Scope Creep: How Freelance Writers Can Deal With it Tactfully and Professionally

what is scope creep

Most freelancers have run into the dreaded scope creep at some point during their careers. It occurs when you start working on a project that you think is going to encompass one set of parameters, and then what is expected of you starts growing beyond your original understanding.

If the client asks for a minor change to something, your first response may be to deal with it and move on, especially if you have had a good working relationship so far. But what do you do when you continue to get requests to “add this,” “change that,” and “I wonder if you could…”

At a certain point, you’ll look up and realize that you are no longer making what you consider to be a living wage on the project. The gig is eating into your time so much that it’s getting in the way of projects you could be making money on.

What is scope creep in the context of freelance writing?

Scope creep in freelance writing refers to the gradual expansion of a project beyond its initially defined boundaries. It occurs when clients request additional work, revisions, or extra deliverables outside the agreed-upon scope, often without adjusting the compensation accordingly.

This can lead to increased workload, time constraints, and potential disputes over payment. Freelancers must clearly outline project scopes, set boundaries, and establish terms for additional work to manage and prevent scope creep effectively.

Examples of scope creep

Let’s look at specific scenarios of scope creep happening.

  1. Additional research requirements. Your client initially requests a 1,000-word article but later asks for more in-depth research, adding extra topics or sources, without adjusting the payment.
  2. Unforeseen revisions. After completing a series of blog posts, your client decides they want a different tone or style, leading to significant revisions that were not part of the initial agreement.
  3. Extended project timeline. Your client, without prior discussion, expects you to accommodate delays or last-minute changes that weren’t factored into the original project timeline, impacting your schedule and potentially leading to a rushed final product. If you’re charging by the hour, and your capacity is not negatively affected, this might be okay. But if you charged a fixed fee for the project, then it is a problem.

What can you do about scope creep?

Understand what your client is trying to achieve

You probably thought I was going to say “get it in writing” first, didn’t you? (That will come a bit later.) I prefer to believe that most clients aren’t deliberately out to get free work out of freelancers; they are focused on their business and what they need to do to make it run successfully. Some business owners are focused on the result and are not familiar with the steps necessary to achieve it.

As a freelancer, you need to be prepared to break down the job into small pieces to show your client what is involved.

It would be the same thing if I wanted to hire a contractor to build me a deck on the back of my house. I know I want a deck, and I can tell the contractor the dimensions I want, what kinds of materials I want to use, whether I want a railing and steps—that kind of information. I have no idea about the process involved in building the deck and the steps involved. The contractor would have to work up a detailed quote for me that set out those details.

Provide prospective clients with a detailed quote

A serious prospective client won’t hesitate to give you details about the gig. It’s not enough to ask a professional freelance writer, “How much do you charge for a 500-word blog post?”

The right answer is that it depends, and a client who has worked with freelancers before will appreciate that.

Using the example of a blog post, to avoid scope creep, break down your quote to the smallest unit that you can. Tell the prospective client that you charge X amount per word or per page for writing. If you charge a certain amount per hour for research, include that as a separate rate or tell the client that research and writing starts at $X, depending on the topic. Give yourself leeway in case it is something that will be time-consuming. You can always adjust down later, but you can never move up when discussing rates if you don’t ask for enough from the outset.

If your rate includes a certain number of rounds of revisions, state this upfront. After that point, tell the client how much you charge for each additional revision request.

Does your rate include finding and uploading stock images and the post to the client’s site, or do you charge extra for that service? State this up front as well. How many posts per week or month will you be responsible for uploading?

State each item clearly and concisely as a numbered or bullet point. Once the client has agreed to each one, you can start working together. Being this precise will not necessarily protect you from scope creep, but it gives you something to refer to if it starts.

Stay in control when confronted with scope creep

If, after you have agreed on the scope of the work, the client asks for something extra, you have a couple of choices if scope creep comes into the picture.

Minor requests

You certainly don’t want to get a reputation as someone who is going to nickel and dime your clients on every little thing, and having some flexibility is probably a good attitude to have. While this is entirely your call, if a request won’t take much time, you may want to accommodate it at no charge. However, do let the client know that you will “just look after it for them,” and they don’t need to worry about it showing up on your invoice.

Add-ons or major changes

In a situation where a client wants to add something new to the project or make a major change, you are looking at a completely different situation. In that case, you need to write up a change order and a new quote for the requested work.

The cover letter or e-mail would read something like this:

Dear Client,

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your business. This letter/e-mail will confirm our conversation/your instructions of [date], where you requested that I add [list changes here].

I’d be happy to add this additional request to the project scope. I’ll send over a revised scope of work for your approval shortly. Once I’ve received a signed version of the revised document from you, I can advise you of estimated completion times and go ahead and add the new work to your final billing installment.


Y.R.A. Freelancer

This approach allows you to address the client’s request for a change in such a way that he or she has room to go ahead with it or reconsider without losing face. You’ve handled the matter tactfully and professionally without doing additional work for free.

The best part is that you have preserved your relationship with your client. This is how you will continue to build your freelance writing business.






One response
  1. Andrew Avatar

    I recently had to deal with a client like this. It was rather bothersome and it took time away from other projects I had at the time. My advice: even if if this is a lucrative client end your partnership as soon as you can.

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