Scope creep: what is it and how to avoid it


The bugbear of many a freelancer, scope creep is what happens when a client asks you to do more work than you originally agreed to do, therefore pushing a project beyond its previously set boundaries.

It’s called scope creep because this extra work has a habit of sneaking up on you: Imagine you have been asked to design a logo to go on a t-shirt, but once it has been submitted the client asks you to adapt it slightly for use on a banner and then change the colour scheme and then… before you know it you’ve done several hours of extra work but for no additional pay.

This will often happen by accident without the client having any underhand intentions, but some unscrupulous clients may try to slip extra work in surreptitiously. Whatever their intentions may be, it’s best to take precautions to protect yourself against scope creep.

Here are three key rules to follow to do just that:

1. Agree clear objectives
In order to avoid scope creep, it’s important that you and your client are on the same page about the work that you will be doing for them. So, at the start of the project, have a thorough discussion about the particulars of the project. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of their expectations and make it clear to them what can realistically be achieved with their budget and within their time limit. Crucially, you need to agree on:

  • Project activities and deliverables – what the end product is and the steps you will take to deliver it.
  • Start and completion dates – don’t forget to build in time for any necessary revisions.
  • The pay rate for the completed work – and that any additional work would cost.
  • A single point of contact – you don’t want to carefully agree everything with one person only for someone else to get involved and change the scope of the project.

 2. Get it in writing  
Once you’ve agreed on the terms of the project make sure you put it in writing in the form of a freelance contract. You can use this as a point of reference when the client starts to stretch the scope of the original brief. What’s more, this is a legal document so it will protect you in case of any disputes.

Take special care to avoid any ambiguous wording within the contract as this could leave you open to scope creep. For example, compare the following:

‘Please write a short article about studying abroad.’


‘Please research and write a 700-word article about studying abroad, aimed at UK higher education students, encouraging them to consider studying in Europe during their gap year.’

The inclusion of a clear wordcount in the latter example allows you to charge a client for additional work if they ask you to write more than that, while the ambiguous phrasing in the former doesn’t.

Aside from clearly defining the work you will be doing, also make sure you add in a designated ‘scope creep’ clause, detailing what will be considered as ‘extra work’ and how much you’ll charge for this.

3. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’
It may be hard to do this, especially if you like the client and enjoy working for them, but ultimately, it’s your livelihood that is potentially at stake. Also, if you let scope creep slide once, you are setting a bad precedent that the client may take advantage of. So know where to draw the line and politely let your client know; if they’re not willing to renegotiate the contract or stay within the agreed scope of the project you may want to consider if they’re someone you want to work with anyway.

The best way to avoid scope creep is to manage your client’s expectations from the start. So take the time to thoroughly discuss the work upfront, get it in writing, but be prepared to say no to unrealistic expectations. Following these three simple steps should help to ensure that scope creep doesn’t ruin a good thing.

Source: HN Global.