what are my obligations to a client when a project drags on?

A reader writes:

What are a consultant’s obligations to a client whose project timeline is just dragging on indefinitely? For background, the client expected work to be completed over a short amount of time (about 6 weeks) around September and October. I was paid a lump sum for the work as detailed in the original scope of work. After the first part of the work was completed, my entire scope of work changed based on findings/new information. More work than I anticipated but ok, fine. I’ve completed most of my deliverables/milestones under the new scope, many of which are technically dependent on another parter doing some work on their end in order to actually be operationalized. Also not a problem, in theory.

However, things are going much slower than anticipated, and as a result, there are some outstanding things from my SOW that just can’t be done at this stage. Further complicating matters is that I’m consulting for an organization hired to complete this project for the main client. I don’t think the main client even realizes that I was paid a fixed amount for a set body of work and that I am not on retainer or otherwise endlessly available based on their changing timelines and needs (for example, they expect me to provide ad hoc support for people that haven’t even been hired yet). My consulting work will pick up substantially after the new year (and I am already much busier this month), with several extended trips abroad and other deadlines, and this project will have significantly exceeded the agreed-upon timeline and frankly, the amount of work expected for the compensation given. I don’t believe the original expectation was ever that the project would last this long, much less continue into the following calendar year, but this is not sustainable for me as a consultant.

What are my obligations in say, a month or two from now? Six months from now? I took a slightly lower rate for this project based on the nature of the organizations and the work, but in the new year it will be a significant opportunity cost for me to continue providing support in such an undefined, indefinite basis because I am billing other work at a substantially higher rate and have already been paid a lump sum for this project, when means I am basically losing money on this work the longer it drags on. Would it be appropriate to renegotiate at any point based on this new timeline and the fact that the entire original scope of work changed? Is it appropriate to say I’m no longer available after x amount of time after the official start of the project? The project is at a total standstill right now, and I don’t see that changing in the next month or more. I also don’t feel like the client has been super respectful of my time based on the above details, and it would be helpful to be able to set some boundaries around this.

Speak up now! Don’t wait to set boundaries until you’re already at the point where you can’t do any additional work for them — give them a heads-up now about the situation so that you can jointly figure out what to do before you cut them off completely.

Ideally, when the project first went beyond the original scope of work, you would have pointed that out and and talked then about your fee and timelines. I suspect you didn’t do that because you wanted to be nice and accommodating — which I totally get! — but now they think you’re okay with all of this. So you just need to explain that you’re not going to continue on like this much longer.

You can do that by saying something like this: “I want to flag for you that we’re significantly outside the original scope of work that my fee covered. I’ve done X, Y, and Z outside that scope, but if you’d like me to do additional work outside of the original agreement, let’s talk about what a new agreement might look like for fee and timeline.”

Or, if you want to end your involvement entirely (assuming you’ve met the obligations you agreed to originally), you could change that last part to: “We’d originally envisioned a narrower project and I blocked out two months for it. I’ve met the deliverables in the original scope and my calendar is filled starting in January, so if there’s anything additional you need from me, let’s figure out how to get it done this month.”

And yes, in general you absolutely can decline to do additional work outside the scope you originally agreed to! That’s the whole point of negotiating the scope of work and the fee for it up-front! It is very, very normal to speak up when a project starts going outside that scope, and to explain that to take on additional work, your fee will be $X. Don’t be shy about doing that. That’s not you being greedy or difficult; that’s very normal behavior as a consultant or freelancer.

And don’t worry that this has to be a Big Unpleasant Conversation. It doesn’t! Sample language to use at the time that something first exceeds the agreed-to scope:

  • If you’re willing to do it: “Sure, I could do that. It’s out of the original scope so we’d be adding to the project, but I could get that done for $X.”
  • If you want to say no: “Hmmm, this is a new feature that would take a few weeks, and I’m booked up for the rest of the month once we finish X and Y so I don’t think I can fit it in this time. Should we talk about other ways you could get that done?

You can just be matter-of-fact about it, as if of course this will make sense to them (because really, with most people it will).

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. DecorativeCacti

      Is there an Ask the Readers out there somewhere about this kind of thing? I have a few screenshots with advice that I’ve squirreled away but it would be handy if there is a post to refer to.

      Reply
      1. Antilles

        I don’t know if there is, but a lot of AAM readers seem to be in the consulting industry (in some form or fashion), so you could probably cull a LOT of great advice from the responses to these posts.

