I remember receiving some bad news earlier in my career from a client that I was doing some identity work for.
We’d finished the logo, moved on to the stationery, and were just about to wrap things up when my client found out he couldn’t use the logo we created because of some legal issues.
He was a lawyer, and there were some requirements around the name of the business he had to adhere to.
I can still feel the sinking feeling I got when he told me the news. We had done a ton of work and now had to trash it and redo most of it.
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As I was telling my wife about it and how much of a pain it was going to be to have to redo the work.
I kept rambling on about how much it sucked when my wife said, “I don’t know what you are complaining about. This is more business for you. Just charge them for the extra work.”
Why we hate scope creep
Looking back on it now, it seems ridiculous to even think twice about charging for the extra work.
The “money” talk.
It’s difficult to tell the client something is out of scope, and we need to charge them for it.
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Even in this situation, where I had nothing to do with the reason for the changes, I still hesitated to tell the client I would have to charge for it.
And that’s just silly.
I see it happen all of the time. Freelancers hate scope creep, but is it really such a bad thing? Or is it the way we deal with it that needs to change?
Design agencies cash in on scope creep (and you should too!)
Just to illustrate the point of how silly it is to think scope creep is always a bad thing for a freelancer, know that there are design agencies making a substantial amount of their profit from scope creep and other changes that happen during the project.
It’s actually a part of their business model. They make a ton of their profit on those changes.
The difference is they have that conversation with the client and charge for it.
Seth Godin mentions this in his Startup School podcast when talking about building Squidoo (now acquired) and mapping out a project, so there aren’t any surprises or cost overruns.
When they finished building the site and Seth paid them, the agency said, “That has never happened to us once in doing 150 websites. We were happy to work with you, but we didn’t make any money because you didn’t bother us.”
In other words, they were counting on generating revenue from the extra work that comes from scope creep and change orders.
And you should too.
Why doing nothing is bad (and what to do instead)
You never really know what the client is expecting, so we often feel like the client will get mad or angry with us for asking. Instead of asking, we get an attitude and come off as divas.
Often, the exact opposite is true. The client expects to pay more. Their concern is on getting the job done or dealing with whatever new situation has just popped and necessitated a change to the scope.
So you can imagine their disbelief when they get attitude instead of a friendly reassurance that you’ll do what they are asking—provided they pay the additional fee.
If you don’t bring it up, they aren’t going to say anything. Asking you for a bill and making sure you are paid is not their job, it’s your job.
On multiple occasions, I’ve heard clients say they would be happy to pay for the changes if the freelancer would bill them for it. They’ve actually used these exact words, “We’d be happy to pay him, but he never sends us the bill.”
Don’t be that freelancer! Notify the client. Get their approval and write up an invoice for the changes.
How to deal with scope creep when it pops up
Instead of being angry about the extra work, use these scripts to help you deal with scope creep in these common scenarios:
When your client asks for the work by tomorrow
Sometimes your client decides they need to compress the timeline and get the work back immediately. When that happens, use this script and they’ll either agree to it or back off entirely.
There is an additional 50% price increase for projects that have a turnaround of fewer than 48 hours. Let me know if you’d like to proceed and I’ll send an invoice for the rush fee. Or, if you’d like, we can stick to the original timeline.
Pro tip: Give them the option to stick to the original timeline or scope of work if they want to. Clients love options and giving them a choice lets them off the hook a bit and makes it a little less confrontational for everyone. This diffuses the tension and is a million times better than coping attitude with your client.
When revisions are going on forever
This one is easier to deal with when you’ve clearly stated in the contract how many rounds of revisions are included.
If you walk the client through the contract with you, so they understand what’s included and what constitutes a revision, you’ll probably not have an issue with this ever again.
But just to give yourself an out, always include the specific number of revisions that are included. When revisions start to get out of hand you can say:
I need to let you know that we have exhausted the allotted number of revisions for [insert project name]. If you would like me to work on additional options, those will be billed at [X amount] per revision.
The key points are to be straightforward, non-apologetic and not give an overly long explanation.
When a client asks for changes after design approval
Always get their approval before moving on to the next phase of the project. Make it clear in your contract that changes after approval will cost them.
Here’s a recent one I sent to my client.
Adding in the [insert changes asked for] would mean changing the design layout, and since we are beyond the design approval phase, there will be an additional fee of [X amount] to amend the layout.
I’m happy to make these changes for you and if you’d like to proceed, let me know, and I’ll send an invoice for the design layout change.
Or, if this layout change is not essential, we can stick to the original scope.
Once again, I like to give the client the option to stick with the original plan if they want. Always give them options! It will make your life so much easier and it helps your client avoid feeling like they are backed into a corner.
In most cases, my client writes back and approves it without any issues.
Or, if they change their mind, they can stick to the original scope and timeline and you don’t have to rearrange your schedule.
You win either way.
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