How to Avoid Scope Creep and Protect Your Profits

10 MIN READ
Posted By Maddie Keogh on

Do you find yourself doing small tweaks to your client’s websites without charging because well… it’s such a small tweak! Perhaps you sometimes find yourself in an endless feedback spiral?

Ahhh scope creep – those tweaks, updates and additions that weren’t factored into the initial project cost. The problem with making small changes is that if you say yes to one, how many more will there be? You're setting a precedent for feedback and changes to happen as they please. Then they don't understand the value they're getting and they have the power over the project by calling the shots.  

Even if it’s something you haven’t had to experience with in your WordPress career, you probably worry that it’s lurking around the corner, waiting to get you the second you let your guard down.

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The additional cost of these “small changes” creeps up, wasting your time, energy and resources. But here's the thing –  scope creep can be prevented with these nine easy steps that I'll share with you. But first… 

Why Does Scope Creep Happen?

It goes something like this:

Client: I need a website to promote my new SaaS.

You: I’d be happy to help. Here’s my quote for $8,000. It includes X, Y and Z and will be done in 2 months.

3 months later…

Client: Where the heck is my website? You said it would be done last month!

You: Well…

You want to list off all the changes the client demanded be made — changes that you hadn’t accounted for in the original scope of work because that wasn’t what the client wanted at the time.

But it’s not like you put up much of a fight when they asked you to change that one thing… and then, oh! There’s another thing they wanted to be changed… and still one more thing. Because you said “yes” to the one change, you felt obligated to handle the others, especially since they kept promising it would be the last one.

In the end, you’re just as (if not more) frustrated as your client is about the missed deadline. You had only set aside enough time in your schedule to tackle the contracted work and now you’re over budget, overworked and your other clients are angry about how this has affected them.

The Nine Steps to Avoiding Scope Creep

You want to run a successful business, but that’s going to be impossible if you let scope creep chew away at your profits.

To prevent scope creep from ever appearing in the future, do the following:

1. Qualify the Customer

In the initial discussions with the client, if you feel their expectations are too high, they lack a complete understanding of the project or are haggling with you over the price… this is a warning sign that this is likely to be a stressful project that is not worth your time.

2. Get to Know the Client and Their Business

Having in-depth discussions in the early stages is vital. If you understand their goals then you can better understand what they want from the website and be able to estimate accordingly. Remember that the client doesn't really know or understand exactly what they want and you have to help them uncover it at the early stages.

3. Be as Clear as Day in Your Documentation

Before you sign any more clients, spend some time working on your documentation. I suggest you use these two documents upfront with the client:

Proposal document – which includes an outline of things like the investment, timeline etc. Check out our Proposal Template which already has all of these things included.

Statement of work – the statement of work includes all the deliverables. Then have it clearly stated that “If it's not in the statement of work, you will be charged an additional amount of xxx.”

    The more time you invest in this part of the process, the less of a chance there is that vagueness or ambiguities will cause problems for you down the line.

    Your refined documentation also gives you a chance to closely review job specs with clients, set expectations upfront and get their official acceptance of the terms with a binding signature. This way, if they try to violate the contract or exploit your generosity, you can gently remind them of what the original agreement states.

    4. Add a Buffer to the Project Schedule

    In terms of scheduling your projects, be careful. You never know what might come up — clients disappear, content gets delayed, personal emergencies arise, etc. Even the process of handling client feedback can hold things up (though that’s usually only if they get out of control with it).

    To ensure that unplanned stoppages or slowdowns don’t mess up your timeline, it’s a good idea to add a buffer to your project schedule.

    This way, you and your team aren’t always under the gun, trying to complete each phase or task at the very last minute. It also allows you to breathe a little easier if there’s a delay beyond your control.

    5. Set up Different Meeting Points with the Client

    You can never over-communicate with a client. Keep them up to date the whole way and have different meeting points set up for each important stage of the project.

    The prototyping stage is probably one of the most important stages as this allows the client to check out the features visually and better understand the concept and functionality and you can make changes much more easily at this stage.