        Reply
        1. DecorativeCacti

          I definitely read all the comments when something like this comes up. I’m thinking about doing bookkeeping on the side and I’m taking lots of notes to make sure I have a good contract ready.

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          1. Agatha_31

            I’m hoping one piece of that advice is “run that contract by a lawyer first”? Because – and I’m absolutely certain that you know what this is like from a bookkeeping standpoint – people complain about the cost of a lawyer up front but it’s WAY cheaper to try and avoid as many messes as possible in the first place than to try and clean up the messes afterward.

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      2. Hills to Die on

        I have negotiated contracts for many consulting / contract projects and I agree with Alison’s advice. Scope creep is so normal, and you really have to be firm. Be very emphatic about what you have already done for free (many consultants do the extra work to keep their foot in the door).
        I have been told a flat ‘no’ on multiple occasions and that’s okay! Just get in front of this and be firm and if they want more, offer up a rate at which you are willing to do it! Maybe they’ll pay it, maybe they won’t, but if you do the work you will know you are happy with the arrangement.

        Also, I recommend weekly reporting to let them know where you stand with your deliverables so they understand the situation.?

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        1. Hey Nonnie

          Scope creep is the reason I stopped doing flat project fees. Creep is indeed inevitable, and the pushback I got when I told them something was out-of-scope was exhausting. I could write that anything out-of-scope is charged hourly right in the contract and I would still get wheedling, or fretting, or angry demands, or any other form of manipulation you can think of (and most of ’em probably weren’t even self-aware enough to see it). I am now strictly hourly — I exchange time for money, and more time is more money. I don’t care the reason why. I am perfectly happy to work to your budget and give you constant updates of how close we are to your budget ceiling. But I’m not going to give you that extra hour for free… because it’s never just one hour. It’s one hour today, one hour 3 days from now, 3 or 4 hours next week, and it adds up fast.

          I also have minimum charges so I’m not peppered by 10-minute requests every two hours. I’m not going to try to add up the 23 increments of 6, 11, and 15-minute edits in a day when those constant interruptions mean I can’t get anything else done. Either you or I can collect the feedback until I can do it all in one go; or I can ding ya a minimum half-hour every time you demand I drop everything for you. Either way is fine by me.

          Reply
      3. SusanIvanova

        Not so much advice, but there’s clientsfromhell dot net where designers gripe about bad clients – it’s very educational about things like “always have a contract”, “never do extra work for free or without getting it in writing”, and “absolutely never do anything discounted for a friend-of-a-friend.” :D

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    2. Snark

      Okay, so. Basically, Alison’s scripts are perfect for the situation you’re in, as usual, but in general….I find that, as a consultant, the more communication I have with my clients, the smoother it goes. I understand the impulse to continue doing work outside the scope, because I’ve done it, but I feel like if you establish a lot of communication about where you’re at and what you can and cannot do within the scope and the POP, the better it goes. The client loves it because you proactively keep them updated, and you love it because you’ve established guard rails. Scope creep can be a crappy client trying to get more work out of you, but more often than not, it’s because the contract was signed a year ago, you’re just the Contractor Doing the Thing, and they need more of the thing, and the thing got changed a little, and oh can you do X, and here you are.

      One approach I like and use is to establish a really detailed project timeline, with milestone and deliverable dates broken down as granularly as possible, and keep it up to date with changes. And, most importantly, refer to it often. Anything changes, anything gets delayed, you want to be ready to go with how that affects the original timeline and your availability to support.

      “That additional legal review is no problem, but for your planning purposes, that will push the initial deliverable date back to Date X. That’s just a week before the end of the POP, so that doesn’t leave a lot of room for additional contingencies.”

      “This is a pretty significant scope change and will involve X additional deliverables. That should still be doable under my original fee and POP, and I plan to have all deliverables to you by X date., though this would not include input from Fergus to operationalize them. After then, I will not be available for follow-on support, so we’ll need to either wrap up my part of the project or discuss a new agreement. Does that sound workable?”

      Reply
      1. Zombeyonce

        All the detailed communication is a great way to keep them aware of what you still owe them and what they might want but not be willing to pay for (which is fine, as long as they know the parameters!).

