How to Avoid Scope Creep — Hourly versus Project Pricing

Web Design PricingScope creep! I think every independent web professional I’ve spoken to has said this is an issue for them. Sometimes they’ve even quit the industry due to project creep. I’ve made it one of my 2014 goals to learn more about how to avoid the issues surrounding scope creep.

Yesterday a marketing colleague of ours gave a terrific explanation to a mutual client of ours on how she approaches pricing. Sharing it with you below! This colleague is an experienced  marketing business owner who works with small, medium and enterprise size clients.

Let me interject something—scope creep is inevitable. It’s not avoidable. It should be planned for as it’s normal and even
desirable for new ideas to appear during the web design and development process!

The project my colleague and the client were discussing was large — $100K +.  The initial pricing was project-based as the scope was well defined. After the initial scope was completed,  the project moved into hourly pricing. She explained her rule of thumb on web design pricing (and avoiding scope creep) like this:

Project Pricing is appropriate when:

  • project is small
  • project is well defined
  • project is one you’ve done 10,000 times

However, every project price should include a generous amount of wiggle room or padding, to cover the unexpected and unknown.

Hourly Pricing comes into play when:

  • project is larger (a large web project is comparable to a large civic building project; it always costs more than you think and a larger scope brings more ways a project can be delayed or altered)
  • project is not tightly scoped or well-specified
  • project is unique and not identical to ones the firm has done before

When using hourly pricing—budgets should be specified, quotes given for new work and clients kept apprised of the progress and costs. In this scenario, communication about hours and costs should be part of an ongoing conversation with the client.

The goal for us, and I imagine for your business as well, is sustainable long-term client relationships. An important aspect of sustainable relationships is establishing a pricing policy that takes into account the likelihood of scope creep in web projects. In this example, a mix of hourly and project pricing helped build good will and fairness in pricing for both the client and the web professional.


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Karen is an Internet Marketing Consultant in the SF Bay Area. She’s a co-owner of Full Orbit Web and Marketing which specializes in Web Design, Web Programming and Internet Marketing. If you are interested in a quote for a web project, give her a call at 510-527-9920.