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Money / Pricing strategy

How to deal with project scope creep

Those of us trying to move away from charging an hourly rate can suffer when clients expect more than initially agreed. So how can you avoid project scope creep?

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In an earlier article (Pricing strategies: Hourly Rates – no thanks!), some great questions were raised in the comments.

Readers were intrigued with the idea of moving away from an hourly rates mentality, but wanted to know: 

  • What happens when your client asks you to do more than you had originally agreed and quoted on?
  • How do you escape working at an hourly rate when this happens?

This article aims to address these questions, which amount to something I call project scope creep.

As with most things in business, getting what you want comes down to communication. To ensure you’re not susceptible to scope creep, you need to ask the following:

1. What protection do I have in my quotes?

Whenever you submit a quote for a piece of work, you should always make sure you include a statement that outlines what you will do if the scope of the work changes or increases. For example, you might say:

In the case that additional work is required beyond that outlined in this quote, <your business name> will provide a further quote based on the scope of this work.

"As with most things in business, getting what you want comes down to communication."

or

In the event that the scope changes or increases materially, <your business name> will requote based on the new or additional scope.

This inclusion lets your clients know that your process is to requote formally, rather than just begin to work at an hourly rate. Set the expectation up front and you’ll have no trouble implementing it when you need to.

Want more articles like this? Check out the pricing strategy section.

2.  What sort of relationship do I have with my clients?

Most soloists I know are very focused on providing service. Often it’s what sets them apart from their competition. But you want to be careful that this focus doesn’t result in you having a ‘servant-master’ relationship with your clients.

A relationship where they say ‘jump’, and you ask ‘how high?’

If you are stuck in this servant-master groove, your first instinct is to agree to the customer’s wishes, regardless of their impact on you. So when they ask if you can spend just a couple more hours on a job, and charge them on an hourly basis, your first instinct might be to say yes.

Now imagine you have an equal relationship with your clients – they have a need which you are filling, they value your expertise, and you value their custom – equally. Under these circumstances you would respond to the same request differently.

Firstly, you would make a decision about whether you wanted to do the work, or whether you wanted to recommend someone else.

Sometimes our clients ask us to do things just because we are there, not because it’s actually our specialty or our desire! It’s okay to say no – you are actually reminding your clients about your niche, which is the very reason they hired you.

Assuming there are times when you do want to continue doing the work, you would remind the client of your process, which is clearly stated in your original quote. You might say:

“I am happy to do this work. I charge based on completing a specific job, not by the hour, so I will provide you with a new quote based on the job as you’ve described it.”

If you are committed to moving away from hourly rates, then you need to be just as committed to finding ways to quote for a job, regardless of how small that job is. Even if it is only going to take a few hours to complete, it’s still more about the value you are providing than the time you are spending.

Megan Tough

runs Complete Potential, a company that helps businesses solve their strategy and people problems. She loves being a solopreneur, and when she doesn't have her nose to the grindstone, is fulfilling her other passion of fitness and health.

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