You know that enthusiasm you feel when you do an expert pitch to a prospect who asks intelligent questions and is ready to get started? And how great it feels when this is quickly followed by a signed agreement and deposit cheque? Ah, the wondrous feeling of success as you begin to work on a new project with a new client who seems to know what they want.

Every once in a while, however, that fabulous new client starts asking you to do things outside what you had discussed. You can probably help, but it is not something covered in the quote. This is where you enter the world of ‘scope creep’ where suddenly the job is many times larger than what it started out as and it’s now costing you money to continue. How far do you go down that rabbit hole?

When you are a small business owner, your priority is providing great customer service. This is the number one way to keep customers and gain referrals. Of course you want to be as helpful as possible but when do you draw the line on the questions that are asked?

First of all, go over your agreement. Make sure at the time you send it to the client that they ask any clarifying questions so that you are both clear on what is included and what is not. Perhaps you should include in the wording that should the project expand beyond the specified scope that the client needs will be revisited and the project will be requoted. Your best strategy is clear and open communication.

Include in the agreement things like phone calls, emails and general inquiries so that the client knows you will handle a specified number of these interactions as part of your overall service. When you start to receive an abundance of these types of inquiries gently remind the client that the project has a specified scope and that they are now entering a consulting stage. It is perfectly realistic for the client to need your help beyond what you agreed upon and therefore you should be billing accordingly. Be sure that if you plan to do this, it is written into the original proposal.

Should the client disagree with your assessment of the situation you are within your rights to invoice for additional consulting fees or decline to offer further service until a new agreement is signed.

Scheduling of calls or clustering email responses are ways to keep the process more efficient. If your client sends you an email every time they have a thought about a project, let them know that you will be setting side an hour every afternoon to answer all their questions. This way they don’t panic if you aren’t responding right away and they will respect that you have other things to do and will devote 100% of your attention to their needs at the specified time. Communicating this clearly from the start will help achieve a smoother flow of information.

While maintaining a good relationship with your customer is always your objective, being true to yourself and keeping your business afloat is a higher priority. Each customer is just as deserving of your attention as the next. And each customer should be respectful of your time as a professional. Most often clear and honest communication will ensure that you both get what you need and that the project comes to a successful conclusion.