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Scope creep is killing your service-based business

Uncovering the dangers of scope creep and learning how to avoid them.

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Owning and running a small business is hard work, no doubt about that, but it can also be deeply gratifying. In a single week, a hundred different things can happen that are fulfilling, complicated (in a good way) and terrific fun.

I love the joy that comes with doing the best by my clients, helping them develop their business marketing strategies, exceeding their expectations and delivering the undeliverable. But there are also times that are complicated (in a bad way) or just plain awkward.

One of the most awkward experiences business owners face is to have to ask a client for more money. Many clients know this and are able to use an uncomfortable situation to get additional services from you for no added costs; this is what’s known in the industry as scope creep and it’s why you may need some help from an operations consulting company. 

What is scope creep?

You know that project that starts out with one set of deliverables or features but over time, additional requirements or functionality creep in that are beyond the original project scope and not backed up with extra budgets or resources? The key difference between a project changing over time as new ideas feed in or circumstances change, and scope creep, is whether those changes are authorized. 

Scope creep can occur easily, and almost naturally. Maybe the client requests a small change at the beginning of the project which is easily accommodated by the project leader, and then a further change a couple of weeks later. They might seem tiny changes at the time but ones that can lead to disproportionate outcomes. 

Awareness of scope creep can help you develop and build your small business marketing strategies with help from your local business operations consultants.

How scope creep can impact your business

Scope creep is stealthy and insidious, and ultimately can cause a project to fail. Scope creep can burn through your budgets like wildfire, make you miss your target deadlines, cause loads of re-work and the wrong campaign or outcome to be delivered. And your client will likely blame you, leading to dissatisfaction on both sides and no repeat business!

Businesses can benefit from engaging with reputable operations consulting companies to ensure clarity in project objectives and avoid pitfalls that may arise during the execution.

You can avoid these pitfalls by talking to a company providing business operations consulting services like Take the Stairs. We can discuss your small business marketing ideas and help you develop the type of projects with your clients that build success on both sides.

How does scope creep occur?

Scope creep can sneak up on you, without much warning, until it’s almost too late. You might only notice there’s a problem if you miss a deadline or hit a delay. But essentially, scope creep will occur for the following reasons:

  1. A lack of clarity surrounding the project and its objectives
  2. Not capturing the essential elements of the project
  3. Adding features or requirements without ensuring appropriate budget and / or resources
  4. Permitting unmanaged contact between your team and the client, leading to new requests not going through the proper channels

Steps you can take to avoid scope creep

In small business marketing, scope creep can be a detrimental and should be avoided at all costs. So, how does a business operations consultant do that?

Document all the client’s requirements

Having everyone on the same page from the get-go is essential. Document EVERYTHING from costs and timeframes to milestones and precisely what you will deliver. The whole team needs to sign off on what effectively becomes a contract that can be used to review progress. No question is too fundamental at this stage so start with some broad-ranging ones like:

What are the main objectives and goals of the project?

What do we need to do to make the project a success?

What does success look like and how will we measure it?

Clearly outline the key deliverables

This is where some granular detail is helpful. Format it how you like, but try documenting who will be spending what time in an hour allocation model that offers you flexibility around work completed: if more work is needed and approved, the hours and cost go up. If less work is done, the hours and cost go down.

Scope all work based on the time it will take each member of the project team

By connecting services to hours worked, you’re offering your client a good level of visibility into the time and costs associated with each element of the deliverables

Establish a change order process

Change is part of life and work projects are not exempt from this. However, there is a mountain of difference between a small change that won’t affect the project’s scope and a change that will entirely alter the path of the project. It’s therefore vital to establish a process for any changes that might be required throughout the life of the project:

Who will be responsible for collating change requests and escalating them?

What is the process for matching additional budget and resources to any change requests?

Who is the final sign-off for any changes?

Make sure you communicate any processes upfront to your client as well as your team – transparency is critical to the success of your project.

Politely communicate additional fees

We’ve worked with a lot of great business owners that truly care about their clients. This is great, because caring for and having empathy for your client’s needs are essential for growing your small business (since referrals and word-of-mouth are likely to be such a large part of your lead gen efforts). 

But it is your responsibility to define the scope of your services and stick to it. In the same way as you wouldn’t expect a mechanic to work on your car over and above what had already been agreed without further payment, you do need to talk to your client if the scope of work has changed. It doesn’t need to be contentious to ask for more money when your client asks for more services. 8 times out of 10 your client will either approve the charges or will save their idea for later.

Hold strong

There are always customers who are going to push for free things no matter what; it’s important to remember your clients don’t understand your services and the expenses you incur to follow through on their needs so there is an education process here. You need to calmly and politely refuse additional services unless there is an appropriate budget assigned to those services.

Don’t buy into your client’s narrative or it will keep happening over and over again.

However, if your client thinks the service is of value to the business, sit down and work out the costs before any work is undertaken.



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Start developing your plan to mitigate scope creep with a Nashville business operations consultant

 Awareness is everything. If you keep your project eyes wide open, you should be able to identify the beginnings of scope creep before they potentially derail your project. Planning, budgeting, timetabling and building cooperation between your project teams and the client are all critical elements to your success.

You can also consider participating in a business operations consulting workshop to enhance your project management skills, providing a proactive approach to mitigate challenges like scope creep and ensuring the success of your small business endeavors.

As an business operations consulting company, the team at Take the Stairs is well aware of the potential pitfalls of scope creep. We can assist you in developing the project brief with your client, establishing the correct processes and even help you to implement the project. Give us a call at (615) 219-9181 or email [email protected]. We will be happy to sit down to discuss your project needs and ensure you end up with a win-win situation.