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How to Protect Yourself From Scope Creep as a Freelancer

This is a guest post contributed by Nidhi Kala. Nidhi is a freelance writer for SaaS brands in marketing, e-commerce, and remote work and specializes in writing long-form blog posts. When she is not working, you’ll find her exploring new calligraphy scripts and creating bespoke calligraphy gifts.

“Just one more small change.”

Have you been the victim of these words? If you’re a freelancer, probably too many times to count. Getting trapped in an endless revision loop is a hurdle most of us freelancers have faced.

When a client is pushing more changes or adding additional work, you have a few options: push back and say no, charge additional for the time spent, or continue working with them even if it violates your agreement. The overall goal is to make a decision that prevents burnout and resentment, and keeps you from losing money.

But what if we could learn to manage and prevent scope creep before we let it get that far? Before we have to make those difficult choices.

I’m going to teach you how to protect yourself and your freelance business by sharing my best practices to prevent scope creep.

Scope creep is a fast track to burnout and resentment.

What is Scope Creep?

Scope creep happens when a client adds work to an ongoing project that was not agreed to, without increasing your pay. For example, your client might ask you to do more revision rounds or take on extra tasks outside of your outlined scope of work.

I’ve been in this exact place. I took on a content project to ghostwrite 10 LinkedIn posts and one newsletter each month. Even though the client and I agreed and kicked off with a contract in place, the scope of work slowly started shifting. Eventually, I was managing their entire LinkedIn profile, all of their emails, and their WhatsApp community—and was still being paid the initial amount we agreed upon.

This happens to many freelancers without them even realizing it.

I learned how to protect myself, and want to share the three simple, yet powerful strategies I’ve used personally (so I know they work) to prevent scope creep.

1. Understand Your Client’s Needs Up-Front

Every project and client is different, so leave the assumptions out of it and make sure you gather the details in advance. This will help you understand expectations, deliver the right work, and get clear on exactly what needs to be done and what success looks like. In turn, you can create a clear contract and proposal so you’re aligned out of the gates.

Do this up-front by setting up a discovery call or onboarding questionnaire. Use this opportunity to ask questions, explain your workflow, and create processes for change requests that may occur during the project.

Be ready with a set of questions that you’ll ask the client. Here are some example questions that you can pull from:

  • What exactly do you need from this project?
  • Do you prefer weekly, biweekly, or monthly calls?
  • How do you prefer to provide feedback?
  • Have you worked with freelancers before this project? What went well? What didn’t?
  • What are your expectations from me while working on this project?
  • What does success of this project look like?
  • Are there any additional needs that may arise down the road?
  • Are there any other team members who will be involved?
  • How quickly will you be able to provide feedback on my work?

Asking these questions helps find alignment and makes your client really think through what they need from you.

2. Always Use a Contract

After you’ve gathered the details, make sure you always have a crisp and clear contract in place. This is your safety net. Use your contract to communicate the exact parameters of the project. Outline, in this written agreement, exactly what is included in the project scope and other expectations around meetings, communication, and payment. Your contract should include:

  • Name of the parties involved
  • Your scope of work and deliverables, including the number of maximum adjustments and additional requests allowed
  • Price, payment terms, and penalties for late payment
  • Deadlines, especially if payment is tied to product milestones
  • Copyright ownership rights
  • A termination clause for both you and the client, stating how many days’ notice is required to end the contract
  • An indemnity clause
  • A signature by both parties

Having an airtight contract in place will give you a document to refer back to if scope starts to increase. I know contracts can feel stressful and confusing, so if you need a template, Harlow has you covered.

3. Set Project Boundaries and Stick Up For Yourself

My client initially wanted me to write 10 social media posts and two newsletters every month. Slowly, the scope of work expanded and the client asked me to work on strategy, and manage their social media profile and email list. It took me a while to even realize the scope had shifted and I should be asking for more money. Once I did, it was nerve-wracking to bring up the issue and right the course.

But that’s also why I had a contract in place and information gathered up-front. These components were exactly what I needed to stand up for myself and create project boundaries. It can seem easier to just take on the extra work, without setting a boundary or asking for more money, because you want to keep the client. But working without being paid is not the way to grow your business— and doesn’t respect the value of your work. If a client asks you to do work above and beyond the scope, use your contract and early conversations to set a boundary. If it’s a new task or too many revisions, this is your opportunity to be clear with the client about how much the extra work will cost and if you have capacity to take it on in the first place.

A simple phrase to keep in your back pocket: “I can do that, but it is outside of our agreed-upon scope of work. Would you like me to estimate the additional cost for you?”

Avoid Scope Creep and Get Paid for Your Work

Always prioritize transparent communication, gathering details up-front and airtight contracts with your clients. Scope creep is a quick road to burn-out and resentment, and neither of those things lead to a thriving freelance business. You deserve to be paid for the work you do—so protect yourself ahead of time and then stick to those boundaries!

About the Author
Nidhi is a freelance writer for SaaS brands in marketing, e-commerce, and remote work and specializes in writing long-form blog posts. When she is not working, you'll find her exploring new calligraphy scripts and creating bespoke calligraphy gifts.

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