How to keep a scope-creeping client in check

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If you’re anything like me, you hate doing revisions on a project.

You understand that they’re part of the territory, so you accept them. But in general, the fewer revisions a client requires of you, the better.

And for my freelance career, the worst scope creep offenders have been the clients requesting revision after revision, changing their minds about things with no end in sight.

(Yes, even though I limit it to two rounds in my signed contracts.)



For example, I’m a writer, and that’s all I ever sign contracts to do.

But here’s some of the bogus things scope-creep-guilty clients have expected me to do, in addition to their copywriting:

  • Looking up hard-to-find email IDs from scratch. (Even though they’d already been in touch via email with this person, and could just do the search themselves and find it in 2.5 seconds.)
  • Doing hours of research on items they’re already an expert on, instead of agreeing to my hosted 20-minute phone call that was outlined in the contract.
  • Filling out their client questionnaires for them.
  • Spending hours searching for just the right stock image.

(I mean, geez guys, I’m not your personal assistant, okay?!?)

So today, I want to go over a three-step process I now follow every time I get a ghastly request like this that infringes on our pre-determined project scope like nobody’s business.

1. Remind the client of your agreement

If a client wants to do another round of revisions and you’ve already reached your limit, tell them so.

One way I’ve found to avoid this scope creep request is to give them a “countdown” warning each time I send the work over for notes, which means they pay a lot more attention to what they’re doing and give more substantial feedback.

For example, if I put two rounds of revisions in my contract (which is my typical go-t0), I explain when I send things over for the first round of feedback that I need them to be very detailed, because after this round we’ll only have one more, which is usually just for tidying up.

Suddenly their feedback goes from “I don’t like this, let’s change it” (so useless and vague!) to “I think we could insert a little more background on [topic] here, and that will make more sense.”

Then, because they’re constantly being reminded of the countdown, they’re more aware that an additional round (if they want it) will cost them more money.

And if they do start requesting more work, that’s where we come in with step #2.

2. Quote a price for add-on requests

[Tweet “If a client expects work not in your agreement,quote them a price for the work. #freelance”]

If a client seems to be expecting work from you that’s not in your agreement with them, after you politely remind them about it, quote them a price for that work.

(Of course, only if it’s something you’re willing to do.)

For example, I once had a client who thought that in addition to writing his blog posts for him (the work we contracted), that I should also be using photoshop to create custom images for him.

He was even “so polite” to send me a tutorial on the topic to make it easier for me.

Whether his intentions were good or stingy, I’ll never know.

What I did though, was to say, “Thanks for sending over the tutorial [name], but as you can see, they estimate that it takes three hours for just one image. Also, if you review our contract, it includes writing, but not image production. If you’d like me to take care of this for you, I’ll do it at my hourly rate, which I estimate will amount to an additional $#### per month.”

Needless to say, that shut him up quick and he found someone else to take care of it for him.

3. Be nice

Just like the criminal justice system is supposed to operate, assume your clients are innocent until proven guilty.

A lot of times, clients make these scope creep requests of you because in their minds, they associate the work you specialize in with something else.

It’s not necessarily their fault, if their expertise is elsewhere, you can hardly blame them. Nine times out of ten, I find these requests are usually innocent and just result from a lack of knowledge on their end.

[Tweet “Use scope creep as an opportunity for some friendly education. #freelance”]

So instead of going off your rocker and getting insulted, look at it as an opportunity for some friendly education.

Usually a polite reminder will be more than enough to put them in line, embarrass them a little (even if that’s not your intentions), and get you both back on the same page ASAP.


When it starts to happen, scope creep can be incredibly annoying.

Especially when it just started out as a simple request that would only take you five minutes. You agreed, but now there seems to be no end to those “small” little requests that eat up your time and profitability.

I’ve found that having firm boundaries and not being afraid to say no or an “Okay, but…” is crucial to not letting scope creep take over my projects and my life.

What experience have you had with clients requesting scope creep? How did you handle it? Tell us in the comments!

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Written by Chelsea Baldwin

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Chelsea Baldwin is a freelance writer, turned agency owner, turned business coach. She helps freelancers, solopreneurs, and small business owners grow their businesses quickly and become way more profitable. Each week, she sends out a free weekly dispatch with business advice, easy-to-complete business hacks, and behind-the-scenes looks at what it’s like for her to run two separate businesses.  

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  1. manish acharya says:

    Really helpful Chelsea! I can totally relate to this situation as a freelance graphics designer.

    Thanks for the amazing article. 🙂

  2. Definitely a good read. I wonder if you have any advice for a situation in which a client repeatably increases the scope. I have a client who loves to add on to the project even after we have already agreed on a very specific scope. They are happy to pay for the extra work at my hourly rate, however, it becomes an issue because it prevents me from being strategic and thinking bigger picture. When they are constantly adding things it’s more of a piecemeal approach and it’s hard for me to put things together in a cohesive way. I feel like if I knew all the things we’d be tackling from the beginning they’d receive a much better end product and it would probably be cheaper considering I would spend less time back-tracking trying to figure out how to incorporate everything.

  3. Del Carry says:

    Great advice and always good to hear another take on this very important topic – although i am in the design game and not a writer, this certainly applies as well. It’s all about educating clients ‘and’ ourselves about how to do business and accomplish things. I especially liked your #3 point – be nice and understand where your client is coming from.

    In all our deliberations with clients we contractors must be both frank and loving or in other words, honest but nice. These two things are inseparable twins and must be used together. Honesty by itself cuts like a knife and being nice by itself obscures the truth. Your article demonstrates this!

  4. Cheryl Forziati says:

    Love this Chelsea! It’s one of the toughest parts of being a self employed freelancer.

  5. jacqueline says:

    Some really good reminders in this article. Thank you for taking the time to create and post.

  6. Thank you for this Chelsea. This article seems like it was written just for me and I appreciate the tips (and also glad to know I’m not the only one that struggles with this issue).

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