        Starting this communication now is the perfect time to also let them know if fees are changing/have changed (which is sounds like they might be since LW mentioned making more on a different project). If you’re willing to do more work for them, in that conversation about what they still need that’s outside your original scope of work is when you want to say something like “And to let you know since it may impact your decision, my fee schedule is changing as of the first of the year. Starting then, it will be X.” Since you’ll basically be negotiating a new or amended contract for additional work and you’ve completed the original scope of work, you can change the fee going forward.

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        1. Specialk9

          I’m guessing you have this idea in your head that Nice People (and likely that even more pernicious sub-type Nice Women) don’t argue or push back. But that’s just not true. You’re a project manager, and you have to communicate at all stages, and negotiate when major things change. A Doormat PM ends up drained and poor, and isn’t doing their job.

          Next time the client starts to deviate from the Scope of Work, you can (calmly, professionally, and with good will) point out the discrepancy between original and new scope, and inform them of how far you can meet their new requests under the existing payment as well as cost to meet the new scope. There is nothing even remotely adversarial in a project manager conforming to the SOW in the contract. Like, not at all – it’s literally your job.

          It might help to think of someone you know who is both professional in demeanor and gets the job done by the book. Channel them if necessary.

          Do not feel guilty for following negotiated contracts. Flexibility is often needed, but getting paid for work you do is NEVER on the table for you to flex on. Heck no.

          Reply
          1. designbot

            Also if you realize you’ve already been saying yes a lot during the conversation you can always at the end of it go “This all sounds fantastic. When I get back to my desk I’ll take a look at how this plays out in terms of schedule and fees and get you a proposal for those additional services by Friday.”

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      2. Sketchee

        This is great advice. I’d also add that the more you communicate, the less stressful a project is. Because the first few communications can be stressful – the first time doing anything can be stressful – setting up a baseline of conversation helps. That way the first process conversation isn’t the Big One

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  1. Seaside Engineer

    As an engineering instructor for design projects, this actually comes up in my class a lot. Client originally says “XY & Z” for the scope, and then as the project goes on, it morphs. As Allison says, you NEED to speak up right now and tell them that you’re out of the original scope. Those original requirements/scope are your contract- deliver (A) and you get paid (B). Ideally, once you saw the scope changing, you would have had that conversation to clarify new boundaries for the contract, but better late than never. You need to clarify what they’re expecting you to deliver, and what you need to be compensated in return. Additionally, it doesn’t help future consultants/contractors if you don’t have this conversation, because then the client will just think they can continually change the scope without needing to readdress compensation.

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    1. Snark

      Yes. And if you’re outside scope, then be really clear about that. “Oh, I’m sorry – ad hoc support was not in the scope of our original agreement/contract, which was on a fixed fee basis. I’d be open to discussing a supplemental agreement to support that if you see a need moving forward.”

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  2. Antilles

    As a consultant, the absolute most important thing you do on a project is writing the scope. Even more important than estimating your fee or the actual work itself – because it defines the work AND manages the client expectations, so you don’t get into a situation where they’re assuming they get something different than you are planning on providing.
    Also, while it doesn’t help you *now*, going forward, in the future if scope expands, best practice is to make sure clients know about changes to scope before you do the work and (if possible) a ballpark cost. Presuming you’re working with good clients*, you can often do this with a short email exchange or even verbal approval via a phone call, but it’s really important to do.

    Reply
    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Yes, this, and it’s absolutely critical if the contract is for a set amount of money, as opposed to a going hourly/daily rate for your work! And in the latter case, you should also specify turnaround time and/or availability, or else you will inevitably wind up with conflicting deadlines.

      The OP needs to go back and read the contract to find out what their obligations are. If they signed it and it was very poorly written, they may need to keep working for no additional money or risk getting sued. If the organization signed it with the main client, then the organization needs to figure out what resources (if any) to devote to this project, so in that case it’s above the OP’s pay grade.

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      1. Kim

        “If they signed it and it was very poorly written, they may need to keep working for no additional money or risk getting sued.“

        I disagree with this. I write contracts, and in my experience a poorly written scope actually gives the LW a *better* chance of getting it changed and getting an adjustment to the rate. Contracts shouldn’t leave anything to interpretation, and when they do it’s all fair game. LW absolutely should not assume that a poorly written scope means they’re stuck doing work for free in fear of a lawsuit. And if the original POP of the contract has expired, they’re technically not under contract anymore (unless a change order has been issued to extend the POP).

