventative for Scope Creep is client eductionThe best reparative therapy consists of clear and enforced boundaries.

Educate Your Clients and Keep Them Well
Generally speaking, clients know what they want from you, but they aren’t necessarily savvy about the work you must do to create the thing they want.

Part of the reason they’re hiring you to be their expert is because they think what you can do is magical. But instead of keeping your process clouded in mystery, I suggest you save the magic for your results and client service. Be very upfront and transparent with your clients about exactly what it is they’re buying from you, and what’s off the table.

In your proposals, break down your process into smaller steps and define any even vaguely technical terms you use. Say, “This job includes X, Y and Z and 2 rounds of revisions, but does not include A, B or C. If Client requires those services a rate of $XXX/hour will apply.”

Does that seem too forthright? Too demanding?

By cursedthing via

By cursedthing via

Here’s the thing: it’s your job to show the client the lay of the land. If they don’t like it, or if they would like it to look different, it is their job to say so. It is not your job to anticipate everything they’ll object to and negotiate yourself out of it. It’s their job to raise those issues, and if they do, it’s totally and completely fine to negotiate an alternative solution with them.

But start out by asking for what’s in your best interest.

If you do decide to stray from the boundaries you set up, be sure to let your client know why you’re doing that. Don’t assume they’ll know you’re bending the rules as a special favor. “Hector, I like working with you and even though this wasn’t part of our original deal, I’m willing to do it because this is our first job together and I want it to be a success because I’d like to work with you again. I won’t always be able to do this on future projects.”

Your clients will appreciate your honesty and won’t assume that getting extra work for free is part of working with you.

That’s Nice Advice, But What About Me?

It’s nice to be able to prepare and educate your clients about what they should and shouldn’t expect from you. That’s sweet.

But what if you don’t have that option? What if you’re in the midst of a hellacious Scope Creep and the Google-machine has delivered you to this blog post hoping desperately for answers?

If you are in the midst of dealing with a difficult client this is what you do:

Say, “No.”

Man, that wasn’t what you wanted to hear, was it?

Stick with me.

Saying “No” to a client is scary, especially a client you like, especially a client you want to work with again.

By garryknight via

By garryknight via

It is also necessary. When you don’t say “no” to things that are above and beyond the scope of what you were hired to do, you silently, and forcefully, tell the client that it is perfectly OK to ask for and expect these things from you.

Not saying “no” to things that are beyond the scope of the work you were hired to do sets a dangerous precedent. It says that it’s okay to yank you away from sleep, family, hard-earned time off, other work, whatever, with no warning or compensation, to accommodate any demand that comes your way.

But saying “no” doesn’t have to be a rude or particularly nasty confrontation. It can be part of the conversation you’re having with your client about the job.

If you’re in the midst of a Scope Creep situation

  • Call a Time Out.  Instead of saying “yes” or “no” to the work, call a time out in the job and check in with your client. “Rich, you hired me to do x, y, z at $ABC. You’ve asked for T which usually isn’t included in XYZ at $ABC, because REASON. I’m happy to do the work, but I want to make sure we’re on the same page before I do.”
  • Name What’s Happening. “This is out of scope and will cost more than our original agreement.”
  • Be Honest. If the extra work will blow their deadline or you just plain don’t have time for it, let them know. “This work will add X weeks to the project; my current schedule doesn’t have room to accommodate that. I can recommend a few people who may be able to take it on, but I want to be upfront that this will probably blow your deadline.”
  • Offer Options. Help the client realize what’s actually possible by offering options for handling the additional work. “I can do the work at my hourly rate, which is $XXX/hour, and I expect that this will take Y hours. We can also talk about putting this work in a separate job that we tackle after our original job is complete; if you want to do that we could negotiate a flat fee.”
  • Recognize Their Disappointment, But Don’t Own It. A lot of freelancers don’t say “no” because they worry about disappointing the client. But disappointment happens. You are not responsible for other people’s assumptions. Recognize they’re frustrated or disappointed, but don’t make it your responsibility.

By directly dealing with the Scope Creep in this way you are saying “no” to their actions, but with the firm conviction that you are saying “yes” to being treated like a professional.  You’re saying “yes” to clients who respect your time and your work. You’re saying “yes” to building client relationships based on what’s realistic and reasonable.

By via

By via

How have you handled Scope Creeps in the past? What are your ninja tricks for dealing with these difficult people?

Categories: The Ace Freelancer's Guide to Dealing With Difficult People


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« The Ace Freelancer’s Guide to Dealing With Difficult People: The Guilt Trip

Good Advice #10: How to Negotiate a Contract When You’re Running Out of Time »

3 responses to “The Ace Freelancer’s Guide to Dealing With Difficult People: The Scope Creep”

  1. Really enjoyed this post, and it definitely hits close to home! Although I’m careful in outlining up front what’s included up-front, that definitely doesn’t preclude the requests for extra changes, etc, from coming anyway. I had a problem with this on a recent job…I must admit I like to end projects on a positive note so did do a bit of bonus, but explained to them that I was doing it as a free bonus because they’d been good to work with, that it would have to be a couple of weeks after the rest of the work as it was outside our contract and schedule and thus I couldn’t prioritize it over my other clients’ deadlines, and that I would have to draw a line after that.

    One thing that seems to contribute to this is multiple people at the client end working on a project, but not all of them seeming to know what was contracted and what wasn’t – just the person who negotiated that with me. I think perhaps I should write up a short process summary when the job starts and ask that it be given to every person who will be involved with the project on their end…

    • Katie Lane says:

      Sally, I think that’s a great idea! From my experience hiring freelancers for corporate projects I know that not everyone on the team reads the Scope of Work. Usually it was just me (the negotiator) and the project manager. Having something you can share with the whole project team at the kick off can be very helpful to make sure expectations are clear and everyone knows what the work actually is.

      If you are working with a project manger, I’d recommend vetting the document with them first to get their buy-in. Instead of asking if you can provide the document to the team, I’d present it as “this is what I give project teams at the beginning to make sure we’re all on the same page, I’d appreciate your feedback to make sure I use language that resonates with your company culture.” Make it a “this is what I do, would you like to make it better” not “I’d like to do this, is that OK?”

      Good luck!

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