If you’ve spent any time in a community of accountants or tax professionals (or any service-based entrepreneurs, for that matter) you’re probably familiar with the term scope creep. Even if you haven’t heard the time, you may have experienced it yourself.
It’s a term that describes when the scope of work for a client slowly grows (like a creeping vine) until it includes all kinds of tasks you never intended to do and aren’t being paid to do.
Month after month, they ask for a favor here or a “just this once” there, and soon their expectations have grown to include these tasks as part of your regular work. This kind of scope creep can make working with certain clients exhausting and just plain miserable.
So what can you do to avoid scope creep or fix it if it’s already a problem? Start with these three steps.
Define the Scope of Work Early in the Relationship
One of the best ways to prevent scope creep from rearing its ugly head in the first place is to clearly define the scope of work from the outset of your relationship with a new client.
You should lay out exactly what you will do for the client and how often, along with what you expect from them in order to do the work in a timely manner. This should be part of your engagement letter and should be discussed with the client before they even start paying you for work.
By laying out the scope right from the beginning, you have a document to refer back to (complete with your client’s signature) when they ask you to do tasks that are outside of the work you’re being paid for.
Confront Scope Creep Head On
It can be difficult to confront a client who expects you to perform work for free outside of the agreed-upon scope of your engagement. Nevertheless, if scope creep has already started, you have to confront it head on, in a calm and professional manner.
Hopefully, you have your scope of work and responsibilities outlined in your engagement letter and can simply point out to the client that the work they’re requesting is not within the scope of your agreement.
If you didn’t include this in your agreement (or, worse yet, there is no engagement agreement) you’ll need to let them know that the work is growing beyond what you anticipated when you priced your services.
Now you have two choices. Do you want to provide the service they need or not?
If the scope is growing beyond your fees but you’re fine with doing the work, you can offer to reevaluate and establish a new price point that covers all the work they want. Expand the scope of your engagement and increase the price accordingly.
Build in a Scope Creep Escape Plan
Want to make a potential confrontation with a client about scope creep less awkward? Build in a scope creep escape plan into your engagement letter by setting periodic reviews of your price.
Let the client know that your price is good for 3 months, 6 months, a year, or whatever period of time you wish. Set a meeting for that time to make sure everything is going well and adjust the scope of work and fees as needed.
Growth is a natural part of a healthy business and it’s not unusual for your clients’ needs to expand over time. A built-in re-evaluation is a great chance to touch base with the client on this topic and make sure they are being served. It’s also a great chance to upsell the client on services they didn’t realize they might not have needed at the beginning of your relationship.