The Most Important Word for You to Know

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The Most Important Word for You to Know

The Most Important Word for You to Know

The most important word to any freelancer or consultant is… “scope,” preferably not followed by the word “creep.”

Scope creep is the bane of any independent consultant’s existence. It happens when your client adds things to your to-do list that you didn’t foresee. Or from misunderstandings that occur when you don’t communicate firm boundaries around a project.

Scope creep will cost you money, enthusiasm, and (it often feels like) your sanity. Note that the scope creep affliction isn’t limited to nasty clients who are trying to put one over on you. “Cool” clients, who may not understand the specifics of your proposal or the amount of time they’re requesting, can be culprits, too. Don’t assume that having a good relationship with your client will prevent scope creep – only good contracts can do that.

The way to manage expectations is to tightly define the scope of a project, both within your initial proposal and in the final written agreement/contract. Sample wording for these clauses could include:

Example #1:

This project will include research, writing and editing of one news announcement, one four-page brochure, and one FAQ (to include up to 12 questions). The fee includes two rounds of revisions for each document.

Out-of-scope activities include: facilitating internal approvals at the company, graphical design and layout, and wire service distribution. Additional service requests will be billed at the rate of $X/hour.

Example #2:

The monthly retainer fee includes X, Y and Z. Additional services are available and can be quoted separately upon request.

When working on a project with a portion to be billed upon completion, it’s also helpful to state something like “if two weeks pass without communication from X company, [your PR firm] reserves the right to bill for services rendered to date.” This is important protection for occasions when a client can’t get the final approvals on a deliverable, but your work is largely completed.

Though out-of-control projects can happen to anyone, spelling out the deliverables and managing expectations up front are key to keeping these misunderstandings to a minimum.

Photo credit: chego101


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Written By Kellye Crane
Kellye Crane is the founder of Solo PR Pro, which provides the tools, education, advocacy and community resources needed for indies to succeed and grow. She's a veteran and award-winning communicator with more than 20 years of experience - 19 of them solo.


  1. To control feature creep we maintain a change control document. All of the details and tasks are kept in a spreadsheet. In order for anything to be added to sheet it has to to be approved by the change control board. The board consists of the parties or representative in charge of delivering the product on time, budget for product, and quality/testing of the product. Those involved can be from the same company or from multiple companies depending on the task. Usually if the new feature is not planed for one or more of the three section listed may be affected.

    This process and procedure is agreed upon before work is started.

  2. Fascinating take from the world of product development, Wesley (which is, of course, where the term “scope creep” came from). I think there’s a lot consultants in other areas can learn from this approach. How often does one client team member hijack a project? By asking for consensus from the whole team, I’m sure a lot of headache could be avoided. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Seriously I have had one project turn into four as if it was supposed to happen that way.
    I also have had team partners save me from clients that detoured into completely unrelated little tasks.
    The best is when scope creep extends (renews) a contract that was slated to end.

  4. I’ve pretty much banished the term “scope creep” from my franchise PR agency’s vocabulary.

  5. This is the way that was going to happen, as if seriously I have had to turn to one of four project. I also have had detoured into smaller tasks completely unrelated team partners that customers save me. Scope creep was hoping to conclude a contract that extends (renews) When is the best.