Constantly Over-Delivering? Or Are You Underestimating the Scope of Your Work?

Your client isn’t always to blame...Underestimating the scope of your work may be why you’re over-delivering on the scope of work...

Do you often over-deliver on projects? You may feel happy over-delivering if you take pride in going the extra mile to “wow” your clients. But, if it’s not by choice, your first instinct is probably to point fingers at your client and say, “It’s scope creep!”

The truth? There may be a bigger problem and it’s not your client’s fault, but yours: You’re underestimating the work involved and not correctly scoping projects.

But, Why Are You Underestimating?

While it’s entirely possible you’re underestimating by mistake, there may be something else at play. Something many small business owners, including myself, have fallen victim too.

Built for owners

This “something” could be the anxiety about finding new clients and retaining existing ones: You may have an irrational fear that someday the phone will stop ringing and you’ll be without a single client. So, when an opportunity comes knocking, you want to say “yes” to it. You want to land every piece of business, at whatever cost.

The problem? It’s easy to become blinded by landing the business that you don’t take the time to estimate the work involved or, worse, end up competing only on price, with the same result: An estimate that’s skimp on the details.

I totally get this as I’ve been in this position. You likely feel that all those extra details in the estimate are additional hurdles for your client which reduce your chances of winning the business—so, you omit them.

However, you’re not doing yourself any favors: Not only is there no guarantee you’ll enjoy working with this client, but you could become buried in a mountain of work. There’s nothing more frustrating than starting a project and agreeing on a price, only to see the work continue piling up as you progress through it.

This anxiety also causes you to go the extra mile to retain clients. And, why wouldn’t you? Your client will love you, and you’ll become irreplaceable, right?

While this mindset is totally understandable, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot: Your clients will learn to expect it, and you’ll undersell yourself and leave a lot of money on the table. You may even begin to resent your client which can strain your working relationship. The good news is there’s a solution to this madness—here are 4 ways to stop you from underestimating.

4 Ways to Stop Underestimating

1. Create a Detailed Estimate or Proposal

Don’t skimp on your estimate and proposal—ensure it includes all the essential details that will contribute toward project success. While a proposal and estimate differ, with a proposal used for winning a client’s business and an estimate used for new projects with existing clients, you’ll typically want to include the following in both:

  • The scope of work with a detailed breakdown of all the services
  • Timelines for project completion and milestones
  • Costs, preferably framed as an investment for the client
  • Exclusions and terms
  • Client input required for the success of the project—a brainstorming meeting at the beginning of the project will help with this

By being clear on the above, you’ll have a detailed picture of what’s required and reduce the chances of over-delivering.

Tip: If while putting together the estimate or proposal, you discover there are several ways to deliver the project -all of which require different amounts of effort, services, and costs – ensure you detail this with different packages at varying price points. This ensures you’re giving the client a choice and informs what YOU need to do.

2. Walk Your Client Through the Proposal and Estimate

Many business owners mistakenly send a proposal or estimate without going through it with their clients. They wrongly assume that a client who accepts it, has read it, when the opposite may be true.

The problem is that you open yourself up to disagreements and conflict later on. What if the client assumes a specific service is included when it isn’t? Or, what if you think the client wants something when they don’t—and you end up doing all that extra work for nothing?

The point is: Going through the proposal together ensures you’re both on the same page and that scope of work is adequately detailed.

Besides ensuring your clients understands the nuts and bolts of the work, it’s also important to clarify the value your service will provide. If they understand the value, they’ll feel more comfortable parting with their money and giving you the business over another lower-cost provider.

3. Use Other Projects as a Benchmark

When creating an estimate and moving through a project, look at other projects where you nailed the brief and did what was expected of you, and ask yourself:

  • What did I include and exclude in those estimates and proposal?
  • What did I do during the duration of the project to make sure I wasn’t over-delivering?
  • Maybe your communication was on point? Perhaps you had milestones in place?

Past successes will help inform future ones, so don’t be shy to review previous projects.

4. Keep Old Habits in Check

Even if you’ve created a detailed estimate, had an in-depth discussion with the client and consulted past projects, you may still want to give in to the urge of over-delivering—for whatever reason. Perhaps you feel the anxiety of losing the client creeping up? Or maybe you just genuinely want to go the extra mile to seal the deal?

Regardless, you need to keep these tendencies and old habits in check and remember that your goal is to deliver on the scope of work—and nothing else. Of course, you can find ways to put the “icing on the cake” with some clients. But the emphasis is on “some”—going the extra mile should be a strategic business decision, not one based on anxieties and fears of losing a client.

The Bottom Line

stand tall

Your client isn’t always to blame… Underestimating is often of the main reasons why you may be over-delivering on the scope of work. Luckily you can easily overcome this by:

  1. Creating comprehensive estimates and proposals
  2. Taking your clients through those estimates and proposals
  3. Reviewing similar past projects
  4. Keeping tabs on your own worst tendencies

And, remember as you progress through the project, remain flexible, communicate, capture any changes and, more importantly, charge your client if those changes veer off scope.

Have you ever underestimated the scope of work? How did you deal with it?

about the author

Freelancer & FreshBooks Customer Nick Darlington is a FreshBooks customer and small business owner who's been running a writing business for close to 4 years now from his home in sunny South Africa. When he’s not sharing his knowledge and experience about how to successfully run, manage, and grow a small service business, he’s helping aspiring and established writers succeed at WriteWorldwide.