PC Magazine describes scope creep as: “The continual enhancement of the requirements of a project as the system is being constructed.” Which basically means that the client asks for more and more until the project becomes more time consuming and more expensive than originally laid out.
This definition applies to all projects, including those of freelance writers. Every freelancer will run into this from time to time. If you don’t get your project outlined clearly and keep your client’s requests under control, you can lose a great deal of time and money trying to chase down changes and the invariable “Can you do this one little thing?” extras.
Setting expectations at the onset can help to avoid a great deal of these issues. However, some clients may—from a feeling of familiarity or entitlement—ask for a few things outside the scope of the project. It’s completely up to you whether or not to fulfill the request, but you may want to do a gut check, to be sure they’re not asking for more than they are paying for.
For example, a new client of mine—a very nice, likeable fellow—recently asked me for an extra document with a list of the many articles in the project, paired with what keywords were used. My normal MO is to create a spreadsheet of all the articles at the start of the project, so I can keep track. After expressing this to the client, I asked if the spreadsheet would be sufficient. He said, no, he is trying to put everything into Word Docs as a standard. No problem, I thought, it’s a cut and paste deal, a few seconds of my time. So, I did it, without charging him. I made my client happy, and it practically cost me nothing.
His next request, amid copious and profuse praise for my writing, was to put the content of each article in the project—several dozen of them—into one Word doc, to make it easier for him to edit.
Can you hear the sound of a screeching record? I did, and informed him, politely yet firmly, that it was not part of the project as laid out in the contract, and that if he really needed this done, that I would have to charge him for it. I gave him an estimate of what it would cost, and allowed him to stew on it.
Many might have just done as he asked without blinking. I can’t. As a former project manager, I have seen scope creep gone horribly wrong, and I quickly see red when clients start asking for things that aren’t covered within the scope of a project. For the freelancer, the cost of scope creep can be quite dear. Here’s why you should nip nearly all requests for free extras in the bud:
- You have other clients. They’re paying for your work, too. Any added bonuses you give one client is going to impact the timeline you’ve set for other projects.
- Your time is just as important as theirs. You would not ask your dry cleaner, dog walker or babysitter to spend more time on something or asking for extras without paying for it, would you? Then, don’t let your client do it.
- Time is money. I get paid by the word on most projects. The more words I write, the more I get paid. However, for little things, I have a per-hour rate. This rate approximates how much I can write in a given hour times my per-word rate. This comes in handy when I get these one-off requests from clients. It could come in handy for you, too.
I’m all for making the client happy. I love happy clients, because they give me work to do. However, there’s a fine line between making a client happy and being a doormat.
By the way, the client replied that he thought it had been discussed (that happens), but agreed to the extra charge. So, I will spend the time to do it, without feeling like said doormat.
By laying out boundaries in a polite, yet professional manner, you can stand up for yourself without pissing off your client. If your client gets upset by your polite “refusal to acquiesce” (to paraphrase one of my favorite movies), then that client might not be the right one for you. Do this before it gets out of hand, and you should be able to manage your time and clients well.