Stop preventing scope creep – you’re leaving money on the table

How many of you hate scope creep?

At least half of the hands went up in a room of 250 people. And it wasn't the first time (or last time) I've asked the question. Scope creep is natural. But the moment I asked the question, it was clear people hated it. I ask it normally in the context of pricing. And the folks in the audience were there to learn how to price better.

They were small business owners and freelancers – each looking to make more money.

And yet, somehow, they'd all bought into the belief that scope creep was bad.

Let's look at scope creep in a different way

I want you to stop preventing scope creep and the only way I know how to do it is to get you to think about it differently. So let's step back and think about this another way.

Let's say we were at a really nice restaurant. I'm talking about the kind where you know that two of you will spend over $100. It's one of those super special moments. It doesn't happen often. And you've forked over a lot of money to have a perfect experience.

Can you see it?

So the waiter comes over and asks you what you want. Of course, you're celebrating – but money is money – so you skip the salad and just order your main dish.

But I order a salad and with every bite you start wishing you'd ordered a salad like mine.

So we call over the waiter and ask if you can get a salad like the one I'm raving about.

The waiter looks at you and says, “No. Sorry. You originally said you didn't want it.”

Crazy, isn't it? I mean, seriously, think about it. With everything you've gone thru to save up and get to this special moment, you're likely to be very unhappy.

Thankfully, no waiter in their right mind would say that to you.

Or imagine that you asked for something special with your steak. You know, a special sauce or something.

They might tell you, “That will be a bit extra.” But how do you respond? Likely, you say, “That's fine,” and get ready to eat the best meal ever.

I know it's not exactly the same thing…

Now, before you rush to the comments section to explain to me how asking for an additional salad or some steak sauce is nothing like changing scope on web development projects, let me save you the trouble.

I understand they're not the same. But they illustrate the issue I'm trying to get you notice. And the stark illustration helps you see what I'm trying to tell you.

The reason a waiter doesn't do that – “No, you can't. You said no earlier.” – is because they're in the service business. Sound familiar?

You and I, when we help people with their websites, are in the service business.

Additionally, people go to restaurants like that rarely. But guess what? People pay others to build their website as infrequently as that. And yes, they do save up – a lot more than you might imagine – just for this one chance to get a “professional” site built.

Only to hear us reject them or sigh with an unspoken, “No. Sorry. You originally said you didn't want that.”

3 Reasons scope creep is an opportunity

When you understand scope creep as simply a way for a customer to express new wants and desires, and recognize you're in the service business, you can look at it as simply a request for more work. And more work doesn't all have to be free – if you've managed the dynamic well enough, early enough.

First – scope creep means more work, which means more money.

In a restaurant (even fancy ones), you can see what things cost, even when you don't order them. Then, later, when you ask for things from the menu, you expect to pay. When I write proposals, I not only note what's included. I also note what's not explicitly included (with prices) in case they want to add it (now or later). It's an easy way to manage expectations.

Second – scope creep can help you create partners.

Customers are customers. They make requests and orders and pay for them. That's what makes them customers. Partners, on the other hand, have a longer-term perspective where they collaborate on things. When you cut people off and limit what you can deliver, you're a vendor and they're a customer.

When you learn to embrace their changing needs, changing understanding, or changing requests, you get closer to them. And as you make an investment to better understand their world (not just your own, and what you have to do), you can transform the relationship to a partnership.

And partners keep coming back for more – meaning, that in the end, more money is coming too.

Third – you look less like a jerk than if you're always preventing scope creep.

I don't know if you've ever been in a situation where you order something (like paying for movers) and every time you ask about something, they tell you it's not included. Oh, it's so frustrating. After all, you're paying tons to move. At some point, the blankets should either be included or just charge me. But simply telling me, over and over, that it's not included and that I should go get them myself, and while I'm there I should pick up tape, bubble wrap and more – just makes me mad.

Theoretically. I'm not ranting about a recent move. 🙂

My point is that if you're preventing scope creep, you can end up looking like a jerk. And I know that some folks will say that if you present change orders for every single thing, you can look like a jerk too. Which is 100% right. But that's because the timing looks wrong.

Years ago we were getting a pool for our (then) new house and they showed up with a full quote, and tons of extras I might want, with pricing attached to them all.

And they said, “Don't worry, you don't need to make every decision right away. You can pick these tiles later and if it's beyond the initial price we quoted, we can just charge you the difference.”

They were prepping me months before the decision. So that I was anchored on that potential reality. And I didn't get upset later.

Don't stress about scope creep

As I was standing in front of an audience years ago, I put it (crudely) like this (imagine two people talking):

Let your customers change their minds. Scope creep is natural and can be good.

Stop preventing change orders. In the end, if you've managed expectations and you've done it right, you'll make more money and have a better relationship with them.

Embrace scope creep

Here's my video version of this blog post – back in 2015. It's been 6 years but the message is the same.

And if you're working with a digital agency that doesn't “get” it, hit me up. I'm happy to introduce you to my buddy Steve, who runs Zeek, who really does understand how to manage relationships and projects and he won't mind that you change your mind.

Sign up for free content. People still do that.

Thousands of folks (7000+) regularly get my posts in their inbox. For free.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission, at no cost to you.

Default image
Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.