Scope creep.

It happens to the best of us. When you’re in business for yourself, and especially just starting out, this can happen a lot.

It can be unnerving and stressful to have to tell your client that you’re in over your head. You want them to see you as a super hero in service, but sometimes, things just get out of hand. You want nothing more than to work and start making some much needed cash.

Last week, working with a solopreneur client, I found myself coaching her on one particular subject: Boundary setting with clients. As a people-pleaser and real-honest-to-goodness giver, she was facing a lot of stress when it came to delivering not only what was in the scope of work, but what she was finding herself doing as a courtesy to keep the client happy. Trying to keep the client happy was making her miserable, and behind schedule.

Suddenly, a project that was going to be about 15 hours of work doubled in scope without an increase in compensation because my client wanted to please her client and gain her trust. But she felt stuck. She wanted to over deliver certainly- but not at the expense of the project at hand, other client projects, family time and work/life balance. She knew she had to talk to her client about this delicate subject and she wanted to know how to summon super powers to do so- she was both nervous and stressed. You don’t need super powers to turn this around. A little strategy and careful thought will most certainly pay off.

Be sure to effectively navigate the paperwork and get clarity.

Together, we looked at the initial contracts and agreements she had made with her client. In her case, the scope of work was not clear and deliverables were somewhat muddy.

Rule #1: When working with clients, make sure your contract is clear, concise and protects you and your time. You don’t want to disappoint the client when you realize the whole thing is spinning out of control. I work with my clients on crafting language that is specific and easily understood. I also recommend that a business lawyer review their contracts to make sure everything is in line to offer them some protection from scope creep. You can always add in a line about possible scope creep and what will happen if that happens- will you work hourly? Will you need to clear extra work with your client first?

Set a course for great communication.

The exchanges between my client and her client had been sparse and full of assumptions on either end. There was a lot not being said, especially from my client’s side. We all want to do our best, but often in the course of negotiating a project, we can easily overlook the details around communication.

Updating your client doesn’t have to create waves.

Rule #2: Determine the best working style with your client. How do they like to be communicated with? Do they prefer a daily, weekly or bi-weekly check-in? Would they like an end-of-week report? Find out if they prefer email, phone or text as a primary mode of communication. Set the expectations early, so that you have a clear understand of how you will communicate and share information.

The next step in clarifying the boundary setting process is knowing when you, as a service provider, need to vocalize when scope creep is happening. It’s not worth being up all hours of the night and day trying to finish the extras tasks you’re doing “to be nice”. That habit does not do you, the client or the project any good. And it’s absolutely okay to admit to yourself when things are going astray and that you’d like to make some adjustments to the expectations of the project. Be sure to remember what the original project scope was and refer to that- again, a clear contract and strong communication can help solve this problem.

Always do your best to right the ship.

Rule #3: When you need to talk to your client about project expectations and scope creep, it’s always a good idea to offer recommendations and suggestions for making things better- for you both! If you come to the table with ideas for delivering the best you can within the scope of work, along with a few additional tasks you can do to assuage the situation, your client feels taken care of, communicated with and appreciated. It’s incredibly important to be forthright and respectful of the project, and your client, but you do have a say in how things get done. Being bullied by clients is not ok. This is what was happening to my client and she felt powerless to stop the creep from getting bigger. Her client was taking advantage of her and her newness to freelancing.

Overall, working from a place of integrity and honesty makes a real difference in client care. Trust your gut and do your best. Your clients will respond well when the project goes smoothly and you end up delivering everything (and usually more) they expected. You can do it!

If you’re interested in learning more about ways to streamline your communications with your clients, let’s talk.

Note: You may be asking yourself- Erin, how the heck does this relate to marketing? It’s all about reputation and relationship building. What do you want to be known for, being scattered or being organized? Being clear or being a trainwreck when it comes to contracts? How you operate your business matters. Streamlining your systems and your communications makes a difference to the way you interact with clients and how they may or may not refer you.