Freelancers' Questions: How to handle scope creep?

Freelancer’s Question: I've had a couple of instances where I'll win work with a certain client, accept their brief but then be asked "could you just do X as well?" I’m aware project requirements can change and I want to be able to accommodate the odd variation or addition, but where should I draw the line? I don't want to sour the relationship, but when does a "little extra something I forgot" become too much? Or is this all just part and parcel of being an independent consultant?

Expert’s Answer: Our organisation believes that working for free, no matter how small the job, shouldn’t ever be a necessary part of freelancing or contracting.

It’s important to know how much your time is worth – and even more importantly, to make sure the client knows too. There are different ways of doing this depending on the sector you work in.

Be sure to explicitly set out what you’re expected to deliver, and the time you’re expected to do it in, from the outset. That way, once you see things going beyond the agreed timescale you can notify the client that if your workload is increased by scope creep, they’ll need to cover the extra costs.

Some freelancers who charge by the hour use apps such as Toggl to record time spent on work. Others assess the level of skill and effort involved in a project and charge accordingly.

You’ve got to ask yourself: if you’re willing to do something for free, what does that say about your services? Of course, sometimes things take longer than expected and sometimes retaining client goodwill is crucial for repeat business. But this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence. Your client relationship could be distorted if you regularly do additional work for free – which is effectively any time you spend that goes beyond what the hours or deliverables you’re contracted to do.

Turning down work without alienating clients can be tricky as an independent consultant. This is something you need to weigh up yourself when deciding whether it will have a significant impact on your client relationship. Is the extra work a reasonable extension of the brief, which won’t significantly increase your hours? Or could this time be better spent with another client who wouldn’t make such demands?

The important thing to remember is that you will be respected for clearly assigning value to your work. If the client turns this down and continues to ask for free work, then you should consider whether they’re a client worth having, as they might just continue to undervalue you. You have to be confident in your assessment of your worth as this will enable you to grow your business and maintain your fees or rates.

The expert was Chris Bryce, chief executive of IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed .


Mar 11, 2016
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