Scope Creep: What It Is & How to Avoid it as a Freelancer

Learn from my mistakes, so you’re better prepared.

Photo by George Milton

If you’re a people pleaser — then you’ll certainly find yourself in a situation where you’ve agreed to too much to satisfy your clients. 

One second you’re writing social media posts, the next you’re uploading them, responding to comments, and creating reports to show how well they’re performing for your client.

But wait a second…

Are you getting paid for all that extra work?

If you’re just starting out, the answer is probably not. And I’ve been there myself because I wanted to go above and beyond to impress my clients. Now, it’s not a bad thing to work hard, but when you’re being taken advantage of …

It’s time to reflect and address the problem.

One thing I found myself unprepared for when I started freelancing was this little thing we’ll call Scope Creep…

What is Scope Creep? 

Scope Creep is the tendency for the scope of a project to creep beyond the initial size. In the world of freelancing, this happens all the time — especially when you’re starting out. 

And to be honest, it’s something you have to learn time and time again. Even if you’ve set expectations with your client, it’s easy to accidentally agree to extra work without the extra pay.

Even if you only give someone an inch of rope, they’ll just keep pulling and pulling. They’ll take far more than you gave them and eventually — you’ll just land face down in the mud. 

The good news is there are some ways to stop that from happening. 

How to Prevent Scope Creep as a Freelancer

Whether you’re a beginner or you’ve been at it a while and need a refresher, here are 4 tips for preventing scope creep from happening to you as a freelancer.

1. Agree on a Detailed Project Plan

Before you even start, you need to create a roadmap for whatever it is you’re working on. There are plenty of names for this kind of document, but I usually use the terms Proposal, Statement of Work, or Scope of Work.

Whatever you decide, make sure to include:

  • A realistic timeline
  • The definition of everyone’s roles
  • What’s involved in each stage of the project

Pro Tip: Create an itemized invoice of all the assets & deliverables if you didn’t make a proposal before you start!

2. Set Clear Client Boundaries

I find that when you are too accessible to a client, you’re more susceptible to scope creep. If you’re in their Slack channels, WhatsApp group, and project management software (like Asana, ClickUp, Monday, etc), then you need to recognize that they aren’t treating you like a freelancer — they’re treating you like an employee.

And if you WANT to be an employee — that’s fine. However, you need to have that conversation and make the switch (as well as get your benefits!) But in my experience, most freelancers don’t want that at all. 

Pro Tip: Don’t feel obligated to share your personal phone number. Once clients have that, they’ll feel entitled to your time and call you when they shouldn’t.

3. Create a Clear Schedule 

This one is more about setting boundaries for yourself. When I started freelancing, I had so few projects I’d just do the work as it came. Eventually, I had too much work on my hands, and I just couldn’t get everything done in a day.

Oftentimes, I’d find myself working late into the evening just to meet a deadline I shouldn’t have said I could manage. That’s why you need to give yourself defined working hours. 

4. Refer Another Freelancer

If the project is getting unwieldy, or the client is asking you to do things you aren’t qualified to do, there is one more option that a lot of people tend to forget…

To fix it, you can simply refer someone else. 

Freelancing can feel pretty isolating, but that’s not how it has to be. When I started, I didn’t know anyone doing what I was doing. But now, I have plenty of friends who do video editing, audio editing, content writing, graphic design, and marketing.

If I’m not able to help a client with a task, I’ll connect them with someone who can. Networking isn’t just about getting yourself more work, it’s about finding others who can do work that you can’t. 

Key Takeaways

Setting boundaries is hard as a freelancer, and hey that’s totally normal. I’ve been at this for 3 years, and I’m still learning that I need to get better at it. If you want to avoid Scope Creep, make sure you:

  • Agree on a detailed project plan
  • Set clear boundaries
  • Create a consistent schedule
  • Refer another freelancer

And that’s a wrap! See you next time 🙂 

About the Author

Victoria Fraser is a freelance copywriter from Vancouver, Canada who works in the gaming & tech space. She works with clients doing all things copywriting & content marketing (including making memes).

You can learn more at her website to work with her or say hello on Twitter!

Published by Victoria A. Fraser

Freelance writer, podcast producer, and comic artist.

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