        Alison is on point: SAY something! LW, if you have a contractual POC as well as a technical POC, send them *both* an email that due to X, Y, and Z you are proposing a change order with updated milestones (specifying which depend on deliverables from someone else, ie, “Teapot White Paper emailed to client: 5 business days following receipt of results of Fergus’ research”). I get really irritated with my technical colleagues when they have contractors working outside of scope, because while I want to spend my company’s money frugally, I also have a responsibility to compensate my contractors fairly.

        You can also head this off for future work by including a per hour rate for work outside the scope in your proposal. I have that on all of my fixed-price and lump-sum agreements.

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    2. The Other Katie

      “Also, while it doesn’t help you *now*, going forward, in the future if scope expands, best practice is to make sure clients know about changes to scope before you do the work and (if possible) a ballpark cost.”

      Oh yes. I go so far as to specify in my contracts exactly what going substantially outside the scope consists of and how much the cost will change if that happens (even if all I can say is “if this happens the price will change”). That way absolutely everything I can think of to cover has already been flagged up and costed as far as possible and both I and the client know how much wiggle room there is.

      The other thing I do is I’m pretty strict on prices. I don’t usually charge for minor things like layout changes or small edits, but anything that significantly changes how much time I spend on a project gets charged. It’s a great way to keep scope creep under control. Even a relatively small charge can trigger a “do we really need this” query in the client’s mind, and most of the time they don’t. If they really need to, or if I screwed up, I’m quite flexible, but there’s no reason that my resources should be used for their benefit.

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      1. Specialk9

        I have had a lot of conversations with two women who have always been self employed providers of ‘female’ services, about why they feel guilty for charging in advance or charging when clients cancel last minute. I’ve always worked for big corporations where my status as a woman was far removed from billing practices. But they haven’t had that training, and clients frankly take advantage. (Understandably – we value what we pay for and scorn that which is free) I was very proud when they both, separately, started charging like they were valued professionals.

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  3. Tuesday Next

    Hmmm…

    1. Ideally you would have brought this up a while back, when things started slipping. You would have done less work for free and the client would have had more time to plan around your continued availability/lack thereof.

    2. “I’m consulting for an organization hired to complete this project for the main client” – the main client is probably unaware that you’re consulting to their consultant. Your contract is with the primary consultants and you should bring this up with them. Of course, they should also know what you committed to and shouldn’t need to be alerted to the problem. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    3. This sounds like almost every project I’ve ever worked on, whether as a consultant or a permanent staff member. You might want to consider making sure that your agreement with future clients caters for this type of thing. (I’m kinda surprised that this has never happened to you before.)

    Most importantly you need to be firm because you will get people who are horrified that you plan to leave before the project is complete. You’ll be called unprofessional and worse. There *will* probably be Big Ugly Conversations.

    You’ll need to point out that, in good faith, you cleared your calendar of other commitments for the time agreed on, but now you have other clients and other work lined up. Even point out that you’ve been working for X months for free if you need to. But at the end of the day you’ve done more than you committed to and were paid for and can leave with a clear conscience.

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    1. Tuesday Next

      Just to be clear, you should stay on for as long as is practical, and do a proper handover of your part of the work – at an agreed rate. Not for free.

      What you shouldn’t do is announce that you have a new project starting tomorrow with Global Teapots and you’ll email them a handover document.

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    2. Ego Chamber

      ” … the main client is probably unaware that you’re consulting to their consultant.”

      This part is where things get tricky, and I wondered why Alison didn’t address it.

      So ABC Corp is working with XYZ Marketing (let’s say), and OP is consulting with XYZ Marketing. OP doesn’t really know what the contract between ABC and XYZ is, OP only knows what the contract between XYZ and OP is. It’s even possible that XYZ could get upset about OP going outside of scope in the first place, because that’s something they could have set up another contract and payment for.

      Tl;dr: OP should talk to the client who gave them the contract and sent them the payment (code name: XYZ Media), not to the main client (code name: ABC Corp), or OP risks overstepping.

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    3. Julia

      Totally agree. Been consulting for 20+ years, both as an IC (which you appear to be) and as a FTE consultant.

      While technically the consulting co is your client, in reality you have 2 clients. Believe me, the consulting co fully knows that you’re out of scope. When they are at of scope, we’re darn sure to bring it up. It’s business, not personal.

      Have the conversation with the co, outlining the various options, with $ and time.But definitely get out in front of it!

