How to Avoid Scope Creep as a Freelancer

You don’t have to freelance for very long before you run into that client.

If you freelance, you know who I’m talking about – the client who negotiates your rate to lower than you feel comfortable billing. Then, once you agree, asks you to throw in an additional service for free. Then another. And another.

A project that starts as a 500 word blog post becomes a 700 word blog post, uploaded to WordPress, with two images, and shared on social media – all for 75% of your traditional rate for an article!

What you’re experiencing here is scope creep. Scope creep is when the requirements (scope) of a project slowly increase until you find yourself working on a much larger project than originally expected without an increase in compensation.

If you’re currently in this situation, I recommend that you commit to following through on your promises, deliver exceptional customer service, and finish this project – fast.

Then, take the following steps to prevent scope creep from interfering with future contracts.

1. Clearly define expectations before starting a project

The easiest way to prevent scope creep as a freelancer is to clearly define what is in scope, and out of scope, before the job begins.

Communication is key. Anything that is not clearly defined is up for negotiation. So clearly state what is included, what is not included, and then state that anything not clearly mentioned falls “out of scope”.

Whether in a contract, or simply in an email, having something written down allows both of you to reference your original agreement if a misunderstanding arises.

2. Budget extra time into your bid

Every freelancer should live by the phrase, “under promise and over deliver”.

If you set your rate slightly higher, you allow yourself to put in additional effort without breaking the bank. This extra time can be spent to “wow” your clients by going above and beyond.

Additionally, if the client request one more revision, a slightly longer article, or assistance with another small piece of the task, this cushion in your hourly rate allows you to say “yes” – keeping the client happy.

3. Request frequent feedback throughout the project

What’s worse than scope creep? Completing a project only to discover that it’s done incorrectly.

For example, let’s say that I hire you to write an article about pets. You eagerly sit down and write the world’s best article on cats as a pet. However, my website is about dogs!

Because of our simple misunderstanding around the topic, you’ve done an excellent job on an article that I can’t use. Now, one of us is out time or money to correct this “mistake”.

To prevent this from happening, keep the client involved. Run each step by the client, at least for the first project, to ensure that you both have the same vision for the end result.

4. Turn down projects from aggressive negotiators

One of the hardest things for a beginning freelancer is to say “no”. Every project has a dollar sign attached to it, so each “no” feels like you’re throwing away money.

The reality is, there will always be more projects. So, although you need to be reasonable with your expectations, it’s perfectly acceptable to pass on a project that’s not a good fit for you. In fact, I recommend it.

If a client starts playing hardball from the beginning, you can be confident that they will be difficult to work with throughout the contract. Someone who works hard to negotiate a price will also be highly critical of your final deliverable.

Do yourself a favor and pass on projects that are substantially under your budget.

5. Maintain exceptional customer service

The Harvard Business Review says it can cost up to 25x more to find a new customer than to keep one you already have. Although sites like Upwork reduces the time involved in finding new clients, it’s still easier, and cheaper, to keep your current customers around.

When you find a client that pays well and you enjoy working with, treat them like royalty! Make an extra effort to show that you value their professional relationship. In doing so, they may be inclined to provide you with additional projects or recommend you to their network. In turn, you will continue to work with clients worth your time and energy.

Although scope creep is inevitable on occasion, follow the five steps above to minimize it’s impact.

Do you have anything to add? Have you experienced scope creep? Tell us in the comments.


Rob is enthusiastic about everything related to money and investing. A financial analyst and instructor, he enjoys using what he’s learned from 10 years of studying business and money to help others achieve financial stability. He founded Money Nomad in 2014!

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