How I Deal With Scope Creep

We’ve all been there—what was supposed to be a quick freelance project has turned into endless rounds of revisions with no end in sight. Your client isn’t satisfied with the work and wants you to keep tweaking it, but they’ve already gone way over the original scope. You’ve poured too much time into their project and if you keep working on it, you’re going to lose money, which isn’t what you set out to do.

If you want your freelance business to be profitable and successful, you need to learn how to manage scope creep while keeping your clients happy. Here’s how I deal with scope creep as a freelance writer and enforce my boundaries in a polite way.

Make Sure There’s a Contract 

One of the best ways to fight scope creep is to make sure you have a contract. It should clearly outline the details of the project including: 

  • Type, number, and frequency of deliverables (ie. 4 500-word articles per month) 
  • Price and payment terms (ie. $300 per article, half due upfront and half upon delivery) 
  • Number of revisions included, and cost for additional revisions 

I don’t always write the contracts my clients and I sign. Sometimes my clients prefer to provide a contract from their legal team. However, I always read over the contract carefully to ensure it has all the necessary details. Don’t be afraid to ask for revisions or additions to the contract if it’s not thorough enough. 

Address Project Delays 

Although this has never happened to me, I’ve heard stories from other freelancers about projects that dragged on for months past the projected timeline. If a client takes weeks or months to get you the information you need to complete a project, it costs you money. 

You’ll have to spend more time than you planned managing the project and following up with the client. You may also feel like you need to hold space in your calendar for the halted project, potentially causing you to turn down lucrative work. 

Including the agreed-upon deadline in your contract can help prevent clients from taking up too much of your time. Specify what will happen if the client causes delays by being unresponsive. You could charge an additional project management fee or tell the client you can’t promise availability past a certain date to protect your time and profits. 

Implement a Process For Revisions 

Edits are another major source of scope creep, so it’s important to define how many and what types of revisions are included in your fee. I’m willing to provide two rounds of revisions to my clients before I start charging extra.

Here’s a quick overview of my process. After I had in an article, I encourage my clients to send me their feedback if they have any.If edits are needed, I check to make sure they’ve given me all their edit requests before I begin the first batch of revisions. That way we’re not going back and forth with lots of minor edits and the rounds of revisions are clearly defined. After two rounds, I politely remind them that they’ll need to pay extra if they want to continue revising the article. 

Revisions Versus Rewrites

But what do you do if your client wants to make extensive edits that sound more like a rewrite? I usually won’t do a total overhaul of an article without collecting an additional fee. I define a rewrite as an edit that changes the topic or direction of the article. So if my client initially wanted me to write about rising mortgage rates but changed the topic to the housing shortage at the last minute, I typically won’t rewrite the article for free.

I’ll also charge extra if the client wants me to expand on the topic in a way that will significantly increase the word count. But everyone has a different definition of what constitutes a revision and a total rewrite, which is why you have to communicate your process and terms to each client before work begins, especially if you’re charging a flat rate.

If you work hourly, you can inform the client how long the edits will take and bill them for the extra time. But if you’re charging a flat rate, your profits go down the longer the project takes. So you’ll have to figure out how much time you can realistically spend on edits while still meeting your income goals.

Enforce Your Boundaries

It’s hard to state your boundaries, but it’s even more challenging to enforce them. Whenever I tell a client they’ll have to pay an additional fee for that extra round of edits they want, I feel a little guilty.

I want to meet my client’s expectations, and the fact that they have to ask for another round of edits makes me feel like I’ve failed. But it’s important to understand that revision requests and scope changes often have nothing to do with the quality of your work. 

Maybe your client showed the article to a team member who has never seen it before, and that person has additional feedback. Or maybe the priorities and needs of the company have changed since work began. 

Don’t feel guilty or afraid of losing the client when enforcing the boundaries you need to stay in business. After all, they read and agreed to your contract. If they didn’t find the terms acceptable, they wouldn’t have signed it. 

Give Out Freebies Without Inviting Scope Creep 

There may come a time when you want to accommodate a client’s request for free even though it’s outside the original scope of work. If you’ve been working with a client for a while and really value the relationship, you may be willing to give them some free revisions. 

But unfortunately doing this can invite scope creep if you’re not careful. If you make edits on one article for no extra charge, your client may come to expect this type of treatment in the future. 

If you want to give a client a freebie, it may help to let them know you would usually charge extra for the revision—but you’re doing it for free this time as a courtesy. That way they know it’s a one-time gesture to show them your appreciation, not a regular thing. 

If you’re a freelancer, how do you handle scope creep? Let me know in the comments section below!

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