March 12, 2021

How can freelancers deal with scope creep?

Written by Martin Baxter

You may not have heard of the term “scope creep”, but if you’ve been freelancing for any length of time, you’ve almost certainly experienced it. It starts off as a little ask. “Could you just…?” It seems reasonable enough, so you do it. Then it develops into more work: could you sit in on that meeting? Could you incorporate this new data? Could you present this to our partners? It’s often flattering to be so in demand from a client, but when these requests come without any consideration of the extra time it will take you and without any mention of additional payment, then you’re dealing with scope creep.

The term “scope creep” comes from the world of project management, and is used by freelancers to describe a situation where the client keeps expanding the parameters of the job or asking for additional work that wasn’t in the original brief, without offering payment for the extra time that this will take you. This blog is our guide as to how freelancers can spot scope creep, what you can do to avoid it, and how to manage it when it arises.

Work to a clear brief and contract

As with so much of freelancing life, a lot of headaches can be avoided if you lay the groundwork for preventing scope creep while the job is still in the negotiation stage. Make sure you get a clear brief from the client, and that this is quantifiable in its limitations (e.g. you will design a 10-page website, produce 40 edited photos, write a 1,000-word report, or that you will work an agreed number of days on the project). Set out the job and each side’s responsibilities in a contract which both parties should sign. You can even include a clause in your contract that covers the eventuality of scope creep by specifying your rate (per hour or day) for any work that exceeds the parameters of the job. Even if you never have to use it, this is a helpful reminder to clients that your time has value and needs to be paid for. Dinghy has guides for freelancers on what to include in a freelancer contract and what to look out for in a client contract, so that you can make sure all bases are covered before you start a job.

Is the request reasonable?

Sometimes a request comes in and it seems like such a small job that you feel harsh to say no to it. If the request is reasonable and you can take care of it relatively quickly, the easiest thing to do might be to go ahead and do it. Indeed, many freelancers include a certain number of rounds of amends in their contracts, so that they have space to adapt the project to the client’s feedback, without this turning into an endless back-and-forth of spiralling work hours. Quick fix jobs or the odd short meeting appearance here and there may be acceptable in order to keep the client on side, but it doesn’t hurt to remind the client that this was outside the original brief and that in future you would be charging for your time. This helps the client out of their immediate need and shows a willingness to compromise, but also doesn’t let them take you for a ride. It’s tricky to find a balance between keeping clients happy and not being a doormat and working lots of hours for free – no one can afford to do that!

Respond to the request with a quotation

If the job looks to be getting bigger and bigger or a request is made that is obviously outside the scope of what was initially agreed, it’s best not to just do it for free. This sets up a dynamic in your relationship with the client where they expect you to undertake extra work for free, which is not a pattern that you want to encourage. Let your client know that, yes, you’d be delighted to help them, and this will be the fee for the extra work. Be polite but firm on this – a legitimate business should never ask a freelancer to do extra work for free. If they have a quote for the job, they can evaluate how much it’s worth to them and decide whether to give you the extra work (and money) or to sort out the problems in-house.

Just say no

If you’ve completed your assigned tasks and held up your end of the bargain, you’re completely within your rights to say no and refuse the extra work, especially if it looks like no further payment will be forthcoming, or you have work for other clients that needs taking care of. It can be nerve-racking saying no to a client, particularly if it’s someone that you are hoping to work with again. If you’re polite but firm, a good client will be respectful of your time and your need to earn a living.

Dinghy freelancer insurance is designed to have your back through the good times and the bad. Scope creep can make relationships with clients more tense and fraught than you would like. It’s just one reason why our freelancers say they feel more relaxed knowing that they have Dinghy insurance in place. If a client tries to complain that they have experienced loss or damage because of work you’ve done for them, having our Professional Indemnity insurance in place will give you peace of mind. If you need to chase unpaid invoices for work that you’ve had to take on for clients, our Freelancer Assist service can help to recover those debts on your behalf. To get set up, just head to our website where you can get a quote in minutes – no multiple rounds of amends needed!

About Martin Baxter

Read more blog posts by Martin Baxter


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