How can creative companies avoid scope creep?

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Scope creep happens when you do more work than expected without increasing the project budget. It is frustrating and is also a main reason some creative companies can't seem to grow. This is because losing your profit margin creates a rat race where you never have time to focus on strategy or marketing in a meaningful way. It can also create resentment towards your work and make you feel overworked or unmotivated.

Because of this, scope creep is also bad for your relationships with your clients. It is not always possible for companies to increase their budget and the stress of potentially not having a finished project can ruin the impression for everyone involved.

Now on to the good news! Instead of getting frustrated, you as the creative can easily prevent scope creep from happening with a little bit of planning and a few useful tools.


  • What causes scope creep?

  • Building trust with your clients

  • Making the most of tools - creating a project home

  • Have a clear proposal and reminders

  • The power of automation

  • Self confidence - value yourself

Before we look at the solution, let's start with why scope creep happens in the first place. When you are ready to jump in to action, download the free checklist.

What causes scope creep?

The main cause of scope creep is a lack of clarity. This can take many forms but the most common ones are:

  • The timeline or deliverables are not clearly defined

  • You have not agreed on the number of iterations before you start

  • You are missing files or feedback from your client on time

  • There are too many decision makers involved

  • You feel bad saying no when your client asks for more

All of the reasons above can easily be solved with great on-boarding. On-boarding typically happens when your client has said yes to working together but before you start producing any work. It is like a welcome package that sets you up for success and answers the most common questions.

Let’s look at some strategies that can stop scope creep before it happens.

stop scope creep

Building trust with your clients

As a creative, you are a partner and consultant to your client, not an order taker. To build a great relationship, make sure to always be open and clear when you speak to your clients and strive to create a collaborative environment. Your client has a lot of valuable knowledge of their business and you have expertise in your area that they value. Make sure everyone involved knows that their input matters and help get the best feedback by letting your client know ahead of time when you will need their input and in what way it is most helpful. When your client has a clear role, they are empowered to work with you and feel calm that you will handle the rest of the project on your own.

Making the most of tools - set up a project home

Rather than relying on email alone, it is often helpful to use a project management tool to help give your client an overview of the project. It can also help you by keeping all conversations organised by topic or stage rather than in one long email chain. I like to use Trello to create a project template. This template can then be customised a little for each new project which saves you a lot of time.

Each stage has a column with cards for the tasks that need to be completed. You can allocate tasks to your client or yourself and set a due date. This way, anyone involved will see what has already been completed, what needs doing and when.

Here is an example of my Trello project template for the first 4 stages.

trello for designers

For more tips on how to use Trello, check out our full Trello blogpost.

Have a clear proposal and reminders

Before you start, you have probably created a project proposal. Here is the perfect opportunity to be extra clear and list out the exact parameters of the project. What are the stages in your design process? When will they happen and at what date do you expect input or content from your client?

Also make sure either your proposal or your contract clearly describes what happens if something changes mid project. For example if the company decides to pause the project, change their company name or change their target audience. Something as simple as stating that “a major change to the project will result in a re-negotiation of the project scope” is often enough to help your client pause and discuss with you before making important decisions.

Once the project starts, I like to add the proposal to the project home so everyone can refer back to it at any point.

The power of automation

If tasks like answering questions, creating invoices and contracts and asking your clients for files takes up a lot of your time, it means you have less time to focus on creating new work for your client. To help with this, there are a ton of great tools you can use to automate steps in your projects that you need to do frequently.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Collecting content: Kayla

Invoicing and accounting: Quickbooks or Xero

Signing contracts electronically: Signable

Scheduling meetings: Calendly

Getting feedback: Invision

gather content on time

Self confidence: Value yourself

It can feel really hard to ask for more money. New or seasoned, money is often a difficult topic because many of us feel like it is tied to our worth. Another common problem is that we don’t value our time as we would a physical resource. You would never arrive at a bakery, add 10 more doughnuts to your order and expect them to keep the original price - you can consider your time the same way.

typography quote

My best tip to get more comfortable discussing budgets is to separate your personal value from the work that you do and to objectively see if anything has changed since you initially agreed on the project scope. If it has, you can clearly point to your proposal and open up a friendly discussion about how to proceed.

Always give your client a warning before increasing the budget and make sure you charge enough in the first place. Having a little wiggle room for revisions in the budget means you can comfortably work with your client without stress and creates a much better relationship.

A great relationship with your clients is the best way to grow your creative business since you can start to rely on referrals and repeat business. But perhaps most importantly, it makes your job so much more enjoyable!

Best of luck with your creative projects! To get started, download the free checklist here.

project management for designers

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Do you need files from clients but it always takes way too long? 

Kayla makes it easy for your clients to send you copy, photos or anything else you need to move forward. No email chains, attachments or sharing links needed. We even remind them for you!