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  4. I'll say it

    You’re basically working for them for free at this point, and I am sure they are super excited about it. Definitely say something immediately. The project is at a standstill – but even if it were ongoing, I’d actually stop work completely until it is cleared up.

    In the future, your SOWs for fixed bid might want to say something like “If the scope changes beyond x, y, z, any work done will be billed hourly at the rate of $x.” Then you start billing them right after you tell them the scope has changed. I’d encourage you to look at your SOWs with your other clients to be sure you are covered with them, too.

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    1. Competent Commenter

      “You’re basically working for them for free at this point, and I am sure they are super excited about it.”

      I loved this. Former consultant here. I’ll have to use this on my consulting friends who get in this kind of situation occasionally. Really cuts through all the hand wringing and self blame consultants can get caught up in.

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  5. AVP

    Wow, this hits so close to home for me. I’m also a freelancer (as are many of my colleagues) but all of our projects are with agencies where everyone is staff so they really have no idea about how to budget for major shifts in scope of work from their clients…leaving my whole company on the hook to do massive changes that the agencies don’t want to pay for as they are not part of the original bid.

    The worst offenders here seem to be government agencies because then you have a subcontractor agreement that they say they can’t break by paying you more but still somehow want the work done.

    I have no advice but am anxiously following to see how other people handle this.

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    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      You and your company are not on the hook for contract creep — that’s the whole point of having a contract! They can complain all they want, but it doesn’t obligate you or your company to work for them for free, or to agree to an additional contract at a lower-than-market rate!

      Remember, just because someone wants something from you, that does not create an obligation for you to give it to them.

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      1. Lil Fidget

        You are actually doing people a favor when you point this out – I’m on the other end (we use contractors and things *do* fall apart) and in some cases I haven’t realized the contractor was unhappy but they end up blowing up or bowing out unexpectedly. Just let me know like an adult what you need, you can’t always expect someone in the home office to be tracking your scope and deliverables and advocating for you to receive more money!

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    2. Ego Chamber

      “… a subcontractor agreement that they say they can’t break by paying you more but still somehow want the work done.”

      That’s really not your problem though. If there’s a contract with you for X work at $Y rate, all you have to provide is X work at $Y rate. When they tell you they actually needed to get Z work done at $Y rate, that’s on them, and it’s not inappropriate for you or your company to tell them you’ll need to renegotiate based on the new scope.

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    3. Specialk9

      I was a govt contractor for years. I’m pretty surprised that your company lets them get away with scope creep, unless you’re talking Cost Plus Fixed Fee, instead of Firm Fixed Price contracts? If they’ll pay you for the scope creep, I mean, not as big a deal as for FFP contracts. Keeping a close eye on scope and tracking progress against SOW was a pretty big part of my job as PM. I’m guessing their Contracting Officer is not part of these conversations about doing work for free? Because that’s very much not allowed.

      Reply
  6. FTW

    I would also encourage you in the future to add language around the availability and timeliness of inputs to your deliverables.

    Although there was a change of scope in this case, you would still be on the hook if there is no change of scope and the other partner was behind on their timeline.

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    1. Lil Fidget

      TBH most of our contractors include an estimate of their hours in their proposal, then they track their hours at the rate they agreed to, and they let me know when their “hours” (meaning money) are running out. It seems a little unusual to contract a lump sum per task actually.

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  7. Chameleon

    LW, I couldn’t help but notice that *you* didn’t talk about your contract at all. I really hope that doesn’t mean you don’t have one! If you do, make sure your next one spells out exactly what you will do if the project goes out of scope or overtime, whether that is extra money or handing off work to another contractor.

    If you don’t have a contract, make SURE you have one for your next client!! (And for horror stories that will make you very aware of how necessary they are, I recommend the blog Clients From Hell.)

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    1. Uyulala

      That’s what I noticed too. And don’t feel weird about laying down terms. If you are matter-of-fact about it, it isn’t rude or crass.

      I actually have a contractor hired to design a company logo and I know exactly what is in the scope and how many rewrites I get because it is spelled out. And I know if I need more that it will cost more money. As a client, I like the clarity.

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  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP, definitely go back to the client, and if appropriate, loop in the major client. It’s really normal to renegotiate when the SOW changes this significantly, but it’s important to have the difficult conversations sooner than later. Let them know you don’t intend to hold work product hostage, but also enumerate the requests that are well outside the SOW (like ongoing support for people who aren’t yet hired).

