Ignition blog  /  Increase efficiency  &  Revenue growth  /  How to embrace scope creep and boost revenue

Is out of scope work taking a toll on you and your business?

INCREASE EFFICIENCY 5 mins 14 Mar 2023 by Jennie Moore
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Do you tend to cringe when clients ask you to do more work than they’ve originally hired you to do? Or when they take up your time, picking your brain on how to manage their accounting or bookkeeping better? Are you frustrated by the seemingly endless number of ‘just one last thing’ emails?

It’s called scope creep. And if your clients are in growth mode, scope creep is bound to happen. When it does, it changes your workload and the service terms – whether established informally (verbally) or formally (by contract).

What is scope creep exactly?

In project management terms, scope creep is when the project ends up diverging from its stated outline. Usually, scope creep occurs because the client adds extra work that isn’t in the original plan, the client changes the plan in the middle of the project, or your team discovers the project requires a deeper level of work than originally thought.

If you’re in an accounting firm or really any kind of professional services firm, you’ll come across scope creep from time to time. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Changes happen and delivering a project that meets your client’s needs is exactly what you’re here to do. But when it’s happening frequently there are a few things you can do to embrace it and turn scope creep from a burden into a benefit.

How to start embracing scope creep in your practice

Here’s the deal with scope creep: the more complex your clients’ needs, the more they’ll expect you to help. When you align work with a tight engagement, then the profitability will balance out and things can operate more smoothly for everyone involved.

Technology can help with managing and monetizing scope creep. In my firm, Moore Details we leverage Ignition for our engagements. It connects to workflow templates within Karbon, which ensures that the work my team is responsible for doing complies internally as well as externally. If a client asks them to do work outside of their normal procedures then an internal discussion will occur where we notify clients about any potential cases or revisions before proceeding accordingly.

This has been so effective that I’ve been able to issue an engagement change from the comfort of my camping trailer while in the woods in under five minutes!

While it’s a really good thing, our clients do tend to see us as superheros who are always there to ‘save the day’ for them. Kind of like how a patient visits a doctor – our clients come to us with their pain points. They may also come to us because they don’t know exactly what their problems are and they look to us to figure that out and fix it for them. It can start to feel like we’re losing control of the situation if there’s no transparency around scope creep and the costs tied to it. We can lose a lot of revenue, essentially giving away our hard work, time and expertise for free.

That said, talking about scope creep isn’t necessarily easy. Maybe you’re introverted and tend to shy away from these awkward, salesy-feeling conversations. Or perhaps you just don’t know how to communicate what changes cost. Whatever the reason, like many accounting professionals you may try to avoid or delay awkward client conversations altogether.

But not addressing this ‘elephant in the room’ can lead to clients repeatedly taking advantage of you and your firm. It opens the door wide to endless ‘change orders’ that can compound and get costly, trumping other work you need to do, perhaps even responsibilities tied to your own business growth. Even worse, left unaddressed and, in particular, without a formal contract that outlines changes in scope, this oversight can set you up for serious risk.

Related: How to ensure engagement letter compliance

For example, a client may suddenly ask you to fix some errors that occurred in the past. If you don’t have a contract with a clear date tied to when your work began and that specifies the services you agreed to do, this kind of activity can be risky and expensive, too.

Looking at scope creep through the lens of liability, it’s critical to tackle it, regain control, and boost revenue from here on out. Here are five tips that can help:

1. Gain clarity in your client communications

Time for accounting or bookkeeping changes? Take the time to do discovery, asking lots of questions around the nature of the need. Communicate with the client and get clarity about where the business is now and where it’s headed.

Invest time upfront in this homework and you will likely uncover unforeseen ways you can help, and offer value – all of which can go into your proposal. Also, the more discovery and gathering of information you do upfront, the fewer surprises in scope you’ll experience later.

2. Use technologies and platforms that enhance the client experience

There’s no question that your brand speaks to you and your business, specifically the unique value you bring to the table. Likewise, the tools you use to engage and guide your clients’ experience should reflect that value or brand.

While lots of accountants and bookkeepers fire off proposals, contracts and other documents on Word or a Google Doc, it’s far more professional to use a platform that allows you to create online proposals and engagement letters, where you can customize all customer-experience documents with personalized videos, education, testimonials, interactivity, content and more.

3. Outline the specifics of the project scope in detail

When drawing up a proposal that responds to scope creep, the key is to focus on details. Break down exactly what you’ll be doing for that client, noting for example, the exact number of bank reconciliations, vendor payments, payroll checks, tax returns, and so on. Let the numbers (not you) do the talking. When you really reflect the true scope of what you do it’s always easier to name your price and get paid for your worth.

4. Make it fun and celebrate the successes

With new clients, right from the start, let them know that you’re hoping and expecting their business will grow. Be excited for them. Be positive about their potential. Cheer them on. In the engagement phase, share with them your expertise around common growth benchmarks. Instead of fearing growth and all the changes that will come of it, set deliberate growth targets with your clients, making it a fun game in which together you hit those targets. Celebrate the wins!

5. Embrace scope creep

This is about mindset. Instead of fearing, delaying or avoiding the awkward conversation about scope creep, see it as something to welcome and cherish. When scope creep starts to happen, it usually means your clients are doing something right – they’re growing or are becoming more successful. You’re helping them, being a partner in supporting their growth and success. It’s really an honor of sorts. So don’t fear it. Instead love it, own it, embrace it, and always speak about scope creep from that positive, purposeful perspective.

Over to you

With these tools and techniques to manage scope creep, you can build trust and grow along with your clients, keep work on track and increase your profitability.

The Ignition client engagement and payments platform makes it simple to sell, bill and get paid for your services – all in one place. To learn more about how Ignition can help you with scope creep management and grow with your clients, watch our demo today.

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Meet the author

Jennie Moore

Partnerships Manager (AMER)  Ignition

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Published 14 Mar 2023 Last updated 19 Mar 2024