Unrealistic Customers? How to Manage Scope Creep

A significant part of owning a business is learning how to manage project scope creep. Scope creep, for those unfamiliar with the term, is when a client requests changes or services that were not part of the original agreement. Before you know it, you’re doing more work than you initially charged for, drastically reducing your profits.

A woman business owner discusses a blueprint with a customer 

We’ve all seen it happen: your client contracts for a project, then push for more work, extra rounds of revisions, or additional services for no extra charge. Business owners frequently give in to please the customer, but this unpaid labor can kill your bottom line. So here’s what you need to know about how to avoid unpaid project scope creep.

How to Handle Unreasonable Customers

If you’re having trouble learning how to manage scope creep, you’re not alone. It might start innocently enough: a client requests a minor change, and you don’t see the need to create a change order because you have a good relationship. 

However, this kind of behavior can quickly spiral out of control. The client might request additional changes or services thinking they can get more work for no extra charge, or you might end up throwing in free services for multiple clients. As a result, you’ve completed hours and hours of work that you’re not getting paid for. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few tips on how to manage scope creep

  1. Don’t start the job without a contract. Setting expectations with customers from the outset is essential, so every party knows what to expect. The contract is the place to put these expectations in writing. 
  2. Ensure that you have a solid written agreement in the contract that specifies how the revisions, change orders, and additional services will be handled. Talk about this with your customer, too—don’t just hide it in the fine print.
  3. Prepare yourself for how you will handle a request to absorb the change order. If you have a hard time saying no, come up with a few scripts you can use. Preparation will prevent you from being caught off-guard at the moment. 
  4. Use project management software if possible. Software makes it easy to track progress for each customer, as well as billable hours. If you notice that a particular client repetitiously keeps pushing for more hours, you know it’s time to have a talk. 
  5. Be aggressive with your communication from the beginning. If a customer is clear on every step of the process, it’s much less likely that changes will be needed later. A big part of learning how to manage scope creep is preventing additional revisions from occurring. 
  6. Have a mindset that preserving your rights is not conflict; it is negotiating a solution. Saying no to a client can leave a bad taste in your mouth, but protecting your boundaries is crucial for your profitability. 

Figuring out how to successfully manage scope creep is just one aspect of owning a business. To lead effectively, you should constantly strive to learn new tactics. Sign up for my free weekly blog articles or a complimentary coaching session for more fabulous leadership tips from a qualified business coach.

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Dave Schoenbeck
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