    If the major client has no knowledge of the background stuff, and if cc’ing them would mess up your relationship with the intermediary client, then have a separate conversation/negotiation with the major client exclusively about the SOW, timeline, and costs for the SOW expansion. You can also explain why you can/can’t do it at this time during this convo.

    It could also be helpful to explain how much extra time (i.e. $$) you’ve sunk. Say that you were willing to go beyond the timeline and agreed-upon hours because that’s part of the cost of doing business and building client goodwill. But note that now that both the timeline and costs are projected to be [double/triple the flat fee—whatever increase is accurate], you want to have a frank conversation about managing anticipated/future hours of work and about clarifying the SOW.

    It’s a tricky needle to thread, but in my experience, if you come across as honest and forthcoming, folks are more willing to work with you, again. Don’t make them feel like you’re put out or that they owe you more money—just be matter of fact. If they feel like you hit them with staggering news at the end, they’ll feel sandbagged or misled.

    [I say this as someone who just received a bill at double the agreed-upon rate and who asked for an accounting and did not receive one. I will never use that vendor, and I’m not paying double the rate when they gave me no indication they were running up the bill this way.]

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    1. Snark

      Yeah, ideally, OP should have renegotiated the agreement when the scope changed dramatically – not necessarily the fee, but get down in writing the new scope, a realistic new timeline, and a new estimate of hours/POP, with buy-in from ALL the stakeholders.

      It’s really tempting to want to do the good customer service, above and beyond thing, gee this is a lot of extra work but no problem I can get it done in time, and then you’ve given them an inch and they take a yard.

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  9. Bea

    The longer this drags the harder it’ll be to bite the bullet and talk to them. You need to be up front and stop working for free, you are only hurting yourself. I know it’s hard to pull back but you will be abused and taken advantage of by clients, you have to establish yourself as someone who is flexible but no welcome mat.

    It’s the hardest part to stand up for yourself.

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      1. Specialk9

        I push back only on the language, not the sentiment. “Nice” is doing the work they pay you for with a good attitude. “Accommodating” is being flexible as long as they stay in scope. *Professional* is requiring they pay you and stay within contractual parameters.

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  10. Nita

    OP, I hope you have a contract with the original scope of work. Use that as the springboard for the discussion. Also, any email authorizations for the additional scope from your direct client (the overall client’s consultant) would be helpful. I’m not sure if you can request additional funds for the work that’s put you over budget to date, but you need to speak up now about that budget being long exhausted, and about need for a new contract for all the work going forward.

    If it looks like expectations will keep shifting, or it’s hard to pin down the timeline, it’s a good idea to plan to do the future work at an hourly rate + expenses, rather than as a lump sum.

    Reply
  11. Samiratou

    Do you have the option to say something like “this project is now beyond the original scope agreed up on and is at a standstill, but if you need additional time from me when the project gets going again, I will let you know how many hours I might be able to commit a week and will bill at a rate of $xxx.”?

    As someone who has worked on a project that dragged on way longer than expected (though overall scope for the consultant hasn’t really changed, we just got held up by various things beyond our control), I wish we had an agreement with our vendor where we could basically just have him bill whatever time he uses above the contract we’ve already agreed on. This vendor doesn’t accept payment ahead of time, we only pay when the consultant bills time to the project, but they’re pretty adamant about not being able to bill time above the amount specified in the contract. I’m sure this is a good idea, in general, but it’s a PITA when we’re running out of hours and it’s the end of the year and a contract addendum would take WEEKS and we just need an hour or two here and there on troubleshooting and bug fixes and the like.

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  12. Thlayli

    It’s really really normal to do some “change” paperwork and add on additional scope to a project and additional costs. It sounds like you are working for yourself so just Write up in the usual form you would do a quote and add in the new work going forward. So it might look like:
    ADDITIONAL WORK FOR [Project]
    1 new scope [fixed rate]
    2 ad-hoc consultation [hourly rate]

    Plus whatever you usually have on your quote document.
    Attach that to an email and in the email say something like:
    “As you know I’ve completed the original scope items x and y, and have agreed to provide original scope item z as soon as I am provided with the relevant info. In addition to this I have also provided items a b and c free of charge. Last week we discussed items d and e along with the possibility of further ad-hoc advice as needed. Please see attached my quote for these additional items and hourly rate for any ad-hoc advice.

