How to Tell a Client Something is Out of Scope

by Feb 1, 2022Strategy & Planning

Scope creep is a challenge for many digital agencies. It can quietly kill profit margins, lower morale, and create tension between you and your clients. But if you know how to tell a client something is out of scope, you can turn these situations into opportunities. 

Avoiding the Problem is Best

Scope creep is when your work goes beyond the original, mutually agreed upon description of work for a client. It can send projects into a tailspin. Does over budget, busted timelines, and frustration sound familiar? Agency owners universally agree that it’s best to avoid these situations. 

Best practices to keep scope creep at bay include: 

  • Set Clear Expectations. The initial agency/client briefing process is crucial to project success. Clients should actively participate in defining what success looks like. Time spent on the deliverables, timelines, meeting schedules, and metrics upfront can alleviate headaches and lost time and revenue on the backend.
  • Document. Scope creep sneaks up on you. It’s not like you are redesigning a website one day and then are responsible for all of a client’s social media posts the next. It manifests in small ways over time. Documenting all work and progress and sharing it regularly with your clients keeps things on track.
  • Communicate. And do it a lot. Frequent conversations surrounding documented progress and current measures allow for agility and appropriate resource allocation. Scope creep rarely happens when your team and clients regularly talk about deliverables, progress reports, and metrics.
  • Outline Out of Scope Work. It’s your responsibility to articulate what is out of scope to your clients. You are the experts. Clients often don’t realize what they’re asking for isn’t part of the contract.
  • Price With a Buffer. Some projects lend themselves to scope creep. For example, website building and design or rebranding exercises are difficult to project precisely. Approach proposals of this nature with added hours built-in.

Causes of Scope Creep

Scope creep is common. Upward of 50% of projects experience it on some level. Those who recognize it early and manage it well can course-correct quickly.

Three areas to monitor to avoid unsalvageable situations:

  1. Expectations. Managing expectations is key. Projects with unclear expectations, confusing timelines, and ambiguous communication lead to continual scope issues.
  2. Visibility. People forget things. Frequent check-ins are excellent venues for appropriate reminders.
  3. Client Vetting Process. Successful digital agencies uncover and fully understand what the client wants and needs during the discovery and Request for Proposal processes. If the need is broad, scope creep is likely. Partnerships can help such contracts, but be sure you know the root cause.

How to Tell a Client Something is Out of Scope

Despite excellent scope creep mitigation efforts, it will inevitably happen now and then. It’s a good idea to know how to discuss these issues with clients when they arise.

When project scope changes, you should:

  • Communicate Live. Call or set a meeting to discuss. A real-time, two-way conversation can alleviate misconstrued tone or intent that can happen via text or email.
  • Just Say It. Don’t sugarcoat what’s happening. Clearly communicate what is out of scope and why it is outside of contracted work. Then open up a conversation about how to move forward.
  • Do It Quickly. Timing is critical. Set boundaries the first time scope creep happens, even when it’s marginal. Clients will test boundaries. You don’t want to get into a slippery slope situation.
  • Document Even More. Make sure to document the outcome of your conversations. If you add costs or services, do work for free, or pivot completely, write it ALL down. Also, follow up in writing on decisions you and the client make during phone calls.

Keep In Mind 

Organizations experience growing pains. Scope creep is sometimes just that. It can be a leading indicator that it’s time for you to expand or re-evaluate.

Strategic questions to consider include:

  • Is it All Bad? Not necessarily. It can showcase the full breadth and depth of your team’s capabilities. It can build good faith and even turn into upselling.
  • Can Someone Help? Carefully curated preferred partners can help if you need a tool or a highly specialized product or service. If you want to be at the highest level to solve expensive problems, you should fully address needs. Own what you do well. Connect customers to solutions for what you don’t do.
  • Is it a Good Fit? It is essential to know when things aren’t working out for you. If scope creep is a pattern, don’t keep the client. There are other clients out there. Focus on strengthening your pipeline instead of making something work that doesn’t.

Scope Creep Happens. We Can Help. 

Contact Promethean Research today to discover how our proprietary research and services can help you reach your growth goals and protect your client work from scope creep.


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