Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Putting A Stop to Project Creep:

Protect Yourself and Your Business

Any service provider is aware of the concept of “project creep.” The project is agreed to by both service provider and client but, as the project moves forward, the client asks for “just one more little thing.”

Now, you want to keep the client happy and coming back for more of your services but when the client asks for five “little things,” you’re losing money because none of these project elements was discussed before the project was undertaken.

Project creep gobbles up time and money (same thing, actually) that the small service provider simply can’t afford to lose.

Now, not all service providers are in the enviable position of vetting clients to determine whether they become part of the client base. Many of us simply have to take the work that comes our way – especially if we’re just starting out as SEOs, site designers or CPAs. It doesn’t matter. If you have clients, you need to understand how to prevent project creep.

The Dangers of Project Creep

The most obvious danger is, of course, the loss of time. Man-hours translate to dollars in a small shop so if you’re spending time doing just “one little sales letter” on top of contractual deliverables, it’s a give-away and you’re the one who’s giving it away.

However, there’s a more serious danger. WOM. Word of mouth. If you say ‘no’ to project creep, you may save a few dollars but end up with an unhappy client. And that unhappy client is not going to sing your praises at the next conference or seminar. Bad WOM spreads like kudzu. It should be avoided at all costs. Yes, even the little extras should be thrown in. Why?

Because if that client walks away feeling she got a good deal and good service from you, she’ll talk you up to her network and that one job that cost you a few hundred dollars in man-hours can deliver tens of thousands of dollars in new work – and an expanding, stable client base – one you don’t have to replenish. Repeat business is your bread and butter.

So, the dangers are: (1) you lose some time and money on project creep and (2) you lose the best salesperson you’ll ever have – a satisfied client.

Google The New Client and Do Your Research

If it breathes, it’s indexed in Google somewhere. Do a quick background search. Check out the company website and check Whois, the directory of domain owners. It’s always nice to know who you might be working with.

If it’s a big project – six figures let’s say – pull a D & B on the company. Dunn and Bradstreet report on all corporations doing business in the U.S. and provides background, credit history and other useful information.

Talk to the decision maker. If a face-to-face meeting is possible, great. Otherwise, check the company website for design and production values, features and other tell-tale signs of a successful, or at least well-run, company.

Know with whom you’ll do business. Request a credit check if there’s any doubts about how deep you want to go with a particular client. It may be better (if possible) to try a small project before jumping into a $40,000 website with every bell, whistle and live feed you can find.

The SOW (Statement of Work)

The statement of work is often a separate document from the work agreement or contract. The contract usually states that you or your small company will complete all work in the SOW to the satisfaction of the client.

So, that SOW should be very, very specific to prevent project creep and hard feelings down the road.

Work and Payment Schedules

The SOW should provide detailed milestones and payment dates. This does a couple of things for you. If you deliver early, you score points for promptness. You’re already ahead of the game. Also, with a payment schedule you never get too deep into a project – especially with a new client.

If the client misses a payment, the work gets put to one side – at least until the client makes good on his or her SOW agreement.

Deliverables Inventory

The list of deliverables should be extremely detailed, describing the deliverable, format, placement, number of revisions and any other project specs.

In addition, the SOW should also include a list of items that won’t be delivered as part of the agreement. For example, if you’re building a website and the client asks if you could do a quick “5-part, auto-responder series,” ARs should be on your list of components that are NOT included in the price.

The client may be responsible for product pictures, for example, or site text or baseline metrics. Make sure everyone is clear on what’s included and what isn’t in the SOW.

However, it’s good form to offer a discount on this additional work to keep the client happy. Just make sure you at least break even.

Make the Client a Stakeholder

This is often overlooked, even by long-time business owners.

If your company simply presents storyboards or sample web pages to the client, the client has no vested interest in those design elements. So, early in the discovery phase, ask the client to recommend things like color schemes he likes, fonts that she finds attractive and other design elements.

This makes the client a stakeholder in the finished project, whatever it may be. It’s difficult to say you don’t like the color combination when you picked it out. Don’t back the client into a corner, i.e. “But these are the colors you chose!” Great way to lose a client, who, as we all know, is ALWAYS right.

However, by giving the client a say in project development, you lock in design or other project aspects more quickly.

Deliver Pages

Throughout the process, stay in touch with the client and get approvals at every possible stage. Roughs, boards, reaction text (too hypey?), sample site pages or the quarterly financial report – keep the customer informed.

Clients hate to be ignored and this shows you and your team are on the job. It also enables you to make changes when they’re easy to make. This is a real time saver, and if the client knows what s/he wants, all the better.

Managing Project Creep

A solid statement of work is the best place to start. But don’t stop there.

If the client asks for an additional deliverables and you can do it in an hour and it’s going to make him happy, do it. However, recognize that you’ve opened the door for a few more “little things.”

At some point, early in the project, introduce the concept of client alterations – changes after approvals, additions, you know, project creep. Be straightforward. This project creep is hurting your business and “while I’d love to give you another 20 pages of site text, I just don’t have the time.”

You have to draw the line. Otherwise, the client will keep on adding to the list of deliverables and you watch as your margins grow thinner with each “little thing.”

Your time and your expertise are the two commodities you sell. If you give these assets away, you diminish their value in the eyes of the client. Remember, you’re not just being paid for what you do…you’re also being paid for what you know.

And that’s what makes you the best ever there was.

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