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Scope Creep

Scope creep is what happens when the willingness to overdeliver becomes assumed on the part of the client. There is a difference between overdelivering on a current project and allowing the scope of the current project to grow into some entirely different entity. It’s human nature to get as much bang for the buck as possible, and it’s your job to draw the line. The further you allow a client to scope creep, the harder it will be to draw that line, and as I’ve got an extreme aversion to conflict I generally draw it right at the beginning. Knowing what you will and will not do for the price you’ve quoted, and communicating this clearly in an agreement up front, is what makes this easier. When a client asks for something that’s outside the scope of our contract, I reply the same way every time: “I can do that, and would love to talk to you about how I can meet that need for you, but those changes will affect the budget. If you’ll give me specifics on what you need, I’d be happy to get you an updated budget.” Or words to that effect. I’m enthusiastic, and I make sure they know I’m there for them 100 percent; I also remind them gently that this “small addition” has an effect on their budget.

This clear communication ensures clients know your value and your professionalism. You don’t want to nickel and dime them to death, but you giving your time away for free at the demand of your client is not unlike giving customers the products off your shelf. Most of us can’t afford to do business for free, and if you make a habit of it your bottom line will suffer and become an obstacle to you doing what you are passionate about.

If it seems like these last two concepts—“Scope Creep” and “It’s Not My Job, Man”—contradict, consider this: when you overdeliver for a client, it’s because you’ve anticipated that overdelivery and built it into the costs. Yes, they get their files on branded DVDs in boutique packaging, delivered overnight. But it’s not free. You’ve made a choice ahead of time to assume your clients want the best service, and you’ve made it part of your cost of doing business. It’s built in. But when they begin making demands that lie well outside the original budget, then it is they who pony up for the additional scope, not you. Doing it once in a while might be a wise marketing expense—if you pick your occasions well. Making a habit of it is bad business.

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