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All is well. Your week's agenda includes projects, deadlines, meetings and appointments, and life outside freelancing. You find a variation of this dreaded sentence: “You know what would be great?” Your client thought of a tiny little thing they’d like to add to their project. Then an edit. Then another edit. Suddenly your planned-out week isn’t as planned out as you thought. Also, you’re (likely) not getting paid more for “small” changes.

This can often happen while working as a freelancer. It’s called scope creep, and we here at Indy know it can be one of the primary causes of project failure. How can you avoid it? Read on to find out.

What Is Scope Creep?

Let’s break down the term “scope creep” and start with scope. Scope is the work you’re expected to deliver, which should be documented. The work agreement would include specific requirements, deadlines, and deliverables. If you’re putting together a 15-slide executive presentation for a client, for example, your scope could include the following:

  • Requirements and specifications for the presentation
  • Actual presentation file
  • Delivery deadline
  • Any accompanying notes or tools for your client

Scope creep occurs when that scope gradually creeps up. This occurs when your client adds additional items, features, or requirements to previously agreed-upon projects without making necessary changes to the project documentation, timeline, or financial compensation.

Scope creep refers to how the requirements of a project tend to increase throughout a project's lifecycle. For example, what once started as a single deliverable becomes five; or a product that began with three essential features now must have ten; or a customer's needs change in the middle of a project, prompting a reassessment of the project's requirements. 

The changing requirements of major project stakeholders are often what causes scope creep, while internal communications and arguments can also play a role in its occurrence. This essay addresses numerous methods in which it sneaks up on projects and provides advice on how to stop it. It is sometimes terrible when scope creep happens to a project, even though it may result in delays, obstacles, or running over budget. 

Keep in mind that a scope change is inevitable; as time passes, the demands of the customer change, and to produce a project that satisfies those needs, it is often necessary to adjust the project scope. Therefore, every competent project manager must anticipate and prepare for the inevitable expansion of the project's scope.

Recommendations to Prevent Scope Creep and Stay on Track

Scope creep is bad for freelancers doing projects, but it’s also bad for clients. It can easily lead to misunderstandings, disagreements, missed deadlines, or even overall project failure. This is why it’s important for freelancers to effectively fight against scope creep in projects and avoid falling into common mishaps. But how?

1. Identify project goals and requirements and put them in writing

This may appear simple, but if you are delivering a complicated project, precisely describing the project's scope can help with preventing scope creep. It is best to take time and do something correctly rather than speed through all the work only to have done it wrong.

It makes no difference what it is that you are doing. You may be working on a website redesign, an article, or even renovating an apartment. It would help if you still began by defining the project's scope.

Start your project's scope by defining your key performance indicators (KPIs), establishing project milestones, and drafting a precise agreement about what the client hopes to get. 

Feel free to specify in the scope of work document any particular aspects of the project that you and the other stakeholders have decided will not be included in the overall scope of the work. If another freelancer or team is expected to help out in the project, you should be duly informed, and it should be noted in the agreement. 

When something needs to be clarified, consult with a professional. If you need to improve with numbers, consult your financial department coworkers for some pointers. Do you need to figure out how long it will take to create art assets for a website? Inquire with the artist. Always employ your project team to the best of their abilities to do this properly.

Remember, the more thoroughly you plan the project from the beginning, the more successful you will complete it.

 2. Consider using an estimate-based pricing model

When you hire a construction contractor, they give you an estimate knowing that complications could arise and that this could change the price. Some freelancers choose this model as a way to deal with scope creep. You’ll provide your client with a detailed list of the services you’ll provide for the estimated price. At the end of the project, you invoice the client based on the work you actually completed.

If, for example, you’re tasked with putting together a B2B white paper and the final product could land anywhere between 20 and 30 pages, charge by word count or by page count so that if the project turns out longer than originally expected, you’re getting compensated fairly for the length and duration of work.

3. Create a plan ahead of time for scope changes 

It would be naïve to think that projects will always go as planned, even with those above steps put in place. Projects are often molded, adjusted, tweaked, and twisted throughout their life cycles. Things change, and that’s okay. What’s important is to have change control processes in place. When a client is looking to make a change, it comes down to four components:

  • Proposing the change: What needs to change? Why should it be implemented?
  • Calculating the impact: Is there a financial impact? Will deadlines need to be pushed?
  • Making the decision: Given the impact calculations, does it still make sense to make the change?
  • Signing off on the change: Are both parties content with the new plan of action?  

Establishing this process before starting a project will save both your client and yourself headaches as you work together.

Projects can undergo change in a heartbeat for multiple reasons. A goal that had been set from the start may suddenly become unachievable. This may have nothing to do with you or your client, it may be due to economic changes, lack of funds or supplies, etc.

Imagine that one of your suppliers goes bankrupt. If you have someone ready to step in, it will save you from having to take on more responsibilities and prevents your project schedule and requirements from being altered. Taking this precaution could prevent you from winding up with an unsustainable project and impossible to deliver.

If there is a possibility that a project cannot be delivered, it is important to let the client know before agreeing to the project.

