As a Black woman entrepreneur, scaling your consulting business can be an exciting but challenging endeavor. Being the most educated and most entrepreneurial demographic in corporate spaces often means two things. One, your talent has already been proven and two, you probably aren’t getting paid what you are worth for your time, energy and talents.
One of the biggest obstacles you may encounter is scope creep, which refers to the unplanned expansion of a project’s goals, deliverables, or requirements beyond its initial scope. By that I mean, the client starts asking for work they haven’t agreed to pay for. Watch out now!
Scope creep can lead to increased costs, delayed timelines, and unnecessary stress (mostly for you as the service provider). However, by implementing effective strategies and setting professional boundaries, you can successfully manage scope creep and scale your consulting business while maintaining your sanity and profitability.
Clearly Define the Scope:
Before starting any project, it is crucial to establish a clear and detailed scope from the outset. A scope of work or “scope” for short, is a critical part of the proposal process. This is the document that clearly outlines the project’s objectives, deliverables, and success criteria. By involving all stakeholders, including clients, customers, and project sponsors, in the scope definition process, you can ensure everyone is on the same page before you start working. And please take note: you and your beautiful Black self do not start work until an SOW and Service Agreement are signed. Full stop.
Additionally, creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) can help you break down the project into manageable components. Depending on the length of the project this may mean mapping out the timeline that work may be completed, sometimes in phases. And if there are known dependencies that would contract or expand the timelines, that should be in there too. Thorough conversations during the onboarding process (what’s up discovery call?) can save you hours of unnecessary work and confusion later on.
Once you have drafted the initial scope, expect to review it with your prospective client at least once before it is finalized and signed by the relevant parties (you and the client representative). This makes sure that the rest of your work together is fully aligned and meets everyone’s needs regarding the use of resources like time, labor and of course, money. Side note, in the B2B space the discovery and proposal period is likely at least 60 days – use this time to get e’rything outlined to your satisfaction.
Foster Effective Communication:
Once your scope is agreed upon, establishing clear lines of communication with your clients and stakeholders is vital in sticking to the agreed boundaries in the SOW. This is how you manage scope creep. Encourage open and honest communication to address any changes in scope and their impact on the project. Utilize project management software, such as Trello or Asana, to streamline communication, track progress, and share project documents through content management tools like Google Drive and Dropbox. For quick and convenient communication, platforms like Google Chat or Slack can be valuable tools. Make sure to choose platforms that are accessible to all parties involved. Email is probably not going to be the best way to communicate with multiple stakeholders for an extended period of time, so think through the best communication channels that will allow clients visibility into their project’s progress without the distractions of the rest of their day to day work.
Remember as a consultant, time speaking with you, using your brain, accessing your expertise, is your most valuable commodity, so as much as possible you want to limit gratuitous meetings that were not clearly articulated in the scope. Free is canceled and nobody gets to “pick” your brain without clear agreements about payment for that honor.
Set Realistic Expectations:
During the customer onboarding process, it is essential to set realistic expectations for the project, including timelines and budgets. Be transparent about what is achievable within the given parameters. Communicate potential causes for delay upfront and remind clients of holidays, vacations, or other events that may affect project timelines. This makes sure that if the client is the cause for a delay of work, you’re not sacrificing your time off or other priorities to make up the difference. Your birthday doesn’t get delayed because they didn’t meet a response deadline (for example). This is one way that you start to name some clear boundaries about how you will work with them and what service will look like, without sacrificing your rest and your sanity. Establish office hours and clearly communicate when inquiries can be expected to receive responses, especially for requests made on weekends or holidays.
Warning!!: Don’t renege on your own boundaries. Having clear response expectations in place, and using Out of Office reminders are good ways to set these boundaries once the project has begun. You can also use technology to your advantage to schedule emails and responses so that even if you have some great ideas at 8pm or while you are out with family, the client is not receiving communications from you outside of the boundaries that you set. This is important because you don’t want to start setting a precedent of making exceptions/operating outside of scope. Because when you violate your own boundaries, guess what? Other people think they have permission to violate them too. Read: if they email you on the weekend, you can respond, but don’t send it. Instead, schedule the email to go out first thing on Monday so they see that you are respecting the boundaries you set during the SOW conversations. Be a good role model and give your clients examples of how they should interact with you without overstepping.
Monitor the Project:
Keeping a close eye on the project throughout its lifecycle is critical to managing scope creep effectively. Regularly monitor progress against the defined scope, timeline, and budget, and be prepared to make adjustments as necessary. Utilize your project management software to track project milestones and deliverables. Send clear and frequent updates to clients, including any delays or issues, and never miss a deadline without communicating the delay and providing an expected new timeline for delivery. Changes will happen. The goal is not to be rigid, but instead be mindful of how your resources are being deployed.
Negotiate Change Requests:
Think about how changes to the scope will be addressed. What process can you put in place to manage requests in a way that honors your time, energy and your pockets? When a change request is received, negotiate the terms with the client or stakeholder. Clearly communicate what falls outside the defined scope and explain the impact of the change on the project’s timeline, budget, and overall success. Collaborate with the client to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs. Some of this may sound super formal but really it can be as simple as using a “yes, and” statement stem.
They say: “Can you review this 58 page document for us before the next meeting? I think it will be really critical to our conversation?”
You say: “Yes, I would love to include that additional context and I recognize that given our current scope we did not account for the additional time and attention that something like that may include. If this is something that you think is critical to the meeting’s success, we can definitely talk about increasing the billable hours to include this element, and I can see where in the project timeline we can accommodate this addition.”
Or, if you are less verbose:
You say: “Yes, I would love to, and know that that is something that is not in current scope. We should talk about the additional time and budget we may need to expend in order to include that element.”
Or if you are super direct, and serious about defending your calendar:
You say “Yes, and since this is out of the agreed upon scope, I can have someone on my team send you an invoice for the additional hours to incorporate that.”
Document any changes in scope that occur during the project to ensure transparency and avoid misunderstandings. Send follow-up emails detailing the changes and any new agreements in writing. This documentation will serve as a reference point for all parties involved and help prevent scope creep. Sometimes this can be as simple as sending an additional invoice where the additional work is itemized (presuming you included a clause about this in your service agreement). For other items, if the changes are large and will require a great deal more of your resources, it may be prudent to create a contract addendum with an additional SOW for the work (again including timeline and payment terms for the new elements).
Managing scope creep is vital for the success of your consulting business. By following these strategies and setting professional boundaries, you can effectively avoid scope creep and scale your consulting business while maintaining profitability and customer relationships. Remember to prioritize effective communication, documentation, and realistic expectations throughout the project’s lifecycle.
If you’re ready to learn more about best practices for scaling your expert business, we invite you to watch our free masterclass and discover how we can support you in achieving your goals. You may be a solopreneur, but running a successful and profitable business is a team sport. We’d love to support you.