Scope Creep: What If the Freelance Writer IS One?

It finally happened.

You landed your first freelance writing client and you can’t wait to get started. You set the terms and you know the scope of the project – no more than 1500 words for a blog post.

You’re excited because this client is in your writing niche – adult learning – and you know you can provide a lot of awesome information in your piece.

Scope Creep: What If the Freelance Writer IS One?

You create an outline, figure out a working headline and start writing. When it’s done, you realize something.

Instead of writing 1500 words, you ended up writing over 2,000 words. What do you do?

What happens when you want to scope creep and the client doesn’t do it to you?

What is a Scope Creep?

For many freelance writers, they do everything possible to avoid a client who’s a scope creep. These types of clients often ask for more work than what you originally planned.

What ends up happening, though, is you don’t know they scope creep until they have been your writing client for a while.

Over time, these writing clients start asking for more and more – and at the same rate you quoted them originally.

And for many new freelance writers, the thought of negotiating a new rate is enough to keep them quiet. So, what ends up happening? That 1500-word blog post is now a 2,500-word blog post, with no new rate and no end in sight.

But, let’s flip the tables here.

What if the freelance writer ends up writing 50% or more over what they originally quoted?

Part of enrolling in my freelance writing course, is the option to join the private Facebook community. This is the place where you can ask questions to me and the group. One of my students had a problem with scope creep on her part:

Elna, and anyone else who has done this, I need your help. I’m finishing up a client project but the word count came out more than my original quote (by 600 extra words). I gave the client an option to keep the extra content or leave it out.

Turns out the client loved the extra words and wants to keep it. But now I’m feeling guilty of adding extra to the final product. Is that considered scope creep on my part??

I’m thinking I should eat the cost. Or I could charge the extra at a discounted rate. This is an awesome repeat client. What would you do?

Do you know what you would do if this happened to you?

Eat the Cost

That’s right.

You eat the cost…at first.

Because, look, this is your fault.

You didn’t pare down your word count and you couldn’t condense what you wanted to say in the allotted word count.

So, to charge the client for your mistake doesn’t sit well with me, nor with my other course participants.

We all agreed that in this case, just eat the cost. But, what’s neat about this scenario is that the client really liked the additional words.

If that happens, you want to casually update your terms for the project. While I do use contracts occasionally, for most of my high-paying clients, an email with the terms has been more than sufficient.

This is my Facebook response to my student’s dilemma,

I agree with everyone, I wouldn’t bill for more words either.

But, you can use this opportunity to see if the client wants more content from you. If the client liked that extra bit, you can ask if they would like for you to continue writing at that word count or not, but that you would just adjust the price to reflect the change.

I would say something like, “(Name), That’s great! I always get excited when I write about (x). For now on do you want me to make X word posts? This would put the cost at X dollars going forward. Or, do you want to stick to the original word count? Let me know! – I’d send something like that!

Based on what the client responds, you can quickly update your contract or send a new email with the new terms.

I Write for the Client, Not the Word Count

Most of my clients give me a range to work within. For example, one client wants posts between 1,000-1,500 words.

Another client wants posts around 550 words.

This gives me room to work within and I don’t worry if I go beyond the word count by 100 or 200 words.


Because I don’t like worrying about trying to stay within my word-count.

Instead of focusing on providing high-quality content with great examples and facts, I become more worried about keeping within the word count.

I start to second guessing myself.

Should I include this example? I think I have to take this out, but it’s a real good fact.

I ultimately write for the client.

When they see the high value they get from my writing, I quickly become their go-to writer.

If you’re a new freelance writer and you landed your ideal client, wouldn’t you do everything possible to keep that client? By providing more than what the client expected, it can turn out to be a huge win for you.

What Would You Do?

So, freelance writers, if you landed a client that was totally awesome and you wrote an epic piece for them that was over the word count, would you eat the cost and then negotiate a new rate, or do nothing?

Hi I'm Elna and I'm a freelance writer and mom blogger. I help people just like you become a profitable freelance writer. Within 6 months of starting my freelance writing business from scratch I was able to earn a full-time living as a part-time freelance writer while taking care of my twin toddlers. Check out my free email course Get Paid to Write Online and learn the steps you need to take to be a freelance writer.

