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How to Manage ‘Scope Creep’ as a Freelance Writer

Tactics for defending your time, energy (and sanity) against clients who keep making requests outside of the agreed-upon scope of work


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Dan Marticio

2 years ago | 5 min read

“Can we make just a small change here?

If you’ve been freelance writing for a while, you’ve likely heard of this request. Most times, it’s innocent. You may find it a little annoying but you do it anyway. Make the client happy, right?

However, letting scope creep… well, creep in can have a bigger impact than you might think. It sets a bad precedent for clients to tack on more of these small asks without properly compensating you. Small changes accumulate into a series of tweaks over here and fine-tuning over there.

As a freelance writer, your time and labor are important — you should be properly compensated for them. But this only happens when you set boundaries and establish the right systems.

What is Scope Creep?

Scope creep is when a client makes requests outside the agreed-upon scope of work (SOW). The SOW is the list of expectations both parties agreed to before beginning the project. This typically includes the type and amount of deliverables, the number of revisions and payment terms.

Scope Creep Examples

The most commons cope creep examples for freelance writers involve additional revisions, complete rewrites (despite fulfilling initial expectations), additional deliverables and higher word count.

To establish each example, let’s use a hypothetical scenario. You and the client agree upon the following scope of SOW:

  1. (4x) 1,000-word blog posts per week for the next four weeks
  2. For each article, you receive a brief with keywords and main points you want to hit, target audience and overall tone
  3. 2 free rounds of revisions per article. 10% additional fee for additional rounds.
  4. Each article costs a flat rate of $375

Additional revisions. After completing two rounds of revisions, the client comes back and asks for some quick changes to a few paragraphs. Since they’re small tasks, they don’t want to pay the additional fee. The client wants a third revision round without paying — therefore, this is scope creep.

Complete rewrites. The article you’re working on is targeting new entrepreneurs in their late twenties seeking startup financing. After submitting the article, the client changes their mind and wants to address college students majoring in business instead. Since this shifts the entire tonality of the article, this can be considered outside the scope.

Additional deliverables. You submit all four articles, but the client realizes they need to think of some social media copy when sharing it across their platforms. Since social media posts are only a couple of words, they ask you to quickly whip something up. If you’re not compensated for this work, the client is engaging in scope creep.

Higher word count. You agreed upon 1,000 words but the client is asking you to add new concepts, which would increase the word count to around 1,500 words. The client is getting into more deep-dive content that the agreed-upon 1,000 words wouldn’t allow. If you silently accommodate the request, you’re enabling scope creep.

Why Scope Creep is Dangerous

Small requests often seem fine in the moment. Rarely is a client malicious or intentionally trying to undercut you for your labor and value. However, letting scope creep accumulate can lead to undesirable consequences.

  1. First, permitting scope creep sets a bad precedent: If you work with a retainer client, that is generally a long-term working relationship. However, if you make an exception on the first project, the client may expect you to make the same accommodations for every project after.
  2. Second, you are uncompensated for additional work: Your time is valuable and working for free doesn’t pay the bills. If you get into the habit of working for free (even for small requests), you subconsciously tell the client and yourself that zero is the cost of your labor.

Tips for Avoiding Scope Creep

The following scope creep prevention tips can help you set boundaries that respect your time and labor.

#1 Use clear contract language.

Clear contracts that both you and the client sign off on benefit both parties. Each party understands exactly what is expected within this agreement. You, the freelance writer, will provide X services. In return, the client will compensate you for Y amount.

Therefore, be clear about exactly what the client is paying for. As a freelance writer, you should be specifying, at least:

  • Type of deliverables (blog posts, email newsletter, etc.)
  • Amount of deliverables
  • Number of revision rounds
  • Word count

If scope creep ever occurs down the line, you have a signed contract to point to.

#2 Sign off on an outline.

In addition to a signed contract, it’s helpful to also have a client review and sign off on an outline. Typically, your outline will establish the main points and keywords you intend to hit. It may contain other characteristics, such as the word count, article tone and target audience.

A contract may offer a forest view of the SOW. Signing off an outline helps both parties get to ground-level and see the trees of a specific project. That way, the client knows exactly what to expect from a single project.

#3 Enforce your terms.

If a client is requesting a third round of revisions but the contract states you only offer two, specify that to the client. If you offer additional rounds at an additional cost, state your price.

The client may have honestly forgotten your revisions policy. Most times, they will stay put with the current version or pay your additional fee.

#4 Say no.

If a client is requesting something outside the SOW and doesn’t want to comply with your terms, say no. It is within your right to not provide an additional service you did not agree to, especially if the client is refusing to compensate you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is responsible for scope creep?

Both parties are responsible, but the freelance writer is responsible for managing it. Poor communication is generally what causes scope creep. As the expert, the freelance writer should drive the project and set up systems that establish expectations and terms, such as clear contract language and outlines both parties must agree to.

Why is scope creep bad?

Scope creep can work against freelance writers because it sets a precedent for clients to request additional work without providing appropriate compensation. Freelance writers, then, complete these additional tasks at no additional cost.

How does scope creep undermine the success of a project?

Excessive scope creep can push a project past its target deadlines. As the client makes additional requests, they must also give the freelance writer adequate time to make fulfill those requests. This can affect other departments’ deadlines, such as a web designer waiting on website copy or blog content before finalizing the design.

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Dan Marticio

Dan is a freelance writer specializing in small business and personal finance. He works with FinTech and B2B companies and has written extensively about small business, from startup guides to payment processor reviews. Hire him to write for YOU at danmarticio.com.


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