    Send this to whoever your direct client is (it sounds like that’s an intermediary). Chances are they will be happy with this and just agree to pay. They might negotiate a little but this is a totally normal thing to do. It’s their responsibility to go back to the final client and make any changes to pay on their end.

    If you haven’t actually discussed this with your immediate client then give your contact there a call first to let them know what’s going on. Act like if course they are going to pay for additional work and you will be sending on your quote. If they don’t want to pay you then ask them to discuss with their client and come back to you.

    There’s a slight chance you might end up having to eat some of the cost yourself since you are bringing it up kind of late, but at least it will stop this happening again in future.

    Reply
    1. Thlayli

      In case it’s not clear – don’t put anything in the quote you’ve already done – if you did it already without asking for additional money in advance that’s on you not them really.

      Reply
      1. Kim

        Not always the case. I absolutely want to know when my contractors are doing work out of scope and make sure they’re compensated for it. It’s policy at my company that contractors are paid for all work completed (we even have a specific type of invoice for work done without a contract that involves the PM basically having to say “I didn’t follow policy by having a contractor work out of scope”).

        Reply
  13. Kvothe

    Request a change order! They’re super common in engineering consulting and for future lump sum projects I’d advise having not only a clear SOW but also a list of limitations and exclusions as clients don’t always realize what isn’t included!

    Reply
  14. OlympiasEpiriot

    Ahhhhhh! Scope Creep!

    It happens to the best of us. Tackle it as soon as possible, get it all on the table.

    Lots of good details from everyone here.

    Reply
  15. Shirley Keeldar

    One thing I try to keep in mind is that my clients aren’t necessarily trying to take advantage of me—it’s just that it’s very, very hard (ridiculously hard) for them to remember that they get a salary, and I don’t. They’re just not thinking about my compensation much at all. Getting the project done is at the front of their minds, and how/when/if I get paid is somewhere way in the back.

    So I have to speak up, loudly. It’s tough and I’m still learning, but the nice thing is, nobody is appalled when I do it. They’re just a bit surprised. Oh, you want to be paid for the work you’ve already done? Oh, you don’t want to work for free? Oh, right, I guess we can do that.

    Good luck! Set those limits and don’t do more than is good for you professionally. They might panic a bit when they find out they can’t keep leaning on you, but they’ll figure it out, either by paying you what you’re worth or finding another way.

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      Exactly. Go into this assuming they’re overlooking the little details in enthusiasm for the project — not that they’re trying to screw you. It usually works better that way.

      BUT sometimes they are trying to screw you, which is why it’s so important to have regular status reports and early notification of scope creep/need for change order.

      Reply
  16. Delphine

    Wouldn’t your contract stipulate XYZ work for $Amount? Once that work is complete, you’ve fulfilled the contractual obligations, and if they want more work you’d send a new contract?

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      The work isn’t complete, though, because they changed direction.

      “After the first part of the work was completed, my entire scope of work changed based on findings/new information. More work than I anticipated but ok, fine. I’ve completed most of my deliverables/ milestones under the new scope, many of which are technically dependent on another parter doing some work on their end in order to actually be operationalized. Also not a problem, in theory. However, things are going much slower than anticipated, and as a result, there are some outstanding things from my SOW that just can’t be done at this stage. “

      Reply
  17. Competent Commenter

    OP I recommend that you follow Alison’s advice to the letter. I got stuck in versions of this scenario multiple times as a consultant (not too bad of a ratio out of hundreds of projects), and one of the hardest parts is that you feel like because you didn’t flag the problem early enough you don’t have a right to address it later, or you’ll look bad, or the client will be upset and question how you spent your billed hours, etc. I let my anxiety make things harder than they had to be.

    On the flip side I now have a regular job and hire vendors. One in particular is just masterful at setting limits and I respect that so much about her. She could have written Alison’s sample language. I find it SO reassuring to know that she won’t let me accidentally run over her with unfair requests while I’m frantically coping with my job duties. I don’t want to be an accidental jerk. So her guard rails serve me too. Also, she once made a major and uncharacteristic error that meant she was billing far less per hour than she was supposed to. I know she was freaked out (she needed that money) and really embarrassed. I was the one who identified the error and negotiated to fix it and get her back pay for the too-small invoices. So even in that case I don’t wasn’t upset and didn’t think less of her.

    So go forth and those limits fearlessly!

