Scope Creep: The Enemy Within and Without

scope-creep1 Frequent readers might have noticed that it’s been months since my last blog post.

I’m not a fan of excuses, but in this case my radio silence was because of a contract that was eating up 60 to 70 hours of my weeks. This left no time for personal projects like this blog, or my fiction, or even my usual schedule of workouts and general family time.

Long-time readers who are familiar with the reasons I enjoy writing for a living will notice how that situation is in direct opposition to my goals as a writer, as a parent and as a husband.

Which begs a simple question:

How did I let this happen?

The simple answer: Scope Creep.

Scope creep is when an assignment or job starts at level of effort and swells to A+X level of effort. In my case, a ghostwriting job that started as writing a book grew into writing, project management, staff training, interviewing sources and in some cases basic transcription and dictation. The client is a demanding dude, but mostly I have only myself to blame. It was me who said “yes” when asked to take on the extra duties.

Whoever’s fault it was (mine), the end result truly sucked. This blog post is my attempt to help you avoid such massive scope creep. As with most of what I do, my hope is for you to learn in five minutes of reading a lesson that took me months to learn.

1. Set Clear Definitions

I ended up in this situation in part because I didn’t define my job clearly enough. The contract named my deliverables, but didn’t deal well with process — which my client took to mean any task that could be even tangentially tied to the deliverable was my job. Why wouldn’t he? That was free labor.

Clearly defining not only my deliverables, but also my specific contributions to those deliverables, would have prevented or at least restricted the creep that happened with this assignment.

2. Itemize Fees

I didn’t do this at all during the assignment we’re talking about, but I’ve read it as a strong solution in my subsequent research. In many ways, this is a process for Set Clear Definitions. 

When you draft your proposal and contract, list specific prices for specific stages, tasks and products. This clearly defines your roles and responsibilities. If there are other tasks you think the client might ask you for, you can include prices for those in an appendix or addendum so your client knows exactly how much the scope creep is going to cost.

3. Set a Change Process

For the last three months, the change process in my contract has consisted of my client asking for more and me saying “yes.” The end result is a gig that should have paid $7,000 a month paying closer to $2,500 a month. 

Instead, have your proposal and contract include a specific process for changing the scope of the project and your involvement in it. That way, when the client says “how about adding this or changing that?” you have an answer that ensures you get extra pay for extra work.

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4. Say “Yes And”

“Yes And” is a concept from improvisational theater that says you should never say “no” when an acting partner gives you a cue. If you don’t love the cue, use “Yes and” to change the scene to something you like better.

Because we’ve bought into the idea of the customer is always right and often want to keep our clients happy, we often stop at “Yes.”  But “Yes, and that’s going to push the deadline back by a week” or “Yes, at my usual hourly rate” lets you say yes while retaining your bottom line.

 

5. Get Paid Early

My situation got worse when the client then chose to withhold payment because we were behind schedule — a situation owed entirely to the scope creep he demanded. This put me in a position where, because I had done work for which I hadn’t been paid, I had to do more work essentially for free before I could collect the money I was owed.

This is why all contracts should include a sizable payment up front, so that you’re always working a little bit behind what you’ve earned. Without this, you are always negotiating from a position of weakness. Sure, it’s better to only take on clients with whom this won’t be an issue…but that’s not a realistic expectation.

6. Create a Phase 2

This is another idea from research I’ve done since falling into the situation I just got out of, and one I wished I’d known about back in January. The idea is to answer all requests for change with “That’s a great idea. We’ll slate that for phase 2, when what we’re working on now is finished.”

Phase two is like having a fictional supervisor you have to check in with. It ends the current conversation and lets you get to work and get paid…without having to outright refuse a client.

7. Know When to Say “No”

At the end of the day, this is what I had to do. Sometimes, you have to eat the cost of work unpaid and be willing to tell a client “this far, no further.” It’s hard to want to do, since there’s money uncollected and that client might try to torpedo you with potential clients. 

But sometimes it’s necessary. In my case, it was “No. You don’t get more work done until we renegotiate the contract.” This no came after five requests to do so, which he ignored. We’re scheduled to have that renegotiation in a couple of days — so we could end up with a happy ending after all.  Or not. We’ll see.

