Remember that time when you ended up working far into the night, or the wee hours of the morning, on a project that isn’t really part of your service offering? The client really needed it done, and there was no one else to do it, so you stepped up.

Or that time you put in all that additional effort for that hard-to-please client, only to find out in the end that the client was… not pleased? You ended up working way more hours than you’d figured into your fee estimate, and now you’re actually losing money on the contract.

Or that other time, when you made so many changes, so many revisions, that the service or product you produced looked nothing like the work you usually do – and do so well? You sacrificed time you might have spent on other projects, with clients who stayed within the boundaries of your offering, and ended up having meeting after meeting, email after email, to the point that looking at your inbox gave you anxiety.

If you found yourself nodding your head to any of the above, you may be a victim of….

Scope Creep

It’s one of the biggest challenges, particularly in service-based businesses, and frankly, no one talks about it enough. Scope creep kills both productivity and profitability – plus it can make you feel like garbage.

Scope creep is the reason behind the rise of agile development in the world of software, which is simply the process of expectation that projects can and will change during the development process.

If you’re a financial planner, you may find yourself inundated with requests for an unreasonable number of “what-if” scenarios, rather than a more manageable 2 or 3. If you’re a marketing professional, you may receive requests for drastic design changes late into the production process, or “just one more thing” to add to a website’s functionality. If you are a software engineer, there may be multiple last-minute requests to stretch a program beyond what it was originally intended to do. Is any of this sounding familiar?

Why Does Scope Creep Happen?

The possibilities are endless, but here are just a few:

Your client may never have been through a process like yours before, and never experienced the thing you’re doing for them. They don’t know what to expect, and thus what they ask for may be unrealistic.

Your client may be unsure of exactly what they are looking for… but they’ll “know it when they see it.”

Your client’s decisions are made “by committee” or may require multiple levels of approval. Or you’re taking direction from multiple people within your client’s organization, each of whom have different opinions and expectations. Worse yet, none of them may be the final decision-maker.

How to Minimize Scope Creep

Scope creep will find its way into the cracks of your business. Here’s how to plug some of the holes:

Contracting

Make the contracting part of your process really important, and really specific. If you are a designer, artist or writer, outline exactly how many revisions of each stage are included in your fee. If the client pushes for extra revisions, let them know that you are happy to do the work (if that is indeed the case), but that they will start incurring extra costs at your hourly rate.

Even if you prefer to work on a project basis, make sure you have an hourly rate in place – and make that hourly rate higher than your project fee, so your client understands the benefit of working within the boundaries of the project.

If you provide analysis of some kind, clarify that there are a limited number of options, and be concise about exactly how many.

Most people have trouble keeping more than two or three options of anything in their minds at one time, even if they’re asking for more. It’s worth noting that when people are asking for multiple options, the problem may not be that they want all those options, but that they’ve become disconnected from the purpose of the project. Consistently remind them why you’re doing what you’re doing, to ensure you’re both staying on task, and use the same words you used in the contracting part of your process. No, this doesn’t mean we think your client is dumb. It means we think they’re concentrating on different things than you are, and having given you the reins to this project, they are probably focusing more deeply on other priorities. Your reminders actually do help.

If your client is a team of people, have them assign a single person as your point of contact. If that person is not very senior, make sure that they – and you – have direct access to the final decision-maker. Discuss the process of decision making, and ensure that your point of contact has the ability and authority to consult with the decision-maker on a regular basis.

Communication

Remember that your clients may have no idea how difficult it is for you to make changes at different stages of the process. Stay communicative and wherever possible, anticipate points of contention in advance so you can talk about them as early as possible in the process. When your service or product is new or some aspect of it is being reworked, this may mean having guinea pig projects - or what we at Admin Slayer like to call A Hudson’s Bay Start.

Build approval steps into your process, at points where changes or requests for something different often come in, ensuring that you’re getting sign-off from your clients along the way. Make it clear that changes to previously approved deliverables will result in extra time and extra costs. Presenting work-in-progress examples to the client can be really helpful, rather than waiting until the final stage only to find out you’re not on the same page with the client. Some examples:

  • Financial Planners, Engineers & Analysts: Present a summary of goals, assumptions, and facts, reviewing each with the client so they have the opportunity to discuss what the assumptions mean, and spot any missing pieces of data that will impact your results.
  • Marketing & Writing Professionals: Present website page mockups, initial drafts, copy, and visuals that help the client imagine the end game and provide you with insight into their intentions.
  • Business Coaches, Facilitators, & Consultants: Provide a clear outline of your process ahead of time, and a summary of your work together to-date after each meeting or collection of meetings. This reminds your client of the value you’re bringing and the decisions they’ve made along the way.

Structure

Identify some reputable people and companies with services that are complementary to your own. You can then refer clients who are requesting services that are outside your wheelhouse. This way, you are staying within your scope, you’re ensuring that your clients get what they need, and you’re creating a potential referral network that will not only serve your clients, but also grow your business.

Need some help finding those people? We know lots of people who do lots of things. Check out our Entrepreneur’s Survival Guide for a sampling of some of the experts we recommend, and feel free to get in touch with us to see if we know that one person you need.

Process

All of these minimization tools are part of one big, important part of your business: Process.

If the word makes you shudder, or you can actually picture prison bars around yourself when you read that word, we totally understand. You don’t have to create the process. You don’t have to manage the process. You should be doing that one thing you do so well. The rest? Well that’s up to your team.

Get in touch with us to find out out how we can build the systems and processes you need that will free you to focus on what you do best.