How to Deal with Scope Creep in your Business
If you’ve ever felt resentment towards a client because they have a never-ending list of demands or are never happy, you may have been the victim of a the dreaded scope creep.
Many of us, especially as small business owners, are kind-hearted, people-pleasers who truly want to help our clients. We often say yes to things, even when we know we should be saying no.
We as business owners know we should be enforcing our contracts (read: boundaries!) but I'm the first to admit that sometimes it can be a wee bit uncomfortable.
But, have you ever stepped back to consider the real effect that these additional client requests are are having on your business growth, mental health, and bottom line?
What Is Scope Creep?
You know lawyers love a good definition, so, allow me to indulge:
Scope Creep: when the scope of work creeps outside the original scope of services outlined in your contract.
There should never be confusion around what is and isn’t a part of the services you’re being provided as part of your fee.
If you have been hanging around with me for awhile, you’re probably tired of me telling you that when it comes to laying out the services you will be providing in your contract, the best thing you can do for you and your team is to be specific.
Everyone (that includes your client!) should know exactly what you are and are NOT providing as part of the fee you are being paid.
Keep an Eye Out for these Scope Creep 🚩Red Flags 🚩
In order to nip this in the bud, you need to start honing your scope creep radar.
Scope Creep can sound a lot like:
“Can you add this one extra thing?” or,
“You already know how this part of my business works, so could you just jump into this quickly too?” or,
“I need help with this for just this month to tide me over until my new contractor is onboarded” …
...and the list goes on.
All of these *little extras* can lead up to a big shift from your original, agreed-upon scope of work.
Specific Examples Of Scope Creep
Scope creep can happen in any business. As business owners, we are always trying to develop rapport and a great working relationship with out clients, but that does not mean you should be under billing and over delivering. Those days are gone - have you seen the price of gas lately? We literally cannot afford to do this if we want to keep growing our businesses!
Here are a few common examples of scope creep I see with my freelancer clients in my law firm:
- A website designer is asked to add more product descriptions or pages than originally agreed upon.
A social media manager is asked to figure out a new Instagram feature (hello, Reels) or platform that their client wants to take advantage of. This would be a great time to add this platform or feature on for an additional fee if you have the space for it.
- A client wants to launch a sale or program unexpectedly, which requires a lot of additional effort that might not have been accounted for in the original agreement.
- A client wants to have an extra coaching call one week when they are having a hard time implementing a strategy you introduced to them.
- A copywriter is requested to make a ton of “tiny” changes, beyond the initial two rounds of revisions initially agreed upon.
Your Contract is your First Defence Against Scope Creep
The first place to start in preventing or stopping scope creep is in your contract!
Even if you have a great client that respects you and that you love working with, they might still ask for extra services outside of the planned scope. Heck, they might not even be aware they are doing it. A simple reminder can be enough to make them aware the work requested is outside your scope of services.
Then there are the clients that will test your boundaries, so it’s best to ensure those boundaries are very clear from the beginning of the working relationship. It is your job as a business owner to be clear and uphold them, and your contract is the best tool you can use to do this.
This might be hard for my people-pleasers out there, but trust me when I say you need to get comfortable doing this if you want to grow your business. Practice makes flexing this muscle in your business easier over time. I promise.
Don’t be afraid to say no or refer back to your contract. If you are willing to take on extra tasks, refer to your contract and let your client know that you will send them a new contract and your new price that includes these new services.
Saying Yes To Something Is Saying No To Something Else
All of those “one-time little things”? They sure do add up over time.
Think about it, that extra 15 minutes (unpaid) is time away from other paying work, time with your family, or simply doing something you love, like getting in a workout each day or enjoying your coffee in peace and quiet.
As you build your team, scope creep then starts disrupting your team schedule (and your budget!) as this extra unpaid works starts to flow down to your own team members. That saying about "$hit runs downhill?" Absolutely true.
This can in turn lead to your contractors starting to resent you (you're their client afterall!) or your employees feeling overwhelmed. If this work wasn't included in your contracts with your contractors, then you actually need to PAY them for this work, even though you’re not getting paid extra for it. That additional work for your client is now actually costing you money.
See how that “one little thing” can start to really snowball?
The “little extras” might not have been included in your original scope of work because truthfully, it’s not your area of expertise, or not something you enjoy doing.This all leads to resenting your client and potentially resenting your business. If you’re resenting your clients and business, you absolutely cannot grow this way.
If you can relate to any this, don’t worry. It’s easy to fix. Let’s do it!
How To Respond to Scope Creeps
Sometimes all it takes is a gentle reminder to your client when they start to ask for more than they’ve paid for. A conversation or email reminding them of your scope of work often goes a long way. To help you out, here are a few email examples you could use depending on how you want to move forward:
Option 1: When you want to take on this work
Hi [CLIENT NAME]
I received your request to [INSERT WORK REQUEST]. This work is outside our original scope of work set out in our contract. However I’m more than happy to assist you with it for an additional fee of [$$] [OR] at my hourly rate of [$$] and I expect this to take [#] of hours. I expect my timeline to deliver this would be approximately [timeframe] given my current workload.
Let me know if you would like me to move forward on the above terms. I won’t start any work until I receive confirmation to move forward.
*If you need to collect an additional retainer amount, let them know.*
Using an Amending Agreement in this situation would be a great way to clearly set out the new scope of services, fee, retainer (if any), and other changes.
Option 2: When what they’re asking for is not something you want to take on, but you’ve got a great referral!
Hi [CLIENT NAME],
Thanks for thinking of me. While I’ve really enjoyed working with you on this project, my fee didn’t account for this, and this work is outside my expertise. I do know someone who does provide this kind of expertise and I would be more than happy to connect you.
Option 3: When what they’re asking for is not something you want to take on
Hi [CLIENT NAME],
It’s been great working with you on the current project, however I’m not able to take on these additional services at this time. If I think of someone who might be a good fit, I will pass on their contact information at that time.
*Remember, You don’t need to justify why.*
Remember, clients don’t always remember your current scope, and they may not be asking maliciously. Kindly remind them of your contract details and be honest with them.
Adding additional services will mean changes to your fee, timelines, and retainer (if collected), so ensure that you and your client are on the same page on all of these changes.
As you specialize and niche down in your business, you are going to need to say no more and more often to these kinds of requests because of disruptions to workflow, staying in your zone of genius, and staying true to the lifestyle you want to live.
It is best to start practicing this early on in your business so you feel comfortable handling these situations when they arise.