Controlling Scope Creep

image courtesy of GLady via pixabay.com

Freelancers talk a lot about “scope creep.” That’s when a project starts with one set of parameters, and they keep expanding.

One of the joyful parts of creative collaboration is how a project grows and changes. When you’re writing a musical, it’s one thing – you have a development process, you’re being paid for the changes along the way, and your goal at the end is to have a viable musical where people walk out of the theatre humming the tunes, buy the CD, and sing it in the shower for the foreseeable future.

To get there, you need the project to grow and change.

But the “scope” and the vision are there from the beginning, and is covered by your contract.

There – the contract. That’s how you control scope creep.

I’m seeing more and more job descriptions stating “tasks will be added as needed” or “this description in no way encompasses all the tasks the job entails.”

Why not?

Why aren’t companies being upfront about what they want in the position?

Two answers:

The first is that the person who wrote the description has no idea what the job actually entails, which is common.

The second is that the company wants the option of dumping whatever they want into the position whenever they want, without additional compensation. Which is not acceptable.

As a freelancer, you have the protection of your contract. Because, as freelancers, who set our own hours and meet deadlines, we work on contract (or letter of agreement), which gives us protections that a salaried employee often does not have.

Contract Provisions

Your contract can protect you from scope creep.

Your contract will grow and change as your business does.

After your initial conversation with a new client, when you are setting terms, take some time and think about the parameters of the project as discussed, potential direction for “scope creep” and how much each direction will cost. Then, put those possibilities into the contract.

For example, I have a clause in the contract that states I include two rounds of revisions in the scope of the project; additional revisions are at an hourly rate.

When I receive the second round of revisions, I send a reminder that this is the second round of revisions, and anything beyond that will be at the hourly fee.

Often, far too often, I get this response: “Oh, this isn’t really a ‘revision.’ It’s just a few tweaks.”

No, it’s a revision. Changes are revisions. I have had clients where I actually put the definitions of “revision” and “tweak” in the contract.

Dates and Turnaround Times

I put in turnaround times for revisions, too. If I hit my deadline to turn in material (and I do), the party on the other end needs to get back to me in X amount of time with any revisions. Projects can’t drag on interminably, so a series of dates within the contract is vital:

–Deposit is due on X date

–When deposit clears, I start the project

–I get my first portion done on Y date

–Notes/revision requests are back to me by Z date

–My next revision is due on L date

–Response is due on M date

–Final work is due on N date

–Acceptance or additional requests for changes is due on O date

–final payment is due on P date

–late payments are changed with R fee, cumulative every 30 days (I start late payments at 20% of original fee)

Longer projects may have payments broken up over three, four, or even five dates. If payment doesn’t arrive on the date, work stops on the project until payment arrives.

“This is business, not personal” works both ways. Far too many companies expect you to take their business personally as far as emotional investment at higher stakes than they do, but if they default on payment or otherwise treat you poorly, it’s “just business.”

Works both ways.

Change of Direction

I also have a clause in my contract about “change of direction.” If a project changes direction from our initial agreement (and the parameters are listed in the contract), I have a clause that lists the fee. Sometimes it is necessary to come up with a new agreement, if the change of direction is going to change turnaround dates and deadlines.

Late Fees/Rush Fees

I have a clause for late fees. Late fees (more than 30 days after original due date) are at 20% of the project fee, cumulative. Which means if it’s 60 days late, it’s the original fee + 20% + the total of that.

Rush fees are for work turned around in less than three business days start at $35, depending on the project’s complexity, and whether I can move other work around or just have to stay up extra hours and push through.

I do make an exception on rush fees for script coverage, because industry protocol is often one or two-day turnaround.

When the Client Provides the Contract

In some cases, the client provides the contract, read it over. Negotiate changes. Remember that the first contract either side offers is the start of the negotiation. So yes, when I provide a client, often I will hear back on points the client wants to negotiate. I can decide if I want to change the contract to meet their request, meet them halfway, or walk away.

A client who offers a contract needs to expect negotiation on changes. If they won’t budge, decide if what they demand is worth it to you or walk away. Many magazines won’t negotiate their contracts for freelance writers, so again, you have to make the decision if having the byline in that particular publication is worth any aggravation caused by the contract.

What About Job Descriptions?

As we’ve discussed over the past weeks and months, the pandemic is changing the way we work, which can be an improvement. We, as the people actually doing the work, have to make sure that we help shape new work styles.

I’ve seen an array of articles in publications such as THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, BLOOMBERG, and FORBES pushing the negative aspects of remote work. Remember, these businesses are trying to protect their standard way of working, and how they see their bottom line affected. Far too many companies have useless middle managers who try to micro-manage and terrorize their “teams”.

There’s plenty of work that does not need to be done in someone else’s office with the countless interruptions and managers “checking up” on you every five minutes. I know I am far more productive in my home office. I need large blocks of uninterrupted time to be my most creative. I have set up my office to support the peak of my creativity.

There’s not a cubicle on the planet that could provide conditions even close.

Negotiation

If you are looking for a job as a salaried employee, you still have the right to negotiate. For decades, companies have pushed the toxic narrative that they get to decide everything and employees have no say in it.

Remember: companies need employees to do the work. Otherwise, their useless middle managers, or maybe even some executives, would have to do the work their damn selves.

Oh, horrors.

They push the “if you don’t take this, we’ll hire someone else.”