 

Ultimately, most of this advice falls into two categories:

  1. Communicate clearly at the beginning
  2. Communicate effectively during the process

That’s not exactly new advice, but it bears repeating and we can all use a reminder about where we can apply it. I hope this helps you avoid the problematic kind of relationship I just had to end.

Thanks for listening.

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9 Habits of Profitable Freelancing: Writing Lots

Professional Writing ServicesIn my book The 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing, one of the habits I list is “Write Lots.

When I first thought about writing professionally, I had the problem of underestimating the scale of available work. Now that I’m in my 6th year of writing full time, I have a better grasp on just how much work — and how many different kinds of work — is available for writers willing to chase it.

And you have to be willing to chase it. It’s not like it will be coming to you.

(Well, after a while it will start coming your way…but only after several years of doing the hunting yourself)

In the past six months, I’ve gotten paid to do the following kinds of writing:

  • Ghostwriting on religion
  • Web content
  • Print magazine articles
  • Travel & food writing
  • Advertising copy
  • Martial arts instructions
  • Social media profiles
  • E-books on writing
  • Ghostwriting on international business
  • Presentation scripts
  • Game rules
  • White papers
  • Young adult fiction

In the same time, people I know in the industry have been paid to do the following other kinds of writing:

  • Catalog text
  • Calendar color commentary
  • Travel guides
  • Movie and TV scripts
  • Research summaries
  • Grant proposals
  • Business plans
  • Nonfiction books
  • Fiction books
  • Short stories
  • Brochure copy
  • Flyers for businesses
  • Corporate employee manuals
  • Social media engagement

The bottom line is this. It doesn’t matter what you want to write. You can find somebody willing to pay you to write it.

Go find that somebody.

Get paid.

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Two New (to me) Tools for Writing Professionals

Picard Facepalm D’oh!

When I say “New Tools” in this context, what I really mean is “Tools That Have Totally Existed For a Very Long Time That I’m Finally Putting to Use and Making My Life Easier With.”

Yes, I’m a professional writer and business writing coach. Yes, I make part of my living teaching writers and other kinds of solopreneurs how to be effective and organized.

 

No, I didn’t adopt either of these no-brainers until January 2nd of this year. And they’re already making my life much, much easier. If you’re not using them, try both for a week. You’ll be glad you did.

My Professional Writing Dillemma

My email inbox is often a freaking mess. I answer about half of my emails one the same day I get them, then archive that bad boy since the response will bring the conversation back into the queue. That works fine, but there’s another species of email that’s a thorn right in the side of my back.

You get them, too. Emails you’re not responding to right away, but need to keep in the front of your mind. For me, these fall into two broad categories:

1. Emails containing a meeting date and time I don’t want to forget.

2. Emails I can’t respond to until a certain date, or until something specific happens. 

Each of the two tools I put into place this January fixes one of those two emails. Without them, both cluttered up the bottom of my inbox and stressed me out. Worse, there were usually enough of them down there that the emails didn’t grab my attention…and grabbing my attention was the main reason I kept them in my inbox in the first place.

Seriously. It was a problem. Middle-class, first-world problem.

But still a problem.

Solution #1: Siri

writing business coach
If you don’t know what this has to do with Siri, you don’t love science fiction.

Did you know you can pick up your iPhone 4s or newer and say “Siri, remind me to XXX on YYY” and she’ll set an alarm that shoots you a message on YYY telling you to do XXX?

Yes, you did.

So instead of leaving that email to fester in my inbox until I get new information during a meeting on the 10th, I archive that son of a bitch and say sweetly to Siri “Siri, remind me to email that dude on the 11th.”

And she does.

I’ve heard Skyvi does the same sort of thing for Android phones, and the awesomely-named Cortana might do it for Windows phones. I have no experience with them, but the functionality is easy and awesome.

Solution #2: Google Calendar

business writing coachI didn’t promise either of these tools was innovative or new. I’m just saying I love that I’ve started using them.

It’s possible I’m the last person in the world to start immediately putting any appointment I make via email into my Google calendar so I can find it on my phone or computer any damn time I need to.

I don’t care. It’s freaking’ great. Especially with the new “Pencil it In” feature that sometimes automates it for me. Open a new tab. Write in the details. Send invites to everybody involved to make me look on top of things. Tell Google to send me an alert 48 and 24 hours ahead of time to remind me.

