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Freelance Trial and Error: Scope Creeper

Design school taught me the basics on how to use the right software, how to mock projects up, and the best practices of being a designer. They teach you to forget your style and try to be a blank canvas, as clean as possible to fit in with the corporate world, but they failed to mention what working as a freelancer would be like. The following are true client stories about how I learned through trial and error the best and worst practices of being a freelancer.

The Scope Creeper

Have you ever had a client that just keeps coming up with new ideas after you’re well past the sketches phase? Or maybe they’ve added on more pieces to the project at the end. Have you ever heard : “Just one more round of edits and it will be perfect”? If you’ve felt the nightmare and slight discomfort in your gut after you’ve pulled your third all nighter with a project that has no end in sight, you might be victim of scope creep.

The scope of a project is all the different pieces of a proposed project. It’s what you’re designing, how you’re carrying it out, the materials you’re using and the quantities etc.

One of my clients came to me asking for a logo design. I was getting the hang of my rates, asking for a little more with every new client. We had a long introductory meeting, discussing his personal style and what he didn’t like about his previous “designed-by-a-friend” logo. He seemed comfortable with my flat rate, and didn’t have much to say about my 3 edits only policy. I took that as his acceptance of my terms and drew up the contract.

After all the paper work was signed, I had no problems coming up with ideas and I thought I had a couple promising ones. He ended up not liking any of them, and asked that we return to his original idea, but just spruce it up. Edit #3 came and went, and I knew in my gut that I should have been more firm and told him that if he wanted more, he’d have to pay my hourly rate as per our agreement, but at that point my confidence was wavering and I had only put in a $50 kill fee, so I really wanted to do the full job and get paid in full.

I started sending more pushy replies like “at this stage you really need to pick one”. To my relief, we finally got the logo after hours and hours of work to where he wanted it.

And then I did a major no no. I mentioned my client and my grumbles about working for too long with no pay in a blog post (stupid stupid stupid!). Of course he found it and called me out of on it. I felt horrible and had to explain that I wasn’t REALLY upset, but felt that we had done more edits than we agreed upon. In the end I hurt only myself by blogging and griping about my client. It’s the freelancer’s job to stand their ground and gracefully remind their clients about what they agreed upon. If they don’t want to uphold their end of the contract, that’s when you thank yourself for putting that 50% kill fee in your contract. At the very least you will be paid for your time.

And so concludes this story on my quest of being a better freelancer.

Lessons learned:

Always discuss scope in excruciating detail. Ask probing questions and anticipate their potential needs. “You said you need a logo, do you think you’ll need a business card too?” It gets them thinking from the get go, instead of trying to add it in at the end. Make sure they know what they are getting. How many edits do they get? Do they get physical deliverables or are they in charge of printing themselves?

Repeat back if you have to, to avoid miscommunication. It’s ok to say you don’t understand their directions.

Explain your process and give them directions as to when they can add “new ideas” and when the time has passed.

Give them options.  A client will always try to get the most out of you. Instead of saying “this is what you get and that’s it”, try offering different leveled packages.

If you want a logo, I typically charge X amount for a round of sketches and 3 edits. But if you think you’re going to need more edits, I can either charge my hourly rate after that or I can charge X amount per edit after the 3rd round.”

or

“Oh you want a business card too? Well I’d be happy to work with you on that. I’ll send you a quote with an outline of the scope of the project and once you approve, I’ll move forward”.

Don’t slander a client (not even to your friends, it’s unprofessional), even if it seems harmless, no matter what has happened. The street can go both ways and it hurts your rep more than theirs.