4. Make effective communication a priority

Another headache saver: communication. Communicating effectively is a majorly important skill in any industry, but particularly important with client relationships. Active listening, creating open avenues for questions, setting meetings when necessary, and asking for feedback are all vital pieces of effective communication that can help ensure your projects run smoothly and as planned.

5. Be transparent 

One reason scope creep can lead to project failure is that many of us have the habit of taking on a heavy workload and a desire to please our clients. Because we’re used to tight deadlines and juggling multiple projects, we brush off the added scope and tell clients that we can still meet original deadlines. Often, we can. But working this way will inevitably lead to the unfortunate moment that a deadline is missed, or it will lead to burnout.

Not meeting a deadline is a project failure—and it looks like a project failure on your end. Instead of risking this situation, be transparent about any change requests, added work scope and the importance of documenting changes, and build systems with your client that encourage transparency and set you up for success.

6. Ensure your client Is on board

Your clients will likely not come to you with a clear idea of what they want. That is because they are not experts; if they were, they won’t hire you. So determining what a client wants might be challenging.

This customer relies on your professional guidance to help them determine what they require and how much it will cost. Nevertheless, when speaking with a customer in business relationships, you can often assume they have more background information than they do. There will be occasions when the customer has a considerably more limited understanding. This presents a risk since it may generate unrealistic expectations for the project.

So, take the time to explain everything to your client, especially before they commit to huge changes or if the situation is complicated. Have a meeting with them to clarify exactly what the deliverables of your project will be.

This simple step will help you avoid headaches because. now your client knows what to expect and why they are expecting it. It also decreases the likelihood that they would file a complaint against you.

7. Include your customer in every step of the process

You have a responsibility to ensure that your client understands how the project is moving and that they are reminded of the project's initial scope as it moves forward. That way, you will be able to better manage their expectations.

If you involve them in the process, you find it easier to explain why suggested additional features are not feasible.

Regular participation from the customer can also prevent the internal scope of the project from expanding uncontrollably. That is because they have the opportunity to clarify their expectations and raise red flags if the project is towing a line they don’t like.

8. Be proactive in addressing problems

Have you ever completed a job with no hiccups? Probably not. Sometimes, even the most thorough project scopes need to be amended. So, don't try to cover up problems or act like they aren't happening to avoid embarrassment. Instead, inform your client about those problems and what you are doing to deal with them. 

Suppose you bring these problems to light as soon as possible. In that case, you can renegotiate certain components of the project, lower expenses, or employ collaborative tactics to identify appropriate answers to the problems that you are experiencing.

More often than not, ignoring problems will cause them to worsen. Instead, gain full control of the problem and deal with it before it becomes unmanageable.

9. Be willing to seek help

Feel free to seek advice from your peers and the other team members working on your project. This could be a mentor, friend, or even someone from your client’s team.

Consult with them for guidance if you are afraid that the scale of your project is getting out of hand. It would help if you invited them to independently assess your team's work on the project and show them around.

10. Keep an open mind

Even though you should be aware of project creep in project management, you shouldn't continually worry about it. It may result in the dissolution of the client's relationships.

If one of your clients proposes a legitimate change that will benefit the project, seriously consider implementing it. Do not make the mistake of using "project creep" as an alibi for ignoring changes at will.

Do not let your worries about expanding a project's scope damage your relationships with your clients. This does not mean you ignore it, but rather that you should keep a healthy balance in your work and exercise caution when agreeing to modifications in the first project plan.

How Indy Can Help You Avoid Project Scope Creep

Indy can help freelancers avoid scope creep in several ways:

  • Detailed project proposals: Indy can help freelancers create a detailed project proposal that outlines the scope of work, deliverables, timelines, and milestones and sets clear expectations with the client. A well-crafted project proposal can help the freelancer and the client understand what is expected of each other, reducing the likelihood of scope creep.
  • Communication tools: Indy Chats provides communication tools that allow freelancers to contact their clients throughout the project. This can help to identify potential scope creep issues early and address them before they become major problems.
  • Change order forms: Indy’s Forms tool can provide freelancers with a change order form that allows for changes to the scope of work to be made in a structured way. This helps avoid scope creep by ensuring that any changes to the project scope are properly documented, agreed upon, and accounted for in the project budget and project timeline.

Indy can provide freelancers with project management support to help them stay on top of their projects and avoid scope creep. This project management software is ideal for freelancers as it includes many useful tools in one and allows to automate repetitive tasks.

Keeping Scope Creep at Bay 

A proactive approach to managing scope creep will save you money, save you time, and minimize the risk of project failure. Projects are living and breathing things—there’s always a chance that requirements will need to change. But make sure those changes don’t come out of your pocket. Making use of these five recommendations will help you keep your scope under control and continue being a successful freelancer.


Scope creep is a nightmare that project managers around the world must face. And, as indicated by the research, the lone responsible party for most unsuccessful projects. However, there are ways to rein in scope creep, and some people even think it can be a fantastic opportunity for growth. Scope creep is not an untamable beast. 

Indy is a great platform that helps freelancers manage their projects. By combining many of the tools you need in a single place, Indy can help you clarify your project’s scope and limit the number of changes made by the client. Sign-up for free and explore Indy’s tools to see how we can help you manage your business more successfully.

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