How To Set Boundaries With Your Clients, Part One: Agreeing On Scope

Client Line, Do Not CrossLast week we talked about the importance of setting boundaries with your clients. If you aren’t clear on your availability, response time and process for adding “just one more thing” into an established project from the very beginning, then you’re leaving yourself wide open for your clients to walk all over you. Whether they do it intentionally or not, clients will add more and more onto your plate if you let them –- so you’ve got to take preemptive action to make sure that doesn’t happen.

But if the thought of taking a hard line makes you cringe, rest easy – you don’t have to be a jerk to save yourself from becoming a doormat. This post is the beginning of a series that will walk you through how to have more peace of mind with every project (while keeping your client more than satisfied). Class is in session — let’s begin.

How To Establish Project Scope

When clients look for freelancers, they usually have a general goal in mind, such as getting a “blog theme,” or a “new logo,” or a “custom web application.” More often than not, they don’t know exactly what goes into creating these kinds of things, so they don’t do a very good job of defining what will be (and won’t be) included. They also frequently assume they can just bounce it back and forth with you until “it all gets sorted out.”

You never want to let this happen, so it’s up to you to set the scope. Fortunately, you’re an expert at whatever it is you do, so you’re intimately familiar with what it takes to get a certain kind of project out the door. So before you even talk to a client about a new project, you need to specifically define how you want to do business, and what you want to offer. Here are some questions (based on 12 years of dealing with contracts and “scope creep”) to help you unearth the down-and-dirty details of your services.

  1. When you do a project of this type, what do you usually deliver? In other words, if you’re a blog designer, do you just design the theme and deliver the files, or do you install it?  Do you provide any documentation or training, or is that to be considered something extra?  Create a “parts list” for your clients detailing what’s included in each package/service you deliver so your client won’t assume a single thing.
  2. What extra services / add-ons are you willing to provide, and how much do they cost? Back to the blog design example, extra services could include plug-ins, Feedburner setup or even web hosting itself.  If you’re willing to add them to the package, let your clients know that they can have these things – but there will be an added cost.  Remember, your client may have seen a similar project elsewhere and will assume your package has all the same features – but you don’t want to leave anything to chance.
  3. What are the milestones/checkpoints for the project, and how are they scheduled? For example, how many review periods will you have, and how long will they last?  How many days does the client have to give feedback?  How will they give their feedback?  The back-and-forth of constant revisions can be a real scope killer, so make it clear up front.  If you have 2 review periods of 3 days each, say so, and stick to it.  Tell the client that this is how you keep things on time and on budget.
  4. Who are the decision makers for the project? If you don’t define this up front you may find that someone else in your client’s camp comes in at the last minute and says “things need to change.”  Establish the decision makers up front and agree with the client that if someone new takes over their side of the project after big decisions are made, they can’t just change everything that was previously agreed on.
  5. What’s the process for changing scope? It’s a fact of life that in many projects, scope will change.  The client’s needs may change, or a technology issue may force you in a different direction.  The key is to establish how change orders are pushed through – and how you are compensated for them.  Let your client know that you’re willing to change the scope, but something’s got to give as a result, whether it’s a time extension, swapping out an agreed on feature for a new one, or billing additional charges.  Let the client know up front the process for talking these things through and life will be easier for everyone.

You’ve Got Experience — Come On And Share It!

You’ve been on projects before where “scope creep” caused all kinds of headaches and client-freelancer tension.  How did you deal with it, and what lessons did you learn?  Pull up a comment and add your experience to the conversation.