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      Yes!! So much this! I too switched from consultant to one who hires consultants, and I have a million other things I’m doing (ie my job) and so appreciate a vendor who keeps me in line!

      Reply
  18. animaniactoo

    OP, there’s a lot of really good advice in this thread, but I’d like to add in a perspective piece for you about the need to approach them right now while it can make a HUGE difference on their part:

    Some of what’s going on here is that they’re looking at you as a “fixed in place” part, not a “moving” part. So when they’re looking at their timelines, etc. they’re not looking at you as a piece that they need to work around and take into account and maybe put some more pressure over here for info or whatever you need to be available to you *now* to do your part while you are available.

    Therefore, it really is urgent for you to go back and say something along the lines of “Hi, it looks like this is at a standstill. I have some concerns about this as I will not have the same availability after New Year that I do now. Also, with the change of focus, it seems that you are looking to rely on me for additional support that is not part of our agreement. If that’s correct, I need to be clear that while I’ve been fine to do some work over and above what was agreed on as goodwill and because I support your cause, we need to come to a new agreement about additional work beyond what I’ve already done or agreed to. ” (or alternatively, “but this is not work I’m able to take on at this time”)

    “Please let me know how you’d like to proceed from here. For reference my availability in January will likely be about 10 hrs/week.”

    Reply
  19. CM

    Lawyer here, have written many SOWs/consulting contracts. I would take Thlyayli’s advice above. In the future, make sure your contract covers this situation. Google consulting contracts to find appropriate terms. Basically it should say that if there are delays for which you are not responsible, you don’t guarantee that you’ll continue to be available, must be paid for work you have already done, and can stop working on the contract without any liability. It should also talk about change orders and say that if the scope or schedule changes, there will be a change order with pricing, scope, and schedule adjusted accordingly.

    Reply
    1. CM

      Also, all your questions about “is it appropriate to bring this up” — the answer is yes! Bring it up, be matter-of-fact. They’re treating you like an employee and need to realize that you are an outside consultant who isn’t necessarily 100% available to them. Value your own time and efforts!

      Reply
    2. Snark

      There are stock contracts on the interwebs that have a lot of this language already included. I especially like the language about change orders.

      Reply
  20. writelhd

    I work in construction (where “scope creep” and “owner has unrealistic timeline expectations because they don’t understand the process and no matter how you try to set expectations they just aren’t going to believe you until they experience it for themselves” are very common), and as such, I would point to architecture as a great example of a kind of consulting industry where creating contracts around varied scopes–including various clauses to deal with scope creep–is a huge part of the business. I’d suggest a little light reading on architecture blogs about pay structures and contracts and things. You may glean some info on how to set yourself up to deal with these kinds of scope creeps in the future.

    Reply
  21. the_scientist

    Letter writer, it sounds like you need to create a change management process for yourself, if you don’t have one already! It doesn’t have to be a big, complicated thing, but it will probably be helpful to have a “formalized” process in place to evaluate the impact of changes in project scope/ deliverables to your existing work plan. It will also be helpful because it’s something you can share with clients- it makes it very clear *how* you evaluate any requests that are new/outside the original scope and spells out how those changes impact your timelines and your fees. Having all that stuff documented at the outset makes any conversations much less difficult. But, scope creep happens basically alllllll the time, so do not feel bad or guilty about advocating for yourself. Speak up now; don’t leave them in the lurch, but do not feel guilty about speaking up!

    Reply
  22. user318124

    I haven’t worked as a freelance consultant but I have worked as a consultant employed as a Large Consulting Company and I can tell you that discussions about the scope are simply super common in the field.

    First of all, it’s super important to have the details agreed on before you start your work. In my case it was always said how many hours I was expected to work, where, doing what and in what period. And who is to cover which costs and when, with super many details. And how and when the client is to pay for me.

    Plenty of times I witnessed even PMs on huge, expensive projects starting a discussion with the client about the 100 EUR I paid for a train ticket and referring to the contract.

    Most people don’t like conflicts, but especially in the consulting world you will have problems coping if you are too conflict-averse.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      It’s not even a conflict, handled properly, but yes – this is a business, you are selling your time and expertise, and if you are unwilling to assert yourself enough to ensure that the transaction is mutually favorable, you’re going to have a bad time. They are not your boss, they are not your patrons, they are not your coworkers – they are your CLIENTS. Your car salesman isn’t wringing his hands about adding $2000 if you demand your car get the premium package with leather, is he?

      Reply

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