Sometimes it’s really tough to be able to estimate exactly how long work with a client will take.
Especially in the early years of your practice, and in particular when a client contacts you asking you to do something you know is within your competency, but you’ve never done for a (paid) client before, it’s almost impossible to assign an accurate amount of time to the project in front of you. Without the accurate amount of time, you will probably quote a way-too-low price for the work.
I call it “scope creep” – and thus (just in time for Halloween!) here is your tip to make sure you get paid, even when the scope of your work “creeps” past your estimate.
Let’s begin with a definition.
As anyone in a service business like advocacy understands, time really does represent money. It represents the time for which you get paid – a billable hour. Or it speaks to an opportunity to be paid that goes down the drain.
“Scope of Work” describes the time and effort a task or job takes, beginning to end. It’s an umbrella term for the entirety of the work, from the first contact through delivery of post-work records.
So “Scope Creep” is what occurs when any task, large or small, expands to take more time than planned, anticipated, or estimated. If the extra needed time is time you’ll be paid for – well – then it’s not a problem. But if you won’t be paid for it, then spending that extra time becomes expensive.
Not all time is billable time. Administrative tasks, marketing, some travel represent – simply – unbillable time. It is not time you get paid for anyway.
Scope creep is always about billable-but-unpaid, non-administrative work expanding out of control.
- When you agree to attend a doctor appointment with your client, and your estimate was based only on 30 minutes of wait time, and that expands to an hour – that is scope creep.
- Mr. Rodriguez’s hospitalization goes into extra days and you haven’t accommodated for it in your contract. It’s not like you can leave him high and dry with no advocate by his side, of course. Scope creep.
- Or, your client Mrs. Jones is elderly and lonely and has begun calling you every day – you’re her new best friend! But all that extra phone time isn’t built into your contract with her. Scope creep.
- Mr. Henderson hires you to help him get a second opinion because he wants to “prove he doesn’t have prostate cancer.” So – that’s the scope of your contract. But it turns out that he wants / needs a third opinion. If you help him get that further opinion, without making sure you can be paid for the work, then the scope of your work has… crept.
How can you prevent, or at least reduce scope creep?
By figuring out ways to manage it before it happens. Examples:
- Add time to your work estimates whenever you know that a task or billable service has the potential to require extra time. This might include things like travel, or on-hold times on the phone. (Like trying to retrieve medical records.)
- Anticipate the potential for scope creep, and build a clause into your contract that allows you to bill for extra time.
- Call out the problem before it happens to your client, whenever possible. For example, remind Mrs. Jones that you’ll have to charge her if your phone time runs beyond a certain amount of time.
One step you’ll want to be sure you take in any case; that is, that you always alert your client when the “creep” (the extra time – not the client!) needs to be added to your paid scope of work. You don’t want clients getting sticker shock later if your invoice is higher than the estimate you gave them to begin with.
As time goes on, you’ll become more adept at anticipating problems that crop up when extra time needs to be billed. Further, you’ll get better at having that conversation with the client when you need to bill for extra time.
Just remember this Halloween tip, that scope creep is creepy – and best to be avoided.
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