While I have clients that I have grown to love like family, there are some little things all clients do that can drive me insane. Definitely in the top 5: scope creep. Learning how to avoid scope creep has been tough, as it can be awkward and unfriendly to do. You want your clients to be completely satisfied. You want to avoid confrontation. But sometimes you have to put your foot down.

You may be thinking.. Wait. More services = more money for me, so who cares if the client wants to add on more things? I understand why you may think that. But trust me. There is a way to upsell or get those extra services done and get you paid. But the management is the most important thing. Also keep in mind my most favorite saying: Plan the work, work the plan. If it wasn’t part of the puzzle to begin with, your end goal is going to become skewed and your site will probably be a bit of a mess.

So down to business. How does one avoid scope creep? What I’ve learned is that the key to avoiding scope creep is not giving it any room to grow in the first place.

What is Scope Creep?

Let’s back up. I only learned the term “scope creep” a few months ago so let’s define it. According to good old Wikipedia, scope creep in project management refers to changes, continuous or uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope, at any point after the project begins.

Here’s an example. You’re building a simple 2-page website for a friend’s business for free. From your initial conversation with them, it should take you no time at all to do. But halfway through, they want to add a photo gallery to a page. You hadn’t discussed this, but hey, it’s a favor and it will actually really help that page. You’ve finished that and they ask you if you can add just one more page on. No problem. Next thing you know, they are asking for a 15 page site and want to be able to sell some products to make some extra cash. Now you’re 3-week long favor has turned into a months-long endeavor and you aren’t being paid a dime for it.

What the heck just happened? You’ve been scope creeped… crept… whatever.

SO. What can we do to prevent this from happening? Here are 6 ways I’ve managed to do it.

Avoid Scope Creep By Outlining Your Responsibilities to Your Client Up Front

When you first speak to a potential client who is thinking of hiring you, they want to know what you’re like and what you can provide them. This is a fantastic opportunity to nip scope creep in the bud.

Let them know that in addition to your design services and so on, you are a project manager. That means that you manage how the project runs, you make sure that it stays on track, you keep up with deadlines and reminders, etc. If you can put this idea in the clients’ mind early on, you build more authority with them. Telling them no when they ask for insane new services will be much easier.

Spend Time Preparing Your Contracts Thoughtfully

Your contracts are your ultimate secret weapon when it comes to keeping your clients in line. Here’s a secret tip: you can put anything you want in your contracts! (Within reason of course).

If you want to charge for extra revisions, you can – just put it in your contract! If you want to charge a fee for late payments, you can – just put it in your contract! You can avoid scope creep with your contracts as well.

Spell out exactly what services you client is getting for this project. Explain that services outside of those listed will cost extra. Explain that they have until a certain date to make requests, and anything after that will either have to wait until the project is over, or will cost extra. Set it all up exactly how you want and spell it out in plain English.

The other important thing to remember is to write up a contract like this for EVERYONE. Even if you’re working for a friend or family member for free or exchanging services with someone, you should never, ever do any kind of work without a signed contract. It will protect you from sticky situations. In my first 6 months of business I did a lot of work with friends for free/cheap and I wish now I had in writing what we agreed to.

Create Welcome Packets with Important Information

I’ve recently discovered the joy of offering a Welcome Packet to each new client. They are almost as good as a contract, but your clients are more likely to actually read them. 😉

My Welcome Packet contains the following:

  • My hours of operation and contact information
  • A personalized welcome letter
  • Project expectations
  • Next steps
  • Stuff like instructions, training, resources, etc.

I use the Project Expectations page to establish how things should move forward. This is a good place to add in:

  • what services they will be getting (a concise reminder list works here)
  • how much each service costs (if they need another page added on, it will cost this much)
  • how long they have to amend this agreement (they have 2 weeks to add or remove services)
  • how they should communicate with you (we’ll talk more about this later)

The Welcome Packet gives you a point of reference that’s friendlier than sending them back to their contract to avoid scope creep. It also helps reinforce these ideas in a way that feels more digestible to the client.

Schedule a Kick Off Call to Reiterate your Contract and Welcome Packet

I’ve always had Kick Off calls no matter what. You may call them something else. They are the time when you discuss the project in depth after the contract has been signed and deposit has been sent. You may talk about content, design, or any number of things during this call.

The Kick Off Call is a great time to go over the main points of the contract and Welcome Packet together. So many of my clients seem to really only get things if I explain them verbally. By this time, hopefully it will be the third time they are hearing your policies about adding on services, so it would have truly sunk in. This also means that if they have questions about this policy, they have the opportunity to ask.

Establish and Enforce One Line of Communication

Clients tend to want to text you as soon as they think of a new thing they want added. “Hey, I saw a booking calendar on another site today and I’d love one for my site! Can you throw one up? Thanks!” That simple little text may open a whole can of worms. When the client has to sit down to craft an email with a request for a new service, there is a sense of formality that gives you room to either deny the request or explain how much extra money and time that request will cost. Once you’ve started texting, you’ve lost some of that authority and control.

I don’t allow text messaging or unscheduled calls with clients across the board. Everything is emails and scheduled meetings. For many reasons in addition to avoiding scope creep, I recommend putting a lid on these things by specifying in the Welcome Packet how communication about this project should go. Even if you’re building a site for your mom, all conversation about your project should be sent in a manageable way (your task manager, email, etc.)

Use a Gantt Chart. Seriously. You Need This

If you’ve never heard of a Gantt chart before, I’m about to blow your mind. Basically, it’s a chart in which a series of horizontal lines shows the amount of work done or production completed in certain periods of time in relation to the amount planned for those periods. And it helps you avoid scope creep big time.

In plain English, it’s a chart that shows your entire project timeline at a glance, including how many phases/steps there are, when each one is due, and how far along in the project you are. I love these things for many reasons. One reason: they sort of train the client on how to avoid scope creep themselves.

Here’s a sot of plain example, but you can brand your chart and make it pretty! I also like to include client deadlines, like when copy is due, so they can see their own responsibilities reflected on the chart and how their activity/inactivity affects the project as a whole.


If the client can see their completion date getting closer and closer, they are less likely to want to add more time onto the process. If they still want to request a new service, you can update the chart; the client sees the finish line creep further and further away. (These things also help your client meet deadlines and stay on task.)

A big reason scope creep happens in the first place is because the client doesn’t understand just how much work you’re doing in the first place. If they see every step of the process laid out before them, they may think twice about throwing more work onto your plate. They create transparency and from that, respect.


If You Can’t Avoid Scope Creep, Split Your Projects Into Phases

So your client is insisting on adding on new things, no matter what you do or say. They don’t care about cost, the just really want those new pages and really want those new plugins. What do you do? You want to please them and you want more money. More than once, I’ve suggested to the client that we split the project into two phases.

Phase 1 is the essentials. That includes what has already been agreed to in their contract and then launch. That way their site is up and out there for the world to see.

Phase 2 is all the shiny new things they want. But I have time and opportunity to plan for those changes and work them into the bigger picture properly without rushing in and messing up my process. Every time I have suggested this, the client jumped right on board.

Everyone ends up happy. You get paid, the site gets launched on time, the client gets what they want, and everything is still organized in a manageable way.

Has the scope creep monster overpowered you? How do you deal with it? Share your horror stories and successes in the comments below!