Project Scope Reduced? Make Sure You Still Get Paid

Georgina Laidlaw

Three days into the new year, I was thrown a curve ball. A project I’d been working on had been wrapped up—great news! But that wrapping up was, in part, due to the fact that the project scope had been reduced.

Not great news.

Why not? Well, I discounted my rate for the client on the basis of the size of the project. Over the festive season, the project scope was reduced by more than 50%. And I’d already invoiced for the work I’d done.

Anatomy of freelancing folly

There are a number of elements to this problem. Let me pore painfully over them so that you, smart freelancer, can avoid them yourself.

First, when I presented the agreement for this project, I didn’t state the discount clearly on it—although I did explain it to the client. I don’t often discount my rates, so inexperience was the problem here.

By the time the new year hit, I was wishing I’d clearly stated the discount in the agreement.

Second, as I was submitting my most recent invoice at the end of last year, I had indications from the client that there wasn’t much work left to do.

If I hadn’t been in such a hurry to get paid, I might have spent some time thinking about this, and what it would mean for my remuneration on this job.

Third, I turned down a contract that came up after this one, because, since this was booked in, I couldn’t make time to take the second gig on.

While I’m not queuing at the soup kitchen just yet, that forfeited income certainly made the sting of my error so much greater.

What now?

These kinds of issues face freelancers all the time—you may even have experienced something similar yourself.

As I saw it, this situation left me with two options:

  1. Chalk it up to experience.
  2. Chalk it up to experience and try to recover some of the lost income.

The project I’m talking about here has already lead to other projects with this client, so they’re clearly happy with my work. And those other projects have been charged at my standard rate, which has not been a problem.

Additionally, I have a solid working relationship with the client team, and with the individuals I’m working with directly within that team. It’s just as well, because otherwise I might find the thought of trying to recover some of the lost income more than a little daunting.

Given all this, I contacted the client early in the new year to discuss an adjustment of my discount on the project. I was hoping that they’d be happy to entertain this request, based on three things:

  • they were aware of the discount up-front
  • they’d approved significantly more budget for this project
  • they’re as eager as I am to maintain a solid working relationship.

As it turned out, the client was keen to resolve the problem. They gave me back some of the work they’d taken in-house, and agreed to rectify the difference in the estimate with me.

Another lesson I learned from this experience is to include in my proposals a note to the effect that if the project scope drops by a certain percentage, a given percentage of the estimate will still need to be paid. While this isn’t an issue for small projects, when it comes to larger ones, it can be a really big deal.

Have you ever found yourself the unwitting victim of a scope reduction? How do you anticipate these kinds of problems in your project pitches? I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice in the comments.

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Ambrozjo.