Go ahead.

Don’t be afraid of AI, either. That’s another narrative they push – that soon, jobs will be replaced by AI.

There are plenty of jobs that could and should be replaced by AI, especially repetitive ones. That frees creative human beings to learn new skills, to find their passions, and to do and create work that no robot could ever come up with.

With all the wonderful resources such as Coursera and FutureLearn and other online learning opportunities, people can try out different arenas and find their passions.

Yes, you might have to accept a drudge job in the interim to pay the rent and bills. But make sure it’s temporary.

When I made the commitment to a life in the theatre, I took temp office jobs as a way to keep a roof over my head between shows. But I stuck to my commitment that, if a corporate job got in the way of a paid theatre job, I ALWAYS quit the corporate job. Even knowing the theatre job was transient. That made it possible for me to work my way up to a career on Broadway.

If I’d stayed in a corporate job out of fear, I would have always been a “wanna be.”

Instead, I DID.

So, when you are in negotiations for a job, make a complete job description part of it.

You can choose not to answer ads that include language indicated scope creep. Or, early in the interview process, you can ask for more definition.

The other thing you can do is ask for a contract, rather than being an at-will employee.

There was an article on line (I’m not sure if it was BLOOMBERG, I think it was, or FORBES) touting hiring freelancers as the wave of the future, because then companies don’t have to pay for office space, health insurance, or benefits and can save money.

What they neglect to explore in the article is that savvy freelancers, with the level of skill many of these companies are looking for, will charge enough to cover those expenses.

And savvy freelancers work on contract, which means they’re not “at will” and can’t be just let go any old time the company feels like it. There’s usually a clause in the contract about how to end the work relationship if it doesn’t work out.

If there’s room for scope creep in the job description – negotiate it.

If the job description says you have to have certain computer hardware or software or phone or any other equipment – either the company pays for it/provides it and it is exclusive to the work you do for that company, or the company provides you a kit fee that covers the wear and tear on your own equipment.

If the job description demands that you have “reliable transportation” or a driver’s license – sweetly ask what kind of car they provide.

Negotiate.

Negotiations aren’t just about money.

We will talk about that in a future post.

How do you control scope creep? What points do your contracts over?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Time to Freshen Your Contract & Update Your Rates

 I hope everyone who celebrates American Thanksgiving had a good one, and those who don’t celebrate had a good week.

We are getting into our holiday madness, now. Not only is it important to remember to stop and take a breath, use “no” when necessary to keep your boundaries/sanity, it’s time to look at your freelance contract and update your rates.

A typical cost-of-living increase is between 2-3%. I don’t know about prices where you live, but my expenses for 2020 have already gone up a lot more than that. My rent went up 9.5%. The cost of food has gone up 35% over the course of the year. I have no idea how much my insurance and utilities will go up. I know that there are more expensive car repairs in my future.

My current rates are not sustainable.

Now, I’m not going to raise everything 45%. That, too, is unsustainable.

But I figured how much I need to make next year at minimum in order to get done the big transitions that need to happen, and  what I’d LIKE to make (which is higher) to give me a cushion. Break that down by 52 weeks, and I know how much I need to make every week. Break that down into a day rate (always good to have a day rate for certain gigs), and I have my numbers.

Now, I match that against the time/work ratio of individual projects, and I know how I need to adjust for that.

I don’t post most rates on the website, because there are so many variables for a project that it hurts both the client and me to have fixed rates for MOST projects. There are always exceptions, and those will be addressed/updated.

I’m also going to post my initial first consultation rate. This is controversial, because so many people offer a free first consult.  I’ve done that in the past; not doing it any more. Too often, the potential client wants information in order to go and do it in-house. Great.  But one of the things I am is a marketing CONSULTANT, which means I am paid for that consulting time that gives the client the ideas/itinerary that is then put into use in-house. 

My mantra for 2020 is “No more free labor as part of the hiring process.” That includes ideas and the constant question “How would you handle x?” which pretends to be a question to test skill level, but is, in actuality, a way to gather free advice from a variety of sources without paying anybody.

I am aiming my LOIs at a slightly different market, too. My focus is still hunting down companies whose work excites me and convincing them they can’t live without me. Some of them need a multi-year courting process. It’s worth it.

I’m moving away from LOIs to companies just because they’re local. I’m a big believer in supporting local businesses, but I, too, am a local business, and when the attitude is that my skills aren’t worth paying for because writing “isn’t real work.” then I’m pitching to the wrong market.

I plan to expand my corporate workshops, where I come in and train the staff in unusual marketing/writing techniques they can apply to business. One of the things I’m doing this month is crunching the numbers to set a good price. I’d started expanding this before I moved from NY to the Cape, and abandoned it when I was here. I enjoy it, I’m good at it,  the people in the workshops have a great time, and the company who hires me benefits in the long run.

I’m freshening my contract, and I’m clarifying a few points that need adjustment, mostly to keep up with changing technology. I am also adding the caveat that I do not go on camera. None of my client work is about ME. I’m happy to write scripts and set up productions/social media systems for on-camera representatives, but I am not that individual. Not an actor, don’t want to be a spokesperson, I am strictly behind-the scenes.

These are some of the changes I’m making to my freelance work for 2020. What changes are you looking at ? How do you plan to implement them?

If you need some general goal-setting questions, hop on over to my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site where I have specific questions to help you achieve what you seek.