    6. Establish a Communication Process with Your Client

    As well as setting up the meeting points, you still need to communicate on a weekly basis. For example, you may let them know at the beginning of the project that you will be sending an email every Friday with a detailed update because you need set their expectations from the very beginning around what to expect with communication. 

    This communication needs to take place on one channel. If you receive feedback from your client by phone, email or Skype, this means the records are kept everywhere and hard to keep a track of. So keep it all on email. If the client calls you or you have a meeting with them in person, write a summary of the call/ meeting and email it to them. This means that you have a record of everything that is easy to find if the client argues about anything with you that has been agreed upon or discussed. 

    7. Always Schedule a Team Kickoff

    Although clients are commonly the perpetrators of scope creep, it does sometimes come from within.

    And while you want to trust that your team can do what they’re tasked to do, and to empower them to do it with little oversight from you, it’s a good idea to make sure everyone starts each project on the same page.

    To keep your team from becoming the bottleneck in a job, schedule a team kickoff at the start of every project. This enables you to ensure that everyone understands the project specs and how to work towards the same goal. If something’s too complex, this will give your team a chance to work out the intricacies of it before the task is on their plate and realise too late they don’t know what to do with it.

    8. Keep Only the Head Chef in the Kitchen

    Have you ever worked on a project where everything seemed like it was going well, only for your client to pull a 180 on you because:

    “I was reviewing the design with my friend, and he says it doesn’t do a good job of conveying what my business does.”

    Not only is the feedback non-specific and unhelpful, but it’s coming from someone who has not been privy to the conversations or planning that’s gone on up until this point. You could spend time trying to figure out a different approach based on the outsider’s vague suggestion or you could nip this kind of bad behaviour in the bud.

    Your client hired you because you are the expert. If they wanted to solicit feedback from any and everyone in their life, they should’ve designed the site themselves. So, what you need to do from the get-go is to demonstrate your authority and continually reinforce it. That way, they won’t even think to ask anyone else to chime in. You know what you’re doing, you have things under control, and they’re happy to relinquish the reins to you.

    And if you’re dealing with multiple stakeholders from the client’s side of things, ask them to designate one clear decision-maker. It’s the only way to prevent the incessant back-and-forth that occurs when too many cooks are in the kitchen.

    9. Create a Formal Change Request Process

    At some point, you’ll run into a client that wants to deviate from the original scope of work. And that’s okay.

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    It’s not that change is inherently bad. It’s that changes that have gone unchecked from your end are bad.

    Let’s say, your client says, “Hey, I know I asked for a simple contact form, but what I really need is a form that changes based on which department the visitors want to message.”

    You know that a form with conditional formatting would work well for this, so you think, “Eh, I'm not gonna charge them for this”, and run with the change.

    Instead, you should stop to factor in what this change will actually do to your budget and schedule. For example:

    Did you already build a contact form? Then, this is a completely new element you need to charge for.

    Do you need to switch to a premium plugin since the one used doesn’t include conditional formatting? Then, you need to include the time and cost of implementing a different solution in the budget.

    Does your designer have all the information they need to set up the form, fields and logic? If not, then there’s additional work to be done to set the new form up.

    Do you need to create the departmental addresses on your client’s domain? Again, think about how much extra work this adds to your plate.

    Even if a change request seems like a simple “let’s swap Element A for Element B”, it should still go through a formal change request process. That way, the client understands how these late decisions affect the project costs and timeline and it doesn’t become a habit for them to constantly ask you for small favours.

    One Final Thing

    The main thing you can do to avoid scope creep is to work with better clients. When you work with people who understand and appreciate the value of what you do, they’re not going to try to be selfish with your time or try to get free work from you. If you can avoid working with people like that in the first place, you can reduce the likelihood of scope creep from cutting into your profit margins.

    If you want to learn how to attract these higher-quality clients to your business, sign up for this free webinar where you’ll discover how to do just that.

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