Does Freelance Design Cause Brain Tumors?

I thought it did. And it forced me to find a solution for scope creep.

I have a brain tumor!
In the spring of 2004 I discovered that getting an MRI costs about $3,000 if you pay cash.

I was suffering from constant pressure headaches and I immediately knew it had to be a brain tumor. I called UCLA Medical Center and booked an MRI!

At the time my freelance practice was in full swing and I had promised a client that we would deliver an identity and web design project that had gone severely over budget and over scope. 

I was overwhelmed juggling 3-4 projects at the same time!
After all the drama of being inserted into a giant tube to scan my brain, the doctor gave me the news that there was nothing wrong with me. I was simply overwhelmed juggling 3-4 projects at the same time and "scope creep". 

A week later I got a $3,000 bill from UCLA Medical Center. A month later when the project was completed my headaches “miraculously" went away. My phantom "tumor" went away.

How do I avoid going over budget and scope?
This phantom tumor started me on a quest to solve the problem of going over budget and over scope. It took me nearly 10 years to discover and perfect a process that helped remedy this. I will share some of it with you here. 

The answer is not what you think it is. 
You might  think that putting together a clear and detailed scope document and contract before starting a project would fix this problem. Though it helps, sometimes it causes the problem.

Here are 3 key things that WILL save you many headaches and help prevent going over budget and over scope. 
1. Date before you get hitched!  
Conduct a “Discovery Phase” before you determine scope and create a contract for the project. It doesn’t matter if you are doing a $1000 website or a $100,000 web campaign.

Even $200 for a 2 hour work session or $10,000 for a 2 week discovery/strategy engagement will help. Spend the time getting to know each other first. 

Tip: Make sure you talk about the "discovery phase" in all of your marketing material. On your blog, on your website and in your early conversations with clients.

2. Get everyone in the room!  
The alternative of getting everyone in the room at the same time is spending week’s going back and forth over email and documents. 

Worst case scenario after getting the concepts, copy and art approved by the marketing manager the CEO hates it and you have to do a thousand revisions. 

Tip: You can make the "Kick-off" meeting for a project into the work session. Most people will want to be heard at the beginning of the project.

3. Step up and take control of the process! 
Just because you are a freelancer doesn’t mean that you are not a leader. "I am not a talker” or “I don’t know what I am doing” is not an excuse. 

There are three things main things that you need to define to guide the project.

  • Who they are - Their "Brand" 
  • Who their customers are - Their Users
  • And what their business goals are - Their Priorities

To get this done with full client buy-in you have to do it in a facilitated work session during your project "Kick-off".  For work sessions the most important thing you can do is have a tight agenda. Agendas not only impress the client but give you a way to contain and drive the process. 

Here is a sample agenda:

Start small and work yourself up. 
It took me a long time to work myself up to doing projects this way. I started by doing it on smaller non-profit projects. Over time I got better.

You are not alone. 
I had this problem, freelance web designers have this problem, architects have this problem, identity designers have this problem almost every type of service that builds something has this problem.

Here are some notes from designers:

“My previous experience has been lots of revisions in the design phase. I wanted to reduce this and thought a good front-end process will help” 

"Our goal is to learn how to facilitate the discovery phase with those clients looking for branding services. We want to articulate our professionalism in a confident manner.” 

If not now when?
Start educating yourself as much as possible about the problem. Remember that this is a conversation that takes time. It won’t get fixed overnight. 

Small consistent steps toward the goal is what matters. But you have to start now! To help I put a few resources together that I hope you find of value.   

Some resources to get you started:

Watch more free videos here: The Skool's Youtube Channel.

Do you struggle with freelancing? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.


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