Bam! Instant flakiness remover. Like dandruff shampoo for my worklife.

 

How about y’all? What tools that have been floating around in your workspace for years have you only recently put into place and immediately kicked yourself square in the giblets for not using far earlier? I’d love to hear about them. 

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SEO WiSE for Writers and Business Owners

Hire a Writer I should have used a different title.

Writers, at least professional writers are business owners. This should not come as a surprise to anybody who’s been reading this blog or seen me speak.

Trouble is, writers as a population are among the least qualified people in the world to run a business. They tend to be liberal arts majors who would much rather curl up in a library than pound the pavement looking for clients or organizing finances. That’s why agents and publishers made so much money in the past 100 years or so, and why so many writers were willing to sign away 90% or more of their income to avoid the business side of the job.

The worse trouble is we can’t do that any more.

  • The model of write –> agent –> publish –> write again is vanishing, offered to fewer and fewer people every year.
  • Even the people who do get published under that model don’t get the marketing support they would have twenty years ago. They still need to learn how to get the word out about their books.
  • The quickest method of getting a publisher these days is to do well with your first self-published book, which means treating that project like a business complete with marketing plan.

All in all, professional writers need to be professional writers…not the professional writers we all hoped we would become.

The SEOWiSE program is a training course (full discolosure — I’m one of the founders) that teaches writers how to leverage what they’re best at — writing — to promote their work. I’m proud of it. My partner John Ellis is proud of it. You’ll be proud to complete it. Here’s the basic rundown:

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So that’s the good news. You can get trained, then get paid. And getting paid is the difference between a professional writer and somebody who writes.

The other good news is, because I’m a founder, I can cut you a deal on the price. Reach out to me and subscribe to the blog and I’ll get you a $250 discount.

Seriously, the stuff in there is part of why I never have to find a real job again.

Thanks for listening.

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Poets, Poetry and a Contest With Poems

I wanna talk about three poets.

Poet #1: Mikey Mason

advice for writers, professional ghostwriter

 

 

 

 

Mikey Mason is a geek comic and songwriter responsible for songs like She Don’t Like Firefly, Best Game Ever for which Gary Gygax’s family wrote him a thank you note, and sheer poetry like you’ll find in Han Solo Cool

If I could just be cool like Han Solo

If I could misbehave like Captain Mal

If I could just be half as smooth as Lando

I could get a grip on life somehow

If I could kick some alien ass like Ripley

If I could make you laugh like Doctor Who

If I could follow treasure maps like Indy

They would always lead me back to you

Mikey’s newest album, “Dangerous Gifts” was recently released and is probably his best work yet. I recommend you check him out.

Poet #2: Jake F. Simons

professional ghostwriter

Jake F. Simons is my personal alter ego, the guy who writes stuff that I don’t necessarily want the kids I teach karate to find out about by accident.

In Jake’s book Wingmanyou meet poet Luie Grant. He’s sort of like Beavis or Butthead would be after a few more years of life experience and a couple of trips to prison.

Luie tends to spin extemporaneous poetry during the adventures he has with his good buddy Max Farkas.

Here’s one of his haiku:

At the Home Depot

With two lovely women

Do they still stock chains?

And a limerick he aimed at Max after a particularly bizarre animal encounter:

Your situation’s quite goofy

But don’t try to be aloofy

We’ve seen quite a bit

Some really strange shit

But who knew monkeys used roofies?

TCK Publishing released Jake’s short story collection Five Days of Farkas earlier this month.

Poet #3: YOU

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That’s right. YOU have the chance to win a free copy of both “Dangerous Gifts” and Five Days of Farkas. Here’s how.

Comment here, on Facebook or on my G+ profile with the filthiest, wrongest, sickest, most don’t-tell-your-mom-you-wrote-this haiku you can come up with that uses no curse words, anatomical terms for naughty bits or scenes of graphic violence. Your job is to force the reader to imagine something more horrible than you could ever actually describe.

  • You can enter as often as you like.
  • Deadline is Monday, November 26th.
  • I will announce the winner (the very best entry) on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
  • The winner will receive a free copy of both works.
  • Two second-place winners (drawn randomly from qualifying entries) will receive either the music or the book.

So what are you waiting for? Get to it.

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