How to take control of your inevitable freelance project scope creep

There will come a time when you'll experience project scope creep in your freelance efforts. Our guide shares how to adapt and fix issues when it happens.
How to take control of your inevitable freelance project scope creep

Hero image by Sam Moghadam Khamseh

According to reports, 75% of freelancers wouldn't change their work for any other job. 

That said, there may be one area of freelancing that can make you feel like throwing in the freelance towel. That is scope creep.

Scope creep is inevitable, insidious, and can be highly detrimental to your productivity as a freelancer. 

If you allow it, scope creep can have you working long hours for no pay, reducing your earning power and robbing you of opportunities with new clients. 

Fortunately, if you know how to manage it, you can not only stall scope creep in its tracks — but profit off it as well.

Ready to get wise on how to handle scope creep as a freelancer? If the answer is yes, don't go anywhere because we're about to share exactly what to do about that dreaded project creep. 

What is scope creep?

If you are unfamiliar with the term, scope creep is when a project's scope expands as you're working on it. It could take the form of unexpected edits, extra functionalities, structural changes, or even an entirely different direction for a project. 

Statistics show that 77% of full-time freelancers report having an enhanced work-life balance. However, if you're sitting up until all hours doing extra work you won't be paid for, just to please a client, be prepared to say goodbye to work-life balance. 

Of course, some scope creep is inevitable with certain freelance projects. However, this doesn't mean that it needs to negatively impact you. Let's look at how you can manage project creep and even turn it to your advantage. 

Create a detailed contract for each project

One of the primary steps for avoiding scope creep is creating detailed proposals and contracts for every project you take on. 

Contracts and proposals are vital for setting concrete expectations from the get-go. They're also invaluable for referring back to should a client challenge you on your deliverables. 

When drawing up contracts, make sure that you include every detail you can, including:

  • Responsibilities
  • Duties
  • Deliverables
  • Timelines
  • Milestones

Depending on your project type, you'll also want to go into specific details on your deliverables and duties. For instance, if you are taking on a freelance writing project, you should specify the word counts involved, how many rounds of edits are included, the level of edits included, maximum hours of research allocated to the project, etc. 

If the client requests things like topic changes or image sourcing, you can refer to the contract and let them know these services are not within the agreed project's scope. 

Of course, creating contracts and proposals for each project can take time. This is where we come in. To make things easy for you, we have designed a drag-and-drop proposal and contract builder. 

With this time-saving tool, you can create eye-catching, visually appealing, and professional contracts within a matter of minutes. Suitable for both new and experienced users, our contract builder is powerful and easy to use. 

As a freelancer, you must master managing your time effectively. Utilizing smart tools are one way to do this, so go and check out our contract and proposal builder. 

Get the project outline in writing

So you have created a beautiful proposal. The client is happy, but wants some changes. The changes aren't too major, so you verbally confirm them with the client and get to work. 

This is a mistake. 

Always make sure that you get the final project outline in writing. What seems like "minor" changes at the start could turn into undefined areas ripe for project creep. 

For instance, say you create a proposal for writing 30 pieces of blog content over a span of three months. Your client accepts the proposal but verbally adds they would like you to include images with the content. You agree to this, as sourcing each image won't take you more than a minute.

Halfway through, the client then requests that you incorporate an infographic into the content instead of including a stock image. This is, of course, a lot of work and involves design skills. 

If you have sourcing stock images (and stock images only) in your contract, you'll easily be able to tell the client that infographics are definitely not part of the project scope. 

Take advantage of scope creep

Besides getting clear on deliverables and enabling scope control through clear project outlines and contracts, you can also capitalize on project creep by building in additional billed deliverables into your service list. 

For instance, to go back to the freelance writing project, let's say you have graphic design skills. If a client wants an infographic along with blog content, you can offer your design services as separate elements they can purchase. 

When they request these additions, instead of allowing them to become scope creep, turn these tasks into extra paid work for yourself by presenting your client with a list of available add-on services. 

This way, they have the opportunity to choose between spending a little extra for the additions they want or sticking to the agreed outline. 

Use your discretion

The last tip for handling creeping scope in project management is to use your discretion. Most clients typically don't mean to take advantage of you.

On the other hand, there are also those rare clients out there that want to squeeze out extra work without paying for it. 

Either way, you need to gauge each situation and determine the most profitable course of action. 

Have a valuable client who's asking for a couple of minor changes? Maybe it's worthwhile going the extra mile and doing it on the house. 

However, if the work and time required will negatively impact you, you should communicate with the client and either decline the request or offer an add-on service.

Beat scope creep and streamline your freelance business

With a little planning, scope creep doesn't need to wreak havoc on your freelance projects. Instead, use it to your advantage by turning it into an additional work source by offering billable add-on services. 

Just remember, for this to work, you need to create clear contracts and project proposals from the outset. 

Want to enjoy effortless contract building and other time-saving tools all in one central dashboard? Start today with our freelancer self-management platform to streamline your business today. 

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Our team of career freelancers writes about best invoice practices, what makes a great client, and repeats the mantra, "never work without a contract." We're opinionated about the future of work and will always be on the side of freelancers.
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