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Elna, there are times when a client doesn’t know how many words a job will require. At that point, it’s up to the writer to educate them. I had a transcription job once. Client wanted a verbatum transcript of a webinar & set the word count about 10x too low. After finishing a small portion, I alerted the client about the problem & refined the terms of the job. They were appreciative of the heads up & I was able to earn a nice paycheck.Reply to Debbie
Hey Debbie, What a great point! When clients aren’t sure about the word count, it is the freelance writer’s job to give a good estimate. Thanks for including that point!Reply to Elna
I have to agree with the conclusion arrived at by you and the FB community, as well as the other comments here. If you write an article that is so far over the agreed word count that you need to ask this question, then you need to accept that you’ve overcooked the article. In this case, it’s great that the client loved the additional content, however for the most part, my experience is that people want specific-length posts for a reason. Kris’ comment is great, about how more words doesn’t always equate to more value. Ultimately, whilst I have my own opinions on the ‘scope creep’ idea, though, you’ve provided sound advice here, Elna. The writer was fortunate enough that the client loved the longer article, and therefore that opens the door to ask that question of whether they’d like to increase the scope of the existing contract.Reply to Josh
Hey Josh, Thanks! I like your overcooked analogy 🙂 For me, a lot of my A-list clients enjoy long content. Because they are A-list, anytime they publish my post I always get inquiries for writing gigs, which leads to more work. So I’m more than happy to go above and beyond the suggested word count because I know I will generate more income. But for my non A-list clients I would use this approach if the client commented on how great the post length is. If not, I wouldn’t say anything and then try to stick to the word count next time.Reply to Elna
I would eat the cost. It isn’t the client’s fault if the writer isn’t able to convey the desired information within the prearranged word count. (Sometimes it’s more challenging to write a shorter article than a longer one. The situation reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”) Many clients equate “more words” with “more value” – even though that’s not necessarily the reality in every situation – so most would probably be delighted to receive the longer article for the same price. They might even feel like they’re getting a bargain or being provided with exceptional service, which makes them more likely to hire you again. As far as how to handle the situation moving forward, I think this is a fantastic example of the need to track your posts’ performance. If the longer post outperforms the shorter posts on the client’s site, you’re granted the perfect opportunity to propose a new word count arrangement for future articles, with solid data to back up your proposal and to justify the added expense to the client. It isn’t always possible to track performance on clients’ sites, but it’s absolutely worth doing whenever that option is available. The information can come in handy not just in negotiating future writing contracts but also in helping you become a better writer by learning which posts succeed and which fall flat.Reply to Kris
Hey Kris, That’s a great idea. I think if you can track the performance on your client’s posts then that would be great data to justify longer content from you. But, I’ve had success with just re-clarifying what the client wants. Sometimes the clients wants shorter content, but most times, they would gladly accept longer content. I love the quote by Mark Twain!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, You’ve given me a reason to think deeply. Hmmmmm… I feel It’s advisable to “eat the cost”. In the region of Africa where I’m from, when goods or services are in excess (than planned), you hear annoying stuffs things like “….then remove the remaining 20” “…then remove the remote control” etc. Most buyers aren’t always ready to add any extra $$ to what was bargained-for previous. So, instead of paying an extra cash, they tell you to reduce the quantity or quality – which seem embarrassing most time. Back to writing, I feel requesting for a new deal might make one lose credibility and trust in the sight of one’s client. The client may feel that one is being so money conscious and may even conclude that one included an extra word just to demand an extra $$. Well, it’s just my view though. It may be wrong in the real world :-pReply to Favour
Hi Favour, That’s interesting to note!Personally for me, when a client gives me a word count I work within that word count but I don’t worry if I go over. This usually happens on topics that I’m passionate about, which nowadays is digital marketing 🙂Reply to Elna
I love the idea of writing for the client instead of the word count. It seems like you’re then able to build your reputation, clout, and client base much more quickly.Reply to Sami
Hey Sami, Thanks so much! For me, what’s important is wowing my clients and making sure that I make their life a bit easier 🙂 That way I quickly become their go-to writer and have consistent work.Reply to Elna