How to Kill the Scope Creep Beast

iStock_screwWelcome to the fourth installment in our Freelancing SMART series written by Elizabeth Fayle.

If you missed the first three posts, you can find them here: The Grand Introduction, Step One: Being Specific, and Step Two: Getting Measurable

Up for discussion today, Step Three: Is It Agreed Upon

Welcome to the next post in our series on freelancing SMART, and you’re in luck today – we’re going to take a look at “Agreed Upon”, the middle letter of that smart freelancing you’ll soon be doing (if you haven’t started already).

If you’ve been following the series from the beginning, you’ll know that SMARTening up your business means making it:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed Upon
  • Realistic
  • Time-based

Because you’re all brilliant people, you’re surely seeing how each aspect of SMART works with the next. They all go hand in hand, and create a solid foundation to rock out your business.

Since you’re most likely becoming Specific in all your communications, and you’ve started to make sure everything you do is Measurable, you’re in an excellent position to having it all Agreed Upon.

“Oh, I don’t do anything unless my client agrees!” you say.


But do you stick to your agreements?

“Well, of course I do!”, you huff. “I’m very professional. I tell my clients exactly when I’m going to deliver and I do. Jeez, lady!”

Ah, but I’m not questioning that. You wouldn’t be in business for very long if you missed delivering on time.

What I am questioning is a wicked little freelancer money-suck that runs rampant in business. It sneaks in when you aren’t looking. It slowly drains you and you don’t even realize it. It’s the creature that turns every profitable project into a total loss. And all of you have had this beast feed off your business at one time or another.
It’s called scope creep.

How Scope Creeps Into Your Business

I love using examples. Today’s will be a 350-word page of website content. Your client tells you what he’d like you to write about, you research his industry and business, you write the content, and you fire it off to the client, knowing it’s great.

You are done.

A few days later, the client comes back to you. “Hey, thanks for that content. That was awesome, and it’s great stuff. I just want to change the style a little bit. Can I get a revision?”

Sure thing. That’s part of your work policy, after all, and it won’t take too long to tweak the content. Plus, it’s good customer relations and the client likes what you’ve done anyways.

So you tweak the content, then fire it off again.

You are done.

But the client comes back to you and says, “Hm. I had a closer read today and I’m not entirely sure the wording in the second paragraph is accurate to my business. And I’d like to tone down the style a bit. We’ll be good after that.”

So you tweak the content, then fire it off again.

You are done.

And the client comes back and says to you, “This is great. I just want to make sure the call to action at the end is as strong as we can get it – oh, and I created an ebook I’d like people to download, so can we work that into the text? Last one, promise. We’ll be good after that!”

Well. You’ve already done one revision free of charge, and you’ve tweaked it again, and yes, you do mind but if you say no, you’ll look bad. And if you ask for more money, you look bad. And you want to keep those good client relations, and the customer’s a nice guy, and he did say this was the last one…

You’re in trouble now.

Your profit margin is shrinking, you’re not sure this project is going to end soon, and if this keeps up, you’re soon going to be losing money.

Worse, you’re conditioning your client to come back with more tweaks and revision requests – you’ve already said yes to two. It’s the foot-in-the-door syndrome, and when that door has a foot in it, that scope creep creature has a chance to crawl right in.

How did this happen?

You didn’t stick to what was agreed upon: one 350-word page of website content with the option of one major revision and one minor tweak. Nowhere was there any mention of two tweaks. Or additions. Or changing tone and style.

You’ve broken your own agreement – and you let scope creep happen.

Sticking to What YOU Agreed Upon

Let’s change the scenario around a bit.

The Client: “This is great. I just want to make sure the call to action at the end is as strong as we can get it – oh, and I created an ebook I’d like people to download, so can we work that into the text? Last one, promise. We’ll be good after that!”

You: “Sounds great. Since we’ve already used up all the revisions we’d agreed to in the original scope of the project, I’ll send a PayPal request for $50, which will cover these tweaks, and I can have the revision back to you by Thursday of this week.”

Now that scope creep door is shut. There’s no foot propping it open. No beast can come suck away at your business and drain you of your profit margin. It’s all up to the client to decide if his requests are important enough to him to pay an extra $50.

If they are, he’ll pay, and you’ll both enjoy a mutually respectful work relationship. If those tweaks were just a flight of fancy and really not that important at all, the client will say, “Ah, okay. We’ll leave it here, then. This is perfect.”

He won’t be mad. You won’t be drained. And you’ve walked the talk by sticking to what’s been Agreed Upon.

Oh, and you aren’t losing any money to scope creep. Hey, you might even make yourself an extra $50!

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Dude … you so described my entire life. I am not kidding when I say “scope creep” took a 2 month project and inflated it to almost a year. Thankfully, I was able to invoice some of the extra hours, but nowhere near all of them. In my situation, I am working with a state agency that has these long and involved purchasing contracts that take an arm and a leg to change. Any revision holds up the project, so there’s strong incentive not to mess with the contract once it’s “accepted” by the powers that be. No more! Then, there’s the client I work with that takes about 10 hours a month in free consultation. Somewhere along the lines we became friends (or did we?) and now I feel it would mess up the entire relationship to start charging for what I’ve talked about for free for almost two years now. My attitude is that I just have to start fresh with new clients, and let the old mistakes pass on. Scope creep is my #1 problem.


  1. […] The intro to being SMART The first key: Specific The second key: Measurable The third key: Agreed Upon […]

  2. […] favorite advice stopping scope creep comes from Men with Pens: Sure, since we’ve already used up the revisions we agreed to in the original scope of the […]

Leave a Comment